The Battle of the
Paracel Islands was a military engagement between
the naval forces of
South Vietnam in the
Paracel Islands on
January 19, 1974. The battle was an attempt by the South Vietnamese
navy to expel the Chinese navy from the vicinity.
As a result of the battle, the PRC established de facto control over
the Paracel Islands.
3 Balance of forces
4 Military engagement
5.1 Vietnamese casualties
5.2 Chinese casualties
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
The Paracel Islands, called Xisha Islands (西沙群島; Xīshā
Qúndǎo) in Chinese and Hoang Sa Islands (Quần Đảo Hoàng Sa) in
Vietnamese, lie in the South
China Sea approximately equidistant from
the coastlines of the PRC and
Vietnam (200 nautical miles). With no
native population, the archipelago’s ownership has been in dispute
since the early 20th century.
China first asserted sovereignty in the modern sense to the South
China Sea’s islands when it formally objected to France’s efforts
to incorporate them into French Indochina during the Sino-French War
(1884–1885). Initially, France recognized Qing China's sovereignty
over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos, in exchange for Chinese
Vietnam as a French territory. Chinese maps since then
have consistently shown China’s claims, first as a solid and then as
a dashed line. In 1932, one year after the Japanese Empire invaded
northeast China, France formally claimed both the Paracel and Spratly
China and Japan both protested. In 1933, France seized the
Paracels and Spratlys, announced their annexation, formally included
them in French Indochina. They built several weather stations on them,
but they did not disturb the numerous Chinese fishermen found there.
In 1938 Japan took the islands from France, garrisoned them, and built
a submarine base at
Itu Aba (now Taiping / 太平) Island. In 1941,
the Japanese Empire made the Paracel and Spratly islands part of
Taiwan, then under its rule.
In 1945, in accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and
with American help, the armed forces of the Republic of China
government at Nanjing accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons
in Taiwan, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Nanjing then
declared both archipelagoes to be part of Guangdong Province. In 1946
it established garrisons on both Woody (now Yongxing / 永兴) Island
in the Paracels and Taiping Island in the Spratlys. France promptly
protested. The French tried but failed to dislodge Chinese nationalist
troops from Yongxing Island (the only habitable island in the
Paracels), but were able to establish a small camp on Pattle (now
Shanhu / 珊瑚) Island in the southwestern part of the archipelago.
In 1950, after the Chinese nationalists were driven from
Hainan by the
People’s Liberation Army (PLA), they withdrew their garrisons in
both the Paracels and Spratlys to Taiwan. In 1954 France ceased to be
a factor when it accepted the independence of both South and North
Vietnam and withdrew from Indochina.
North Vietnam formally accepted that the Paracel and Spratly
islands were historically Chinese. About the same time, the PLA
reestablished a Chinese garrison on Yongxing Island in the Paracels,
while the Republic of
China (Taipei) stationed troops on Taiping
Island in the Spratlys. That same year, however, South Vietnam
reopened the abandoned French camp on Shanhu Island and announced it
had annexed the Paracel archipelago as well as the Spratlys. To focus
on its war with the North,
South Vietnam by 1966 had reduced its
presence on the Paracels to only a single weather observation garrison
on Shanhu Island. The PLA made no attempt to remove this force.
On January 16, 1974, six South Vietnamese Army officers and an
American observer on the frigate Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16) were
sent to the Paracels on an inspection tour. They discovered two
Chinese “armored fishing trawlers” laying off Drummond Island to
support a detachment of PLA troops who had occupied the island.
Chinese soldiers were also observed around a bunker on nearby Duncan
Island, with a landing ship moored on the beach and two additional
Kronstadt-class submarine chasers in the vicinity. This was promptly
reported to Saigon, and several naval vessels were sent to
confront the Chinese ships in the area. The South Vietnamese Navy
frigate signaled the Chinese squadron to withdraw, and in return
received the same demand. The rival forces shadowed each other
overnight, but did not engage.
On January 17, about 30 South Vietnamese commandos waded ashore
unopposed on Robert Island and removed the Chinese flag they found
flying. Later, both sides received reinforcements. The frigate Trần
Khánh Dư (HQ-4) joined the Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16), while two
PLA Navy minesweepers (#274 and #271) joined the Chinese.
On January 18, the frigate Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-5) arrived
carrying the commander of the South Vietnamese fleet, Colonel Hà Văn
Ngạc. The corvette Nhật Tảo (HQ-10) also reached the islands,
moving cautiously because it had only one functioning engine at the
Balance of forces
These four warships from the
South Vietnam Navy would participate in
the battle: the frigates, Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-05), Lý
Thường Kiệt (HQ-16), and Trần Khánh Dư (HQ-04),
, and the corvette Nhật Tảo (HQ-10). A platoon of South
Vietnamese naval commandos, an underwater demolition team, and a
regular ARVN platoon were by now stationed on the islands.
China also had four warships present: the PLA Navy minesweepers # 271,
#274, # 389 and # 396. These were old and small warships with an
average length of 49 meters and width of 6 meters, and they had not
been well-maintained. However, they were reinforced by two type 037
submarine chasers (# 281 and # 282) by the end of the battle. In
addition, two PLA marine battalions and an unknown number of irregular
militia had been landed on the islands.
Although four ships were engaged on each side, the total displacements
and weapons of the South Vietnamese ships were superior. The
supporting and reinforcement forces of the PLA Navy did not take part
in the battle.
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In the early morning of January 19, 1974, South Vietnamese soldiers
from the Trần Bình Trọng landed on Duncan Island and came under
fire from Chinese troops. Three Vietnamese soldiers were killed and
more were injured. Finding themselves outnumbered, the Vietnamese
ground forces withdrew by landing craft, but their small fleet drew
close to the Chinese warships in a tense standoff.
At 10:24 a.m., the Vietnamese warships Lý Thường Kiệt and
Nhật Tảo opened fire on the Chinese warships. The Trần Bình
Trọng and Trần Khánh Dư then joined in. The sea battle lasted
about 40 minutes, with vessels on both sides taking damage. The
smaller Chinese warships managed to maneuver into the blind spots of
the main cannons on the Vietnamese warships and damaged all four
Vietnamese ships, especially the Nhật Tảo, which could not retreat
because her last working engine was disabled. The crew was ordered to
abandon ship, but her captain, Lt. Commander Ngụy Văn Thà,
remained on board and went down with his ship. The Lý Thường
Kiệt, severely damaged by friendly fire from the Trần Bình
Trọng, was forced to retreat westwards. The Trần Khánh Dư and
Trần Bình Trọng soon joined in the retreat.
The next day, Chinese aircraft from
Hainan bombed the three islands,
and an amphibious landing was made. The outnumbered South Vietnamese
marine garrison on the islands was forced to surrender, and the
damaged navy ships retreated to Đà Nẵng.
During the battle, the Vietnamese fleet detected two more Chinese
warships rushing to the area.
China later acknowledged these were the
Hainan-class submarine chasers #281 and #282. Despite South Vietnamese
reports that at least one of their ships had been struck by a missile,
the Chinese insisted what the Vietnamese saw were rocket-propelled
grenades fired by the crew of #389 and that no missile-capable ships
were present, and the Chinese ships closed in because they had no
missiles. The South Vietnamese fleet also received warnings that U.S.
Navy radar had detected additional Chinese guided missile frigates and
aircraft on their way from Hainan.
South Vietnam requested assistance from the U.S. Seventh Fleet, but
the request was denied.
Letter from South Vietnam's General Staff of the Republic of Vietnam
Military Forces, dated 02-18-74, concerning the Battle of the Paracel
Following the battle,
China gained control over all of the Paracel
South Vietnam protested to the United Nations, but China,
having veto power on the UN Security Council, blocked any efforts to
bring it up. The remote islands had little value militarily, but
diplomatically the projection of power was beneficial to China.
The South Vietnamese reported that the warship Nhật Tảo was sunk
and the Lý Thường Kiệt heavily damaged, while the Trần Khánh
Dư and Trần Bình Trọng were both slightly damaged. Fifty-three
Vietnamese soldiers, including Captain Ngụy Văn Thà of the Nhật
Tảo, were killed, and 16 were injured. On January 20, 1974, the
Dutch tanker, Kopionella, found and rescued 23 survivors of the sunken
Nhật Tảo. On January 29, 1974, Vietnamese fishermen found 15
Vietnamese soldiers near Mũi Yến (Qui Nhơn) who had fought on
Quang Hòa island and escaped in lifeboats.
After their successful amphibious assault on January 20, the Chinese
held 48 prisoners, including an American advisor. They were later
Hong Kong through the Red Cross.
The Chinese claimed that even though its ships had all been hit
numerous times, none of them had been sunk. Warships #271 and #396
suffered speed-reducing damage to their engines, but both returned to
port safely and were repaired. Warship #274 was damaged more
extensively and had to stop at Yongxing Island for emergency repairs.
It returned to
Hainan under its own power the next day. Warship #389
was damaged the most by an engine room explosion. Its captain managed
to run his ship aground and put out the fire with the help of the
minesweepers. It was then towed back to base. Eighteen Chinese sailors
were killed and 67 were wounded in the battle.
A potential diplomatic crisis was averted when
China released the
American prisoner taken during the battle. Gerald Emil Kosh, 27, a
former U.S. Army captain, was captured with the Vietnamese on Pattle
Island. He was described as a “regional liaison officer” for the
American embassy in
Saigon on assignment with the South Vietnamese
China released him from custody on January 31 without
The leaders of
North Vietnam gave a glimpse of their worsening
China by conspicuously not congratulating their
ally. An official communique issued by the Provisional Revolutionary
Government of the Republic of
South Vietnam mentioned only its desire
for a peaceful and negotiated resolution for any local territorial
dispute. In the wake of the battle, North Vietnamese Deputy Foreign
Nguyễn Cơ Thạch
Nguyễn Cơ Thạch told the Hungarian ambassador to Hanoi
that "there are many documents and data about that the islands in
question are Vietnamese." Other North Vietnamese cadres told the
Hungarian diplomats that in their view, the conflict between
Saigon regime was but a temporary one. However, they later said
the issue would be a problem of the entire Vietnamese nation.
After the reunification of
Vietnam in April 1975, the Socialist
Vietnam publicly renewed its claim to the Paracels, and
the dispute continues to this day. Hanoi has praised the South
Vietnamese forces that took part in the battle.
Naval history of China
Johnson South Reef
Johnson South Reef Skirmish
^ Security Implications of Conflict in the South
China Sea: Exploring
Potential Triggers of Conflict A Pacific Forum CSIS
của Ralph A. Cossa, Washington, D.C. Center for Strategic and
International Studies, 1998, trang B-2
^ Nhân Dân No. 1653, September 22, 1958 
^ Dyadic Militarized Interstate Disputes Data (DyMID), version 2.0
^ Hải Chiến Hoàng Sa, Bão biển Đệ Nhị Hải Sư,
Australia, 1989, page 101
^ This warship had been the USCGC Chincoteague (WHEC-375),
and was transferred to
South Vietnam and renamed RVNS Trần Bình
Trọng (HQ-05). It was transferred to the Philippines and renamed RPS
Andrés Bonifacio (PF-7) in 1975 when
South Vietnam fell.
^ This warship had been the USS Bering Strait (AVP-34), and
was transferred to
South Vietnam and renamed RVNS Lý Thường Kiệt
(HQ-16). It was transferred to the Philippines and renamed RPS Diego
Silang (PF-9) in 1975 when
South Vietnam fell.
^ This warship was the USS Forster (DE-334), loaned to South
Vietnam on September 25, 1971 and renamed RVNS Trần Khánh Dư
(HQ-04). Captured by North Vietnamese after the fall of
Saigon and was
renamed Dai Ky (HQ-03).
^ This warship had been the USS Serene (AM-300), and was
South Vietnam January 24, 1964. It was re-designated as
RVNS Nhật Tảo (HQ-10).
^ Counterpart, A South Vietnamese Naval Officer's War
Kiem Do and
Julie Kane, Naval Institute, Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1998,
^ Thế Giới Lên Án Trung Cộng Xâm Lăng Hoàng Sa Của VNCH.
Tài liệu Tổng cục Chiến tranh Chính trị, Bộ Tổng tham
mưu QLVNCH, Sài Gòn, 1974, trang 11.
^ 西沙海战――痛击南越海军, Xinhua, January 20, 2003,
^ Tài liệu Trung Quốc về Hải chiến Hoàng Sa: Lần đầu
hé lộ về vũ khí Hải chiến Hoàng Sa Thanh Niên
^ Danh sách các quân nhân Việt Nam Cộng Hòa hi sinh trong
Hải chiến Hoàng Sa 1974, Thanh Niên Online, 09/01/2014
^ Frivel, M. Taylor. "Offshore Island Disputes". Strong Borders,
Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China's Territorial
Disputes. Princeton University Press. pp. 267–299.
^ Thomas J. Cutler, The Battle for the Paracel Islands, Naval
Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. Retrieved on 4-24-2009.
^ Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, Sovereignty Over the Paracel and
Spratly Islands, p.3, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2000.
ISBN 90-411-1381-9. Retrieved on 4-24-2009.
^ "U.S. Cautioned 7th Fleet to Shun Paracels Clash". The New York
Times. Reuters. 22 January 1974. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
^ "Chinese, Viet Rift Shunned by U.S." Albuquerque Journal.
Albuquerque, NM. AP. 21 January 1974. Retrieved 22 December 2016 –
^ a b Gwertzman, Bernard (26 January 1974). "Peking Reports Holding
U.S. Aide". The New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved 20 July
^ Markham, James M. (19 January 1974). "
Saigon Reports Clash with
China". The New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved 20 July
^ Shipler, David K. (21 January 1974). "
Saigon Says Chinese Control
Islands, But Refuses to Admit Complete Defeat". The New York Times.
New York, NY. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
^ Carl O. Schustser. "Battle for Paracel Islands".
^ The World: Storm in the
China Sea - TIME
^ "American Captured on Disputed Island is Freed by China". The New
York Times. New York, NY. Reuters. 31 January 1974. Retrieved 20 July
^ Balázs Szalontai, Im lặng nhưng không đồng tình. BBC
Vietnam, March 24, 2009: Im lặng nhưng không đồng tình
^ For an overview of Hanoi's reactions to the Chinese occupation of
the Paracels in 1974–1975, see also Chi-kin Lo, China's Policy
toward Territorial Disputes. The Case of the South
China Sea Islands
(London and New York: Routledge, 1989), pp. 86–98.
New York Times, "
China Bombs 3 Isles and Lands Troops".
New York Times, "23 Vietnamese Survivors of Sea Battle Are Found".
Yoshihara, Toshi. "The 1974 Paracels Sea Battle: A Campaign
Appraisal". Naval War College Review. Naval War College Press. 69 (2):
41–65. Archived from the original on August 1, 2016.
Overview of the battle by a Vietnamese officer
The Official Document of The Republic Of Vietnam's Armed Forces about
the Paracels Naval Battle in 1974
Paracels Islands Dispute
A Collection of Documents on Paracel and
Spratly Islands by Nguyen
Thai Hoc Foundation
Armed conflicts involving the People's Republic of China
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Incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China
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List of maritime features in the Spratly Islands
Great Wall of Sand
Royal Malaysian Navy Offshore Bases
Vietnamese DK1 rigs
List of airports in the Spratly Islands
North Danger Reef
Ban Than Reef
West York Island
Third Thomas Shoal
First Thomas Shoal
Second Thomas Shoal
Johnson South Reef
Sin Cowe Island
Cornwallis South Reef
Central London Reef
East London Reef
West London Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Royal Captain Shoal
Half Moon Shoal
History of the Spratly Islands
Spratly Islands dispute
Philippines and the Spratly Islands
Battle of the
Paracel Islands (1974)
Southwest Cay incident (1975)
Johnson South Reef Skirmish
Johnson South Reef Skirmish (1988)
Scarborough Shoal standoff (2012)
Hai Yang Shi You 981 standoff
Hai Yang Shi You 981 standoff (2014)
Paracel Islands Airports
Spratly Islands Airports
Coordinates: 16°30′N 111°38′E / 16.500°N 111.633°E