Tuesday, March 15, 2016

30 Years Ago Yesterday: The Skirmish at Truong Sa

Pham Minh Chien and many soldiers meet every year to commemorate their comrades who were killed when defending Vietnam's sovereignty over Truong Sa (Spartly) islands in 1988.Chien always make sure to leave a few empty chairs. 
"It has been 28 years. You have become immortal with Truong Sa," the former political chief of the Vietnamese Navy's Brigade 125 said on Sunday, during a requiem for the 64 Vietnamese soldiers who fought against the Chinese on March 14, 1988.
On that day, Vietnamese Navy's Brigade 125 mobilized three ships, HQ-604 and 605 and HQ-505, with nearly 100 officers and soldiers to the Gac Ma (Johnson South), Co Lin (Collins or Johnson North) and Len Dao (Lansdowne) reefs.
The soldiers were transporting construction materials from the ships onto Gac Ma when four Chinese vessels arrived.


PLUS: 14 March 1988: East Asia's Last Interstate Battle

The incident that most resembles something that might re-occur in the near future is a battle between Chinese warships and poorly armed Vietnamese soldiers on 14 March 1988 at Johnson South Reef in the Spratly area in the southern part of the South China Sea. The scattered Spratly islets are claimed in full by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, most of them also by the Philippines, and some by Malaysia and Brunei. When Chinese naval forces arrived there in 1987-88, all the islets had already been occupied by other states. China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) did not try to conquer islets from those who held them but instead took possession of a number of underwater reefs or low-tide elevations, some of which may or may not have included tiny rocks sticking above water at high tide. When Chinese warships approached the South Johnson Reef, near the Vietnamese-held Sin Cowe island, the Vietnamese sent a small vessel with tiny boats to forestall the Chinese invasion and take possession of the reef on behalf of Vietnam. A number of troops waded onto the submerged reef, and planted a Vietnamese flag. The Chinese saw this as a provocative act since the reef in their view belonged to China. So the Chinese ships approached. An order was heard: "Fire!". Shortly afterwards all the Vietnamese soldiers lay dead or wounded in the water. The Chinese ship then fired its canons at the Vietnamese boat, which sank together with its crew. More than sixty Vietnamese died that day.


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