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Battle of the Paracel Islands
Paracel Islands-CIA WFB Map-2.JPG
DateJanuary 19, 1974
LocationParacel Islands
Result Chinese victory
China consolidates control over Crescent Group of the Paracels
 China  South Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
China Zhang Yuanpei (张元培)
China Wei Mingsen (魏鸣森)
South Vietnam Colonel Hà Văn Ngạc
4 Corvettes
2 Submarine Chasers
Marine battalions
Unknown number of militia
3 Frigates
1 Corvette
Commando platoon
Demolition team
Militia platoon
Casualties and losses
18 killed
Some injured
4 Corvettes damaged
53 killed
16 injured
1 Corvette sunk
3 Frigates damaged

The Battle of the Paracel Islands was a military engagement between the naval forces of the People's Republic of China and Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in Paracel Islands on January 19, 1974. The battle was an escalation of the Republic of Vietnam Navy's efforts to expel Chinese fishing vessels from the vicinity of some of the Paracels.

During the course of the battle, the People's Liberation Army Navy established permanent control over the Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands. Although this result was not part of China's original military objectives, it completed China's control over the Paracels.

Historical background

The tiny, uninhabited 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 roughly 200 nautical miles from Vietnam. With no native population, the archipelago’s ownership has been frequently in dispute since the early 20th century.

On July 3, 1938, the French who had colonized Indochina in the 19th century invaded the Paracel Islands. The Nationalist Government of China, which was otherwise occupied with the Second Sino-Japanese War, registered a formal protest.[1] Three days later, on July 6, the Japanese Foreign Ministry also issued a declaration in protest of the French occupation.[2]

In the course of the Second World War, the Japanese defeated the French occupying troops and took over the islands. At the end of the war (Asian-Pacific Region), the government of the Republic of China formally regained the Paracels, Spratlys and other islands in the South China Sea in October and November 1946. In the Geneva accords of 1954, Japan formally renounced all of its claims to, inter alia, the South China Sea islands which it had occupied during the Second World War.[3][4]

The People's Republic of China (PRC) had controlled the Amphitrite Group of the Paracels since 1950, while South Vietnam controlled the Crescent Group since the aftermath of the First Indochina War.[5] In 1957, China transferred control over White Dragon Tail Island, then part of Guangdong province, to North Vietnam, in order to support its ally in the Vietnam War. One year later, North Vietnam recognized China's claim to the Spratlys and Paracels, while renouncing its own,[5][6][7] although South Vietnam did not accept this renunciation.[8] During the 1960s, the Republic of Vietnam Navy (ROVN) attacked Chinese fishermen near the Paracels, but the PRC could not effectively respond because the ROVN had significant air and naval support around the islands from the United States.[5]

To focus on its ongoing war with the North, South Vietnam had by 1966 reduced its presence on the Spratlys to only one weather observation garrison on Pattle Island. There was no action initiated by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to displace this presence.[5] In 1973 after the Paris Peace Accords, the United States of America significantly reduced and eventually cut off military supplies to its ally. As a result, the ARVN forces’ presence on Pattle Island was reduced even further to a single platoon of soldiers. Despite this lack of effective control, South Vietnam signed offshore oil exploration contracts with Western companies in the Gulf of Tonkin, northwest of the Paracels.[5]

Prelude to the battle

On January 16, 1974, six South Vietnamese Army officers and an American observer on the frigate Frigate Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16) were sent to the Paracels for an inspection tour. They discovered two Chinese “armored fishing trawlers” were laying off Drummond Island supporting troops from the PLA that had occupied the territory. In addition, Chinese soldiers were observed around a bunker on nearby Duncan Island, with a landing ship moored directly on the beach and two additional Kronstad-class guided missile gun boats in the vicinity of the island. The findings were reported to Saigon,[9][10] which dispatched several naval vessels to confront the Chinese fleet in the area. HQ-16 signaled the Chinese squadron to withdraw, but received the same orders in return. Overnight the two forces remained shadowing each other but did not engage.

On January 17, some 30 Vietnamese commandos waded ashore to Robert Island and removed the Chinese flag unopposed. Later on reinforcements from both sides arrived: the frigate Trần Khánh Dư (HQ-4) joined the HQ-16; while two PLAN corvettes (#274 and #271) joined the Chinese.

On January 18, frigate Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-5) arrived at the scene carrying the commander of the South Vietnamese fleet, Colonel Hà Văn Ngạc. The corvette Nhật Tảo (HQ-10) also took its place, moving in cautiously because she had only one functioning engine at the time.

Balance of forces

There were four warships from the South Vietnam participated in the battle: three frigates, Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-5),[1] Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16),[2] and Trần Khánh Dư (HQ-4), [3], and one corvette, Nhật Tảo (HQ-10).[4] In addition, a platoon of South Vietnamese naval commandos, an underwater demolition team, and a regular ARVN platoon were stationed on the islands.

China had four warships for most parts of the battle: PLAN corvettes # 271, #274, # 389 and # 396; they were very old and small warships with length of 49 meters and width of 6 meters, and had not been well-maintained for years. This force was reinforced by two Kronstad-Class submarine chasers (# 281 and # 282) at the end of the battle. In addition, two PLA marine battalions and an unknown number of irregular militia landed on the islands.

In comparison, the total displacements and weapons of Vietnamese were remarkably more than those of China. There were four ships of each side engaging in the battle. The supporting and reinforcement forces of China’s PLAN did not actually take part during the battle.

Military engagement

In the early morning of January 19, 1974, Vietnamese troops from the HQ-5 landed on Duncan Island and came under fire from Chinese troops after opening fire first on the Chinese while advancing toward the shores. Three Vietnamese soldiers were killed and two others were injured. Outnumbered, the Vietnamese ground forces withdrew by landing craft, but their small fleet itself drew up close to the Chinese warships in a tense standoff.

At 10:24 a.m., Vietnamese warships HQ-16 and HQ-10 opened fire against the Chinese warships. Then, HQ-4 and HQ-5 did the same. The ensuing sea battle lasted for about 40 minutes, with numerous vessels on both sides sustaining damage. The small Chinese warships maneuvered into the blind spots of the main cannons on the larger Vietnamese warships and succeeded in damaging all four Vietnamese ships, particularly the HQ-10. The Nhật Tảo (HQ-10) could not retreat because her last working engine was disabled in the battle; the crew was ordered to evacuate, but her captain, Lt. Commander Ngụy Văn Thà, remained and went down with his ship. HQ-16, severely shot by a friendly ship, the HQ-5, was forced to retreat westwards. Meanwhile, HQ-4 and HQ-5 were also forced to retreat.

The next day, Chinese jet fighters and ground-attack aircraft from Hainan bombed the three islands, and were followed up with an amphibious landing force. The South Vietnamese Marine garrison on the islands was captured, and the naval force retreated to Đà Nẵng.

While the battle was going on, the Vietnamese fleet detected two Chinese reinforcing warships rushing to the area; China later acknowledged that these were the Hainan-Class submarine chasers #281 and #282. Despite South Vietnamese reports that at least one South Vietnamese craft had been struck by a missile, the Chinese insisted that what the Vietnamese saw were RPGs fired by the crew of #389 and that no missile-bearing ships were involved in the battle, arguing the very reason they closed in so near was because they had no missiles. In addition, the South Vietnamese fleet also received warnings from the United States that their naval radar had detected additional Chinese guided missile frigates and jet fighters on their way from nearby Hainan. South Vietnam requested assistance from the US Seventh Fleet, but the request was rejected.


As a result of the battle, China gained control over all the Paracel Islands that it did not already occupy. South Vietnam protested to the United Nations, but China, having veto power on the UN Security Council, blocked all efforts to bring up the matter.[11] Although the remote islands held little value militarily, diplomatically the projection of power was certainly beneficial to China in the region.[12][13]

Vietnamese casualties

The Vietnamese claim of her own casualties was agreed to by the Chinese. According to its claim, warship HQ-10 was sunk, HQ-16 was heavily damaged, HQ-5 and HQ-4 were both lightly damaged. 53 Vietnamese soldiers including Captain Ngụy Văn Thà of HQ-10 were killed, 16 others were injured. On January 20, 1974, the Dutch tanker, Kopionella, rescued 23 survivors of HQ-10. On January 29, 1974, Vietnamese fishermen found a group of 15 Vietnamese soldiers near Mũi Yến (Qui Nhơn) who had participated in the combat on Quang Hòa island and escaped on lifeboats.[5][Clarification needed]

After their amphibious assault on January 20, the Chinese held 48 war prisoners including 1 American advisor[6]. They were all later released in Hong Kong through the Red Cross.

Chinese casualties

According to South Vietnam, corvette #271 sank, #396 ran aground, and #274 and #389 were both heavily damaged. The Western press also reported at least one Chinese vessel had been sunk.

According to China, although all Chinese ships were hit numerous times, none of the vessels sank. China said warships #271 and #389 suffered speed-reducing damage on the engines, but they returned to the port safely and were rapidly repaired. Warship #274 was damaged more extensively and had to stop at Yongxing Island for emergency repair; it returned to Hainan under its own power the next day. Warship #396 was damaged the most with an engine room explosion; it managed to run aground and put out the fire with the help of the minesweepers, and was towed back to its base. The Chinese confirmed 18 deaths among their various forces; Vietnamese estimates were markedly higher.

According to the Chinese, the heavy smoke reported around #271 and others was not the result of damage but a deliberately laid smokescreen, although this explanation had been viewed skeptically. The reluctance of the Chinese military to release further details or evidence had left the issue clouded. In any case, the Chinese squadron left the pursuit of the Vietnamese to their reinforcements (ships #281 and #282, among others), and this gave the impression that they were unable to continue.


A potential diplomatic crisis was averted when China quietly released an American prisoner taken during the battle. Gerald Emil Kosh, 27, was a former US Army captain captured with the Vietnamese on Pattle Island. He was described as a “regional liaison officer” for the US Embassy, Saigon on assignment with the South Vietnamese Navy. China released him from custody on January 31 without comment.[14]

North Vietnam gave a glimpse at its worsening relationship with China by conspicuously not congratulating their erstwhile allies; official statements mentioned only a desire for “a peaceful solution”. Indeed, after the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam publicly renewed their claim to the Paracels, and this dispute continues to the present day.

See also


  1. ^ Security Implications of Conflict in the South China Sea: Exploring Potential Triggers of Conflict A Pacific Forum CSIS Special Report, của Ralph A. Cossa, Washington, D.C. Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1998, trang B-2
  2. ^ Nhân Dân No. 1653, September 22, 1958 [7]
  3. ^ Dyadic Militarized Interstate Disputes Data (DyMID), version 2.0 tabulations
  4. ^ Hải Chiến Hoàng Sa, Bão biển Đệ Nhị Hải Sư, Australia, 1989, page 101
  5. ^ DyMID
  6. ^ This warship is formerly USCGC Chincoteague (WHEC-375), and was transferred to South Vietnam and renamed RVNS Tran Binh Trong (HQ-5). It was later transferred to the Philippines and renamed RPS Andres Bonifacto (PF-7) in 1975 when South Vietnam fell.
  7. ^ This warship is formerly USS Bering Strait (AVP-34), and was transferred to South Vietnam and renamed RVNS Ly Thuong Kiet (HQ-16). It was later transferred to the Philippines and renamed RPS Diego Silang (PF-9) in 1975 when South Vietnam fell.
  8. ^ This warship is formerly USS Forster (DE-334), loaned to South Vietnam on September 25, 1971 and renamed Tran Khanh Du (HQ-4). Captured by North Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon and was renamed Dai Ky (HQ-03).
  9. ^ This warship is formerly USS Serene (AM-300), and was transferred to South Vietnam January 24, 1964. It was re-designated as RVNS Nhut Tao (Nhật Tảo).
  10. ^ Counterpart, A South Vietnamese Naval Officer's War Kiem Do and Julie Kane, Naval Institute, Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1998, chương 10.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 西沙海战――痛击南越海军, Xinhua, January 20, 2003, online
  13. 西沙海战详解[图], online.


  1. Ellis, Bruce (2011). "China's 1974 naval expedition to the Paracel Islands". Naval Power and Expeditionary Warfare: Peripheral Campaigns and New Theatres of Naval Warfare. Taylor & Francis. 
  2. "The statement of Great Britain and France made respectively in 1900 and 1921 already declared that the Xisha (Paracel) Islands were part of the Administrative Prefecture of Hainan Island. Therefore, the current claims made by An’nan or France to the Xisha Islands are totally unjustifiable." Myron H. Nordquist, John Norton Moore, University of Virginia, "Security flashpoints: oil, islands, sea access and military confrontation", p181
  3. Myron H. Nordquist, John Norton Moore, University of Virginia, "Security flashpoints: oil, islands, sea access and military confrontation", p185
  4. Robert B. Asprey, War in the Shadows, IUniverse, 2002. ISBN 0-595-22594-2. Retrieved on 4-23-2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Frivel, M. Taylor. "Offshore Island Disputes". Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China's Territorial Disputes. Princeton University Press. pp. 267–299. 
  6. “We have the honour to bring to your knowledge that the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam recognizes and supports the declaration dated September 4, 1958 of the Government of China fixing the width of the Chinese territorial waters. The Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam respects this decision.” 1958 diplomatic note from Pham Van Dong
  7. King C. Chen, "China's war with Vietnam, 1979: issues, decisions, and implications", p45
  8. King C. Chen, "China's war with Vietnam, 1979: issues, decisions, and implications", p43, 44
  9. Thomas J. Cutler, The Battle for the Paracel Islands, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. Retrieved on 4-24-2009.
  10. 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.
  11. New York Times, "Peking Reports Holding U.S. Aide". 1/26/74.
  12. New York Times, "Saigon Reports Clash with China". 1/19/74.
  13. New York Times, "Saigon Says Chinese Control Islands, But Refuses to Admit Complete Defeat". 1/21/74.
  14. The World: Storm in the China Sea - TIME

Further reading

  • New York Times, "Saigon Reports Clash with China". 1/19/74.
  • New York Times, "Saigon Says China Bombs 3 Isles and Lands Troops". 1/20/74.
  • New York Times, "Saigon Says Chinese Control Islands, But Refuses to Admit Complete Defeat". 1/21/74.
  • New York Times, "U.S. Cautioned 7th Fleet to Shun Paracels Clash". 1/22/74.
  • New York Times, "23 Vietnamese Survivors of Sea Battle Are Found". 1/23/74.
  • New York Times, "Peking Reports Holding U.S. Aide". 1/26/74.
  • New York Times, "American Captured on Disputed Island is Freed by China". 1/31/74.

External links

Coordinates: 16°30′N 111°38′E / 16.5°N 111.633°E / 16.5; 111.633

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