NATIONAL 5-YEAR STRATEGY FOR COMBATING ILLEGAL, UNREPORTED, AND UNREGULATED FISHING (2022-2026) / and the Missing Air Element

Under NOAA auspices, the U. S. Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing has issued a five year strategy to address IUU fishing.

There are three identified objectives:

  • Promote Sustainable Fisheries Management and Governance
  • Enhance the Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance of Marine Fishing Operations
  • Ensure Only Legal, Sustainable, and Responsibly Harvested Seafood Enters
    Trade

Five nations have been identified as priorities for development of self sufficiency in the prevention of IUU fishing: Ecuador, Panama, Senegal, Taiwan, and Vietnam. These “Priority States” were selected because their “…vessels: “actively engage in, knowingly profit from, or are complicit in IUU fishing” and, at the same time, the priority flag state “is willing, but lacks the capacity, to monitor or take effective enforcement action against its fleet.”

090808-G-3885B-136
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 8, 2009) The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Legare (WMEC 912), left, patrols along side the Senegalese Navy vessel, Poponquine, during joint operations as part of the Africa Partnership Station. The Legare is deployed off the west and central coast of Africa for the six-day joint U.S/Senegalese operation, during which several Senegalese naval vessel boarding team members embarked aboard the Legare and participated in joint boarding and training exercises. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas M. Blue/ Released)

It is likely the Coast Guard will be spending time helping these states build capacity in their navies, coast guards, or maritime police.

The Missing Air Element  

One of the great strengths of the US Coast Guard is its fleet of fixed wing aircraft. They provide an essential detection capability. An air search capability allows the patrol vessels to do less searching and more boardings. Most smaller nations’ maritime law enforcement agencies have only limited, or in many cases, no comparable organic air search capability. Frequently, if they are to have an air search, they require cooperation of another service.

What I have seen of our capacity building efforts, seem to have been focused on surface operations and boarding team work.

Recognizing fishing vessels is not in the skill set of most air force crews. Frequently communications between surface vessels and air units are not compatible. In many air forces their aircraft virtually never go out over blue water.

The US Coast Guard could certainly help build capacity on the air side, as well as the surface side of the IUU fishing problem.

Land based Unmanned Air Systems now appear to be a way maritime law enforcement agencies might have an organic fixed wing air search capability at a lower cost. Unfortunately the US Coast Guard still is not particularly experienced in this area. The Japanese Coast Guard might be able to provide valuable advice to at least Taiwan and Vietnam in the use of UAS, as they gain experience with their newly acquired MQ-9Bs.

“Video Shows U.S. Destroyer’s Very Intimate Standoff With Iranian Vessels Over Seized Oil Tanker” –Cutter there too

The Drive–War Zone has a post about an incident that reportedly occurred on October 24. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp seized a Vietnamese flagged tanker in the Gulf of Oman and escorted it into an Iranian port.

The Iranian claim is that the tanker was carrying oil from a tanker the US had seized and they only boarded the vessel to protect it, and their oil, from being seized by the US.

Three short videos, published by the Iranians, accompany the post. The third clearly shows a Webber class cutter in the vicinity of the tanker.

In viewing the videos, I would note that, when the tanker is seized, no US assets are visible in the vicinity. The initial boarding is by troops with weapons at the ready, landed by helicopter–not normally the sort of boarding that would be used if their presence was welcomed. When additional Iranian personnel board by boat, again no US assets are visible in the area.

The videos only prove that at some point during the transit from the time of the seizure to the Iranian port, two US destroyers and the cutter closed with the tanker and its Iranian escort.

Hopefully the tanker and crew will be released in the near future. It will be interesting to hear their perspective on what occurred.

“U.S., Japan Coast Guards train together in East China Sea” –Pacific Area

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro and Japan Coast Guard Patrol Vessel Large Aso, transit together in formation during a maritime engagement in the East China Sea Aug. 25, 2021. U.S. Coast Guard members aboard the Munro deployed to the Western Pacific Ocean to strengthen alliances and partnerships and improve maritime governance and security in the region. (Photo courtesy of Japan Coast Guard)

Information on the Japanese Cutter, Aso (PL-41), referenced in the PACAREA news release below is available here. Aso is larger than a 210 but smaller than a 270, probably about 1,200 tons full load.  She is propelled by four diesels and four water jets and capable of over 30 knots. She is armed with a 40mm/70 and has a crew of 30. Reportedly Japan is building six similar but slightly larger vessels for the Vietnamese Coast Guard.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area

U.S., Japan Coast Guards train together in East China Sea

Photo of Coast Guard ships Photo of Coast Guard ships Photo of Coast Guard ships

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution versions.

YOKOSUKA, Japan — U.S. Coast Guard members aboard the Alameda-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) participated in a cooperative two-day deployment with Japan Coast Guard members aboard the Japan Coast Guard ship Aso in the East China Sea Tuesday and Wednesday.

The engagement followed Munro’s port visit in Sasebo, Japan, Aug. 20-24, and included crew exchanges; two-ship communication, formation, maneuvering and navigation exercises; joint and cooperative maritime presence; maritime law enforcement training and exercises; and several variations of large ship and small boat operations.

“These at-sea engagements with one of our longest-standing partners in the Indo-Pacific region provided excellent opportunities for our crews to train together and learn from each other, further strengthening our alliances and maritime partnerships,” said Munro‘s Commanding Officer Capt. Blake Novak. “Conducting operations and exercises leverages our strong and trusted relationships while expanding our regional security cooperation initiatives and bolstering collaboration in the Indo-Pacific.”

The U.S. and Japan Coast Guards have a long history of cooperation and several recent engagements. In June 2021, the sea services conducted search and rescue training together in Honolulu before teaming up to search for a missing free diver off Kauai, Hawaii. Earlier this year, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball and Japan Coast Guard Ship Akitsushima conducted drills together near the Ogasawara Islands of Japan alongside helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles to practice interdicting simulated foreign vessels operating illegally inside Japanese waters.

“Partnering with like-minded maritime forces to cross train and expand multi-nation expertise in search and rescue, maritime environmental protection and maritime law enforcement allows our nations to promote regional stability, confront malign activities and threats, and uphold the international rules-based-order underpinning our shared security and prosperity,” said Vice Adm. Michael F. McAllister, commander U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area.

Munro, a 418-foot national security cutter, departed its homeport of Alameda for a months-long deployment to the Western Pacific. Operating under the tactical control of U.S. 7th Fleet, the cutter and crew are engaging in cooperative maritime activities, professional exchanges, and capacity-building exercises with partner nations and will patrol and conduct operations as directed.

As both a federal law enforcement agency and an armed force, the U.S. Coast Guard routinely deploys worldwide its cutters, boats, aircraft and deployable specialized forces.

The Naval Service does not compete, deter, or fight alone. The Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard team are an integral part of the Joint Force and work closely with allies, partners, and other government agencies.

More photos from Munro’s Western Pacific deployment are available here. Subscribe here to receive notifications when new photos are added.

 

“Japan To Build Six Patrol Vessels For Vietnam’s Coast Guard” –Naval News

Japan Coast Guard(JCG) PL42 Dewa. Photo credit: Wikipedia, No machine-readable author provided. Sizuru~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims).

Naval News reports that,

The Vietnamese government signed an agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on July 28 to finance a project to build six patrol vessels for the Vietnamese Coast Guard (VCG). The vessels, based on the Aso-class of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) will be built in Japan.

There are some things that are noteworthy here.

  • Japan has started providing assistance to many of its neighbors and helping to strengthen their coast guards seems to be a favorite method. Helping the Philippines here and here. Malaysia here.
  • In this case it is in the form of a very low interest loan (0.1%) with generous repayment terms, to have ships constructed in Japan (good for the Japanese shipbuilding industry).
  • The speed of construction is also noteworthy, six ship with the last to be delivered Oct. 2025.
  • The cost of each of these 79.0 m (259 ft 2 in) cutters is about the same as that for our Webber class WPCs.

The ASO class has not been built since 2006, but they are smaller and presumably cheaper than the larger classes of Japanese Coast Guard large patrol vessels (PL) that followed. The class was built shortly after the Battle of Amami-Ōshima and apparently incorporated lessons from that engagement including a heavier weapon, the Bofors 40mm/70, and ballistic protection for selected areas of the ship. They are also relatively fast at over 30 knots.

“USCG’s Schultz on Halifax Forum, Budget, Pacific, Arctic” –Defense and Aerospace Report

Above is a Defense and Aerospace report interview with the Commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz. It is worth a look.

There is a lot here about what is going on in the Western Pacific and our response to China’s changing behavior. There is a lot of discussion about the Philippine Coast Guard which is apparently growing at a tremendous rate. There is also some discussion about other coast guards in South East Asia and the USCG’s place with “The Quad” (US, Australia, New Zealand, and France).

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

“Vietnamese fishing boat sinks during encounter with Indonesian warship” –Baird Maritime

Baird Maritime reports on an incident between Vietnamese and Indonesian fisheries protection vessels that resulted in the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in a disputed area of the South China Sea.

The Indonesian Corvette, KRI Tjiptadi (381), is a former East German Parchim class corvette like this one. It is about the size of a 210.

The South East Asian countries having disputes about their respective EEZs should really take it to the UN tribunal. The resulting decisions would ensure international recognition of their rights and leave China’s nine dash line claims in the trash bin.

Vietnam Coast Guard Becoming More Military?

Vietnamese Coast Guard Damen 9014 Offshore Patrol Vessel. Photo: lancercell.com

SeaWaves reports Vietnam is seeking to better define its Coast Guard’s roles and it sounds like it may be moving toward a more military posture.

“Therefore, making the Vietnamese Coast Guard a member of the country’s armed forces is an important and necessary step to protect and manage Việt Nam’s maritime interests and resources,” Linh said.

Deputy Nguyễn Minh Sơn asked for the draft law to clearly define the coast guard’s jurisdiction and chain of command to ensure the force can respond to various situations and demands while on patrol at sea.

The US Coast Guard has been instrumental in formation of Vietnam’s Coast Guard and Vietnam recently added the former USCGC Morgenthau to its Coast Guard. Vietnam is one of the few countries in SE Asia that actively confronts Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea.

The Former USCGC Morgenthau, now in Vvietnamese service

Where in the World are the WHECs?

The Former USCGC Morgenthau, now in Vvietnamese service

The Philippines has a continuing interest in the 378 foot WHECs, after all they already have three, and it appears they may want another. Certainly they and other operators (Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Vietnam) will want to cooperate in finding ways to keep them operational.

An online discussion group called “Defense of the Republic of the Philippines” has a page entitled “Where in the World are the WHECs?” devoted to the topic. It includes both the old and new names and hull numbers. It also looks at the future disposition of 378s still in US Coast Guard service (Sherman, Midgett, Mellon, and Douglas Munro). (Yes we currently have both a USCGC Douglas Munro (WHEC-724) and a USCGC Munro (WMSL-755).

Sherman is expected to be decommissioned in 2018, Midgett in 2019, Mellon in 2020. Douglas Munro’s decommissioning is not currently scheduled but will probably happen in 2021.

The decommissioning information is based on Annex J of a MARAD report, “OFFICE OF SHIP DISPOSAL PROGRAMS ANNUAL REPORT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2016.”

 

Battle of the Paracel Islands, 16 January 1974

Chart of Paracel Islands. Image prepared by CIA

There has been much concern about China’s aggressive claims to nearly all of the South China Sea and how the rest of the world, particularly the Philippines, Vietnam, and the US will respond. The “Nine Dash Line” is an artifact of the mid-20th century, but claims on the islands go back to the 19th century.

In 1974 China and Vietnam came to blows over ownership of Paracel Islands, which are roughly equidistant from the Vietnamese coast and China’s Hainan Island.

The battle between the Navy’s of South Vietnam and the PRC is little known in the West, but it is apparently very important to the Chinese since the Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has fought few battles in its relatively short history, and this is one they won, against what they portray as long odds.

I have long had an interest in the battle because two of the South Vietnamese vessels were former Coast Guard Cutters of the same class as my first ship out of the Academy, USCGC McCulloch (WHEC-386). I was transferred off shortly before she transited to join Coast Guard Squadron Three as part of Operation Market Time. With the end of the Ocean Station program and “Vietnamization,” seven of the class, as well as 26 WPBs, that were in country, were transferred to the Navy of South Vietnam. When Saigon fell, six of the seven former WHECs made it to the Philippines, later being inducted into the Philippine Navy. Surprisingly, another of the four Vietnamese ships in the battle had also served in the USCG.

I used three sources for this post,

Many of the photos come from a Chinese source.

There was a lengthy standoff, but after the Chinese opened fire on a landing party reportedly under a flag of truce, killing three and wounding more, the Vietnamese Navy was given permission to open hostilities.

How the battle actually progressed is not really clear. There are apparently no track charts. The mechanics of the battle are missing so I will make some, hopefully informed, speculation about how it was actually fought.

Participants in the Battle of the Paracels

The Participants: 

There is conflicting information regarding the secondary weapons on the Vietnamese vessels and the types of vessels used by the Chinese, but the list below is what I interpret to be a reasonably accurate order of battle for the incident.

Vietnam

Two former Barnegat class small seaplane tenders,

  • RVNS Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-05), the former USCGC Castle Rock (WAVP-383 later WHEC-383) and
  • RVNS Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16), the former USCGC Chincoteague (WAVP-375 later WHEC-375) (The Vietnamese blog reports that this was the former USS/USCGC Bering Strait (AVP-34, WAVP-382/WHEC-382 but this is unlikely as she served as HQ-2)

By the time these two “311s” were transferred to Vietnam, most of their WWII armament, and all their ASW systems had been removed. As cutters they were armed with a single Mark 12 5″/38 caliber (127-mm) gun (55 pound projectile), four M2 Browning .50-caliber (12.7-millimeter) general-purpose machine guns, and perhaps two 81-mm mortars. The Vietnamese apparently added some weapons. A twin Bofors 40mm/56 gun mount is clearly visible on HQ-16 on the O-1 deck between the bridge and the 5″ mount. None of the pictures of HQ-05 I was able to find show a similar mount. Some sources say these vessels mounted four Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun mounts and four Mk. 4 single 20mm/70 Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun mounts, but I think this may have been their battery later while in Philippine service. These ships had a full load displacement of 2,800 tons, a length of 311 feet (95 meters), and a speed of 18 knots.

USS Forster (DER-334), the Vietnamese HQ-4

RVNS Trần Dư (HQ-04), the former USS Forster (DE-334) (WDE-434 while in Coast Guard service, 1951-1954). An Edsall class destroyer escort converted to a radar picket, armed with two rapid fire 3″/50 single mounts, two 20mm guns, and five .50 cal. machine guns. She had a full load displacement of 1,850 tons, a length of 306 feet (93.3 meters), and a speed of 20 knots, marginally faster than the 311s. This was perhaps the most capable of the Vietnamese combatants. It’s two 3″50s were in Mk34 mounts fore and aft, each with a rate of fire of 50 rounds per minute, two guns and the higher rate of fire, more than making up for their lighter (13 pounds) projectile. It also had the best fire control system, a Mk63.

HQ-10, an Admirable class minesweeper converted to a patrol vessel

RVNS Nhựt Tảo (HQ-10), the former USS Serene (AM-300) an Admirable class steel hulled minesweeper converted to a patrol craft, armed with a 3″/50 and two twin 40mm Bofors guns and six 20mm. She had a full load displacement of 853 tons, a length of 184.5 feet (56.3 m) and a nominal speed of 15 knots, but had had a casualty to one of her two main diesels engines before the battle, and was enroute to have it repaired when diverted to the scene of the battle. She was probably capable of only about 11 knots. This was by far the weakest of the Vietnamese ships. Her single 3″/50 was manually loaded and had no radar fire control.

China

T-396

Two Type 010 minesweepers, hull numbers 389 and 396, a variant of the Soviet T-43 steel hull minesweeper but used as patrol vessels. If I interpret the Chinese illustration above correctly, it appears that they were armed differently. #396 armed with a twin 37mm/67 guns, two twin 25mm guns and two twin 14.5mm/93 machineguns. #389 armed with an 85mm/52 dual purpose mount (20 pound projectile), a twin 37mm gun, and two twin 25mm guns. They had a full load displacement of 600 tons, were 197 feet (60 meters) in length, with a speed of 14 knots.

Two Project 122bis (NATO codename Kronshtadt class) submarine chasers hull numbers 271 and 274 armed with an 85mm gun, twin 37mm/67 guns, and three twin 14.5mm/93 machineguns. They also had ASW rocket launchers that might have been usable against surface ships at close range. About the size of the Webber class WPCs, they were 338 tons full load, 52.24 m (171.4 ft) loa, with a speed reported anywhere from 18 knots to 24.

Two armored (presumably meaning armed) trawlers (presumably hull numbers 402 and 407). These did not participate in the battle.

Type 037, Hainan class subchaser #281

Type 037 Hainan class sub-chaser, two twin 57mm on the main deck fore and aft, two twin 25mm on the O-1 deck fore and aft. RBU1200s on the foc’sle.

Two additional small surface combatants 281 and 282 Type 037 Hainan Class sub-chasers, arrived too late to participate in the fight, but their impending arrival possibly influencing the decision to leave the field of battle. These 430 ton craft were 58.77 m (192 ft 10 in) long with a speed of over 30 knots. They were armed with four (2×2) 57mm guns and four (2×2) 25mm guns, four 5 tube RBU-1200 launchers.

 

Chinese depiction of the fighting. I think there may have been some artistic license taken.

Chinese vessel damaged after the battle. Presumably T-389, which was intentionally grounded to prevent it sinking. Reportedly it was refloated.

HQ16 after the battle. Note the twin 40mm on the O-1 deck forward of the bridge.

QUESTIONS:

Why didn’t the Vietnamese use their range advantage?

It would appear that the Vietnamese had a range advantage with their two larger 5″ guns, but it was not possible to remain entirely outside the range of the Chinese guns. While the two 5″ had a nominal range of 18,200 yards (16,640 m), the Chinese 85mm guns had a range of 17,000 yards (15,565 m). Those ranges are not realistic, in addition to the fact it is almost impossible to achieve hits at max range against moving targets, we also have to consider the fire control system. I don’t have information on the Chinese firecontrol, but the Mk52 fire control on the two former Coast Guard cutters is very familiar and it has significant weaknesses as an anti-ship system.

Mk52GFCS

Mk52 Gun Fire Control Director with Mk15 Gyro Sight and Mk26 radar

The Mk52 is a relative-rate fire control systems have been designed to engage air contacts at short or medium ranges. The gun target line is established by a crewman using handle bars, pointing the director at the target. Consequently it is responsive to fast moving targets, but lacks the precision required to fully exploit the maximum range of the 5″/38s. On destroyers and larger vessels, it was used only as a secondary fire control system for 5″ guns.

More about the range advantage later.

Why did the Vietnamese loose when they seemed to have the advantage?

The Vietnamese forces were at least equal in terms of their medium gun systems. They may have had a disadvantage in heavy machine guns, but that should have been offset by their much greater displacement. Four Vietnamese ships had a total full load displacement of 8,303 tons  while the four Chinese ships that engaged them had a total full load displacement of 1,876 tons. It might be noted that all four the Vietnamese ships combined, were less well armed than a single Fletcher class destroyer as they were equipped at the end of WWII (five 5″/38s, fourteen 40mm, twelve 20mm, and five torpedo tubes).

Looking at the diagram above, you can see that the Vietnamese forces were split with two ships North of a reef labeled “Antelope” or “Bai da Ngam” and two ships South. If correct, this puts the two groups nine to ten miles apart, too far apart for mutual support, allowing the Chinese to deal with the groups consecutively. It may have been a conscious decision; it may have been that the Northern group opened fire first (which apparently they did at 10:24 AM), but for what ever reason, it appears they may have concentrated first on the Northern group which was the weaker of the two, with one former cutter (HQ-16) and the former minesweeper (HQ-10) slowed by an engine casualty. These two ships were the most heavily damaged in the fighting. The minesweeper was sunk and HQ-16 limped away listing with heavy damage.

The HQ-16 was reportedly hit by fire from the HQ-5, suggesting HQ-5 must have been far enough away that they could mistake their sister ship for a Chinese vessel. Since the battle only lasted 40 minutes it is unlike the Southern group ever closed sufficiently to support the Northern group. With the sinking of HQ-10 and the withdrawal of HQ-16 of the Northern group, the Southern group apparently decided they were outgunned and withdrew after exchanging.

What was the reported guided missile?

” Nhựt Tảo took a direct hit from a ship-to-ship missile (China claims the weapon used was an RPG) on her bridge and went dead in the water.”

There are several references to guided missiles on the Chinese ships, and reports that the RVNS Nhựt Tảo (HQ-10), the former USS Serene (AM-300), was hit by a missile in spite of the fact that none of the Chinese ships were equipped with anti-ship guided missiles. I think it is possible the Chinese may have used their RBU-1200 anti-submarine rockets as an anti-ship weapon.

RBU-1200 rocket launchers, mounted on the bow of a small ASW vessel. The gun mount is a twin 25mm.

The RBU-1200 is an ASW rocket launcher with a range of 1200 meters (1310 yards). Projectile diameter is 250mm (9.8″) with a weight of 154 pounds (70 kg). The warhead weight was 75 pounds (34 kg). The typical launcher consisted of five tubes and most installations included multiple launchers, usually four, for a total salvo of up to 20 rockets. The rockets explode at a programmed depth or on contact. I believe I have seen that these weapons are sometimes used for shore bombardment, so presumably they would explode if they hit a ship.

The Chinese were reported to have said they had hit the ship with an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade. Rocket propelled projectiles like the RBU-1200 are some times referred to a grenades, so this may have been the type of “Rocket Propelled Grenade” they referred to.

“The smaller Chinese warships managed to maneuver into the blind spots of the main cannons on the Vietnamese warships.”

If they had attempted this, a counter might have been something like the “Thach Weave” which naval aviators in World War II when engaging faster more maneuverable Zero fighter aircraft. Wingmen alternately passing under the stern of the other aircraft to clear his “six.”

I suspect this only happened in the case of the HQ-10 and only after its one operating engine was disabled. When the crew manning its aft mounted 40mm guns were killed, which happened twice, it became essentially defenseless. This does lead to another observation.

The crews of automatic weapons on the Chinese ships were better protected than those on the Vietnamese ships. 

Chinese (Soviet) 25mm

Looking at the installation of the 37, 25, and 14.5mm guns on the Chinese ships, it is apparent that their crews were better protected than those manning the 40, 20, and 12.7mm (.50 cal.) guns on the Vietnamese ships. If the Vietnamese guns were protected at all, it was only by shields protecting the crew from the direction the guns were pointed. Additionally the 3″/50s on HQ-10 and HQ-4 had no ballistic protection for the crews. By contrast the Chinese had wrap around protection that at least some extent protected their crews from effects of explosions that might occur to the side or in some cases behind the crew. The 85mm guns were shielded by what appears to be a complete enclosure, similar to those on the 5″/38s. The lack of protection endangers not only the gun crew, but also the ship they are trying to protect. I am still concerned about the lack of protection for Coast Guard gun crews manning .50 caliber machine guns and early model crew served 25mm Mk38s.

Chinese (Soviet) 37mm twin

Soviet era 14.5mm twin heavy machine gun. The Chinese also made a twin 14.5mm that looked much like the 25mm above, with the guns stacked vertically.

The Butcher’s Bill:

According to Wikipedia:

The South Vietnamese reported that the warship HQ-10 was sunk and the HQ-16 heavily damaged, while the HQ-5 and HQ-4 were both slightly damaged. 53 Vietnamese soldiers, including Captain Ngụy Văn Thà of HQ-10, were killed, and 16 were injured. On January 20, 1974, the Dutch tanker, Kopionella, found and rescued 23 survivors of the sunken HQ-10. 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 released in 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. China confirmed a total of 18 deaths among its forces.

The Vietnamese claimed greater damage to the Chinese forces including a sinking. Could the Chinese be lying? I doubt it, but it is certainly possible. We cannot assume either side would never attempt to shape the narrative for their own purposes. In any case it makes little difference in the long run.

 When it ended:
After the battle, the Chinese doubled down on their commitment, bringing in additional reinforcements.
The Vietnamese made no further effort to reclaim the islands and left their remaining small garrisons to be captured by larger Chinese landing parties.
How it might have been done differently:
It appears the Vietnamese made two preliminary mistakes.
  • Splitting their forces and
  • Including HQ-10 in their force.

The error of splitting the force should be obvious. The HQ-10 was too weak to add much to the offensive capability of the force, and its reduced speed made her a liability. The Chinese were able to easily overtake and overwhelm her.

What should have been done with the other three ships (two 311s and the DER)? Operating as a unit, the Vietnamese would have had an advantage in medium range weapons (2×5″ plus 2×3″ rapid fire mounts vs 3x85mm) while at shorter range, the Chinese’ eight 37mm, eight 25mm, and sixteen 14.5mm might have tipped the balance the other way.

The Vietnamese would have had a speed advantage over at least two of the four Chinese vessels.

Rather than rushing to close the range, the Vietnamese should have tried to maintain a range to target within its effective range, less than 10,000 yard–optimally about 7,000 yards, but outside the effective range of the Chinese 37mm and smaller weapons–less than 5,000 yards. Optimally the Chinese would have wanted to be inside 2,000 yards.

For the Chinese to attempt to run would be suicidal, because Vietnamese could maintain a range, at least on the two slowest warships and the two trawlers, most favorable for them.

Assuming the Chinese attempted to close the range, the Vietnamese probably would not want to simply turn directly away, at least not for any length of time, because they would then only have one 3″/50 that could bear, while the Chinese could bring all three of their 85mm to bear. They could, however, by turning slightly away from the Chinese, going 18 knots, and keeping their enemy at about 120 or 240 degrees relative, slow their approach and allow virtually unlimited time to attrite the Chinese. The resulting track would approximate a circle with the Vietnamese on the outside and the Chinese on a shorter radius circle inside.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I benefitted from both better information about the opposing forces and much more time to think about it than the men who were actually there, so perhaps it would be unfair to be critical.