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This section has been extracted from the article

"Twenty-Four Years after, in Remembrance of the Paracel Battle, in Commemoration of Lost Soldiers"

(1998) by Mr. Vu-Huu-San, Former Captain of VNN - DER-4.
- Đăng theo nguyên-bản English t́m thấy trên Net -

One foreign friend who had knowledge about Vietnam, asked: "in January 1974, with an underdog navy forces, why did the South Vietnam challenge the more powerful China fleet?"
This seems like a logical question.
Twenty four years ago, US Navy officers stationed in Vietnam also thought that the South Vietnam Navy would have quietly withdrawn. To further isolate South Vietnam, the US not only informed that they would stay out of the dispute, but also blocked the use of torpedoes, withdrew the US fleet and firmly refused to help rescue soldiers on the sea after the battle... They did never expect the little South Vietnam again to pick a fight with the giant China.
The Vietnamese, even though not directly participated in the battle, many of them would give the same answer as following:
To defend the country, even death, the South Vietnam Navy determined to fight. The Paracel Islands is a part of Vietnam territory, the Vietnamese vow to defend it. The South Vietnam Navy exchanged fire with the invaders, fought with all his strength. Many worldwide observers, at first were wondering, later were admiring the Vietnamese courage.
China was not beaten that time; however, worldwide newspapers and magazines did report that event with favorable commentaries toward South Vietnam.
On those days, we defended the land on behalf of millions Vietnamese. It was nearly 200 years after the Dong-Da victory of King Quang-Trung in 1789, the South Vietnam Navy stood up to fight again the northern invaders. Unfortunately, the South Vietnam Navy was an underdog in comparison to China Navy. So we could not defeat the enemy as our ancestors had done before. As the result, the Paracel Islands have been taken by the enemy.
Being the most senior Commodore (3) at sea in those years of 1973-1975, Field-Commander of the operation to defend the Paracel Islands at the earlier stage, and Captain of the destroyer Tran-Khanh-Du, DER- HQ4, I myself recognized the courage and fight-until-death determination of many soldiers. Therefore, the South Vietnam small fleet had caused heavy casualty to the enemy fleet: two ships sunk and two heavily destroyed.

Today, being here in front of you, on behalf of many soldiers, I would like to share with you several viewpoints:
- First, to have a silent moment dedicated to lost heroes while they were defending the Paracel Islands.
- Secondly, to affirm the determination of the South Vietnam Navy to carry out their duty in 1974.
- Lastly, to confirm that the South Vietnam Navy fleet HQ4, HQ5, HQ16, HQ10 did fire at the enemy first.
The moment of silence to remember lost soldiers at the Paracel Islands battle was observed. We, the survivals, would like to share our thought with those lost soldiers:
Fallen friends! We were together on the same fleet heading toward the Paracel Islands that year. You did not come back to see your families as we did.
You sacrificed your lives to protect our fatherland. You fought until death. You did fulfill your duty. Glory to the departed heroes whose bodies lie resting forever in the Vietnamese waters.
To commemorate your sacrifice, we were praying for your souls:
To our lost soldiers, who sacrificed their lives in the Paracel Islands battle,
Eastward are hungry devils competing for oil and wishing to dismenber our bodies.
Don't go northward where filthy red fiends are showing their fangs and claws.
Westward is the world of craziness and materialism and money grubbing.
Southward used to be our promise land now lost, our people fled our land for every corner of the globe.
So please follow the wind, go to the farthest horizon.
Where cloud and water met to unite you with our ancestors.
We, the survivals, still determined to continue to walk our unfinished path. When the time came we would reunite after death in the next few decades.

On the second viewpoint, we heartily agreed with former Commander Pham-Trong-Quynh, Commanding Officer of the HQ5. Even though, everybody knew that the South Vietnam Navy participated in the battle, however, Commander Quynh and I would like to bring up few details which had not been mentioned before.
In the Paracel Islands battle, 1974, we fired until all the cannons became inoperable and we had no more ammunitions.
We faithfully obeyed the orders from our commanders. We fought when we were ordered to. Even in a desperate attempt, we were ordered to crash the ships into the islands to claim our sovereignty with their wreckage . We did steer our ships towards the suicide act.

Twenty four years after the battle, we, the survivals, have searched numerous books in many libraries, but could not find a loftier image where destroyer Tran-Khanh-Du and cruiser Tran-Binh-Trong were preparing to carry out the order to crash the ships without protest. Until late afternoon that day, another order to withdraw from the Paracel Islands was issued, we steered our wounded ships back to Da-Nang to bury the dead, send the wounded to hospitals, and fix the ships, ...

On the third viewpoint, we would like to report the incident where our battleship fired first:
24 years ago, it was about the end of the Year of the Ox and beginning of the Year of the Tiger, 01-17-1974, I, commander of HQ4, appointed by the Admiral, Commander of the Navy Coastal Force of the 1st Military Region, to be the commander of Operation Paracel Islands to protect the islands. It was the only signed document about the operation. All the subsequent orders had been transmitted by radio.
At that time, HQ16 who had been at the Paracel Islands earlier, reported many Chinese warships, landing-craft, disguised as fishing boats. The Chinese already occupied Drummond, and Duncan. The Chinese fleet patrolled the surrounding area. HQ16 also sent 15 persons to guard Money.
On 01-18-1974, HQ4 sent 13 persons to guard Robert.
On 01-19-1974, when HQ5 and HQ10 joined the South Vietnam fleet at the Paracel Islands, Navy Captain Ha-Van-Ngac, who was the Commander of Sea Patrol Flottila, took over the commanding post.
The South Vietnam fleet tried unsuccessfully to use seal men to recapture Duncan from the Chinese. After that, the South Vietnam ships were ordered to prepare for the battle.

The Chinese side had 11 warships, with many more behind and 300,000 sailors, planes, and many types of missiles. The South Vietnam side had only 4 ships: Destroyer Tran-Khanh-Du (DER) HQ4, two cruisers (WHEC) Tran-Binh-Trong HQ5 and Ly-Thuong-Kiet HQ16, Patrol craft escort (PCE) Nhat-Tao HQ10.
Those were only South Vietnam warships thrown into the battle at that time. Other ships were too far away. South Vietnam Air Forces with F-5 fighters could not fly that far from their base. We realized that we had to fight alone.

The battle lasted from 10:25 AM to 11:00 AM. When HQ10 fired on the island, HQ4, HQ5, and HQ16 together fired at the enemy ships. HQ4, with two 6,000-horsepower engines, ran at full speed and fired cannons, heavy machine guns non-stop.

Most of the cannons on board were rapidly firing capable. HQ4 was about 1,600 yards from the enemy ships. Therefore, most of its shots hit the enemy ship.
The first 5 or 6 minutes of the battle would decide the fate of engaging ships. Enemy ships sank, our ship sank. Two enemy ships and our HQ10 were put out of action during this short period.
Our ships, with speed of 20 knots, and enemy ships, with speed of 25 knots, moved away from each other at 45 knots, about the automobile speed of 60 mph or 85 km/h on highway. From the distance about 6 miles or 8-9 km, it was getting more difficult to shoot at the target because enemy ships became smaller and the ship's decks were only 2 meters above the water.

The Paracel Islands battle was a pretty unique battle. Both South Vietnam and China fleets intertwined while exchanging fire. An 127mm shell from HQ5 accidentally hit HQ16. Section 2 with HQ4, and HQ5 was just luckier than Section 1 with HQ16, and HQ10. My ship, HQ4, could inevitably get hits by others. "Friendly fire" at the Paracel Islands battle was different from one in a similar case of the US Navy in Operation Desert Storm, that meant the South Vietnam fleet accepted the risk. It proved that the South Vietnam fleet was not afraid of the enemy instead they wanted a good fight. That attitude might scare off the Chinese. You all had heard other stories which our troops requesting artillery fire right on their positions to kill the enemy and also themselves when they were outnumbered by the enemy and could no longer hold on to their positions. The Paracel Islands battle was also similar.

The South Vietnam fleet planned to have an upper hand by a "swift attack and swift victory" before the enemy could be reinforced for counter-attack. After half an hour of fire exchange, both fleets got further away. As predicted earlier, there were 4 glaringly white waves moved towards the Paracel Islands from the Northeast. They were 4 more missile ships coming to reinforce the enemy fleet.
The next day, the Chinese occupied the entire Paracel Islands....

There is no fear now to deny the fact that the South Vietnam fleet opened fire first. When enemy invades our country, everybody has to fight against them. Being a soldier who participated in the battle 24 years ago, I would like to recall that:
The destroyer Tran-Khanh-Du HQ4, while trying to stop the enemy from occupying more islands on the afternoon of 02-18-1974, rammed the side of a Chinese ship. No matter how obstinate they could be, they had to step back when seeing a big hole on the upper side of their ship's conning tower.
After the failed landing attempt to retake Duncan Island, our fleet had no choice but to fire first at the enemy. Even though we knew that we could not protect the Paracel Islands afterward, we still wanted to sink as many enemy ships as possible.
It was sad to learn that in 1988, the communist Vietnam troops could not return any fire while the Chinese troops defeated them at the Spratly Islands, but their lleaders submissively came to the negotiation table with the Chinese instead. Any devoted soldier all knows that one has to fight in order to have peace talks...

Re-evaluating the Situation of South Vietnam:

After the Paracel Islands battle, even though the South Vietnam Navy did not bring back victory as their ancestors had done, people were still welcoming the returning soldiers as heroes. As a tradition to honor country heroes and heroines, a street in Saigon was named after Commander Nguy-Van-Tha, commander of Patrol craft escort Nhat-Tao HQ10 who died in action at the Pracels.
After the North Vietnamese Communists overran South Vietnam in 1975, the street named after that hero no longer existed. Many others who participated in the Paracel Islands battle were thrown in re-education camps. The betrayers who exchanged our land for weapons to suppress his own people were referred to by Frank Ching, a reporter of the Far East Economic Review, in the article "Reassessing South Vietnam" on 02-10-1994.
"Very few governments are prepared to admit their mistakes, no matter how obvious they are. Such as that of the Vietnamese Communists.
Even though the Vietnam Communist rulers no longer follow Marxist-Leninist socialism except for the name, they are not willing to admit it. However, their market economy policy is itself an admission.
The Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) was fighting on behalf of socialism to conquer South Vietnam. During the war, they had aids from all communist-ruled countries, especially Moscow and Beijing. The bloody war killed many innocent people, severely devastated the country. The toll is very high, until now they are still paying for that, they have no choice but to switch to a market economy as a late comer to stimulate the economy. However, they still cling on the old ideology. Because of that ideology, in the past, Hanoi had been carrying out many policies which now do not make any sense at all.

Hanoi used to madly slander the South Vietnam government as an "Americans' puppet", which was "cheaply selling national interests." Those accusations are unfounded, and gradually, people have realized that those accusations should have been attributed to Hanoi. Looking back at the events 24 years later, it was obviously the Saigon government that many times stood up for the sake of the country, not Hanoi. The Paracel Islands dispute is an example.
In the recent years, the Indonesian government has sponsored conferences to discuss the South China Sea issues. In every such conference, the VCP government once again awkwardly tried to explain their silence when the Chinese invaded those islands, which now it claims possession of.

According to the VCP government, China took advantage of the unrest political and social situations in Vietnam and in the world at the time to use military forces to invade the Paracel Islands. The reason was very weak and also did not explain Hanoi silence at the time. Twenty years have passed, history has corroborated many facts. It is time to recognize the South Vietnam government's merits. Hanoi should recognize that too, and admit the fact that while South Vietnam bravely standing up to resist the Chinese invasion, Hanoi was still busy flattering China. Hanoi has to admit the fact that the South Vietnam government cared for the country more than Hanoi has ever done.

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