กองสารสนเทศ กรมอิเล็กทรอนิกส์ทหารเรือ ็History of the Royal Thai Navy
 
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กองสารสนเทศ กรมอิเล็กทรอนิกส์ทหารเรือ
Sunday 21 December 2014
 
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The Naval Battle at Ko Chang

            The Naval Battle at Ko Chang occurred during World War H. In September 1940, when France was about to declare war with Germany , the French government asked the Thai government to sign a contract of non-invasion in Indochina . A Thai envoy was sent to say that Thais would be happy to comply with French request on condition that France reciprocally agree to the Thai request. to revise outstanding border dispute. The Thais proposed that the conflict be settled according to international laws and fairness by using deep channels in the river as natural borderlines, thus requiring France to return the right bank of the Mekong River that it had force?fully taken from Thais. An agreement was not reached. Thai sentiments grew stronger and a people's rally was organised, fiercely demanding back land that was taken. Peaceful negotiations failed and France ordered a pre-emptive strike against Thailand by sending a bomber to bomb the city of Nakhon Phanom on 28 November 1940. The incident marked the start of a battle by land, sea and air near the southern tip of Ko Chang, an island to the east of Thailand .
            Once France took action against Thailand by bombing Nakh_n Phanom, a navy fleet was organised to counter the attack, in activation of the first phase in the self-defense plan. A unit was sent to Khlong Yai, Trat province, the outermost district of the east, adjacent to French Indochina so as to provide security and protection for the people while marines were dispatched to Chanthaburi and Trat provinces.


            
             The Thai navy started patrolling the waters to prevent enemy landing east of the Gulf of Thailand , periodically grouping near Ko Chang and Ko Kood to operate checkpoints in this area.
            On 14 January 1941, a naval group was dispatched to replace the group previously stationed there with HTMS Songkhla, HTMS Rayorig and HTMS Chon Buri posted to the south of Ko Chang and HTMS Thonburi, HTMS Nong Sarai and HTMS Teo Utok to the west of Ko Ngam.
             At 0600 January 17, 1941, an enemy reconnaissance seaplane approached Ko Chang with a mission to destroy facilities on Ko Ngam. Sailors and officers on board the HTMS Songkhla and HTMS Chon Buri spotted the plane and the Commanding Officer ordered all hands on deck and the 75 mm guns and 20 mm and 8 mm machine guns manned.
             On the pass back south, the plane dropped two bombs on to the building on Ko Ngam but the bombs fell in the water between Laem Tian pass between Ko Chang and Ko Ngam. HTMS Songkhla -and HTMS Chon Buri fired their anti?aircraft guns and machine guns at the range of 2,000 meters. The seaplane sustained damage to the right wing and disappeared in the sea to the south of Ko Whai.

            At the same time three groups of enemy warships were quickly moving up to the south of Ko Chang under the cloak of darkness.
            Group 1 : the cruiser Lamotte-Picquet
            Group 2 : the Dumont d'Urville, Amiral Charner
            Group 3 : armed auxiliaries Marne and Tahure
            
The submarines and the armed trading ships still kept their station off the open waters and did not join the skirmish. The cruiser Lamotte-Picquet, the lead ship, moved within range of the 12,000 meter distance from Koh Ngam and opened fire on the building. When HTMS Songkhla and HTMS Chon Buri spotted the Lamotte-Picquet, they moved in for battle.

HTMS Songkhla's Battle
            Around 0610 HTMS Songkhla saw the cruiser bombarding the building on Ko Ngam and commenced firing when the ship was in range. She had the advantage of surprise and after three rounds, the enemy ship was clearly hit.
            When the cruiser Lamotte-Picquet realized it was under attack, the ship's guns were turned to HTMS Songkhla. Most rounds, how?ever, fell on Ko Chang and Ko Ngam because the ship blended in with the island in the background and morning visibility was not good.

            Soon, the third group of ships approached from the west. These ships also fired on HTMS Songkhla and HTMS Chon Buri. The Songkhla could not return fire because the targets were outside all gun envelopes. HTMS Chon Buri took on the task.
            With increasing light, the two Thai ships sustained more hits. Several gunmen on board HTMS Songkhla were killed. HTMS Songkhla was taking in a lot of water especially near the stem and the heavy fire in the hold could not be contained. Finally, the Commanding Officer ordered everyone to abandon ship at around 0645 after 35 minutes of full engagement with enemy warships.

The first HTMS Songkhla

HTMS Chon Buri's Engagement  

            After having shot the enemy plane down, around 0610, HTMS Chon Buri spotted the cruiser Lamotte-Picquet moving in from Ko Whai and opened fire at 12,000 meters range, at the same time as HTMS Songkhla started firing. During this short time, two other enemy ships turned up and started firing heavily on the two Thai ships at 8,000 meters.
            In the exchange of fire, one of the French ships sustained a hit on the funneL The second ship tried to protect the damaged ship and the group fell out of formation.
            However, HTMS Chon Buri was also heavily bombarded. The first hit that the Chon Buri sustained was to her mast that broke in half and crashed down onto the bridge. The next few hits were starboard at water level and most importantly, a salvo hit the fuel tank, causing the fuel to flood the stem magazine and a raging fire ensued. The ship started sinking and the Commanding Officer ordered the ship abandoned at around 0650.
            Once the sailors had swum away from the burning torpedo ship, French ships kept firing at the HTMS Chon Buri until she sank under water.

HTML Chon Buri

HTMS Thonburi's Role
            In the morning of 17 January at 0530, HTMS Thonburi heard enemy planes and battle station was ordered. A short while after that, cannon fire were heard, indicating that the two other Thai torpedo boats had encountered enemy ships. With the aim to assist the two torpedo boats, HTMS Thonburi headed off towards the two ships around 0620. HTMS Nong-Sarai and HTMS Teo Utok also followed closely.

            When the enemy was sighted, HTMS Thonburi moved to engage the enemy while HTMS Nong Sarai and HTMS TeoUtok were ordered to steer north of Ko Chang, away from the battle because they were small ships that would be at severe disadvantage against the large warship like the cruiser Lamotte-Picquet.
            At about the same time, the Lamotte-Picquet moved out into open waters and the battle between the Thai ship and French cruiser commenced. When compared to the Lamotte-Picquet whose displ;1ce?ment was 9,350 tons and with a speed of 33 knots, HTMS Thonburi, at 2,200 tons and 15 knots was no match for the Lamotte-Picquet; even if HTMS Thonburi had four. 8-inch guns, the French has eight 6-inch guns as well as torpedoes.

Battle damage on HTMS Thonburi

 


HTMS IThonburi Memorial at the Naval Academy
Crew of HTML Songhkla who survived the ko Chang battle
          
              During the engagement, HTMS Thonburi hit the main deck of the Lamotte-Picquet twice as smoke and blazes could be seen from HTMS Thonburi. The cruiser returned fire at HTMS Thonburi and a few rounds hit below the bridge. The Commanding Officer and the helmsman died instantly and the ship's steering gear was damaged.
            To make matters worse, an enemy plane dropped a bomb on HTMS Thonburi. The bomb hit the kitchen and killed three sailors. Many sailors were also injured in the ensuing fire. Throughout the attack, the gunmen on the Thonburi kept firing until a French patrolboat was hit and the enemy retreated.
             At 0830, order to cease fire was given.
             The fire on board the HTMS Thonburi became dangerous because it was getting near the ship's magazine. Order was given to flood the magazine to prevent explosion. The fire, however, could not be put out and strong wind fanned the flame. A decision was then made for HTMS Chang to tow the HTMS Thonburi, and ran her aground at Laem Ngob.
             In the battle, 36 lives in the Royal Thai Navy were lost. The exact number and nature of loss of the French were unclear. The engagement on the 17 January 1941 was not a major battle but it was an important one for the Royal Thai Navy in term of major engagement since its development as a modern naval force. The fight also highlighted the courage and bravery of Thai naval men. France ,the arch-enemy, acknowledged Thai bravery through a French broadcast from a radio station in Saigon on 19 January 1941 as follows:
             ".. But we cannot forget to pay tribute to the fierce and brave fighting of the Thai Naval forces. We wish to pay respect to those who lost their lives in the battle. They died with honour and military pride for their homeland. "
            
Because of the bravery of the three ships, enemy ships were damaged and had to retreat. The French later issued an announcement that they were victorious and did not sustain any damage which was contrary to the fact that trading ships which encountered the Lamotte-Picquet in Saigon reported that the ship was leaning to one side and was undergoing extensive repairs.
             Courage and bravery in the face of war seemed to be inherent of many battles in Thai history, with the battle of the Ko Chang being an exemplary naval engagement. French document praised the Thai sailors: "If we consider the fate of this battle, the Thais were surely at a disadvantage but the Thai naval men should be praised for their fierce determination, courage and sacrifice in the protection of their country."
 
 

 

 

กองสารสนเทศ กรมอิเล็กทรอนิกส์ทหารเรือ ็History of the Royal Thai Navy
 

For more information on the Royal THai Navy,
see http://www.navy.mi.th
Printed at the Royal Thai Navy Printing Division, Naval Administration Department,
September 2005