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History: The Battle of Koh Chang

Posted by Vadmin on January 31, 2013
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One of the most dramatic events in Koh Chang’s history was a naval engagement between the forces of the Royal Thai Navy and the Vichy French Navy during WWII. The battle of Koh Chang took place on 17th January 1941 and was actually part of the Franco-Thai War (1940-41) which was fought in an attempt by Thailand to regain territory ceded to France earlier in the colonial era.

The battle was fought off Koh Chang’s southern tip, an area where space to manoeuvre was severely restricted due to the Salakphet Islands and the islands to the south and south east of Koh Chang.

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The Thai forces were numerically superior to the French and consisted of two modern 2,500 tonne coastal defence vessels with eight-inch guns, two older gunboats, 12 torpedo boats and four submarines. They also had over 140 aircraft at their disposal including Japanese-built Mitsubishi Ki-30 bombers, as well as coastal artillery batteries.

The French navy was smaller, but included the old but still formidable light cruiser, 8,000 tonne Dugay-Trouin class, La Motte Picquet with its eight six-inch guns (8x 155mm), two Bougainville class 1,700 tonne avisos (the Dumont d’Urville and Admiral Charner) and two smaller sloops (the Tahure and the Marne). The French had no air cover to speak of, but did have eight seaplanes that performed reconnaissance duties.

Despite being outnumbered, the French forces, commanded by Admiral Jean Decoux, received orders to ‘attack the Siamese coastal cities from Rayong to the Cambodian frontier to force Siamese government to withdraw its forces from the Cambodian frontier’. They were intent on weakening the Thai Naval presence and decided to attack the home fleet while it was at anchor in Salakphet Bay.

In the early hours of the morning of 17th January, the French advanced on Thai positions using the island of Koh Khlum as cover. The fleet split into three; the La Motte Picquet heading east across the southern coast of Koh Bai Daeng, the Marne and the Tahure going through the gap between Bang Bao and Koh Khlum and the Dumont d’Urville and Admiral Charner heading through the middle between Koh Khlum and Koh Wai.

At 6.05am, lookouts on HMTS Thonburi spotted a French reconnaissance plane and ordered battle stations. They fought off an attempted attack with anti-aircraft fire. This lost the French the element of surprise.

Forty minutes later, while the situation was to still unclear to Thai commanders, the La Motte Picquet sank two Thai torpedo boats (the Chonburi and the Songkhla) and emerged from the east side of Koh Maisi Yai and began a sustained barrage at the Thonburi. The Thai ship was hit and its commander, Commander Luang Phrom Viraphan, killed.

However, it returned fire as the two foes moved in the gaps between various islands. The Thonbuir was then overwhelmed as the Dumont d’Urville and Admiral Charner burst from between Koh Khlum and Koh Wai and began bearing down on the distressed ship, which was by this time fully ablaze. The Thonburi continued to fire but in the face of overwhelming opposition, made a run for shallower water.

The French ships were unable to follow into the shallows and were aware that the Royal Thai Airforce was scrambling to give air support. As a result, the order was given to turn towards the open sea. Thai aircraft attacked the French fleet but were unable to inflict damage in the face of a sustained anti-aircraft barrage and escaped.

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HTMS Chang went to the aid of the burning Thonburi, trying to extinguish the fires and towed the stricken ship to Ngob Cape. The order was given to abandon ship. She later capsized.

The battle was a victory for the French – sinking two torpedo boats and leaving the Thonburi crippled and an unrecorded number of Thai sailors killed.

The Thonburi was later raised by the Thai Navy and continued in service as a training ship.

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Today a memorial stands to the fallen at Laem Ngob Beach.

Siam Royal View, Koh Chang was recognised as the best villa development on the Thailand’s eastern seaboard at the national property awards. If you would like more details on this exceptional property development please get in touch.


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