Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When Thonburi fights

The book "When Thonburi fights".

Battle of Koh Chang

"Koh" means "island"."Chang" means "elephant"."Koh Chang" mean "Elephant Island".

From the book " When Thonburi fights" by Admiral Jitt Sanghadul published in 1941 after the battle(Translated from Thai by Watcharayui)

We must know that the book published in time of war to tell what happened and to promote patriotism among Thai people.Some sentences may be his only thoughts, not an official report.However, it's his direct experience.

(At that time he was lieutenant junior grade Jongjitt Sanghadul, gunnery officer in an 8 inches aft turret on HTMS Thonburi )

When Thonburi fights

            Before the conflict between our Thailand and French Indochina on territorial problem that was once belonged to Thailand as obvious to every Thai citizen. Our fleet went on weapon training as annual duty as always did for generating expertise and  increasing our navy efficiency and to be strong as national naval fence. But our training was not yet finished according to chief of staff department’s plan. An serious unforgiving incident had occurred that was French aircraft bombing our frontier province, Nakorn Panom.
            On November 28, 1940 ,the navy organized and formed the fleet, finishing on November 29, 1940 for preparing the oncoming condition. Modern Thai nation with the navy, naval fence, would not let 1893 incident happen again. That bitter lesson had been buried on our hearts, it was most valuable lesson for current Thai people, especially Thai navy.
            Those land contacts and battles had begun without declaring a war. Our navy was always doing as planned, but it seemed we could not fully operate because war did not declared yet. However we did transport troops landing on our naval frontier provinces. We secured our troops flank from bombarding by enemy ships. We patrolled for search and destroy invading enemy ship in front sea and inner sea. But during our patrol, no enemy ship was found, we keep patrolling until the naval headquarters send a division to securing around Koh Chang and Koh Kut(Kood), being our easternmost frontier. Meanwhile, our naval headquarters keep waiting for additional enemy movement for planning the next necessary steps.
            3rd division of the 1st flotilla consisted of HTMS Thonburi, HTMS Songkla, HTMS Rayong, HTMS Cholburi and HTMS Nongsarhai receiving the order from the commander-in-chief(navy) for switching the duty with 1st division of the 1st flotilla consisted of HTMS Sri Ayudhya, HTMS Phuket, HTMS Pattani, HTMS Surasdra(Surat), and HTMS Kram that was securing around Koh Chang within January 15,1941. The 3rd Division, Commander Luang Prom Veerapan, captain of HTMS Thonburi commanding, sailed from Sattahip on January 14,1941 at 22:00 arriving and anchoring south of Koh Chang near Koh Ngam on January 15,1941 at 09:00 and relieved 1st division which left for Sattahip at 22:00 on the January 15th night. On January 16, 1941 around 15:00 as 3rd division anchored at the same place, there was a mono-wing floatplane (Loire 130) patrolling around Koh Chang on high altitude far from our division. Every ships were on AA battle stations but did not fire because an enemy floatplane flew away. The patrolling of an enemy floatplane cause my commander Luang Prom diagnosed the occurrence that the enemy could send the air strike on our ship division and buildings of Koh Ngam (because enemy had floatplane base on Koh Kong and Koh Rong 40-50 miles away from Koh Chang). In that evening, he then ordered HTMS Rayong sailed at night to patrolling south of Koh Kut(Kood) and at dusk, he took HTMS Thonburi, HTMS Nongsarhai and HTMS Thiew Utok(fishing patrolling boat for miscellaneous use such as supplying provisions) to anchor east of Koh Chang near Koh Lim, with HTMS Songkla and HTMS Cholburi stayed anchoring at the same place. In the evening before leaving, our ship(Thonburi) uncovered the canvas and took off unnecessary canvas poles left only 5-6 poles for comfortable in the next battle station.
            That night, we heard broastcasting about the victory of the Eastern army for destroying the enemy foreign legion and took their color. Upon hearing, we feel proud and delightful in our army ability, we lay down thinking when would be our chance, the seamen. At last ,January 17,1941 came, the day we could never forget for all our lives, the day we fight the French Fleet outnumber us 4 to 1 and we drove them away.
            In the morning of January 17 (1941), the weather was little bit cold, the Southwest wind softly breezed. The twilight was foggy red at the horizon. The visibility was little unclear. The sky was fully clouded. After morning review at 0550 as usual, our crews were separated for exercise as scaling pole and net, it was normal routine of the crews.
At 0610 a watch NCO whistled, finishing exercise every crews running to the bow in rows for gun training. Suddenly watchman from searchlight bridge shouted “a floatplane inbound right bow” flying from the south coming toward our anchoring position. Because of the early morning, the floatplane was seen as black point coming out of the thick clouds. Now, the commander on the bridge looking through binoculars seeing that it’s a French floatplane and suddenly ordered trumpeter sounding battle stations for anti-aircraft guns. Every men were running and jumping to their stations, 4 AA light gun and 4 heavy machine gun turning caliber toward that floatplane as order. We didn't commence firing yet, but that plane turned off toward the strait between Chang island and Ngam island. Our commander ordered for general engagement (our blanket was already wrapped last night) and ordered navigator to radio about floatplane to Chantaburi combined air squadron. Meanwhile, we heard the sound of our torpedo ships' AA guns roaring and saw group of tracers, colored smoke shells and flak burst near enemy floatplane. Our sailors shouted "Chaiyo"(Hurray or Banzai in Thai) with joy and then that floatplane soon disappeared. Another moment we heard guns' roaring more increasingly without tracers and smoke shells in the air as the last time. Definitely, our torpedo ships were being attacked, enemy ships must slip through our patrol vessels without being detected.However, the moment that we were waiting for and dreamed for had come.Everybody were exciting to fight the enemy to restore our honour lost in the year 1893 incident.
           Trumpet sound of sailing alert the sailors who were in charge with the anchor to take their stations.Those who are available jump to (surface) battle stations.The anchor pulled out of the water, watchman at the bridge yelling enemy ship spotted at the edge of Chang Island.That was "Lamotte Picquet",the misty gully white, 2 big funnels ship looked enormous.She was Lamotte Picquet that moored besides Thonburi at Manila and onto Saigon.The ship that our commander always talked about.What If we could evade her,No, never! we were waiting for you. The enormous ship appeared between Mai Si Island and Ngam Island.She's taking easterly course at about 20 knots speed.Her aft turret firing at Ngam Island.We could see the flash from her guns all the time.
           Our commander ordered navigator,lieutenant junior grade Chalerm Sathirathavorn to send radio messages to our fleet HQ that cruiser Lamotte Picquet attacking our squadron anchoring south of Chang Island and ordered siqnalman to send 2 hand signal flags to HTMS Nong Sarhai following not to follow. Then he walked to aft bridge yelling and pointing to sailors at AA gun aft mast bridge who're finding range “ Lamotte-Piquet’s there. Fight them, no retreat.” This is our beloved commander’s leading and fighting blood, isn’t it? Our engines are ready, our anchor’s aweight, our ship started moving to enemy. Everyone’s heart focused on destroying the enemy. Now they’re behind Mai Si island, not firing at each other yet. Sailing for a moment, our commander received words from fire control that aft turret was not ready yet, he then ordered left full rudder and stop the engines to stay behind the island. Assistant weapon officer, lieutenant Sanit Upathampanont commanding secondary guns rallying “Men, now our chance has come, do your duty with courage for our nation and glory of Royal Thai navy”.
               At 06.30, that was 5 minutes later, both turrets were ready, the commander ordered both engines ahead full and ordered prepare fighting on starboard targeting enemy cruiser. Our fire control start working, every guns trained to target.
               At 06.35, Lamotte-Picquet emerged from Koh Mai Si Yai, battle between Thonburi and Lamotte-Picquet commenced with big guns at 13,000 metres. As firing commenced commander move from bridge to control room, the navigator followed and AA gun crews were taking cover as ordered. The next few salvos began to hit us, the aft crew room had been shot through and were taking water. Another shell exploded around supplying light guns ammo line, inside the passage in front of officers' mess under the deck. It caught fire, two men were burnt into red meat until death, another 10 men critically wounded. Some men had arm broken, both edges were almost cut off, looking poorly. Those who were not on firing duty, started putting out fire and helping those wounded men under the order of the executive officer (lieutenant Thong-yoo Sawangnet). From now on, our main guns still always roaring without pause. Those who were

(to be continued)

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