Johnson South Reef Skirmish
|Johnson South Reef Skirmish|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Chen Weiwen 陈伟文, CO 502 Nanchong|| Deputy Brigadier Tran Duc Thong;
Le Lenh Son, CO HQ-605;
Vu Phi Tru †, CO HQ-604;
Vu Huy Le, CO HQ-505
|502 Nanchong 南充 (Jiangnan Class/065) frigate;
556 Xiangtan 湘潭 (Jianghu II Class/053H1) frigate;
531 Yingtan 鹰潭 (Jiangdong Class/053K) frigate
|HQ-505 (ex Quy Nhon HQ-504) landing craft;
HQ-604 armed transporter;
HQ-605 armed transporter
|Casualties and losses|
|none||Over 70 killed 
9 captured 
HQ-604 and HQ-605 sunk
HQ-505 heavily damaged
The Johnson South Reef Skirmish of 1988 (Chinese: 赤瓜礁海战; pinyin: Chìguā jiāo hǎizhàn; Vietnamese: Hải chiến Trường Sa?) was a naval battle that took place between Chinese and Vietnamese forces over Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands on March 14, 1988.
During the 14th UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), it was agreed upon that China would establish five observation posts, including one at the Spratly Islands, for worldwide ocean survey. In March 1987, the UNESCO IOC commissioned China to build the observation post at the Spratly Islands. In April 1987, after numerous surveys and patrols, China choose the Fiery Cross Reef as the ideal location for the observation post, because the unoccupied reef was remote from other claims and it was large enough for the observation post. Between January and February, Vietnamese forces began establishing its presence at surrounding reefs to monitor the Chinese activity. This proved to lead to a series of confrontation as the People's Liberation Army Navy began defending its position.
In 31 January 1988, two armed Vietnamese cargo ship began approaching the Fiery Cross Reef, so they could get construction material there to build structures to signify the Vietnamese claim over the reef. However, the PLAN intercepted the ships and steered them away from the reef. On 17 February, a group Chinese ships (PLAN destroyer, escort, and transport ships) and Vietnamese ships (minesweeper and armed freighter) attempted to land their troops at Cuarteron Reef, but eventually the Vietnamese ships were forced to withdraw from the Chinese ships. On 13 and 14 March, a PLAN guided missile escort ship was surveying the Johnson reef until three Vietnamese ships began approaching its location.
|Part of a series on the|
Spratly Islands military occupations map
Johnson South Reef skirmish
On March 13, the frigate Nanchong detected PAVN Vietnamese transporter HQ-604 heading toward Johnson South Reef, transporter HQ-605 heading toward Lansdowne Reef, and landing craft HQ-505 heading toward Collins Reef in a simultaneous three-pronged intrusion upon the disputed reefs.
At approximately 07:30 hours on Johnson South Reef, Vietnamese troops attempted to erect the Vietnam flag on the reef. It was reported that PAVN Corporal Nguyen Van Lanh and PAVN Sublieutenant Tran Van Phuong disputed the flag against PLA-N sailor Du Xianghou resulting in pitched battle between the two opposing forces. Vietnamese forces, with transporter HQ-604 in support, opened fire in response. PLA-N forces and the frigate Nanchong counter-attacked at 08:47 hours: transporter HQ-604 was set ablaze in the firefight and sunk.
At 09:15 hours, the frigate Xiangtan arrived at the Lansdowne reef and discovered 9 Vietnamese troops from transporter HQ-605 had already landed. The frigate Xiangtan immediately hailed the Vietnamese forces demanding their withdrawal from the reef and was met with Vietnamese fire in reply. In the ensuing firefight, the HQ-605 was damaged heavily and sunk by the Chinese.
In late 1987, PRC started to deploy troops to some unoccupied reefs of the Spratly Islands. Soon after the PLA stormed the Johnson South Reef, a skirmish began between the Vietnamese troops and PRC landing parties on March 14, 1988. Within a year, the PLA took over seven reefs and rocks of the Spratly Islands.
China occupied six reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands by the end of 1988 due to its victory.
In 1994 China had a similar asserting of its territory at the Mischief Reef which was at that time inside the claimed EEZ of the Philippines. However, there was only political protest from the Philippines since, according the Henry L. Stimson Center, the Philippine Navy decided to avoid confrontation, a decision that was partly based on the Johnson South Reef Skirmish where Vietnamese troops were killed despite the conflict taking place near the Vietnamese-controlled area.
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