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January 17 - Focus: Battle of Koh Chang

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Alpha Tester
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We had to make a choice today, as most of the classes that we could talk about had already been covered.  Furthermore, NGTM and JeeWeeJ are busy at work (read that JeeWeeJ is probably plotting another murder attempt), so choices were limited.  Being busy too with work, I have decided to "reheat" an old paper I wrote, which is now accumulating e-dust in the archived section.  


Large ships and events of interest related to a January 17:

1911 - IJN Kongō - Kongō-class - Laid down

1914 - SMS Szent István - Tegethoff-class - Launched

1918 - SMS Cöln - Cöln-class - Commissioned

1921 - IJN Kinu - Nagara-class - Laid down

1923 - FS La Motte-Picquet - Duguay Trouin-class - Laid down

1936 - HNLMS Tromp - Tromp-class - Laid down

1941 - Battle of Koh Chang

1943 - USS Natoma Bay - Casablanca-class - Laid down

1944 - HMS Rajah - Ameer-class - Commissioned


Statistics of surface ships related to a January 17:

Allies: 29 ships laid down, 36 launched, 21 commissioned and 7 sunk

Austria-Hungary: 1 ship launched (SMS Szent István)

Germany: 1 ship commissioned (SMS Cöln)

Japan: 2 ships laid down (IJN Kongō and IJN Kinu)



On January 17, 1941, the French navy engaged the Thai navy during the battle of Koh Chang.  France was one of several European countries with colonies in the Pacific.  Indochina (current Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) was then part of French territories, eyed not only by Japan who wanted to expand its empire, but also by Thailand, who wanted to take back territories (Laos and Cambodia) that it lost during the 19th century.





On June 12th, 1940, France and Thailand signed a non-aggression pact, that was challenged as soon as France capitulated to Germany.  It was clear both to Thailand and Japan that France would not have the means to either defend or to reinforce Indochina, and both thought about getting a part (if not all) of it.

On September 22, 1940, the very same day it signed a non-aggression pact with France, Japan ordered its 5th division to attack Lang Son from across the Chinese border.  The battle lasted 3 days and resulted in a cease-fire in exchange for the city.  At that time, France only had 50,000 troops to control all of Indochina, and the Japanese division alone was strong of 30,000 troops who could be resupplied and assisted by the rest of the Japanese forces based in China.  Following that, in October 1940, the United States started an arm embargo on Thailand, a Japanese ally.  Despite that, in January 10, 1941, Thailand started a ground and air offensive against Laos and Cambodia, after months of border skirmishes.


Forces in presence:


Ground: 60,000 troops, 134 tanks

Air: 200 combat aircraft including 24 Ki-30 (Ann), 9 Ki-21 (Sally or Gwen), 25 Hawk 75N, 6 B-10, 33 Ki-27 (Nate), as well as second-line aircraft

Navy: 2 2,265-ton modern Japanese coastal defense ships (4 x 203mm), 10 torpedo boats, 4 submarines, 2 mine-layers



HTMS Thonburi (Japan-built coastal defense ship)



Ground: 50,000 troops, 20 tanks

Air: 60 combat aircraft including 30 Potez 25, 4 Farman 221, 6 Potez 542, 9 MS 406, and 8 Loire 130.

Navy: CL La Motte Picquet (8 x 155 mm), 2 x Bougainville- class 1,700-ton avisos, 2 x 650-ton/700-ton sloops



Light cruiser La Motte Picquet (1939)


Naval battle:

Early January 1941, while the land war had started for about a week (after months of border skirmishes), and the French only conducted defensive operations, the French navy received some intelligence informing it that the Thai navy was about to attack as well.  Rather than wait and be on the defensive, the French Admiralty decided to launch a preemptive strike.


The French naval forces were outnumbered (950 men versus 2,300 men), outweighed (12,500t vs. 16,600t), older (La Motte Picquet was a 1923-design while the Dombhuri was operational in 1938 and the Trad-class torpedo boats were launched in 1935), and outgunned (203 mm on Dombhuri, 155 mm on La Motte Picquet).  It was also a deep sea water navy rather than a coastal one.



Trad-class torpedo boats


On January 15, the French squadron (light cruiser La Motte Picquet, avisos Dumont d'Urville and Amiral Charner, sloops Tahure and Marne) set sail toward the Gulf of Thailand at 13.5 knots, the maximum speed the smaller ships could afford.



Aviso (scout sloop) Amiral Charner


On January 16, a Loire 130 reconnaissance aircraft spotted the Thai navy.  It was divided into two groups, located in Satahib (1 coastal defense ship, 4 torpedo boats, 2 submarines and 2 mine-layers) and in Koh Chang (1 coastal defense ship and 3 torpedo boats).  Captain Berenger, Commanding Officer of the French squadron, decided to focus on the Koh Chang group and to attack on the early hours of January 17.


Battle timeline:

At 06:05, on January 17, another Loire 130 flew over Koh Chang.  To the surprise of its pilot, both armored coastal defense ships (Dombhuri and Ahidea) were present as well as some minor vessels.  The French aircraft was spotted and the surprise attack that the French wanted to achieve was now compromised.



Loire 130

At 06:14, the French squadron was now visible on the horizon while the Thai ships were more difficult to spot, as they laid against the port background.  The Thai opened fire,returned by the French avisos at a distance of 14,000 yards.

At 06:19, La Motte Picquet fired her 8 x 155 mm at a distance of 11,000 yards then launched a salvo of 3 torpedoes.  One of the two Thai torpedo boats was severely damaged and the second one received full attention of the French 75 mm guns.  Twenty minutes later, both were sunk.


Thai torpedo boats on fire, as seen from French ship


At 06:40, the Dombhuri was spotted trying to escape.  She tried to take advantage of the shallow waters and the islands and zigzagged to avoid the salvos from La Motte Picquet.  Her 203mm guns, slow to fire and her crew had difficulties to aim on the French cruiser who sailed at 27 knots, despite the lack of depth under her.

By 07:15, the French smaller (and slower) ships joined the cruiser and participated in the attack.  La Motte Picquet constantly placed herself between the avisos and the Dombhuri, who could have easily sunk the  smaller French ships.

By 07:50, Dombhuri was on fire, and the French decided to retreat, as they anticipated an air attack from the Thai aviation.  The first air attack started at 08:58, with two Vought Corsairs biplanes. The target was the French cruiser, but none of the bombs reached her.

At 09:00, it was the turn of Amiral Charner to be the target of the Thai aviation.  The attacks continued until 09:40.



454 x 155 mm, 509 x 138 mm, 54 x 100 mm and 280 x 75 mm shells were fired by the French ships during that battle, as well as 6 torpedoes.  Three Trad-class torpedo boats were destroyed  The two Dombhuri-class ships (Dombhuri and Ahidea) were severely damaged, but were eventually repaired.  The French squadron didn't suffer any losses.


While the battle was a tactical victory for the French navy, it couldn't be taken advantage of, as Japan eventually intervened on January 20th and forced a cease-fire between Thailand and France, only giving little territory to the Thai.  Eventually, Japan attacked its ally Thailand during World War II, and Indochina in 1945.


  • Cool 9

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Supertester, Members, Alpha Tester, In AlfaTesters, Beta Testers
11,416 posts
1,963 battles

Good stuff

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Alpha Tester
1,702 posts
208 battles

Always interesting to read about less known battles and theatres of war. +1 !

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