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Cambodia Navy - History

Marine Nationale Khmer (MNK)The Royal Cambodian Navy was originally part of the army, but it became a separate service in 1954. It was a small force designed for coastal and river patrol duty and for tactical support of ground force operations in the maintenance of internal security. The navy's principal mission is to defend the national coastline and to police territorial waters. It is also charged with patrolling inland waterways and, where possible, providing transport and tactical support to the ground forces.

In late 1967 it had a strength of some 1,400 officers and men, whieh included a commando infantry force of about 200 for use in amphibious operations.The navy's operational forces were organized into three principal elements: a river division, a coastal force arid a sea force. The river division was based at Chrui Changvar, across the river from the capital, where the naval repair and construction facilities were also located. The other elements were stationed at Ream, on the Gulf of Siam. The naval inventory of over 50 small vessels included two patrol boats, a support gunboat, several amphibious landing cratt and a variety of service and utility ships.

The navy's facilities were centered at the naval base at Chrui Changvar, and lesser activities existed at some of the smaller coastal and river stations. Ship maintenance was accomplished at the main base's Fleet Repair Facility, and most shore-based naval supplies were handled by the base's naval warehouses.

At the commencement of the war against the Kkmer Communists [KC] in 1970, the Marine Nationale Khmer (MNK) had two primary missions, These were surveillance and protection of the Khmer coasline and patrol protection of the Tonle Sap-Mekong River axis. The MNK did not have sufficient assets to effectively perform either mission and its primary efforts were restricted to the lower Mekong River from Phnom Penh to the RVN border. Occassionally the MNK would make a show of force into the Tonle Sap River and the Great Lake.

Like its sister services, MNK underwent a signficbnt expansion following the Lon Nol coup of 18 March 1970. From a base of npproximately 1,600 men and 11 boats, MNK first increased to some 5,000 men and 69 boats by February 1972 and then, during the time frame 1972-1974, more than doubled its strength to 11,500 men and 171 boats. These increases weere related directly to increased mission responsibilities.

In early 1972 MNK was ill equipped to execute the surveillance of the GKR's 400 kilometer coastline. The only craft available to prosecute this mission were two ancient PC's, one LSIL, one LCI and a few armed junks. Additionally the Ream Naval Base was in a run-down condition, boasted one small pier in decrepit condition, had little internal repair capability and completely lacked an effective logistical support system. Surveillance of the coastline from Ream to the border with the RVN was consequently passed to the VNN on the recommendation of the Triparite Deputies. The coast from Ream to the Thai frontier was patrolled haphazardly at best by the Cambodian craft . Protection of the deep water port of Kompong Som and Ream Naval Base itself was largely ignored because of the unavailability of assets.

By 1974 this state of affairs was corrected by implementation of the a number of actions: procurement of 20 new construction, radar equipped PCFs; stationin g of 4 PBRs in the Kompong Som port area; accomplishment of overhauls of all of the heavy craft in inventory; procurement of a newly overhauled floating drydock at the Ream Naval Base; substantial upgrade of the Ream Repair Facility equipments; installation or an effective supply support system; and the completion of a modern pier facility and support complex at Reaip Naval Base.

As of early 1974 three other major improvements were still required. These were completion of the pier complex, completion of the Ream electricity generating project nod procurement of a larger, fast, well-armed patrol craft with good sea keeping qualities to extend the seaward range of surveillance beyond that which can be performed by the smaller PCF's. These actions were being actively prosecuted. In the interim the patrol and surveillance of the Khmer coastline had been effectively assumed by the MNK.

Despite the importance of coastline surveillance, protection and control of shipping within and on the 1800 kilometers of navigable rivers and upon the TonIe Sap Lake represented the most critical mission of the MNK. There was no more important task than the escort and protectioll of merchant convoys carrying rice, petroleum, and ammunition up the Ee:-wng River from the RVN border to Phnom Penh. The Mekong River LOC was the lifeline of the Khmer Republic and it was here that MNK proved its combat effectiveness.

Before February 1972 the MNK waS poorly equipped to provide the armed craft needed to excort convoys up the Mkong. They did have some prior U.S. MAP craft, a few, old French craft of varying description and approximotely 35 MAP furnished PBR's. Prior to this time convoy escort was provided primarily by the VNN. An energetic procurement effort was launched to provided the MNK with additional numbers of fast patrol craft and more importantly, with some heavily armed and armored assault craft which could provide the heavy direct fire support vital to effective convoy escort. Thirty-five heavies including 6-105 monitors, 17 ATCs, 5, 5 MSM/MSR and 2 CCBs were procured to beef up the MNK firepower on the Mekong. An addit.ional 25 new construction PBR's were also provided and 14 LCM6/8's were added to the MNK inventory to handle increased logistic support. Fifty-seven more craft of the same types arrived in early 1974.

In early 1972 a secondary support base was established at Kompong Chhnang at which the MNK stationed a small number of craft to expand its influence on the TonIe Sap River. From this base increased numbers of patrols were also launched into the Great Lake to interdict enemy troop movements and to deny this food-rich area his un-interrupted use.

During the early part of 1973, MNK was formally assigned the protection and defense of the waterborne approaches to Phnom Penh. To accomplish this mission MNK assigned approximately 15 craft of various types to the environs of Phnom Penh. Protection was provided to areas such as Prek Phnou (FANK petroleum reserve).

In late May of 1973 the largest mission expansion took place. At this time the FANK high command assigned the responsibility to the Mekong Special Zone to the MNK. MNK was tasked to provided physical security of the Mekong River banks to an average distance of eight kilometers on either side of the Mekong from Phnom Penh to the RVN border. MNK thus underwent another force structure expansion in order to establish a ground presence at key locationz along the Mekong corridor. A total of 3,000 infantry troops from the Army were reassigned to MNK and organized into Naval Infantry Battalions (BFM). An eventual force of 30 such battalions was planned.

The battle of Kompong Cham in September-October 1973 also resulted in an increase of MNK mission responsibility. The Communists attempt to seize this provincial capital was thwarted thanks in part to an amphibious operation that transported a relief force from Phnom Penh to the beseiged city. Following the battle, MNK was given the responsibility to keep the Mekong River open and to resupply the city on a year round basis. A relocation of MNK riverine assets was required with a concomitant reduction in the numbers of craft assigned to the lower Mekong.

It was because of this increased riverine responsibility on both the Mekong and the TonIe Sap that the decision was made to achieve a force level of 250 craft and to reorganize the MNK five riverine task forces of 50 craft each.

Prior to the war, the MNK was a small ill-equipped organization. The NNK did have one in:portant resource - the leadership was the best in FANK. Headed by Commodore Von Sarenily, Chief of Naval Operations, MNK had a competent and well-trained cadre of officers who had been able to assume increased misson responsibilities without faltering. During this period the MNK trained all their own boat crews, provided their own logistical support, increased logistical and naval gunfire support to the PANK, and upgraded their repair and supply capability at Chrui Chang War while maintaining a 65% or better operational status for all riverine craft. More importantly the MNK insured by thorough planning and aggressive execution that an uninterrupted supply of ammunition, oil and foodstuffs reached Phnom Pen despite determined enemy efforts to choke-off the Mekong LOC.

By the end of February 1975 it was by no means certain that FANKs forces could continue to contain the Communists around Phnom Penh. On the lower Mekong one of the two enclaves established by FANK fell February 26, 1975 (Sierra One), which meant that only one government position (Sierra Two) remained south of Neak Luong all the way to the border with South Vietnam. It was exceedingly difficult for the Khmer Navy to resupply that one outpost. Even the nightly convoys from Phnom Penh to Neak Luong had a difficult time making the trip without severe losses.

FANK did not have the forces to place on the banks of the lower Mekong in order to suppress enemy heavy weapons fire against any convoy which tried to run the gauntlet up from South Vietnam. There was no indication that such forces would become available anytime soon. What this meant was the closure for the foreseeable future of the lower Mekong to navigation. As the military situation deteriorated, the Khmers unfortunately became more interested in pointing fingers at each other, trying to fix the blame on someone else, than in sticking together to face the common danger they shared.

Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975.





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