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Thai Naval Operations in the Korean War

During the Korean War, the United Nations Security Council passed a motion for UN members to provide assistance to South Korea when it came under attack by North Korea to maintain peace and security among the international community. At first, Thailand , as a member nation, offered to give aid in form of food. Later, however, the Secretary to United Nations requested urgent military assistance from Thailand, especially ground troops. A combat team was dispatched to Korea . Later a Royal Decree declaring the use of troops was issued on 22 September 1950 and 29 September 1950 consecutively.

Before the Decree was issued, the Royal Thai Navy had been contacted by the Ministry of Defense to prepare warships to travel to South Korea. Later, the Royal Thai Navy ordered the preparation of HTMS Prasae, HTMS Bangpakong, and HTMS Sichang for the mission. A committee was appointed to select the crew of commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers who underwent training in weaponry, engineering, communications and navigation for the urgent trip. The 307 crew members comprise 112 personnel for HTMS Prasae, 113 for HTMS Bangpakong and 82 for HTMS Sichang.

The Ministry of Defense issued a special order on 16 October 1950 concerning military deployment to Korea ordering the Royal Thai Navy to set up the following transport and escort : a chartered liner from the civil sector to transport the first group of Combined Force 21; HTMS Sichang to transport the second group of Combined Force 21 and the Thai Red Cross Unit then serve as transport ship in Korea or Japan; and HTMS Prasae and HTMS Bangpakong to serve as escort ships for the convoy to Korea Once the mission was accomplished, the two ships would join the international mission as the UN saw fit, based in Sasebo. The three ships comprised a task group called the Joint UN Operation Task group.

The corvettes HTMS Prasae and HTMS Bangpakong had a normal displacement of 1,000 tons with a full displacement of 1640 tons, armed with ope 4 inches gun, seven 20 mm machine guns, two depth charge launch pads, one depth charge release track. HTMS Prasae's former name was BETONY and HTMS Bangpakong used to be called BERNET. HTMS Sichang, built in Japan , had a displacement of 667 tons, equipped with two 40 mm. guns, one 20 mm. gun. The task group along with a HertaMerck commercial liner left Thailand on the morning of 22 October 1950 and arrived in Pusan on the morning of 7 November 1950 and travelled on to Sasebo Naval Base in Japan. Thus the Thai ships formally joined the UN Task Force on 10 November 1950.

Main duties that Combined Task Force 95 (CTF-95) assigned the Thai naval group were:

  1. Escort and protection from enemy planes and submarines of oil tankers, armament transport ships and supply ships supporting various ships of the UN forces operating in the coastal waters of North Korea.{sitting second from left} in Japan
  2. Joint operation with UN naval forces which are mostly US warships with some UK ,Canadian, Columbian and South Korean ships in shore and military target bombardment.
  3. Follow Commander's orders such as patrol and safeguard of outposts.

After repairs and gun upgrades, HTMS Prasae and HTMS Bangpakong were reported ready for operation on 4 December 1950 even though the radar and sonar modifications were not yet completed. The report was in response to the difficult situation of United Nation Forces because the Chinese Communists had conducted a major offensive against the UN Forces which do not have enough ships to patrol the entrance to Sasebo Naval Base. CTF-95 then ordered the Thai naval group to take on the following tasks:

  1. Defend the entrance to Sasebo Naval Base so that enemy submarine could not penetrate the area to attack UN Forces or to mine it.
  2. Engage enemy submarines that might attempt to enter and report to CTF-95. HTMS Bangpakong and HTMS Prasae started their first operation on 4 December 1950, patrolling and defending the entrance to Sasebo Naval Base. They also conducted shore bombardment of the eastern shore of North Korea between Changion and Yang-Yang.

On 6 January 1951 at 1530 after bombarding the eastern shore of North Korea , the Destroyer USS English left the group for another task and ordered reconnaissance for HTMS Prasae and HTMS Bangpakong the following morning. During the night, the two ships were following each other within 4 miles distance when the area was hit by a blinding snow storm. The severity of the storm and the defective radar caused HTMS Prasae to lose her track and crept towards shore.

Early on 7 January 1951 around 0730, HTMS Prasae, the leading ship ran aground in enemy territory at Kisamun Point. The hull dragged along the sandy bottom. The ship lay at 60 degrees angle to the coast with waves crashing starboard. Snow was falling heavily with heavy mist and temperatures falling to -17 degrees. HTMS Bangpakong tried to get as close as possible to send a small boat with 11 men with ropes to the ship but the waves were so strong 6 men were washed off the boat and one man, PO2 Chart Muang-am drowned.

Attempts to tow the HTMS Prasae by US tugboat later that afternoon and all day the next day were unsuccessful. At night, around 10 US ships and HTMS Bangpakong kept bombarding the shore to prevent enemies from attacking the ship.

On 8 January, a US helicopter attempted to drop a naval personnel and radio operator on board. Unfortunately, the propeller of the helicopter hit the crossbar of the ship's mast which broke and fell on deck causing a fire. Cases of 20 mm shell which were placed on standby on deck exploded from the heat, causing more damage to the already crippled HTMS Prasae. However, the crew was able to put out the fire within 30 minutes. Because of the length of operation and weakness from the cold, a Thai sailor, P02 Puan Pornsayom, was later drowned. The towing operation was stopped due to freezing temperatures and nightfall.

The storm intensified the next day and attempts to pass the rope failed repeatedly. The ship engine froze solid and the sailors ran out of drinking water, so snow had to be boiled. Waves were so strong the stem of the ship was washed parallel to the coast. Seawater mixed with engine oil causing the engine to die. The water tank leaked and salt water mixed with drinking water, That night, Thai sailors did not have light, water or fire to generate warmth.

The next day, the weather worsened. Electricity failed and the ship had several leaks through scraping with the sand. The sailors were weak from the cold and wet and started falling sick. On the 11 January, towing attempts remained unsuccessful. Around 2000 hours temperatures dropped to -16 degrees and the sailors were visibly tired, even the US sailors could not stand the cold.

Late morning of 12 January 1951, 4 North Korean soldiers headed for HTMS Prasae but the watch fired warning shots and they retreated. A US medical officer of USS Manchester was flown to HTMS Prasae to assess the situation and concluded that the sailors could no longer be left on board in such drastic conditions and the crew of HTMS Prasae started transfer to USS English

On 13 January 1951, order from UN Headquarters at Tokyo to abandon ship and for the task force to destroy HTMS Prasae was given. The Commander then transferred all the personnel as well as destroy equipment that may be of use to the enemy. HTMS Prasae was bombarded with around 50 shells until the ship became a wreck. The escort group then travelled back to Sasebo base. In total, the escort group spent seven days in rescue attempt of the stranded HTMS Prasae.

On 14 January 1951, the group arrived at Sasebo Naval base around 0800. The casualties were taken from USS Manchester to the hospital, the rest of the crew stayed on the HTMS Bangpakong andHTMS Sichang. Twenty seven men were sick and wounded; two died (P02 Chan Muang-um, and PO2 Puan Pornsayom) who were posthumously conferred the rank of CPO. The rest of the crew travelled back to Thailand on the Kirsten Maersk on 9 March 1951 and arrived in Thailand on 20 March 1951.

The loss of HTMS Prasae in January 1951 meant that only HTMS Bangpakong remained operable in the UN Force. The Royal Thai Government then requested the purchase of two frigates from the US government. The US government ordered the US Pacific Fleet to prepare two patrol frigates: USS Glendale (PF36) and USS Gallup (PF 47) for transfer to Thailand under the condition that the two ships be still used for UN operations in the Korean War. Thailand agreed and the transaction was completed for US$861,946.

The USS Glendale was renamed the second HTMS Tachin and USS Gallup was renamed the second HTMS Prasae. The crew for the two ships travelled to Japan on 3 October 1951 for training during 19-28 October 1951. HTMS Tachin and HTMS Prasae arrived at Sasebo Naval Base in Japan on 26 December 1951 and took up duties in the UN Forces. After repairs were completed, HTMS Bangpakong left Sasebo on 16 February, arriving back in Thailand on 11 March 1952. From 11 January 1952 through the end of their mission, HTMS Tachin and the second HTMS Prasae were assigned shore bombardment, blockading and escort duties in the Wonsan - Songjin area. HTMS Tachin went on 25 operations for total of 220 days and HTMS Prasae took up 32 operations, a total of 300 days with two changes of crew.

After a peace agreement was signed between UN Forces, North Korea and Communist China on 27 July 1953, many countries started withdrawing their forces from UN operations. At the end of the year, situations in Vietnam worsened and .the Royal Thai Government consulted with the UN for withdrawal of the troops and the two ships. Approval was given and on 6 January 1954, withdrawal orders were issued. Prior to the return to Thailand , the two ships underwent extensive repairs in the Yokosuka docks, Finally, the troops and the two ships arrived back in Bangkok on 31 January 1953. The Royal Thai Navy joined UN operation in Korea for four ye.ars, with an annual change of crew and troops. In total 2,485 men were involved in the Korean War, with loss of 4 men and HTMS Prasae.

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