Soon after Vietnam’s sovereignty was established, the liberation troops via the navy brigade 146 were assigned the task of taking over the Spratly Islands, involving enormous amounts of hardship.
|Naval troops carry out a patrol on Sin Cowe Island (Photo: Ho Viet)|
After reunification day in May 1975, the Ground force regiment 46 was converted to Navy brigade 146 and assigned the takeover mission of Spratly Islands. In November 1975, Colonel Cao Anh Dang captained a ship with 60 ground troop forces that were all unfamiliar with maritime life.
The troops landed on many islands of the Spratly Islands, namely Southwest Cay, Namyit Island, Sin Cowe Island and Amboyna Cay. Their first impressions were of deserted and inhabitable islands.
Southwest Cay was their first destination and from the very first time, they encountered huge problems in disembarking.
On shore they were continually surprised at the run-down and dilapidated conditions of facilities and buildings in the Cay. Nature too was not a support, what with irritants like bed-bugs and fever but most of all it was a lack of freshwater and vegetables. The troops had to live off their dry provisions.
Their mission continued in Namyit Island, Sin Cowe Island and Amboyna Cay. They made use of the ship’s petrol to light torches around sandbars and coral beaches to catch fish.
Besides establishing their presence, troops also set sovereignty signs on all the islands including Barque Canada Reef and Petley Reef. This signified Vietnam’s sovereignty over Spratly Islands for which the liberation troops had laid down their life.
The garrisons in Spratly Islands were mainly of volunteer troops from the North. They left home nearly 10 years ago and continued to fulfill their mission along the front line.
Many soldiers were unable to return home, because of the shortage of personnel and facilities. Their only solace came from letters from the mainland. The letters were so valuable that the soldiers looked forward to them with eager anticipation. Many even protected them with their lives.
On a mission to Sin Cowe Island, the Colonel saw a storm brewing with the sea raging violently, yet he managed to send the soldiers ashore on a small boat at great risk to the ship. On the ship at that time were two army engineers and two army meteorologists who were forced to stay on the ship because of the danger.
When the last group safely reached the shore, a tobacco pipe and some letters were missing. Seeing the sorrow on the soldiers’ faces, the deputy commander volunteered to embark and take the letters. On his way back to the island, the four soldiers left on board insisted on going ashore. Their boat was overturned they all drowned in the turbulent sea.
A similar tragedy occurred to a commissar in Namyit Island. Because of his excitement about his letters from the mainland, he went alone to retrieve them but was swept away.
Life on the Spratly Islands was very arduous but the soldiers’ cherished being with one another. The sympathy and comradeship of a leader like Colonel Cao Anh Dang was encouraging to the soldiers in fulfilling their mission.