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The Taiwan Straits War was a brief but bloody conflict fought in 1986 between the People's Republic of China
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PLA Type 80 crews pause for a break during the invasion of Taiwan

and Taiwan. The conflict ended almost 40 years of Cold War between the two countries and saw the Communist Party finally achieve victory over all of China.

BackgroundEdit

The nation of Taiwan (known in official circles as the Republic of China) was created when Chinag Kai-Shek's Kuomintang forces were ejected from mainland China in 1949 and sought refuge on the island. For over 40 years the nation of Taiwan feared an invasion from the newly created People's Republic of China (PRC) but this did not materialize until 1986. 

US ProtectionEdit

The main barrier to a PRC invasion of Taiwan was of course the United States of America who pledged military and econmoic support to Taiwan throughout the 1950s and 60s thus allowing the new country to develop its
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Taiwan's armed forces were heavily based on US doctrines

industrial and military might. While there were numerous skirmishes between the two sides neither side was ready for open conflict knowing full well that it would probably lead to a global conflict.

As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s however all that changed. The US economy was in a downward spiral and the number of US forces based overseas began to dwindle as the US began a military policy of self preservation especially in light of the Mexican Civil War. The effect on Taiwan's strategic position was immediate as the PRC adopted a far more aggressive stance towards Taiwan as US forces officially left on June 17th 1982. PRC combat aircraft began harrassing Taiwanese aircraft over the Taiwanese Straits but what was even more worrying was that the PRC didn't seem to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft.

Taiwan Pleads for Commonwealth ProtectionEdit

By 1985 the situation had dramatically deteriorated. At the United Nations a full blown war of words had broken out between the PRC and Taiwan with both sides accusing the other of overt interference in the other's affairs. There were strong indications that both sides were gearing up for a war that many saw as inevitable. With the US no longer providing any protection the Taiwanese government approached the New Commonwealth Council proposing a military and economic pact.
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The Commonwealth Council could not reach a decision on Taiwan

The offer became the source of intense debate amongst the Council. Australia had always believed in taking a firm hand with the Chinese and was the most vocal member of the Council in agreeing to the pact. Hong Kong also voted for agreeing to the pact as Hong Kong still feared what the Chinese were going to do when the island was supposed to be handed back to China even though it was now an independent nation ( a fact the PRC refused to accept ).

On the other side of the spectrum however nearly all of the African based nations of the New Commonwealth were opposed to the pact largely due to the ongoing fighting in Namibian and Angola to which the New Commonwealth's forces were heavily committed. They argued that protecting Taiwan would at best distract the New Commonwealth from fighting the Communist menace in Africa or at worst drag the New Commonwealth into a bitter all-out ( possibly nuclear ) war with China. As 1986 arrived the New Commonwealth Council had yet to make a decision.

The Chien Yang IncidentEdit

The ROCS Chien Yang was a Taiwanese Chao Yang-class destroyer. On January 22nd 1986 the vessel was
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ROCS Chien Yang

on patrol in the Taiwanese Straits when it was buzzed by two J-7 fighters. As the jets flew over the ship the crew noticed that they were carrying bombs as opposed to the usual air-to-air missiles. As the aircraft turned back towards the ship again the Captain tried to warn them off by radio. The aircraft continued heading towards the ship and fearing he was under attack the Captain ordered his crew to fire. A surface-to-air missile knocked out one of the J-7s but the other continued on and dropped two 551lb bombs directly on the ship. Both exploded, gutting the vessel and killing 106 sailors. A few minutes later the survivors leapt in to the sea and grabbed hold of any floating debris as they watched their ship go down.

The incident sparked off a furious row between the PRC and Taiwan.The Taiwanese claimed they were acting in self defence whereas the PRC government claimed that Taiwanese "reckless and unprovoked" hostility was becoming "intolerable". War seemed days away.

Red China's PlanEdit

The PRC plan to take Taiwan was drawn out in a meeting between People's Liberation Army (PLA) leaders and the PRC government shortly after the Chien Yang incident. The plan highlighted the need for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to quickly achieve air and naval superiority in the Taiwan Straits in order to insure the safe passage of the invasion force who would be transported via a vast armada of
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The Chinese invasion depended on the PLAN gaining naval superiority

vessels including hundreds of requisitioned fishing vessels. PLAN leaders wanted a week to achieve this by overwhelming Taiwanese naval forces. They were horrified to hear however that they would get just 48 hours. This was because PRC leaders were afraid that if the conflict became drawn out then it would force others to get involved. They wanted a quick victory.

Once naval superiority was acheived the PLA would then race to capture Ta-Kau harbour in south west Taiwan. This would then be used to off-load the bulk of supplies while vast numbers of infantry landed all along the west coast of the island nation. These troops would be delivered by the aforementioned fishing vessels and their task would be to secure land routes around Ta-Kau ready for the break out as well as causing rear-guard chaos for the bulk of the Taiwanese forces who would be heading south.

As well as caoturing Ta-Kau harbour the PLA also intended to sieze nearby Kaohsing Airport to help establish an air bridge to the mainland. This task was giving to the PLA's parachute forces and a staggering two thousand paratroopers were assigned this mission.

The Three ArmiesEdit

Once the break out had been achieved the PLA would send three whole armies to conquor the island nation.

  • The first army would head north from Ta-Kau with the objective of securing the western coastline and capture additional harbours for bringing in reinforcements.
  • The second army would be the largest in size and would have the primary goal of defeating the Taiwanese army in a straight out battle in the center of the country.
  • The third army was intended to support the second army by outflanking the Taiwanese forces engaged in fighting the second army in the center of the country in a 'right hook' attack from the east.

A Flawed OperationEdit

The Chinese invasion plan suffered from three major flaws;

  • The operation required the PLAN to achieve naval supremacy over the Taiwanese within 48 hours. While the PLAN heavily outnumbered the Taiwanese Navy the Taiwanese ships were far more sophisticated and manned by better trained crews. Given the 48 hour timeframe even the PLAN leadership doubted whether this could be achieved.
  • While naval supremacy over the Taiwanese seemed possible achieving the same in the air seemed even more unrealistic. The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the People's Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) lacked any true long range air dominance fighters equivelent to even the 1960s era F-4 Phantom II. The bulk of the air forces were made up of Chengdu J-7 short range day fighters which were far inferior to the Taiwanese air force inventory.
  • The Chinese believed that the swiftness of the operation would gve them an element of surprise. In reality this was completely imaginary. Taiwan had been more or less on a war footing over a year and so were wating for war to break out.

The Opening RoundEdit

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Images of a Taiwanese warship getting hit by an anti-ship missle

To exacerbate the lack of surprise n the fnal attack the Chinese deployed the bulk of their war fleet into the Taiwan Strait on March 1st 1986. Taiwanese intelligence knew something was up because they had never seen so many ships and aircraft at one time before. The Taiwanese fleet therefore repositioned itself in a defensive line across the western coast. Unfortunately they were too few in number to effectively defend their entire coastline (their plans still relied on US support to fill in the gaps) and so they relied on maritime patrol aircraft to track the Chinese ships in order to best deploy their own forces.

The First BattleEdit

On March 3rd, three PLA destroyers supported by a single submarine approached Tawanese 17th Destroyer Flotilla consisting of four warships in the north of the strait. At the same time nine H-6 bombers (Chinese copies of the Tu-16 'Badger') launched from their bases in south east China to attack three other flotillas. Supporting the attack were upto forurty-two Shenyang J-8 'Finback' long range fighters. The plan called for the attacks to take place simultaneously but unfortunately decoding delays meant the Chinese ships sailed for the 17th destroyer flotilla too late to attack at the same time as the bombers.

At 2200hrs local time the bombers attacked the Taiwanese fleet with air-to-surface missiles (mostly using Chinese copies of the French MM.38 Exocet). The Taiwanese ships deployed countermeasures and successfully decoyed a number of the missiles away but a handful of missiles got through sinking the ROCS Lioa Yang, the ROCS Fu Yang, the ROCS Dang Yang and the ROCS Cheng Hua. The surviving Tawanese ships tried to fire back but the bombers stayed out of range of the Taiwanese short range SAMs that arned their vessels.

The Chinese ships sent to attack the Taiwanese 17th Flotilla finally met the enemy at 2305hrs. By now the Taiwanese air force (the RoCAF) were mobilized and spotted the enemy force. A flight of F-5 Freedom Fighters raced to the scene each armed with two Mk.82 500lb bombs. The aircraft were hardly suited to night time attacks but were committed to the fight being guided in to the targets by the ships of the 17th Flotilla.
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What the Taiwanese Air Force lacked in numbers they made up for in courage

The flight leader then dropped decoy flares to illuminate targets for the rest of his flight.

Two of the F-5s missed their targets while a third F-5 scored a proximity hit on Chinese destroyer No.133. The bombs caused enough damage to cause the ship to list but damage control teams managed to save the ship from flooding totally and the vessel limped back to port. For their part the Chinese ships fired off thousands of 23mm rounds from their Close-in Weapon Systems (CIWS) and at least five SAMs all of which missed their targets.

A few minutes later the Taiwanese ships detected propeller sounds in the water indicating the presence of the Chinese submarine. The Taiwanese ships attacked with ASROC rocket launched torpedoes and sank the Chinese Ming-class submarine. The tow forces of ships now closed within range of one another's weapons. It was now that the PLAN would learn the extent of its technological inferiority to the Tawanese Navy. The Chinese ships were firing obsolete SS-2 'Styx' missiles which were large, primitive and slow which made them easy targets for Taiwanese defences. The Taiwanese on the other hand were firing US-made AGM-84 Harpoon missles which were fast and agile. The engagement was brief but decisive. The two remaining PLAN destroyers were hit and sunk.

The First Air-to-Air Victory Edit

The first air-to-air kill of the war occurred at 0124hrs on March 4th. A Shenyang J-8I 'Finback' successfully intercepted a Tawanese S-2 Tracker and destroyed it using IR guided short range missiles. It would prove to be one of only a few confirmed kills of the war for the big but unsophisticated aircraft.

The PLAN's New WeaponEdit

The PLAN knew they were at a disadvantage against the Tawanese fleet and so as the morning came a new
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PLAN Ekranoplan

weapon was unleashed in the Taiwan Straits. The PLAN had acquired the designs for the Soviet Ekranoplan anti-ship variant and had developed their own version armed with more sophisticated weapons than their own primary surface warships. They only had sixe examples and these were undertaking testing duties but given the urgency to destroy the Taiwanese fleet they were committed to the battle.

The first Ekranoplan mission took place 0915hrs on March 4th to attack the Taiwanese destroyers ROCS Cheng Hua and ROCS Yun Yang. The strange new craft raced across the Taiwan Straits to attack the two warships but suffered target acquisition problems in the terminal phase. The Taiwanese ships retaliated by firing AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles but these were unable to catch the high speed Ekranoplan as it escaped south.

Later that day the attack was repeated by another Ekranoplan. This time the Ekranoplan was able to acquire the ships and fired a barrage of four missiles. The Taiwanese ships fired chaff decoys to try and deflect them away but one missile struck the ROCS Cheng Hua, the resulting blast effectively cutting the vessel in two. More Ekranoplan missions were ordered but reliability of the test vehicles was poor thus limiting the impact they had on the naval situation although three more Taiwanese ships would fall to Ekranoplan missiles.

See AlsoEdit

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