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Analyzing the Korean Sea Fight

November 12, 2009

South Korean ship ramming North Korean ship in a 1999 clash.

Some South Korean military experts have reached conclusions on the recent clash between North and South Korean boats that don’t exactly agree with the facts. The article “How S.Korea Beat Back N.Korean Gunboat” is from

Arms experts and military officers say it was technological superiority that allowed South Korea to send a North Korean patrol boat scuttling back trailing a cloud of smoke across the Northern Limit Line after an incursion Monday.

While there is little doubt the well-off South can build better boats than the impoverished North, read further down and you get a different story (I will be skipping around):

“Four South Korean vessels are said to have focused their attacks on one North Korean patrol boat”

So it appears that numbers, not “technological superiority” reined here. Then there is the fact that 4 more heavily armed SK boats couldn’t sink or even disable a single NK attack ship:

The cannon mounted on the Chamsuri are computer-controlled and capable of delivering accurate fire even when the boats are bobbing on choppy waters. The 40 mm cannon were made by Italian arms manufacturer Breda. The 20 mm Sea Vulcan gun is capable of firing between 2,700 and 3,300 rounds per minute on its targets. In contrast, North Korea’s Shanghai class patrol boats were manufactured in the 1960s and their guns must be fired manually…

The South Korean vessel is believed to have fired between 1,000 to 2,000 rounds at the North Korean patrol boat on Tuesday, which sustained heavy damage but did not sink, while the South Korean vessel was shot around 15 times.

While yours truly is all for having the best equipment, it is disturbing that the wrong conclusions might be given to justify a certain end, with little doubt the South is investing heavily in new Blue Water programs for possible rivalry with China and Japan. Meanwhile, as we see here, the threat of the North isn’t going away or even subsiding:

North Korea vastly outnumbers South Korea in gunboats. But South Korea has the edge when it comes to the size and capability. The South has around 120 battleships and the North around 420, but the North has only three of more than 1,000 tons while the South has 10, including the 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer King Sejong and others in the 3,000 ton or higher class.

What if the numbers have been different, with the North using swarming tactics, taking advantage of  their numerical superiority to overwhelm the more technically advanced SK boats? If each NK vessel is as hard to sink as this one from the 1960s, then certainly the SK will have a fight on its hands. As the experts say, don’t get complacent.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2016 8:09 am

    Vom Kölner Zoo aus, wird sie 1.800 Kilometer durch Deutschland wandern und
    dabei auf die dramatische Situation der Nashornwilderei aufmerksam machen.

  2. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 14, 2009 7:25 pm

    Looks like the South Koreans stopped firing as soon as the N. Koreans went back over the NLL. Otherwise they would have sunk it.

    Range I saw quoted was three km. That is long range, compared to the 2002 when the S Koreans were physically shoving the N Korean vessel North when the shooting started.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 13, 2009 11:51 am

    Aaron the North ships wanted to be seen. Nothing new learned here except those old boats can still take it.

  4. Aaron permalink
    November 13, 2009 10:43 am

    I think it is also very important to note that the ROK strictly followed the RoE. In a wartime scenario, the ROK ship would have spotted the North’s vessel(s) long before, identified and targeted it, and sent a couple of well-placed rounds (if not missiles) its way. If I read it correctly, the ships traded shots at a range that would have given the North a chance to actually engage with any effect – something I doubt ROK ship captains would allow under a wartime scenario.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 13, 2009 5:36 am

    D.E. Said-“I still think there was something very unusual and strikingly -odd- about only -one- North Korean patrol boat crossing the NLL this week.”

    I have a theory, that NK is the problem child of Asia, a little spoiled, knowing when it makes noise it gets attention, and usually what it wants. So here you have the leader of the free world planning a visit nearby, and when you have daddy coming, you make a lot of noise, not too much or you get slapped! Just enough to let him know you want your way or else!

    And it could be also what you say, such as the fuel crisis, but certainly the action coincides with the Obama visit in some way. More thoughts here:

    The Logic Behind the West Sea Skirmish

  6. DrRansom permalink
    November 12, 2009 11:08 pm

    I’m actually not surprised that the ship didn’t sink. Remember, for all of the ideas that ships are vulnerable, ships appear to be remarkably resilient to small arms fire. 37 mm is not small arms, but it is definitely not heavier 3 inch or even 5 inch fire.

    I suspect that it would take a very large amount of weapons fire to sink even one North Korean ship, as long as the weapons are medium caliber armaments. Which comes to the second point.

    It would be surprising if South Korean ships were allowed to use surface to surface missiles. I suspect that the rules of engagement are along the lines of “cripple the ship, but don’t sink it.” With these rules of engagement in mind, one wouldn’t be surprised to see that South Korea ‘under arms’ their patrol ships. Were there to be a real war, South Korea would probably use fighters, helicopters, and long range missiles to destroy North Korea’s gunboat fleet. And, in reality, the gunboat fleet won’t matter much. As long as South Korea controls several sea lanes to bring in supplies, the rest of the coast can be covered with limited use gunboats. And, because South Korea only has to defend a limited area, then can use their advantages, missiles to much better use.

    In this case, having better warships, even if they are fewer, is crucial. You only have to defend a limited space, so you can leverage your defenders advantage into superior ships, ones that can sink large numbers of gunboats.

    Because of geopolitical realities, it is not surprising that South Korea’s gunboat fleet is under armed and does not sink North Korean ships in these sort of engagements.

  7. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 12, 2009 5:58 pm


    I simply used Google Images to search for anything relating to Chamsuri. I also viewed some imagery of a South Korean memorial to the six sailors lost on Chamsure 357. There are six bronze plaques featuring bas-reliefs of them based upon those six portrait photos included in that first posting. On the seventh anniversary of that 2002 battle the memorial was covered in flowers.

    And I still think there was something very unusual and strikingly -odd- about only -one- North Korean patrol boat crossing the NLL this week. They usually appear in pairs or division / squadron strength. Was it an under-played political demonstration prior to President Barack Obama’s visit to the region? Or, are the Norks suffering such a fuel crisis that they can only send out a single patrol boat where they used to deploy four such craft in the same sort of premeditated provocation?

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 12, 2009 5:41 pm

    D. E. that is an excellent tribute link you posted. Thanks!

  9. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 12, 2009 5:41 pm

    Here is some historical background relating to the recent sea battle between the two Koreas:

    The following link shows the Chamsuri 357 being salvaged after it sunk near the South Korean coast following the June 29, 2002 Second Battle of Yeonpyeong.


    The following link shows visitors surveying the South Korean Navy’s bullet-ridden Chamsuri class patrol boat No.357, which was sunk by a North Korean warship during the 2nd Yeonpyeong sea battle between the two Koreas in 2002. This visitation occurred upon the 7th anniversary of the battle, at a naval port in Pyeongtaek, about 70 km (40 miles) south of Seoul, June 29, 2009. The battle along a disputed sea border left six South Korean sailors dead and about 30 North Koreans presumed dead or wounded. Chamsuri 357 was first struck in her pilot house by an 85 mm shell fired from a range of about 500 meters by a North Korean patrol boat.


    The following provides an immediately post-action review of that battle from the ROK government and provided by

    The Naval Clash on the Yellow Sea on 29 June 2002 between South and North Korea

    =The Situation and ROK’s Position=


    The following provides a briefer, longer-view, historical review of the battle.

    Second Battle of Yeonpyeong

  10. November 12, 2009 5:09 pm

    I note the Germans are buying ships as part of their economic revival package.

    Or now I am part of the EU are we buying ships??????? :)

    We used to build ships once in the UK. And we had fisheries industry too. Wonder what happened to them?

  11. November 12, 2009 5:07 pm

    Thanks to the EU I am not sure now whether I am actually now French or not so be careful who you are having a pop at mon ami. :)

    The French always put their own interests first. And in a way they are to be applauded for that. Imagine being in a politic union with them. They set the rules and mechanisms, ignore them more than any other member, and cry foul if any other nation does the smallest thing out of line with the their grand plan.

    If WW3 had come about you bet they would have run the white flag/become neutral/communist (you pick) before Third Shock Army had had time to start their T-72s.

  12. D. E. Reddick permalink
    November 12, 2009 3:09 pm


    I came across this tribute picture (see link, below) to the six ROK Navy personnel killed in the 2002 naval clash with the North Korean naval forces. Besides the photographic tribute to those six sailors, it also provides a clear view of the PKM Chamsuri 357, the vessel on which they served. This version has a single 40 mm Bofors / Breda cannon forward, and two Sea Vulcan Gatling mounts amidships and aft. Also amidships there appear to be two 7.62 mm machine-gun mounts (I’ve seen such in other photos of ROK patrol boats, so I’m assuming that those are what’re visible).

    Anyhow, the story of this week’s battle began with there having been just a single ROK Navy patrol boat engaging the single North Korean patrol boat. Then there were two PKMs. Now, there were four PKMs engaging that single intruder. Still, I don’t really think it was numbers that mattered in this incident. Instead, it was fire-control aboard the ROK patrol boats that allowed such a victory with so little damage received. I’ve read that the North Korean patrol boat actually had to be towed into port. That means the battle damage and consequent fire damage done to it were truly significant.

    Then, here’s something else to ponder. Only a single North Korean patrol boat made an advance and crossing of the Northern Limit Line (NLL). Why only one? Maybe to keep losses down during a ‘demonstration’ border conflict. Or, could fuel shortages be so severe in North Korea that single patrol boat sorties are all that’s possible. I don’t know why just a -single- patrol boat approached and then crossed the NLL, but it seems odd when compared to earlier confrontations between the navies of the two Koreas. If four North Korean patrol boats had crossed the NLL, then likely four would have been forced to retreat with significant damage done to them. Of course, there might have been more damage done to those four ROK Navy patrol boats (besides 15 bullet holes found on one PKM). But still, it was only -one- North Korean patrol boat that confronted four ROK Navy PKMs. Something is out of kilter in how the Norks approached this.


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