Friday, November 2, 2012

Hill O-Seven: Thai-Burma Border Battle (2001)?

(This post is direct translation of articles from the Myanmar Military Site.)

Hill O-Seven is a low non-descript hill straddling the disputed borderline between Thailand and Burma. Approximately at 2,500 yards south-east from the Hill O-7 is the bustling Thai border town called Mae Sai.

The low hill, near Pone-htun Ward of Tarchileik the Burmese border town opposite the Thai border town Mae Sai, was designated as the Objective-7 during the Burmese military offensive to drive the Koumington (White-Chinese) forces out of Burma during the 1950s. Since then the hill has been known as Hill O-7 and as an important high-ground overlooking both Tarchileik and Mae Sai Burma army has always taken a strong defensive position on the hill.

In January 2001 a 30 men platoon from Light Infantry Battalion LIB-359 was on the Hill-O7 and the Burmese were not expecting much action. With a small Buddhist temple called U Kuthala Monastery nearby the Hill O-7 always was a peaceful spot in the jungle-clad turbulent border region.

The triggering event for the battle at Hill O-7

A Thai Army's Commando V-150 APC.
But on 7 January 2001 their peaceful little world was suddenly turned upside down by a heavily-armed unit of Thai Rangers a paramilitary light infantry force of Thai Royal Army encroaching the Burmese territory.

The 20-strong Rangers unit led by a Thai sergeant had crossed the border and approached the fortified Burmese forward position manned by the 10-strong Burmese army unit led by CSM WO2 Kyaw Htay on the forward slope of Hill O-7.

The Thai Rangers were immediately challenged by the Burmese soldiers but the Thais had refused to withdraw and stubbornly took an entrenched position at just 200 yards from the Burmese forward outpost.

Soon the Thai Rangers were reinforced by about 40 soldiers from Thai Army. The Thai unit by then was led by Thai army captain Yoo Htin and he approached the Burmese and brazenly demanded the Burmese to vacate the Hill O-7 by declaring that it was in the Thai territory.

At the same time Thais were bringing into their position about 100 infantry men overwhelmingly supported by 2 Commando V-150 armoured vehicles, 4 M-60 tanks, and 2 vehicle-mounted 120 mm heavy mortars. Burmese also had quickly reinforced their position with the four platoons of Second Company from LIB-359 as a direct response to Thai’s armed-incursion.

Participating forces from both sides during the battle

On Thai side were about 300 infantry troops from Third Army supported by 4 M-60 main battle tanks, 2 Stingray light battle tanks, 5 Commando V-150 armored vehicles, 5 armored-vehicle-mounted 120 mm heavy nortars, 12 PRG launchers, and six 0.5 heavy machine guns.

On Burmese side were 220 strong Second Mobile Column (8 platoons) from LIB-359 equipped with two 80 mm mortars, 2 MA-7 and 2 BA-103 launchers, and 2 MG-3 medium machine guns. Burmese were also supported by three 120 mm heavy mortars from No-079 Artillery Company and 4 Super Galap G-4 Ground-assault warplanes.

Major General Thein Sein the CO of Triangle Command (now the President of Burma) was the overall commander of Burmese while Lieutenant General Wattana Chanchai the CO of Thai Third Army took charge of Thai forces from Mae Sai.

Burmese field battalions were closely commanded by Lt. Colonel Tin Maung Win the G1 staff officer at Maing Phyat ROC (Regional Operations Command).

Battle Progression

At approximately 05:15 on 24 February 2001 Thai forward post began the early-morning battle by small-arm fires at the Burmese forward post and started advancing towards the Burmese. Burmese from LIB-359 returned fires once they discovered there were about 20 Thais in the long grass just 30 yards from their first line defensive fence.

At the same time Thai 0.5 Heavy Machine Gun on the rocky outcrop at 200 yards from Burmese O-7 hill fired at the Burmese position atop the Hill-O7 manned by Captain Saw Naing Oo’s Fourth Company from LIB-359.

Burmese defenders returned fire with their small arms and GPMGs and quickly repelled Thai attackers. But the Thais wouldn’t withdraw from Burmese territory and started a heavy weapon barrage at 06:30 that lasted till 07:30. After that barrage Thais resumed their infantry attack.

Thai tanks inside Burmese territory.
Meanwhile the Second Mobile Column led by LIB-359 Deputy CO Major Soe Soe Zaw and one company led by Lt. Saw Win Tin were marching from the battalion HQ to the Hill O-7 once the news of Thai attacks was received. They left the HQ at 05:50 and reached Hill O-7 at 07:00.

A Burmese anti-tank launcher crew firing.
Once the reinforcement had arrived Burmese immediately began the counter-offensive. They also managed to retrieve the fallen and send the wounded to the Tarchileik’s Pone-htun gate at the base of the hill O-7. 
A Thai M-60 Main Battle Tank.
By 09:15 Thais also had reinforced their positions on the hills facing the O-7 with 200 rangers and 5 Commando Armoured Vehicles. Additionally about 60 Thai rangers and three M-60 tanks were taking position at the south-eastern base of the Hill O-7.
Burmese 80 mm heavy mortar crew firing in the Hill O-7 battle.
The tanks reinforcement on the Thai side was immediately reported back to the Triangle Command Division and the Command had placed the Super Galeb G4 fighter bombers at the Nant Sam Airforce base on constant battle alert.
A Super Galeb G4 Fighter Bomber.
On the Hill O-7 at 10:00 during the thinning of Thai heavy weapon bombardment Burmese heavy motors were positioned on the northern slope and the spare ammunitions and drinking water were brought up to the front line positions facing the Thais.

At 13:00 Thais started advancing again under the protection of heavy weapon fires from the mobile artillery and tanks. Most of their shells fell on the defensive positions manned by Captain Saw Naing Oo, Lt. Saw Tin Win and their main troops on the Hill O-7.
A Burmese 120 mm heavy mortar crew.
At 13:15 about 100 Thai infantry charged at Lt. Nay Myo’s troops on the forward hillock. But the Burmese return fires stopped their charge and the Thais retreated back into the lychee plantations on the western slope.
A Burmese G-4 strafing the enemy position.
Thais never attempted the frontal assault again, but they continued shelling the Burmese positions till late afternoon. At 15:15 Burmese artillery units dropped more than 100 shells from their 120 mm heavy mortars.
Then from 16:00 to 17:00 four G4 Airforce planes attacked Thai artillery and tank positions on the Thai side.
One of the Burmese shells achieved a direct hit on the Thai M1A1 tank ridden by Thai Third Army Chief himself and that triggered a sudden retreat of Thai army troops and the Rangers back into the Thai Territory. And the battle of Hill O-7 was over by 19:00 that day.
Burmese army claimed to have captured the bodies of 60 Thai soldiers and Rangers killed in the battle and also following arms and equipments from Thai side.
1.      6 M-60 machine guns,
2.      32 M-16 rifles,
3.      5 M-79 40 mm grenade launchers,
4.      32 gas masks,
5.      7 sets of communication radios, and
6.      1 Hum vee vehicle.
They declared only 15 killed and 12 wounded on their side in addition to 3 civilian killed and 15 wounded in nearby Tarchileik town by Thai artillery shells.
Captain Saw Naing Oo (Army-26859), Lieutenant Nay Myo (Army-31278), and Private Maung Soe (PSN-957315) were later awarded Thura gold medals for bravery while other two officers and seven privates were awarded Hero Record medals for bravery, Burmese army later declared.
Thai Version of the Same Incident

Following is the completely different version of the same incident, which was part of a wider border clash  Burma hasn't still admitted that it did happen in February 2001, released officially by the Royal Thai Army   to the international media.

The Battle at Border Post 9631

In order to support the UWSA in its fight against the SSA, and help it establish the full control of the areas along the border to Thailand, the Myanmar Army launched an operation that was to result in the fighting with Thai military as well. 

While the Myanmar regime would not comment about these operations, meanwhile it is known that the fiercest series of battles was fought for the Thai Border Post 9631, mounted on a hilltop one kilometre inside Thailand, at Ban Pang Noon, in the Mae Fae Luang district, on approach to the Mae Sai, a city some 440 miles away from Bangkok, in the northernmost tip of Thailand. 

The exact reasons for the attack on this border post remain unclear: some Thai sources indicated that the Myanmaris attacked the Border Post 9631 – garrisoned by 20 Tahan Pran Militia troops – either “by accident”, while pursuing Shan guerrilla, or in order to get a good fire-base for their artillery attacks against the nearby Shan positions. It is interesting to note, however, that this attack came on the evening of Friday, 9 February 2001, when most of the Thai military was on a leave. 

In fact, the unofficial sources within the Thai Army indicated that the attack was undertaken by no less but 900 Myanmar troops and 600 UWSA militiamen, and that its objective was to remove the Thais from a position from which the Myanmaris could smuggle drugs into Thailand. In the past, namely, the local commander of the Tahan Pran was several times offered money to let their convoys with drugs pass, but he refused all such offers (in fact, he should have told the Myanmaris to, “go feed fish” with their opium).

Thai Army Rangers on the Border Line.
Regardless the backgrounds, the Tahan Pran detected the approaching Myanmaris in time and put up stiff resistance, holding out for four hours, killing 14 out of some 200 Myanmari attackers, and injuring another 30, while losing two dead and eleven wounded. After almost running out of ammunition, however, they had to pull out and the Post 9631 fell into Myanmari hands. 

Having taken all their injured with them, the Tahan Pran were relatively easy to pursue by the enemy, and a short running engagement developed until the 3rd Cavalry Regiment of the Thai 1st Armoured Division started a rescue effort. Having the Post 9631 in their hands, the Myanmaris actually needed no more fighting, but their intention was to use the post and the surviving Tahan Prans as a bait for a trap they attempted to set up for any intervening Thai unit. 

As the Tahan Pran held out longer than anticipated, however, their plan was spoiled, as instead of deploying their troops on the flanks on the main threat route, the Myanmaris were forced to involve their reservers in the fighting.

On 10 February, the Thai 3rd Cavalry Regiment assembled a battalion-sized task force from a part of a mechanized infantry battalion armed with M-113A-3 APCs, an infantry company and a company of M-60A-3 MBTs. The unit was put under command of Capt. Songkarn Nilphan, and instantly sent on its way. 

Approaching Mae Sai on the same evening, the Nilphan’s force counterattacked the Myanmaris that were still busy fighting the Tahan Prans. The Cavalry charged forward, hitting the enemy hit very hard, forcing them to retreat back towards the border, leaving 17 dead and 60 injured behind. The Thais had only seven wounded.

On the morning of 11 February, the Myanmar Army responded in strength, deploying three regiments supported by Chinese-supplied T-69 tanks and artillery into an attack against Mae Sae, the local military Headquarters, and the adjacent satellite communications site. 

The Thais first concentrated on repulsing the main column, engaging T-69s with their M-60A3s, and subsequently by RTAF F-5s, which flew several strikes armed with LGBs, after starting from the Chiang Mai AB. Later on Sunday, Thai forces were reinforced by some self-propelled artillery (M-109s) and several batteries of even more powerful guns, including some GCN-55s, and the remaining two Myanmar columns were stopped as well, after suffering some heavy losses in dead, injured and captured soldiers. 

While the whole 3rd Thai Army was mobilizing and deploying reinforcements towards Mae Sai, the RTAF continued mounting intensive strikes, hitting Myanmar positions and supply columns. Late on Sunday afternoon, the final counter-attack by Thai troops drove Myanmaris out of Thailand, re-capturing the Border Post 9631. There an injured Tahan Pran officer - previously assumed dead - was found alive.

A RTAF Bell UH1H helicopter.
Meanwhile, the fighting between Thai and Myanmari forces was reported also from a hill some two miles west of the city of Thachilek, which is separated by a canal from Mae Sai. Also, a RTAF UH-1H helicopter underway on a supply mission over Mae Aye was damaged by gunfire from the ground and forced to land. The crew was not injured.

At 19:30h local time, a cease-fire was agreed. This was generally accepted, but sporadic fighting continued as the Myanmaris were bringing in 2.000 fresh troops from Kengtung to Tachilek, together with some heavy weapons. 

Especially the artillery was involved in the sense of duels over the border and some additional strikes by RTAF aircraft. The RTAF Chian Mai AB was the main base for all Thai air operations during this battle, and the Royal Thai Air Force units deployed there proved highly successful in operations against Myanmar. RTAF fighters have flown up to 70 combat sorties between 10 and 12 February, including a LGB-strike against a Myanmar artillery battery placed on the Golf course at Thachilek. 

This mission was flown by one F-5F and three F-5Es. The F-5F was equipped with the Israeli Litening nav/attack and designation pod: the WSO in the F-5F designated the target, while his pilot tried to fly steady – while remaining out of range of air defences. The three F-5Es closed from different sides at a high speed and tossed two six 2.000pds Paveway LGBs each into the acquisition basket before disappearing the other way. 

The Myanmar anti-aircraft fire was reported as "light", and none of Thai aircraft was hit or damaged. According to Thai sources, except for at least a dozen of Myanmar troops, at least five civilians were killed and ten injured during this attack as well.

A RTAF F-5E fighter bomber plane.
The situation at Mae Sai was finally solved through negotiations, even if initially both sides deployed additional forces in the area: in mid-February 2001 the Thai Army, for example, reinforced the elements of the 1st Armoured Division by parts of the 2nd Cavalry Division – equipped with M-41 Stingray tanks and V-150 armoured cars. 

On 14 February the RTAF also deployed a number of F-16s to Chaing Mai AB, and these flew constant air combat patrols along the border for the following two weeks. 

The situation remained tense, and on 10 May 2001 RTAF F-16s attacked targets in Kyauket area, in the Shon State: according to Myanmar sources, several objects in the villages of Gawli and Lawsansaw – both almost directly on the Thai border - were hit by several “rockets” in two waves. 

Rangoon protested strongly against these attacks, threatening to “take appropriate action to protect its national sovereignty and territory integrity”. No additional strikes are known to have been flown by either air force: instead, a series of negotiations followed, in which the then new Thai government managed to decrease tensions.

The “body-count" after the battle for Border Post 9631 was never published by either side, but some Thai sources indicate that the Tahan Pran alone were responsible for the death of up to 80 Myanmar soldiers, while - in total – the Thai side suffered one dead and 37 injured soldiers, as well as three killed civilians and seven wounded. Official Thai sources claimed that also two women were killed in attacks of Myanmar artillery against Mae Sai. 

Capt. Songkarn Nilphan later claimed that nearly 100 Myanmar troops were killed during this battle: even if he confirmed that Thai troops reported finding only three bodies inside the Post 9631, the Thais believed that many other bodies were taken back to Myanmar. 

On the Myanmari side, Col. Kyaw Thein, a senior intelligence office, confirmed that the Myanmar Army lost 12 troops killed and 15 wounded during these “border skirmishes”, but that these casualties were suffered only during the fighting against the Shan rebels – not against the Thais.