True Story of Nine PLA (Female) Soldiers in Vietnam! (1979)

PLANurses-20090621154332058d6
Original PLA Female Soldiers – 121st Battlefield Hospital (1979)
Vets-20090621154400fecc6
PLA Veterans (2009)

Original Article: 1979年121师战地医院遭越南特工伏击真相(

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

Author’s Note: The original titled of this Chinese-language text is ‘1979年121师战地医院遭越南特工伏击真相‘, which can be translated as ‘When the 121st Division Battlefield Hospital was Ambushed by Vietnamese Agents (1979). ‘I met a female Chinese Veteran of the PLA incursion into Vietnam – Dr Wu a number of times a few years ago – who lives in Banff in Scotland, and who now makes a living as a Chinese Doctor operating out of the UK. As this lady is a master of Taijiquan, I asked her to check my Taijiquan technique (as my teacher – Master Chan Tin Sang – had passed away in 1993).  She was very reluctant to talk about her time as a medic in the frontline of the PLA as it invaded North Vietnam in 1979 – and I am reliably informed that Dr Wu is the ‘tenth’ (female) PLA medic mentioned in the testimony of these nine extraordinary Chinese women. The Vietnamese quite rightly put-up a ferocious defense of their homeland and as a consequence PLA casualty were far higher than expected. I love and respect the Vietnamese people just as I love and respect the Chinese people, but all we can do as historians is accurately report the past as it occured. None of these PLA (female) soldiers were wounded, captured or abused by the enemy – contrary to alot of fabricated stories. Their collective story is presented as a single narrative (with no names given) and published by the ‘NetEase Military’ (网易军事 ) site in Mainland China – Edited by Wang Xiaoyi (王晓易). China invaded North Vietnam in support of their Khmer Rouge Allies in Kampuchea. A 100,000-strong Vietnamese Army had invaded Democratic Cambodia in late 1978 and was busy destroying that regime with US and USSR backing.  ACW (11.6.2019) 

Reunions are common occurrences in people’s lives. In reality, reunions are often a joyful time. However, the reunion of our Comrades from the Vietnam War (fought between China and Vietnam) some 30 years ago included the most grief-stricken and unbearable of memories…

In the early morning of February 17, 1979, elements of our (first echelon) 121st Division Battlefield Hospital became interspersed with the enemy as part of the (frontline) PLA combat troops as they crossed over the border into Vietnam. We were a second echelon battlefield hospital (in others words, a ‘second line’ Medical Unit). We secretly prayed that the Comrades at the front were safe and sound, and hoped to get the good news of the Division’s main victory! However, due to the backwardness of our military’s communication equipment at that time (the infantry was still using the back-to-back walkie-talkies used by Wang Cheng [王成] in the movie “Heroes and Children”, which reflects the battlefield of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea, it is only small in size and light in weight – and there wasn’t that many). Obtaining front-line news from normal channels was obviously very difficult, partly because our military function at the time did not allow such casual inquiries. The only source of information we had came from the steady flow of wounded PLA soldiers brought back to us the from frontline. However, even this method was problematic as many of the injured possessed often one-sided and fragmentary information mixed with confused facts or even hearsay. 

The rumors we heard in the first few days turned out to be unfavorable and highly negative in nature. All the stories agreed that the first PLA frontline (and our first echelon medics) had been ambushed by the very fierce (defending) Vietnamese troops, with the main thrust being almost smashed, and so on. As we were near the frontline, we felt highly uneasy about these unofficial reports. We really hoped that these reports were just groundless rumours and nothing but nonsense as we feared getting caught in a counter-attack!  A few days later, our second echelon medical unit was ordered to advance with the second line of cross-border PLA troops. Our section advanced slowly and carefully along the simple and temporary roads opened-up by PLA engineering units. 

The PLA troops we advanced with had been given specific objectives and special orders to carry-out. The route was often steep, narrow and difficult to traverse, whilst on occasion dropping into difficult valleys and ditches. As we moved along the road, sniper shots would ring-out all around us from deep within the dangerous forest. We were sat on the back of an open truck without any shelter or protection, and there was always a danger of us being hit at any time. We often had to get off the truck and hide on the floor of the jungle whilst PLA Comrades moved forward to clear the area of Regular Vietnamese Army Unitts and their Vietnamese Militia support. The atmosphere was oppressive and heavy. The hazy weather made the unfavorable rumours and the constant gunfire more difficult to endure – a situation compounded by the unidentified PLA bodies we saw from time to time lying on the roadside. These were like boulders pressing upon the hearts! This heaviness came in-part from our incomplete knowledge about frontline war situation. Our PLA Comrades were fighting and dying somewhere ahead of us, and this was exactly the position of our medical Comrades in the first echelon of the 121st Division Battlefield Hospital!  

Our advance was slow, and we had to stop nearly all the time. When we were hungry, we licked a few bites of compressed biscuits to satisfy our hunger. It took us a long time to travel a few dozen kilometers. It was not until about 5pm when we finally stopped at a place with several bungalows. A message arrived from the front: All personnel should not get off the truck but stand ready for action!  Suddenly, alongside our second echelon Medical Division, we saw the survivors of our first echelon Medical Unit – Comrades who had moved forward with the frontline of the PLA! Their uniforms were covered in dust, and they all had expressions of utter exhaustion on their faces! We were happy to see our Comrades – but also choked with sorrow to see the state they were in! We were told that on the evening of the 18th of February, 1979, the (first echelon) 121st Division Battlefield Hospital was ambushed by ‘special agents’ of the Vietnamese Military! The medical staff were taken prisoner and subjected to beatings and other forms of torture! At least 40 of our medical comrades were wounded in the attack!  We were shocked and saddened as we all knew one another and despite our different placements on the field of battle – we had all trained together! 

Immediately after we arrived at the bungalow, we learned that this place is a small county (called ‘Tongnong [通农] County’). This area had been captured by the PLA on the 18th and was currently occupied by us. There were Vietnamese troops in the hills all around this place, which led to a number of small-scale battles in the area.  At this moment, we saw all the injured people from the first echelon being brought here, together with the bodies of the PLA martyrs. Several injured medics and doctors couldn’t help but cry when they saw us. They hugged with their second echelon Comrades and told us about their experiences in the past few days… We were told that half an hour prior to our arrival a number of medical staff had been killed! If we had arrived earlier we might also have suffered casualties!  

From the testomony of our frontline Comrades, we understand the general situation: On the 17th, the troops quickly advanced into Vietnam and resolutely executed the order of “arriving at the designated area at all costs!” After the first troops attacked Tongnong County, the Commander led the main force to advance in the established direction.  On the evening of the 18th, the troops reached a mountain pass whilst it was getting dark. When the main force consolidated, the advanced guard moved forward, whilst receiving several Vietnamese grenades dropped from the nearby mountain – which exploded amongst the PLA troops. The rapidly moving advanced guard suddenly became a little confused in its co-ordination, and appeared to subjected to small-arms fire from the Chinese migrant workers who had accompanied the PLA over the border (in a support capacity). It was later learned that Vietnamese special agents had inflitrated the Chinese migrant workers who were caught between the two opposing sides). As we knew these people were from the Guangxi border areas – we did not fire – but the Vietnamese special agents used this as a deception and managed to infiltrate our lines. Although these migrant workers were harmless, they were caught up in the fighting when the Vietnamese opened fire!  

The PLA advanced guard had steadfastly moved forward overnight but had met with stubborn Vietnamese resistance. The next morning, the roadside and mountain paths were littered with the bodies of the dead and wounded – both Chinese and Vietnamese. More Vietnamese agents had also penetrated the migrant workers and this was causing us a lot of trouble (with sections of the Chinese workers also cut-off in enemy territory). By this time, the PLA frontline medical facilities had been lost, cut-off or destroyed – with the everincreasing number of wounded having to wait for our second echelon medical facilities to move forward! Many of the wounded had nearly given-up any hope of surviving due to the length of time they had been left (an Army Medical Doctor who I shall call ‘L’ was one of them)! 

The Vietnamese Army had been fighting sophisticated enemies for many decades and had won major victories over them. They had developed a very good and flexible system of attack and defence which involved Regular Troops and Militia working closely together. Men and women possessed strong bonds of comradeship and we had to learn many painful lessons of war! A great many of our frontline PLA soldiers were young and inexperienced and had not yet mastered the art of guerilla warfare. Time and again they would bravely advance into well-prepared ambush sites – losing even high-ranking commanders… This was very sad to observe! In one such ambush we lost at least 12 medical staff and all their equipment, together with 20 others being wounded! At times this led to a breakdown in effective command and control, preventing the advance for a time.  

The experiences of PLA medical staff were widely spread in China after the war – with all kinds of inaccuracies and false statements being added in. There have been many versions and this has only increased with the advent of the internet. For instance, it is routinely stated that the PLA female soldiers suffered high levels of deaths and of being wounded, or were severely abused whilst POWs, etc. With our testimony recorded here, we can tell you the truth of the matter. Our group of nine female PLA medics were never caught up in the frontline ambush situation as we were always just behind where the action was unfolding (treating the steady flow of wounded). Despite our experiences, as far as our group is concerned, we suffered no dead or wounded! As regards a female PLA medic who advanced from the Guangxi area with the main attack – she only advanced into the enemy’s rear – avoiding direct contact with the main Vietnamese force! 

In the Sino-Vietnamese border self-defense counterattack, our division served in both a supporting and frontline role, cutting off the enemy’s retreat from Gaoping, preventing the reinforcement of the enemy at Taiyuan, and ensuring the large-depth interpenetration task of the enemy of Gaoping. The battle was launched in the early morning of February 17, 1979. The whole division left the starting-line in the Nengjing area and fought for 28 days along the axis of MolongTongnongBanzhuangZhiyuGaoping and Chaling. On March 16, after securing victory in Vietnam – we returned to China. 

Whilst going abroad to fight, our section was responsible for the medical support tasks of the entire Division. Hospital PLA Personnel totalled 132 people: 76 front echelons and 56 rear echelons. We of the second echelon were ambushed six times, and killed 18 enemy soldiers in self-defence. We suffered 32 wounded and 16 killed. In total we treated a total of 785 wounded, and processed the bodies of 227 PLA martyrs. Our Medical Division received 47 third-class merits, accounting for 35.5% of the number who participated. 

原121师医院全体1979参战女兵战场留影和三十年以后姐妹重逢的照片。

分别与重逢,在人的一生当中是经常发生的事情。现实中重逢往往是喜悦高兴成份居多。然而我们在30年前那场战争中的战友重逢,竟是最为悲痛和不堪回首的一幕……

1979年2月17号凌晨我们121师医院随敌后穿插作战部队第一梯队出发后,作为战地医院第二梯队的我们,暗自祈祷前方战友们平安顺利,更盼望能得到师主力胜利的好消息!可由于当时的我军的通信装备十分落后(步兵仍在使用反映抗美援朝战场的电影《英雄儿女》里王成使用过的那种背在背后的步话机,只是体积小了点、重量大概也轻便些)。从正常渠道获取前线消息显然是有限的,更由于我们当时的军人身份不允许随便乱打听。唯一的信息来源,只能是战场上下来的伤员。然而从受伤人员那里得到消息,也只是片面、片段和局部的道听途说。

几天里听到的传闻竟然都是对我们不利和负面的:什么第一梯队遭遇伏击、部队打的很惨烈,预指几乎被打光了等等,听得我们心情复杂而难受!真希望这些传闻是空穴来风、无稽之谈!

几天后我们第二梯队奉命随第二批越境穿插部队出发,车队顺着工兵部队临时开辟的简易道路衔接着的越方村级公路艰难缓慢地行进。

当年我们部队是在特殊背景下,针对特殊的作战对象,进行的一次大纵深穿插战。穿插路线山高坡陡、沟深林密。路途中不时从两旁的险山恶林里打出冷枪。我们坐在车后箱上没有任何掩体保护,随时有被击中的危险。在行进途中几度被迫下车俯卧在安全地带,等候侦查兵战友们上山进林去清扫歼灭流窜的越军和土民兵后才得以继续前进。

一路上气氛沉闷,阴霾的天气加上不利的传闻和不断传来的枪声以及路旁不时看见不明身份的死者尸体,都好似巨石压在我们每个人的心上、格外的压抑和沉重!这沉重来自对前线战况的不明、来自对一梯队战友们的牵挂、来自师医院同志们的生死未卜!

车队走走停停,我们闷坐在车上,饿了就啃几口压缩饼干充饥。十几公里的路竟走了大半天。直到下午五点左右,才在一处有几栋平房的地方停了下来。从前面传话:所有人员先不要下车,在车上待命!

这时,两个一梯队的师医院战友不知从哪出现在我们车厢旁,只见他俩周身的泥泞尘土、脸上挂着疲惫不堪神态、带着亲人重逢的激动与悲伤,哽咽告诉我们:我们18号晚遭到越特工的伏击,医院随预指行动的人员都被打散打没了!受伤牺牲达40多人!……分地震惊和悲痛!毕竟是我们朝夕相处的战友,而且我们还不是一线的战斗部队,竟然伤亡如此惨重!

随即车队开到一处平房前停住,我们这才得知此地是越方的一个小县城(通农县)。县城已在18号被我军攻克。目前由我方占领。县城周边的山上还有越军在活动,小规模的战斗时有发生。

此刻我们在这见到了一梯队的全部受伤人员,烈士遗体也随放于此。几个负伤的军医和卫生员见到我们时禁不住失声痛哭,一边与二梯队战友紧紧拥抱一边诉说着他们这几天的遭遇……。还有人告诉我们:就在我们到达的半小时前,我们的L军医刚刚牺牲!要是我们早到一小时L军医或许有救!

从一梯队战友们的叙诉我们了解的大致情况:

17号,部队快速穿插进入越境内,坚决执行“不惜一切代价按时到达指定地域”的命令,在先头部队攻打下通农县城后,前指又指挥带领主力部队向既定方向奔进。

18号傍晚,部队走到一处山边隘口,天色渐暗,当主力部队走过之后预指通过时,从山上投下几颗手榴弹在预指队伍中炸开。匆匆行进的队伍顿时有点混乱起来、而此时紧跟随在部队后面的民工队伍中也有人朝部队开枪(后来得知越特工早已在部队刚进入越境时就混进民工之中了,由于当时的民工是临出发前才编入部队,还来不及与部队相互熟悉,再加上广西边境人的相貌与越南人相近似,几个因素就给越军特工钻了空子。)这样两头夹击,部队吃了大亏、民工也无辜受害,军民双方均伤亡惨重!

此时前指率主力部队已经走远,而预指就在这片地段遭遇伏击整整打了一夜,第二天清晨一看,路旁和山上到处都是伤员和尸体,既有我方的也有敌方的更有不少民工。一梯队的医疗所救治伤员职责已完全丧失。大量的伤员只能等二梯队的我们前移到来实施。有些伤员就因为得不到及时的救治而失去生还的希望(如L军医就是其中一例)!

战后战评总结这个段遭遇战例时教训深刻惨痛。对方多年战事不停,原又是同志加兄弟,我们的全民皆兵思想和游击战、麻雀战,伏击战等战略战术都是老大哥教会小弟弟的,现在小弟弟反其道而行之,娴熟运用于师傅身上了!悲呼!

在这场伏击战中,预指已经完全失指挥能力。师团级首长都有伤亡。光师医院就牺牲了十多位战友,负伤二十多人。

医院的战场遭遇,战后在国内广泛流传,竟传有多个版本。至今还被人在网上肆意杜撰、编派解放军参战女兵也在其中死伤不少,还被越军俘虏了去受尽凌辱云云。在此可以郑重告诉世人:当时我们九位参战女兵都跟随后勤复指不在受伏击现场,既没有伤更谈不上亡!而广西战区唯一只有执行穿插任务的部队女兵进入敌后。

附121师医院对越自卫还击战总结

一、上级赋予我师的任务:

在中越边境自卫还击作战中,我师担任直插班庄,切断高平之敌退路,阻止太原之敌增援、保障主力全歼高平之敌的大纵深穿插任务。战斗于1979年2月17日凌晨发起,全师从念井地区分四路出境,沿莫隆、通农、班庄、扣屯、高平、茶灵轴线,奋战28天,于3月16日胜利回国。

二、师医院任务及战场救护情况:

这次出国作战,我院担负全师的卫勤保障任务。全院参战132人:前梯队76人,后梯队56人。

随前梯队行动的医院门诊所和二所的医卫人员曾6次遭遇敌人伏击,消灭敌人18人。

前梯队遭伏击负伤32人、牺牲16人(1名配属翻译)。

在越南境内转移了6个点。

后梯队前接伤员15批,共456名,烈士遗体204具。共收治伤员646名,各种手术275例,危重59名救活55名。后送伤员13批共785名,烈士227具。

四次清扫战场收敛烈士遗体155具。

一所、三所、药房和炊事班分别荣立一、二、三等功。

全院火线立功4人、火线入团1人。

全院立三等功47人,占参战人数35.5%

全院干部55人,荣立三等功以上21人,占38%

给伤员输入液体及代血浆15万9千毫升。

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