The People’s Army of Vietnam Navy (PAVN)

The Vietnamese navy, officially the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy (PAVN), is the 45th navy documented by the Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS). The variety of ships, as well as the extraordinary breadth of service of some of the units, makes the PAVN page a must-see, and adds 21 ship types and 35 Google Earth captures to the project!

PAVN improved Gepard frigate Lý Thái Tổ HQ-012. Credit: Alisé Kim, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One constant of the PAVN fleet, from its origins as a tiny force of patrol and torpedo boats of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), has been the wide range of Russian designs that have served. Many of the same types of ubiquitous Soviet warships that were traded or sold to client states and other navies not aligned to the West found a home here: Soviet Osa missile boats, Tarantul corvettes, minesweepers, and Petya class light frigates. 

PAVN Osa II Haiphong 2021
An older OSA II missile boat near Haiphong.
PAVN Vietnamese_Navy_Petya_II_Class_Frigate_(HQ-15)
PAVN Petya II class frigate HQ-15 ca. Credit: Hoangprs5, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An unusual feature of the navy is that it also includes ships from the other side of the old Cold War divide. There are a number of former US Navy ships now leaving PAVN service after very long careers. These are relics of the lost Republic of Vietnam Navy (RVNN-South Vietnam). During the lengthy US engagement in Vietnam, the US loaned or transferred older ships to the the Republic as part of the massive amount of military assistance.

Three Barnegat class seaplane tenders, rearmed as frigates, serving in the South Vietnamese Navy. After WW2 service in the USN, they had been transferred to the US Coast Guard, then transferred to the RVNN. Out of the seven units transferred, six escaped. These 3 ships were then transferred to the Philippine Navy. RVNS Phạm Ngũ Lão (HQ-15) was captured by the North Vietnamese forces, and served at least until the late 1990s as a hulk. It’s ultimate disposal is unclear. Via wikipedia, source unknown.

Jane’s Fighting Ships editions from the early 1970s reveal the extent of the former USN units in the RVNN: Two Destroyer escorts, seven seaplane tenders armed as frigates, Admirable and Adjutant class minesweepers, patrol craft, and a wide range of landing ships, including six Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) that had seen service in both European and Pacific theatres of World War Two. Some sources even mention that the RVNN fleet of the early 1970s was the 10th largest navy in the World. 

RVNN Vietnamese Minesweeper Wreck AWM
RVNN patrol ship HQ-116 RVNS Bạch Đằng II grounded, ca. 1970 near the mouth of the Cua Viet River. This US-built wooden Adjutant class minesweeper like two other examples, was transferred direct to Vietnam, in 1959. Copyright Australian War Memorial Anthony Leonard Ey, RAN collection P11391.015

In April 1975, as the military situation in South Vietnam collapsed, and the North broke through all Southern defences to encircle the capital, Saigon, elements of the RVNN, with as many as 30,000 refugees, fled to Subic Bay, Philippines.* What could not be evacuated or scuttled was captured, and many of these units were incorporated into the PAVN, leading to a unique influx of RVNN, ex-USN “Prizes of War.”

PAVN LST MK 2 Ho Chi Minh City 2020

Four years later, the Soviet Union traded the PAVN more modern ships for a 25-year lease to make use of the port at Cam Ranh Bay (The Russian Pacific Fleet presence would last until 2002). The 1980s were not kind to this disparate fleet, with speculation on widespread decay “rust-out” and inoperability of much of the PAVN.

Turya Hydrofoils Da Nang 2017
After the prolonged period of decay, the remarkable thing about the PAVN may be that so many elderly Soviet Osa missile boats, Turya hydrofoil torpedo boats, and Shershen TBs continue to serve on into the 2020s!

Shershen class Ha Tou vietnam 2020

In recent years, the decline has been reversed, as antique ships were disposed of, old ships were refitted, and more capable units were acquired. A 1997 purchase of two odd little North Korean “Yugo” mini-submarines helped train crews for bigger, better boats: a force of six Russian built improved-Kilo attack boats came into service starting in 2013. This regionally-powerful submarine service mostly patrols out of Cam Ranh Bay. The Russian influence continues with modern, capable types, such as Molniya upgraded missile corvettes and new Gepard class frigates.

Two PAVN kilo class submarines. Credit: Trinhvan21, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

PAVN Kilo Class SSN Cam Ranh Bay 2020

When you add in the new classes of indigenous-built patrol vessels, auxiliaries and landing ships (with designs mostly from the Dutch firm Damen), to replace the worn-out Soviet and American-built hulls, you have one pretty special navy! We hope you enjoy our pages, where, as always, we try to track down as many different PAVN ship types as possible.Damen Roro 5612 Da Nang building 2019

*The RVNN ships that arrived at Subic Bay (with US military assistance) hauled down their flags, became American ships again, and then were promptly handed over, mostly to the Philippines, where some were incorporated into the navy, and will be featured in an upcoming page.