51. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Meeting in Pentagon on Offshore Islands Situation


  • The Acting Secretary
  • Mr. Cumming, Director, INR
  • Mr. Parsons, Deputy Assistant Secretary, FE
  • Mr. Green, FE
  • Mr. Lutkins, CA
  • Mr. Quarles, Acting Secretary of Defense
  • Admiral Burke, Chief of Naval Operations
  • Mr. Irwin, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Defense
  • General Cabell, Acting Director of CIA
  • Mr. FitzGerald, CIA

The meeting was called to consider action that should be taken in dealing with President Chiang’s message to President Eisenhower and Admiral Smoot’s telegram 281105Z August.1 Commenting on President Chiang’s message, Governor Herter expressed concern that the GRC was trying to involve the United States in the hostilities before making all possible efforts on its own to cope with the situation. It was important, therefore, that we have an intelligence evaluation of GRC capability with respect to counterbattery fire.

Mr. Quarles’ understanding was that continued bombardment and harassment of the islands by the Chinese Communists would not in [Page 90] themselves be sufficient to constitute an attack on Taiwan within the terms of our existing policy as expressed in the Formosa resolution. If this continued on a very intensive scale, our position might have to be revised. For the time being, however, he proposed that we should not consider the Communist interdiction as justifying full use and involvement of American forces. Their use in defending Taiwan, the Penghus, and the Straits would not be precluded, but they should not operate in mainland coastal waters. He saw a need to examine means to enable the GRC to cope with the Communist interdiction operation and assure resupply of the islands. Admiral Burke observed that our military leaders in the Taiwan area were prepared to escort GRC convoys all the way to the islands and, if so instructed, to defend the islands, using either conventional or nuclear weapons. He said that he had just had a telephone conversation with Admiral Felt regarding Admiral Smoot’s telegram. Admiral Felt’s view was that only Admiral Smoot’s recommendation A be authorized, namely, the initiation of convoy assistance. The probable reasons underlying this recommendation were:

The Nationalists could not continue to resupply the islands if they suffered many ship losses, and some losses had already been suffered. If the Communists persisted in an all-out interdiction effort, the Nationalists would probably not be able to maintain resupply by their own efforts. The key question was that of Chinese Communist intent; if the interdiction method was merely continued at the existing level, the Nationalists could probably continue resupplying without assistance.
There was reason to suspect that the GRC garrison had not matched the Communist artillery fire because of fear that their ammunition supplies would not be replenished. Assurance by us that adequate ammunition stocks would be supplied would probably result in willingness to increase counterbattery fire.

Mr. Herter wondered if the GRC might not be holding back naval forces in an effort to bring about a commitment of United States forces. Admiral Burke thought that something of this sort might well be involved. Mr. Quarles also expressed concern on this point and felt that it was necessary for us to be very cautious about increasing our involvement.

Admiral Burke said that the first step that should be taken was for the United States forces in the area to take over the defense of Taiwan to enable the GRC forces to engage more actively and fully in the resupply and defense of the islands. If the GRC were then still unable to handle the job by itself, we should provide assistance by naval and air escorting of GRC convoys. United States Navy vessels would first go part way to the islands, then all the way; United States aircraft would similarly go all the way over the islands. We must, of course, expect that some danger would be suffered from Communist torpedo boats unless we were very lucky.

[Page 91]

Mr. Quarles said that he would like to establish a preliminary intermediate stage in which escorting would be carried out only up to dark. The local commander could determine whether this should be done half way to the islands or further. He agreed that we should put in a sufficient aerial force to establish an effective defensive umbrella over Taiwan and the Penghus, thus enabling the GRC to handle the offshore islands operation to the maximum extent.

Mr. Quarles inquired how many LSTs and other amphibious craft we could assemble in the area in addition to those already delivered to the GRC. Admiral Burke said that two LCMs and 48 LCVTs were on their way up from Singapore for delivery to the GRC. In addition, three LSTs were being sent out immediately and two more were being sought.

In answer to a question from Mr. Quarles regarding food and ammunition stocks on the islands/Admiral Burke said reports indicated that they were sufficient for at least thirty days. Mr. Quarles commented that with these stocks and the supplies that would be delivered as a result of our escorting up to dark, the Communists would have to commit more naval and air strength than previously in order to prevent resupply. Mr. Herter mentioned that it was necessary to keep in mind the possibility of a simultaneous Communist move against the Matsus.

Mr. Quarles expressed his understanding that if the Communists commenced bombing of the islands with land-based aircraft, GRC planes could engage in hot pursuit and bomb the mainland airfields. He further understood that the GRC had enough planes to do this. Admiral Burke observed that the GRC had a large supply of conventional bombs, but that these would not prove very effective. Moreover, they had a very limited number of planes, and it must be assumed that they would suffer losses in any operations against the mainland.

Mr. Quarles thought it important to preserve the position that so long as the Chinese Communists’ action against Quemoy was limited to bombardment and harassment this was a matter for the GRC to handle. If it extended beyond this, we would get into the scrap and go all-out. He believed that we could let it be known where we drew the line and that if the Communists went beyond this in their actions we would come in. We should also let it be known that we were prepared to escort GRC convoys up to a point.

Admiral Burke offered a paper2 outlining courses of action in what should be considered a Phase A situation. These courses of action were:

To escort and protect GRC convoys to the offshore islands.
The United States to assume responsibility for the air defense of Taiwan and the Penghus, thus releasing GRC forces to defend the offshore islands and provide air cover for convoys.
Supply additional landing craft for supply purposes to the GRC.
In the event of Chinese Communist air attack on the offshore islands authorize hot pursuit by Nationalist planes including attack on Communist aircraft at their bases.
Urge the GRC to increase counterbattery fire and take steps to provide the garrison with adequate ammunition.
Take action necessary to maintain freedom of the sea in the Taiwan Straits.

Mr. Herter inquired about the proposal that the GRC be given eight-inch howitzers for use on Quemoy. Mr. Irwin stated that MAAG had asked for twelve of these guns and this number would be supplied. However, these guns were in the United States and it would take sixty to ninety days to get them to Quemoy. Mr. Quarles asked whether in view of the urgency of the situation it would not be possible to make the guns available from stocks already in the area. He urged that supply of these guns be speeded up as much as possible.

Mr. Parsons commented that the idea seemed to be that our policy of escorting only part way to the islands would be disclosed only to the GRC and that we would try to keep the Communists guessing. Mr. Quarles felt that we should tell only the GRC and our commanders but that the Communists would soon understand. No public announcement was desirable, since we might at any time have to move into a Phase B and it was desirable to maintain as far as possible the principle of our non-involvement. If the Communists came out into the Straits more than a third of the way, we would hit them in the air. Mr. Irwin believed that our Navy air should be employed to cover our ships engaged in escort activity. Admiral Burke stated, however, that our ships could defend themselves up to 20,000 feet and that GRC planes could cover them above that level. He was more concerned with the possibility of attacks by torpedo boats.

Mr. Parsons raised the question of the conditions under which our Navy vessels should undertake escort operations and how far they should go. It was agreed after discussion that the directive to Admiral Smoot should specify that escorting should be undertaken to the extent that it was militarily necessary and that the GRC was unable to carry out the task. With respect to the point to which escort operations should be carried out, Admiral Burke stated that our Navy vessels now operated up to a point within twenty miles of the mainland and offshore islands. This might be an acceptable initial arrangement for the distance up to which we should carry out escort operations. General Cabell doubted the usefulness of escorting under such an arrangement, pointing out that GRC convoy losses to date had occurred in waters closely adjacent to Quemoy. He felt that such an arrangement could only provide a psychological boost and would not effectively deter the Communists for very long. Admiral Burke agreed that the critical area was the waters close to [Page 93] the islands. He commented that the Communists had smelled blood and the Nationalists were scared as a result of their losses from shell fire and torpedo boat attacks. The torpedo boats operated at night. The only effective counter to torpedo boats was good gunfire, and the Nationalists did not have much capability in this respect. He agreed with General Cabell that such an escort arrangement would only be effective for a few days and that we would soon have to extend the degree of our involvement. He approved of the road down which we were proceeding but he wanted to make it clear what the direction was.

Mr. Quarles thought that from the supply point of view the situation was secure for thirty days. However, this did not take into account the question of morale. Admiral Burke agreed that the latter was an important factor. His personal belief was that President Chiang should be told everything as long as he did not go off and act on his own.

Mr. Herter reminded the group that it would be necessary to answer the two specific questions posed in President Chiang’s letter to President Eisenhower. Mr. Quarles stated that we would have to reply frankly that the situation was not such as to justify committing our forces. Mr. Herter added that we should tell Chiang that we were taking over the protection of Taiwan and the Penghus. Elaborating on this point, Mr. Quarles said that we were sending our forces into Taiwan. Their mission would be to defend Taiwan and the Penghus, protect our own forces, ensure freedom of the Straits, and by reinforcing the GRC forces help them to handle the local situation on the offshore islands. We should not pass from Phase A to Phase B without another meeting, nor should we be panicked into moving into Phase B by a few bad days in Phase A.

Mr. Herter and Mr. Parsons called attention to the fact that we faced the constant problem of countering Communist propaganda that we were carrying out aggression in the Straits area. Mr. Quarles thought that the intensity of the Chinese Communist fire spoke for itself. He mentioned that the Communist papers in Hong Kong were carrying extras announcing that an attack on Quemoy was imminent; in this situation if the Communists did not actually press the attack, they would lose face. He personally did not believe that an assault was imminent.

With reference to Admiral Smoot’s message, Admiral Burke emphasized that the crucial question was the logistical resupply of Quemoy. The island’s airfield was knocked out, the supply beaches were interdicted and it was possible to get supplies in only on a limited hit and run basis. The fact that the Nationalist garrison had stocks for thirty days ignored the human factor of the reaction of the garrison to heavy artillery pounding. The GRC was fearful that morale might crack after a few more days of the punishment. Another source, however, described morale as high and saw no danger for fifteen to thirty days. Admiral Felt was recommending that we proceed to secure the sea lane to Quemoy on a [Page 94] shore-to-shore basis by escorting GRC convoys. Commenting on this recommendation, Admiral Burke thought it would be all right to start with escort operations limited to daylight hours. However, it might be necessary to go further in a day or two. With respect to Admiral Smoot’s recommendation that the GRC be authorized to carry out napalm attacks on the Communist batteries, Admiral Burke agreed with Admiral Felt’s opinion that it was too early to grant such authority.

General Cabell returned to the morale factor, mentioning that there would probably be a feeling on the part of the Nationalists that we were only helping up to the point where the going got tough and then letting them take over in the real danger area. In Admiral Burke’s opinion there was not much difference, as far as the danger to our forces were concerned, whether we escorted part way or all the way to the beaches. If we did not escort all the way in, the Communists would certainly attack the Nationalist supply ships in the close-in area. If we should convoy the whole way our ships might be attacked, but they could probably defend themselves successfully. Mr. Quarles observed that if we should send destroyers in they would probably take some damage, in which case there would be a demand that the Navy strike back against the Communists. The fact that we would not fully commit our forces might be tough on President Chiang, but we had told him all along that we would not defend the islands in the event of a limited action.

Mr. Parsons suggested that Phase A be looked at from the point of view of the deterrent effect its new actions might have on the Communists. Several new things were involved:

We would be carrying out active escort operations up to a point twenty miles from the mainland in addition to our standard patrol operations. The Communists would certainly note this new United States Navy activity.
The Communists would also receive more radar tracks in the general Taiwan area as a result of our increased air activity (Admiral burke commented that this was not anything very new, inasmuch as there had already been great air activity on our part during the past few days).
The fact that we were moving new amphibious equipment from Singapore for delivery to the GRC would become known to the Communists.
The GRC and United States posture generally was more aggressive. Mr. Quarles commented that while we could not, of course, know whether these new actions would actually deter the Communists, this was a possibility.

General Cabell noted, however, that the Communists might misinterpret our turn-around at the twenty mile mark and conclude that we were just bluffing, which would encourage them to continue or even step up their attacks on the islands.

[Page 95]

Admiral Burke asked whether we might set the turn-around point at ten miles. In Mr. Quarles’ view our commander in the area should not be specifically limited on this point. If one of our vessels found a Communist torpedo boat within range at nineteen miles, of course, it could move in. However, we should observe the general plan of avoiding involvement in the coastal fighting. Admiral Burke suggested that we instruct Admiral Smoot to conduct our escort operations in such a way as to remain out of range of the Communists’ shore-based artillery.

Mr. Quarles said we wished to avoid creating an impression of hostile action and that for the time being at least we should avoid involvement in the interdiction battle. He wondered if the Nationalists could not handle the escort problem with their own destroyers with additional ones provided by us. He suggested the possibility of offering them another destroyer right away. Admiral Burke pointed out that destroyers could not be given to a foreign government without a special law of Congress and that in any case considerable time would be necessary to break in a Chinese crew.

Mr. Herter felt that possibly escorting only in daylight hours would be safe. Admiral Burke commented that this might be the case, but it was also true that it would be easier for the Communists to observe the resupply vessels and bring them under effective fire in daylight. He emphasized that we must not recognize the twelve-mile limit claimed by the Communists. Any limit set by us on the extent of our escort operations should avoid this figure.

Mr. Parsons emphasized the difficulty we faced in drafting a reply to President Chiang’s letter. Our refusal to authorize bombing of the Communists’ artillery positions and our action in escorting only part way to the islands would suggest that we were not prepared to defend the islands. We would have to be very careful in the reply to avoid both implying any full commitment to defend the islands and stating our position so negatively that President Chiang might take unilateral action against the mainland. Mr. Herter observed that we were after all giving the GRC a second big package. Mr. Quarles added that it might not make President Chiang completely happy but he would realize that he was getting 75% of what he asked. Mr. Parsons stated that we were already working on drafting a reply to the President’s letter and would continue on this the following day.

Mr. Herter considered it important that we try and put the discussions between the two governments back in proper channels. The reply from President Eisenhower would, therefore, say that our Ambassador in Taipei would continue in touch with him. Mr. Parsons suggested that another possibility would be to direct Ambassador Drumright to pass the final package to President Chiang rather than to inform the latter in a letter from President Eisenhower.

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Mr. Quarles asked Admiral Burke to check with the Joint Chiefs regarding the proposed Phase A and seek their frank views as to whether the actions envisaged were sufficient or whether they would recommend a more aggressive posture.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/8–2858. Top Secret. Drafted by Lutkins and approved by John A. Calhoun, Deputy Director of the Executive Secretariat.
  2. Telegram 281105Z from COMTAIWANDEFCOM(US)/MAAG TAIWAN, August 28, stated that the critical tactical issue was the logistic supply of Kinmen. Its recommendations included (A) the immediate initiation of convoy assistance and (C) that he should be given authority to concur in Nationalist bombardment of selected mainland gun positions as an emergency defensive measure. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, 381 Formosa (11–8–48), Section 38; see Supplement)
  3. Not found.