62. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Taiwan Straits Situation


  • Secretary of State Dulles
  • Under Secretary of State Herter
  • Deputy Under Secretary Henderson
  • Assistant Secretary Cumming
  • Mr. Farley, S/AE1
  • Acting Assistant Secretary FE, Mr. Parsons
  • General Byers, Dept. Defense
  • General McCaul, Asst.
  • Commandant, Marines
  • General White, Air Chief of Staff
  • General Twining, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Admiral Burke, Chief of Naval Operations
  • General Taylor, Army Chief of Staff
  • General Goodpaster, White House

The Secretary inquired what was the supply situation on the offshore islands? General Twining replied that the Nationalists on Kinmen probably had sufficient stocks to last sixty to ninety days. He confirmed that there were indications that the defenders were rationing their use of shells although there was plenty of ammo on the Kinmens and on Taiwan. In this regard General Taylor mentioned that twelve 8-inch howitzers [Page 116] are being shipped to Kinmen and should add usefully to GRC defensive capabilities. Both sides were well dug in, he added, and could take a lot of pounding; it would be a very difficult job to dig out the gun emplacements on either side with conventional weapons.

The Secretary asked what escort ships our Navy would use. Admiral Burke explained that destroyers would be used, and in answer to a further query from the Secretary stated that while there would be some danger of their being hit it was not very great; as long as they kept moving they would be difficult targets for inexperienced gunners. It was a risk we should accept. He also pointed out that they would not be moving in beyond international waters, which would reduce the danger of their being hit from shore batteries. Regarding the possible danger to the destroyers point was also made that the Chinese Communists did not appear so far to have used their air strength either to attack the islands or to supplement their interdictory operations.

In reply to the Secretary’s inquiry what direct sources of information we had on Kinmen Admiral Burke stated that there was an Army Advisory group there [less then 1 line of source text not declassified]. General Byers commented that while the Advisory Group’s communication facilities had been knocked out in the first bombardment they were continuing to transmit messages [less then 1 line of source text not declassified].

With further reference to the supply situation Admiral Burke called attention to the extremely heavy typhoon which was approaching Taiwan. As a result the seas in the Taiwan Straits would be so heavy that no supplies would be moving across to the islands for the next three days.

The Secretary inquired what indications there were of a further military build-up by the Communists in the coastal area. Admiral Burke stated that there had been no significant change on the naval side, mentioning in particular that no unusual concentrations of junks had been observed although there were thousands in the general area. General Taylor stated that there were indications of an increase by two new artillery divisions which were broadly distributed throughout the coastal area of Fukien.

Responding to the Secretary’s inquiry on the subject of morale and casualties on Kinmen, Admiral Burke stated that the morale of the defenders was reported to be excellent—better than in Taipei—and that casualties amounted to 680 of whom 150 had been killed. There were no casualties in the Matsus.

The Secretary noted that the JCS memorandum2 talked about the problem of relative GRC Navy inactivity. One difficulty, Admiral Burke [Page 117] noted, was that the Navy was lacking in good top-level leadership; it had taken most of its senior officers from the Army and had not received particularly good ones. The Navy was good technically, but due to the lack of a Chinese naval tradition it did not have the urge to get in and scrap. Moreover, the Navy did not have very much in the way of ships and its fear of losses tended to inhibit offensive operations. It did, however, have a good supply of landing craft for supply purposes, and we were providing them with additional lift of this type shortly.

The Secretary observed that it did not appear the situation would become critical in a matter of hours but was rather a question of days or weeks. General Taylor pointed to the possibility of a surprise attack, noting the Communists’ ability, as seen during the Korean War, to concentrate a large number of junks rapidly. The Secretary inquired as to the capability of the Chinese Air Force for hitting such junk concentrations. It was noted that the CAF already had authority to strike concentrations presaging invasion but Admiral Burke stated that the GRC, strictly interpreting its commitment not to hit the mainland, had not yet struck at the junks observed in Amoy harbor or elsewhere. President Eisenhower had indicated the other day that he thought the GRC should have that authority. Admiral Burke pointed out that tests carried out by the Navy several years ago had shown the great difficulty of destroying junks except by napalm, which made them very expensive targets to hit. General Twining said that the GRC had napalm, adding that a message had been sent out asking for information on the size of its stocks of napalm as well as of bombs and ammunition.

Admiral Burke expressed the opinion that the principal threat to Kinmen was not from junks which in the event of invasion attempts could be handled by the island’s guns, but from the Communist shore batteries. He concurred in the Secretary’s supposition that the Communists would not attempt to invade Kinmen until the Nationalist batteries had been silenced, unless the Communists were prepared to take exceedingly heavy losses. The Secretary observed that the Communists could conceivably stage a major assault at any time with a combination of heavy shelling, air bombing, and amphibious landing operations. Mr. Herter asked how many troops would be required for such an operation; would it be 300,000–400,000? General Taylor thought that they would not want to commit this many troops. Admiral Burke stated that the waters around Kinmen were mined and otherwise well defended and that judging by our experience in attacking Japanese-held islands in the Pacific in World War II the 85,000 defenders of Kinmen could put up a determined resistance. The Communists would therefore need a great many troops to take it, suffering heavy casualties.

The Secretary inquired whether the Joint Chiefs expected to get a full daily report on the military situation on the islands in all its aspects. [Page 118] General Twining replied in the affirmative. Admiral Burke commented that he had authorized a “rough” message the previous day asking for more adequate reporting.3

The Secretary asked whether the Joint Chiefs had decided what sort of military actions we would have to take if it were necessary for us to intervene militarily. General Twining’s answer was that we would strike at Communist air fields and shore batteries with small atomic weapons. All the studies carried out by Defense indicated that this was the only way to do the job; the use of conventional weapons would mean our involvement in another protracted Korean War-type conflict. Furthermore, he declared, the Joint Chiefs believed that the Chinese Communists should be told that this was our intention. The Secretary noted at this point that he had asked his staff to find out what the President had said publicly in the past regarding the use of nuclear weapons. He also observed that the Joint Chiefs’ view regarding the necessity of using nuclear weapons had important implications affecting the government’s whole foreign policy.

General Taylor said it was necessary in his view to distinguish in this respect between three different types of targets or situations:

The first possible situation was one in which we would be presented with an “open target”, with the Communists attacking in an amphibious operation. Such an attack could be beaten back by the Nationalist defenders with conventional weapon assistance from us. The Secretary asked whether this estimate would hold in the event of a surprise attack. General Taylor replied that, while the Communists might achieve surprise in the initial landing phase, a successful invasion would require continuous back-up operations which we could hit and destroy. The Joint Chiefs agreed that U.S. forces currently in the area were sufficient to cope with an attack of this nature. Admiral Burke and General Taylor emphasized that Kinmen was not going to fall in one day as a result of such an attack. General Taylor thought that it was nevertheless important to determine in advance what our reaction would be in the event of a clear-cut attack. Admiral Burke believed that we would be able to beat off an amphibious attack, even if staged in conjunction with heavy aerial bombing, long enough to refer back to Washington and obtain authorization to use nuclears. General Taylor’s view was that it was not necessary to have authority to use nuclears immediately upon the commencement of a major attack since beleaguered military garrisons could hold up for some time under the heavy shelling and bombing, but it would be necessary to use nuclears if the Communists maintained the attack. Admiral Burke continued that the Communists would take heavy losses from our conventional weapons in an initial phase of an amphibious landing, but if they persisted we could not defeat the attack except by the use or nuclears. The Secretary observed that, in other words, it [Page 119] was not necessary to use nuclear weapons right away but it would be necessary to do so ultimately against a determined enemy.
The second type of situation we might face would be one in which protracted massive shelling of the islands threatened to result in a breakdown of the morale of GRC defenders. General Taylor explained in this regard that we had found in Korea that while we could severely harass enemy gun emplacements by the use of conventional artillery fire and napalm we could not knock out the positions altogether. Physical elimination of the gun emplacements could be effected only by nuclear fire; the barracks used by the gun crews could of course be destroyed by conventional means. Admiral Burke agreed with this assessment noting moreover that the Communists had more gun positions than guns and moved the latter around regularly.
The third possibility General Taylor envisaged was a heavy and continuing aerial bombardment. In this event, he believed, nuclear weapons would certainly have to be used.

The Secretary asked what would happen if any of our destroyers or our aircraft engaged in convoying GRC supply ships to the islands were to be hit? Admiral Burke said we would, of course, have to conduct rescue operations even if this were to mean entering Chinese Communist coastal waters. General Twining said that if we were to lose a ship or American lives as a result of our convoying action, it would come as a great shock to the American public. The Secretary concurred, adding that this was a political rather than a military question since we were placing American lives and ships in jeopardy. He observed that we did not appear to have given much thought to possible reactions here and abroad. Mr. Herter interjected that awareness of this factor was one of the reasons why the instructions to Admiral Smoot had confined convoying operations to international waters. Admiral Burke said that the matter raised by the Secretary and General Twining was a matter of serious concern, since the American people and Congress did not realize how serious the situation was and were not psychologically prepared for the possible consequences. He stressed that this was not a question just of the loss of some small islands but rather of the possible loss of a whole nation, the GRC. The Secretary stated that he had made mention of the same point at his staff meeting earlier in the day, noting that if it was possible merely to lose the islands no one would mind very much, but that their loss would almost certainly lead to further Chinese Communist aggressive moves and gains. Nothing seems to be worth world war until you look hard at the effect of not standing up to each challenge as it is posed. Admiral Burke responded that the argument that nothing is worth a world war was the reason why the Communists had been winning all along. He emphasized the danger to Southeast Asia and our whole position in the Far East if we were to fail to take a strong stand in meeting Chinese Communist military aggression in this instance. General [Page 120] White voiced the opinion that our firm support of the GRC in this crisis might have a favorable impact on our NATO allies.

The Secretary inquired if we had to use nuclear weapons, what type would be employed against Communist airfields? General Twining replied that we would use 7–10 kiloton airburst bombs. Ground burst bombs would be more effective, but they were too “dirty.” The lethal area of the airburst type was 3 to 4 miles, and there was virtually no fall out. The initial attack would be only on five coastal airfields (with one bomb being used per airfield); we would then stop to observe the effect on Communist intentions. The result of these bombs would be to take out aircraft on the fields plus ground facilities, but the runways would not be rendered inoperable; it was not believed that the coastal fields had underground facilities.

The Secretary noted that we had been informed by Ambassador MacArthur that if the U.S. initiated the use of nuclear weapons in defense of the offshore islands, the Japanese Government might be forced to demand withdrawal of U.S. forces from Japan & as a minimum, would probably request cessation of U.S. support of any nature, including logistic, from facilities in Japan for operations in the Taiwan Straits. Admiral Burke said that denial of the bases in Japan for operational sorties would present us with no great difficulty but that denial of access to our supplies in Japan would be serious, though surmountable.

The Secretary declared that this matter posed a very basic question with respect to our defense posture in the Far East: namely if anticipated reactions against our use of nuclear weapons were to be so hostile that we would be inhibited from using them except in the NATO theater or in retaliation against a Soviet attack, was our reliance on their use correct and productive? Admiral Burke observed that this was all part of a war of nerves and that the opposition in Japan to our use of nuclear weapons was largely inspired by the Communists in order to deter us from using nuclear weapons. He thought such opposition was to be found mostly among “leftist” labor elements and did not reflect the thinking of the Japanese Government. If the Communists persisted in their attack, he continued, we had two choices: to counter-attack or to let the islands go. The latter course would probably result in the later loss of Taiwan and other free countries one by one. A strong retaliatory action might well result in serious initial public reaction in Japan and elsewhere but the government and informed leaders would come to realize that our action was in their best interests. We must stand and hold firm, he argued, by conventional weapons as long as this was possible but, if the enemy persisted, with nuclear weapons. Otherwise we faced the prospect of losing the whole world in ten years.

General Taylor stated that this problem has often been discussed in the abstract, but now we were dealing with the first specific case, which [Page 121] to his mind vividly pointed up the need of flexibility of forces in the defense planning. General Twining’s view was that we simply could not afford to support forces of the sort indicated by General Taylor. The Secretary observed that regardless of the amount of conventional force flexibility we might be able to maintain, it would be no match for the manpower and conventional power of our enemies on the Eurasian land mass. General Taylor thought it was a question of careful orchestration, that we should start with conventional weapons and proceed with a graduated series of deterrent actions, of which the use of nuclears would only be the final stage. General Twining insisted that we could not afford the number of divisions necessary to deal with Communist ground strength on the Eurasian continent, and General White similarly argued that we could not maintain air fleets of the same size that we employed in our World War II strikes. Admiral Burke commented that our naval aircraft was stretched very thin and that if we were to suffer heavy losses we would find it hard to obtain replacements. General Twining added that if we could have used nuclear bombs in the Korean War we could have accomplished in two or three days the damage to enemy positions that required months of saturation with conventional bombs, and probably with considerably less loss of American and enemy lives. He could not understand the public horror at the idea of using nuclear weapons and insisted that we must get used to the idea that such weapons had to be used. We must also face the possibility of their use by the Communists.

The Secretary asserted that if we shrink from using nuclear weapons when military circumstances so require, then we will have to reconsider our whole defense posture. In dealing with this crisis we were facing some tough questions. Admiral Burke thought that if we didn’t face up to the problem now there would be tougher situations later on; the other Chiefs agreed.

Mr. Herter expressed the opinion that Phase II of our possible military actions in the Taiwan Straits area, as described in the JCS Directive sent to Admiral Smoot on August 29, was rather fuzzy and asked whether it would not be worth while to have the Joint Chiefs develop their understanding of our possible actions in this phase in a more precise manner. Admiral Burke stated that the distinction between the various phases was in itself a fuzzy one and that it would be difficult to spell things out in a more specific manner. There was agreement on this point by the Joint Chiefs.

The Secretary then returned to a proposed directive to Admiral Smoot4 asking whether the authority extended to him in it was not too broad. General Twining explained that the intent of the message was to [Page 122] let him know that he already had ample authority within the latitudes that had already been set by Defense and State. There was agreement that Admiral Smoot should be reminded that our convoy operations should be confined to international waters, and that in exercising the latitude granted by the JCS he must operate within this and other basic restrictions.

The Secretary also asked about the meaning of the directive seeking an increase in GRC counter battery fire.5 General Twining explained that while increasing the fire would not necessarily result in knocking out enemy gun emplacements it would keep them pinned down and would also have a good psychological effect both on the defenders and on the enemy.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/9–258. Top Secret. Drafted by Lutkins and approved by Marshall Green and Joseph N. Greene, Jr., all of whom were apparently also present. The time of the meeting is taken from Dulles’ appointment book. (Princeton University, Dulles Papers)
  2. Philip J. Farley, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Disarmament and Atomic Energy.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Telegram 011717Z from CNO to CINCPAC, September 1, requested information on the supply situation for Kinmen and Matsu. (Department of State, ROC Files: Lot 71D 517, Offshore Islands (Navy Telegrams), August 19–September 3, 1958)
  5. Apparently a draft of JCS telegram 947414, September 2. (Ibid., Offshore Islands (Telegrams), May 26–September 4, 1958; see Supplement)
  6. Included in the telegram cited in footnote 4 above.