136. Memorandum From the Presidents Military Representative (Taylor) to President Kennedy0
- JCS Reply to Questions related to the Defense of the Offshore Islands
I have just read the memorandum of 25 June from the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff replying to your questions bearing on the defense of the Offshore Islands.1
In their reply, the Joint Staff appear to consider a classic amphibious operation mounted against the Offshore Islands as the principal threat from the ChiComs. This thought underlies the estimate in paragraph 1 a of one to four months as needed to mount a major attack. It also finds expression in paragraph 1 b, where the anticipated pattern of attack includes a considerable air and artillery preparation prior to any attempt to land. The same thought is found in 1 c, where the possibility of a surprise attack receives a low rating.
Personally, I am not at all sure that this kind of deliberately phased attack is the most likely or the most dangerous to the defense of the Offshore Islands. Because of the shallow depth of the water around Chinmen, it will be impossible to get heavy weapons ashore during the assault phase. The attack will inevitably depend on masses of lightly armed infantrymen, supported by air and artillery from the mainland. The pattern of the assault is likely to resemble that of the ChiComs in [Page 283]1949 rather than any American amphibious landings of World War II. The amphibious shipping will probably consist largely of rafts, sampans and junks employed in large numbers and with little order.
It seems likely that the ChiComs would make every effort to exploit surprise in making their attack. Under the cover of the very bad weather which is common during this season of the year, and utilizing small craft always in the area, it is entirely possible for the ChiComs to make a quick jump across the narrow water passage separating Chinmen from the mainland and establish a substantial beachhead in the course of a single night. The Defense Intelligence Agency considers that the landing craft required for an attack on the Chinmens or Matsu could be marshalled within 24 or 48 hours, and that the ChiComs could launch an attack on the Offshore Islands with little or no warning.
This or any other major attack will be extremely costly to the ChiComs and, if they have sensible leadership, the adventure should not prove attractive. However, we probably do not think like Chinese and their eventual decision may run counter to what seems sensible to us. The prize to them would be the elimination of a large part of Chiangs best troops, a serious blow to ChiNat and U.S. prestige worldwide, and a great lift to the ChiCom home front. On the other hand, a reverse for the ChiComs would greatly increase the already serious internal situation and would exact a heavy price in military assets.