135. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

2101. 1. Herewith my comment, as requested, on your 1815.2

2. It does not seem to me that proposed action3 would add much psychologically to what we have now, and evidently that is the purpose. Those who are interested in such things assume that 7th Fleet is always just over the horizon and that Marines from Okinawa are not far away. Doubt whether suggested air operations would achieve much psychologically. Actual recon flights over NVN would be needed to do that.

3. I suggest consideration of establishing what the layman would call a “U.S. naval base” at Cam Ranh Bay. There need not-should not-be an expensive shore installation. But the flag should fly, the U.S. presence there should be known and a generous and deep beachhead should be provided.

4. I think, but am not sure, that land area around Cam Ranh Bay is not heavily populated, and I plan to look at it on the ground next week. I understand it is the driest land in all SEA.

5. A generous expanse of empty land should make the base readily defensible on the ground. Outside of the beachhead USG might have a “show place” model community for Vietnamese.

6. I understand General Khanh would approve.

7. Establishment of such a base would do the following: [Page 284]

Establish a U.S. presence in a way which is defensible without depending on Viet-Nam and without political complications or involvement of dependents.
It would enable us to derive maximum benefit from Navy, Air power [Force], and Marines. Obviously, in the interior of Viet-Nam the Army plays the dominant role, and it is full of strong and subtle complications and tied to many factors outside military control, yet having a strong effect on military operations.
But a U.S. Naval presence at Cam Ranh Bay would be purely U.S. and purely military-not dependent on Viet-Nam, and without hampering influence of civilians. Practically no construction would be involved, therefore, with little effect on the gold flow.
Possession of this base could be a useful trump card at a diplomatic conference when, as, and if one should ever be held. It would be something we could readily withdraw if the price were right.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1 US–VIET S. Top Secret; Limdis. Repeated to CINCPAC. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1984, 001242.
  2. In telegram 1815, May 1, the Departments of State and Defense informed Lodge that the desirability of maintaining a U.S. naval presence in or near South Vietnam had been reviewed. The conclusion was “that such a presence intermittently introduced into that area, would give increased evidence of US determination, would provide warning signal to North Vietnamese, and, because of its ambiguous nature, would offer certain operational positions we might find useful at a later date.” (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1 US–VIET S)
  3. In telegram 1815, the Departments of State and Defense also proposed moving Task Force 77.4 (carrier Kitty Hawk and 3 destroyers) into a 200-mile circular operating area, where it would conduct air operations offshore and over South Vietnam. Subsequent operations could be carried out by Task Group 77.6 (carrier Midway and escorts). It would also be possible to conduct small amphibious training exercises in South Vietnam with or without South Vietnamese participation. The Joint Chiefs of Staff first proposed these operations in JCSM–356–64 to Secretary McNamara on April 25. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 68 A 4023, Vietnam 092)