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

282. Deptel 328 and Embtel 281.2 Deptel does not address itself to primary question raised Embtel namely what will be U.S. Govt reaction to this attack? Dept [Emb] will appreciate that info. Unprovoked attack against U.S. destroyer in international waters by three illegal North Vietnamese torpedo boats will be received dramatically in current atmosphere Saigon. It is not adequate to local minds (nor indeed to ours) to state that attack was repelled and that patrol will continue.

This reaction, if it constitutes totality of U.S. Govt intentions, will make it appear that we are prepared to accept regular Swatow harassment in international waters as normal concomitant our normal naval patrolling activities. Such an attitude would immediately be construed in Saigon as indication that U.S. flinches from direct confrontation with North Vietnamese, especially since we apparently did not press home total destruction those vessels which attacked Maddox.

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To meet this situation, recommend prompt consideration of following actions:

Announce that Swatows will henceforth be attacked whenever found in international waters and maintain air and/or naval forces in readiness to do so.
Direct regular air surveillance of Swatows overflying DRV air space as required.
Mine approaches to Swatow harbors.
Create a torpedo capability in GVN Navy for use against appropriate targets, such as Haiphong dredges.

These are quick thoughts without opportunity for consultation with experts. However, we are impressed with need for prompt reaction and timely private communication of intentions to GVN.

Request urgent consideration these matters and advice soonest re statements which we may make privately to GVN.

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 72 D 219, DeSoto Patrols, August. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Also sent to the White House, CIA, and the Department of Defense. Received at 12:15 a.m.
  2. Documents 260 and 256, respectively.