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266. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Vietnam Coordinating Committee (Forrestal) to the Secretary of State 1


  • Possible Actions Following Maddox Incident

We met this morning with Pete Solbert (McNaughton is away on vacation) and his civilian and military staff people.2 The following information may be of use to you in connection with any meeting the President may have this afternoon.

I. Present Rules of Marine Reconnaissance

At the present moment destroyer patrols are authorized to close within 15 miles of the Chicom coastline, 11 miles of the DRV coastline, and 4 miles from DRV offshore islands. We have only made four destroyer patrols since December 1962, and the distances off the coast have varied depending upon the purpose of the reconnaissance, i.e. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], Junk Surveillance, etc. Another patrol is scheduled for the period August 3–7.

You probably know that the action against the Maddox took place within the same 60-hour period as an OPLAN 34A harassing action by SVN forces against two islands off the DRV coast, Hon Me and Hon Nieu. It seems likely that the North Vietnamese and perhaps the Chicoms have assumed that the destroyer was part of this operation, although it was attacked some 30 miles away from the nearest island. It is also possible that Hanoi deliberately ordered the attack in retaliation for the harassment of the islands. This suggests to me that we should in the future assure coordination between OPLAN 34A activities, which are controlled in the Pentagon by SACSA, and the destroyer patrols, which are controlled by J–3. Other OPLAN 34A actions are scheduled for August 3–5.

II. Rules of Engagement

At the moment, rules of engagement for both marine and air units are to respond to any attack and pursue the attacking forces with the objective of destroying them up to a point 11 miles from the DRV [Page 599]coastline. Our units are permitted to fire beyond this point and in the case of destroyers, this means they could reach the shoreline with their guns.

III. Additional Thoughts

The 11-mile limitation referred to above reflects the fact that NVN probably claims that her territorial waters extend 12 miles off her coast. We do not admit this claim, and the theory is to show this by penetrating it to the extent of one mile. I agree that there is some logic to this position as far as regular patrols are concerned; but I wonder if we should not authorize our people to engage in hot pursuit of NVN attacking forces, both on the sea and in the air, to a distance of three miles from the DRV coast. Another question which has not been thoroughly discussed is what happens if in the course of hot pursuit of an attacking enemy ship or aircraft, our forces are fired upon by landbased aircraft or coastal artillery. Do we engage in suppressive or retaliatory activity against the DRV mainland? I believe that we probably should, but we do not have to make this decision now.

I raised the question this morning whether any sort of aerial reconnaissance over the DRV would have any military value in connection with the protection of our coastal patrols. The answer appears to be “no”, because the risk of a shootdown is considerably greater than the reconnaissance results we could expect to achieve. But this is a point you might wish to raise.

I think we might at least wish to discuss other actions against the DRV associated with their patrol boat activity. I have in mind the aerial mining of the harbor or harbors from which these boats emerge. I understand that this probably could be done effectively by the VNAF, who have been trained in this technique. Another possibility, of course, is an unidentified airstrike against one or more of these harbors. A recent JCS paper includes several such harbors as a possible VNAF target.3

Finally, you have our draft cable to Saigon asking Ambassador Taylor to hand our protest to the ICC for transmission to Hanoi.4 The issue here is whether to use the ICC for this purpose, since to do so might only stimulate Hanoi to react by demanding an investigation of our destroyer activities in the Gulf of Tonkin.

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We have considered going through the British, Canadians, Indians or French-all of whom have representation of some sort in Hanoi. We have concluded in the interests of speed that the ICC is the best means for the formal transmission of our protest. We are not asking the ICC to investigate, merely to transmit.

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group files: Lot 72 D 219, Maddox Incident. Top Secret. The source text bears the handwritten notation: “Secretary Saw.”
  2. No record of this meeting has been found.
  3. Presumably the 91 Target List submitted to the Secretary of Defense as an appendix to JCSM–460–64, May 30. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Files)
  4. A copy of this draft, which is substantially the same as Document 270, is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Maddox Incident.