268. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Solbert) to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1


  • Meeting this Afternoon at the White House concerning aftermath of Maddox Incident
Proposed Meeting. I understand from Mike Forrestal that a meeting this afternoon at the White House may involve review of Ambassador Taylor’s cables on the Maddox incident (Tab A),2 including our present ship [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reconnaissance instructions, rules of engagement and possible additional actions in response to the Maddox engagement.
President’s News Release. Attached (Tab B)3 is a news ticker on the President’s statement made this morning.
Present Rules for [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Reconnaissance. We understand that these rules vary for each mission. The Maddox was operating under the limitations that it not go nearer than 15 nautical miles to ChiCom territory (not near islands), 8 miles from DRV mainland and 4 miles from DRV offshore islands. Present orders (issued yesterday—Tab C)4 require the Maddox on the balance of its mission to keep 20 miles from the ChiCom mainland, 11 miles from DRV mainland and 4 miles from DRV offshore islands. A question may be raised as to the frequency with which these [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] missions should be run in the future: chart of mission at Tab D.5
Rules of Engagement. The current rules of engagement provide that ships on patrol will fire back if attacked and will destroy the attacking craft. In attempting to destroy an attacking craft, our ships may not go closer than 11 miles from the DRV mainland. It may be desirable to reduce this limit, though the 5” guns of most destroyers can reach up to and perhaps beyond the coastline from the 11-mile limit (Com7Flt orders permit firing “over-the-line”). Our aircraft should not go much beyond this limit if they are to avoid DRV overflights.
Further Actions. The meeting may also consider other actions in response to the Maddox incident. Some suggestions are (a) aerial mining of DRV naval bases or harbors (now under JCS review for 34A); and (b) other 34A missions directed against these bases (probably not feasible with current 34A craft). Ambassador Taylor has also suggested aerial surveillance of Swatows, including DRV overflights as required, destruction of Swatows on the high seas, and creation of GVN torpedo capability. Surveillance flights over the DRV, over and above present flights, would not appear to produce substantial military information and involve risk of escalation, as does the destruction of Swatows at sea. The creation of GVN torpedo carrying capability is being investigated but appears slight.
Peter Solbert
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 7425, Vietnam 381. Top Secret; Sensitive. Received in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at 4:49 p.m. The source text bears the stamp “Sec Def has seen.”
  2. Tab A contained copies of Documents 256, 260, and 262.
  3. Tab B consisted of the text of the statement in Document 265.
  4. Tab C contained copies of Documents 259 and 261 and a copy of message 030553Z from the Commander of the Seventh Fleet to the Ticonderoga stating that, if another attack took place, it was mandatory to make a maximum effort to achieve the complete destruction of the attacking units.
  5. Not printed.