284. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Sharp) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1

032353Z. DeSoto Patrol rules of engagement. A. JCS 7680 DTG 021725Z. B. JCS 7681 DTG 022349Z. C. OPNAVINST 03300.8. D. JCS 2084/80. E. SM–1431–62.2

A United States ship has been attacked on the high seas off North Vietnam. The Maddox quite properly repulsed the attackers and one of the attacking boats was destroyed. Now, our friends and enemies alike will await what additional moves the United States will take.
Refs A and B appear to be a retreat at a time when aggressive measures are necessary. Ref A now prohibits an approach by DeSoto Patrol closer than eleven miles to the North Vietnam mainland coastline. Ref B prohibits hot pursuit into hostile waters and refers to international waters parenthetically as eleven miles offshore. Does this mean that hot pursuit must stop eleven miles offshore? If so, we are drastically reducing the time and space available to our ships and aircraft for destroying the attackers.
Although the terms hostile waters and hostile airspace are used in the rules of engagement contained in refs C through E, no clear definition of the terms is set forth and it must be assumed that they are synonymous with territorial waters and territorial airspace of the offending country.
In the event of unprovoked attack, our forces should be authorized to take aggressive action to destroy the attackers. This action has traditionally included hot pursuit into the territorial waters and airspace of the hostile country. If we are to be prohibited from pursuing into territorial waters and airspace, we should be allowed to pursue to the three-mile limit where territorial waters commence, in accordance with standard U.S. policy.
Recommend that:
The terms territorial waters and airspace be used in lieu of hostile waters and airspace.
DeSoto Patrol be permitted to approach within eight miles of NVN coastline, thus keeping five miles clear of territorial waters.
Hot pursuit into territorial waters and airspace of the hostile country be authorized.
If hot pursuit into territorial waters is not authorized, then authorize pursuit to the three-mile limit.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 319, HQDA Message Center, Reel 11885. Secret; Priority. According to another copy, this telegram was repeated by the JCS to the White House, CIA, NSA, and the Department of State at 8:47 p.m. and was received in the Department of State at 10:26 p.m. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  2. JCS telegrams 7680 and 7681 are printed as Documents 259 and 261; the other three documents have not been found.