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

040353Z. A. JCS 001470 DTG 022200Z, B. State 978 to Saigon.2

A basic consideration in formulating a reply to RSS [refs] is an evaluation of the significance of the Viet Cong attack on Bien Hoa. I question the evaluation expressed in pare 1 of Ref B. The VC have had the capability to strike at Bien Hoa for some time. They have the capability to make a similar attack on Danang and probably Tan Son Nhut. There are other major U.S. targets in South Vietnam which are at least as vulnerable to attack as Bien Hoa. For example, the Starcomm facility near Saigon is extremely vulnerable to mortar attack and its loss would disrupt our communications in Southeast Asia. Viet Cong have not attacked a major U.S. installation prior to this because they were fearful of U.S. retaliation. There is ample evidence to indicate that they expected retaliation for the Bien Hoa attack. This attack then was a major decision in HQ but on the course where the insurgency should follow. [sic] I believe, therefore, that the VC now realize that they have been able to launch a successful and very damaging attack on U.S. forces without retaliation. We must assume then that they will be encouraged to mount attacks on other installations in the near future. The VC may delay attacking other installations until the furor from the last attack has died down, but we must be prepared for further attack.
COMUSMACV will do all within his power to make air bases and other sensitive U.S. installations secure. However, they are inherently vulnerable, most of them being situated in the midst of populated areas. They can only be secure when there is rigid population control, a measure which must be carried out by the RVN and will take considerable time. Therefore, regardless of the measures we take toward improving security, the bases are vulnerable in the immediate future.
Since the air bases in Vietnam are congested, clearly insecure and without dispersal facilities of any kind, we should not expose any more airplanes and American personnel on these bases than are necessary for the immediate mission. Aircraft can be moved readily in and out of RVN as requirements dictate.

While it is highly desirable that all forces be iQ place before option 1B is executed, we can initiate a strike with less forces. For example, with one CVA on station off RVN plus the USAF forces now in place in RVN, we can execute option 1B of CINCPAC Frag Order No. 3 but with a considerably less damage level than specified. Within 18 hours all air forces required could be in place. There are several intermediate positions we can assume such as prepositioning F–105s from Kadena to Clark. This reduces air force reaction time to 4 hours after signal is received. If Thai based U.S. forces could be used, this again would improve our capability by 18 F–105s and 10 F–lOOs. The second CVA could be in place in 48 hours. Before any option, other than 1B, is executed, all forces should be in place.

[Numbered paragraph 5 (4 lines of source text) not declassified]

At present, there are two CVAs stationed off South Vietnam and a third one will arrive in the area on 6 November. It is not desirable to maintain this posture for very long unless we intend to launch heavy air strikes.
Lesser actions than option 1B of CINCPAC Frag C)rder No. 3 can be mounted at any time. For example, target no. 36, Vit Thu Lu bks; Target no. 33, Dong Hoi bks; target no. 24, Chanh Hoa bks or target no. 39, Chap Le bks could be attacked effectively with continued strikes from the forces normally in place, with or without assistance from VNAF and Farmgate.
If we are not to make a retaliatory attack stronger than option 1B of CINCPAC Frag Order No. 3 in the near future, we should:
Release Bonhomme Richard to return to waters off Japan.
Reduce the requirements to one CVA off South Vietnam with a second stationed in the South China Sea, so as to reinforce within 48 hours.
Not further augment Air Force forces in South Vietnam.
Release Marine battalions at Okinawa to their normal state of readiness.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 319, HQDA Message Center, Reel 12009. Top Secret; Limdis. Repeated to COMUSMACV, four other Pacific commands, and readdressed to the White House and Department of State on November 4.
  2. Documents 399 and 396, respectively.