411. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1



  • Courses of Action in Southeast Asia
This memorandum has been prepared as a result of the meeting in the White House on 2 November 19642 on this subject at which an examination in detail was requested of the possible Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV)/Communist China (CHICOM) military reactions to US air strikes against North Vietnam. The examination is contained [Page 903] in six Appendices3 to this memorandum which include an analysis of the threat and possible enemy reactions, our response to such reactions, and the preparatory measures which we should undertake prior to mounting an attack so that we could defer a CHICOM response or, failing that, respond in a timely effective fashion to any enemy initiative. This memorandum summarizes the examination in the Appendices. The underlying objective remains that of causing the DRV to cease supporting and directing the insurgencies in RVN and Laos.
On 4 November 1964, the Joint Chiefs of Staff by memorandum, JCSM–933–64,4 formalized their recommendations made orally to you on 1 November 1964 in relation to the mortar attack on US forces at Bien Hoa Airfield, South Vietnam, which occurred on 1 November 1964. The specific actions recommended at that time are repeated here. Although these actions were recommended for the attack on Bien Hoa, they comprise an option equally applicable and available for immediate implementation in the event of other serious provocations in Southeast Asia.
  • “a. Within 24–36 hours, Pacific Command (PACOM) forces take initial US military actions as follows:
    • “(1) Conduct air strikes in Laos against target #3 (Tchepone Barracks, Northwest), #4 (Tchepone Military Area), #19 (Ban Thay Military Area), #8 (Nape Highway Bridge), and the Ban Ken Bridge on Route 7.
    • “(2) Conduct low-level air reconnaissance of infiltration routes and of targets in North Vietnam south of Latitude 19 degrees.
  • “b. Prior to air attacks on DRV, land the Marine Special Landing Force at Da Nanz and airlift Army or Marine units from Okinawa to the Saigon/Tan Son Nhut/Bien Hoa area, to provide increased security for US personnel and installations.
  • “c. Use aircraft engaged in airlift (subparagraph b, above) to assist in evacuation of US dependents from Saigon, to commence concurrently with the daylight air strikes against the DRV (subparagraph d, below).
  • “d. Assemble and prepare necessary forces so that
    • “(1) Within 60 to 72 hours, 30 B–52s from Guam conduct a night strike on DRV target #6 (Phuc Yen Airfield).
    • “(2) Commencing at first light on the day following (1) above, PACOM air and naval forces conduct air strikes against DRV targets #6 (Phuc Yen Airfield) (daylight follow-up on the above night strike), #3 (Hanoi Gia Lam Airfield), #8 (Haiphong Cat Bi Airfield), #48 (Haiphong POL), and #49 (Hanoi POL).
    • “(3) Concurrently with subparagraph (2) above, the VNAF will strike DRV target #36 (Vit Thu Lu Barracks).
    • “(4) Combat Air Patrols (CAP), flak suppressive fire, strike photographic reconnaissance, and Search and Rescue (SAR) operations are conducted as appropriate.
    • “(5) The above actions are followed by:
      • “(a) Armed reconnaissance on infiltration routes in Laos.
      • “(b) Air strikes against infiltration routes and targets in DRV.
      • “(c) Progressive PACOM and SAC strikes against the targets listed in the 94 Target Study.5
  • “e. Thai bases be used as necessary in connection with the foregoing, with authority to be obtained through appropriate channels.”
In addition to the deployments and actions above, there are additional actions which should be taken at the time of decision to improve capabilities to conduct the program of air strikes against the DRV. These actions include the deployment from the CONUS to the Southeast Asia area of two additional USAF tactical fighter squadrons and additional tactical reconnaissance and tanker capability, as well as bringing the attack carriers in the area to a total of three. (Appendix A hereto treats the actions in more detail.) No significant logistic or transportation deficiencies are anticipated in carrying out the attacks against the targets listed in the 94 Target Study.
An analysis of the enemy threat and possible enemy courses of action is contained in Appendix B. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the DRV and the CHICOMs will make every effort through propaganda and diplomatic moves to halt US attacks directed against North Vietnam. Although the DRV will take all actions to defend itself, the DRV and CHICOMs would be unlikely to expand the conflict. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that Communist China would be very reluctant to become directly involved in the fighting in Southeast Asia lest this be taken by the United States as a cause for major retaliation against the Chinese mainland. However, as the severity of US attacks against the DRV increases, the CHICOMs would feel an increased compulsion to take some dramatic action to counter the impact of the US pressures. This CHICOM response may take the form of the deployment of ground forces into northern Laos, ostensibly at the invitation of the Pathet Lao, or some similar action short of direct confrontation with US forces. It is the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Chinese Communists probably would not openly engage US forces unless they felt it was necessary to prevent collapse of the communist regime in North Vietnam. Therefore, there would not be high risk of the introduction of large-scale Chinese ground/air force combat units unless major US/GVN ground units had moved to occupy [Page 905] areas of the DRV or communist-held territory in northern Laos, or unless the Chinese had committed their air or naval power and had subsequently suffered attacks on CHICOM air force bases in China. Nevertheless, there is always a chance that Peiping might intervene either for reasons that seem irrational to us or because they miscalculated the objectives of US moves and US resolve to remain in the area. The probability that the CHICOMs would engage US aircraft over North Vietnam would increase in proportion to the number and severity of the attacks and the closeness with which they approached the CHICOM border. Direct CHICOM military intervention would call for US military operations against mainland China.
An analysis of nine possible enemy courses of action and appropriate US/allied responses thereto including objectives, forces, deployments, and timing where feasible is contained in Appendix C. The salient conclusion which can be drawn from this analysis is that the United States and its allies can deal adequately with any course of action the DRV and/or CHICOMs decide to pursue.
Appendix D contains preparatory actions for the deployment of forces, proposed preliminary logistic authorizations, and the alerting of forces necessary to deal with large-scale communist aggression.
A study of the logistic capability to support US/allied military undertakings in response to enemy reactions is contained in Appendix E. Bottlenecks and shortfalls of logistics and personnel are identified in Appendix F. There are no significant logistic, transportation, or personnel problems short of those required to deal with the upper scale of action within the DRV/CHICOM capability. When approaching full implementation of CINCPAC OPLAN 32–64, Phase IV, and to a lesser extent in Phase III thereof and in CINCPAC OPLAN 39–65, deficiencies begin to occur. These require some mobilization consisting primarily of Air Force reserve transportation units and Army reserve combat service support units and the extension of terms of active duty service. However, it is improbable that the DRV or Communist China will adopt a course of action requiring full implementation of plans of this magnitude, and in view of the vast preponderance of over-all US strength, risks involved are considered to be more acceptable than the alternatives of continuing the present course or withdrawal from Southeast Asia.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that:
The views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff herein be reflected by the Secretary of Defense in the joint State-Defense report being prepared on this subject.
That the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff be forwarded to the President.6
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler7
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files, Working Papers, Nov 1964, Vol. IV JCS. Top Secret.
  2. See Documents 399 and 400.
  3. None printed. Included among the six appendices (lettered A–F) were CINCPAC Operations Plan 32–64, “Defense of Mainland Southeast Asia” (Annex A to Appendix C), and CINCPAC Operations Plan 39–65, which dealt with responses to Chinese aggression (Annex B to Appendix C).
  4. See footnote 3, Document 395.
  5. See footnote 7. Document 331.
  6. On November 17, McNamara sent a memorandum to Wheeler stating that he had noted these views and that they would be presented to the President when the Working Group’s report was presented. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD/ISA Files: FRC 68 A 4023, 381 Southeast Asia)
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.