148. Department of State Situation Report1
SAIGON COUP SITUATION
At about 6:40 p.m. EST, February 19, according to MACV, Airborne troops reentered the capital, reoccupied the Radio Station and the Regional Force Headquarters and gave the Fifth Armored Group troops 30 minutes to get out of town.[Page 340]
At about 7:03 p.m. EST, MACV reported General Thieu, with the concurrence of General Ky, was calling an Armed Forces Council meeting at Bien Hoa and had requested U.S. transportation. General Westmoreland authorized this and also the use of T-39 at Da Nang to transport General Thi on space available basis to Bien Hoa.
By 7:10 p.m. EST, MACV reported troops under General Vien of III Corps entering the city from four directions. The coup leaders were attempting to open negotiations. It was not clear just who represented the government or who represented General Khanh. Four Corps Commanders seemed to be together in opposing the coup. General Vien seemed to be in charge of military operations while Generals Ky and Thi presumably were handling negotiations. Khanh was floating in the background issuing orders and appearing to be increasingly in control. However there was a possibility that any meeting of officers convoked to settle the coup could turn against Khanh around the conference table although MACV did not consider this likely on the basis of the past record. General Thi took off from Da Nang for Bien Hoa in a VNAF C-47 at 6:30 p.m. EST.
By 8:15 p.m. EST AP and UPI were reporting that the coup had completely collapsed. Also Radio Saigon announced its return to normal operations and was no longer broadcasting rebel statements.
At 8:55 p.m. EST it was reported that Prime Minister Quat and other civilian members of the government would attend the Bien Hoa meeting. The purpose of the meeting would be to settle the coup. General Khanh was at Nha Trang preparing to preside over a victory celebration related to the capture of the Viet Cong arms ship near Cape Varella. He recommended that journalists and ICC representatives be brought to the scene.
By 11:05 p.m. EST MACV reported the military phase of the coup was apparently over. General Phat and Colonel Ton had been seen changing into civilian clothes and departing in a civilian auto.
At 11:10 p.m. EST MACV reported that the Armed Forces Council meeting at Bien Hoa had voted “no confidence” in General Khanh and that Khanh had left the meeting so that Council members could speak freely. At about 1:15 a.m. EST Prime Minister Quat confirmed to Ambassador Taylor that the Council had voted “no confidence” in Khanh and had also decided that the insurgents should be tried and punished by the military.
Another Council decision, according to Quat, was to make General Nguyen Chanh Thi Commander of the Capital Military District (Saigon) replacing General Pham Van Dong. General Dong however is still serving as a member of the Armed Forces Council.
Quat agreed to discuss with Ambassador Taylor the question of naming Khanh’s replacement as Commander in Chief, indicating that Phan Khac Suu’s decree removing Khanh still stands. The Ambassador [Page 341] is inclined to share General Westmoreland’s view that no successor as Commander in Chief is necessary and that it would be preferable to have only a Minister of Defense and a Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.
Major General Nguyen van Thieu as Minister of the Armed Forces and Acting Commander in Chief appears to be top figure in the Armed Forces Council in the absence of Khanh and the most likely inheritor of leadership of the armed forces.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXIX. Secret. Prepared by Corcoran.↩