340. Editorial Note

On August 26, 1968, Secretary of Defense Clifford met with Department of Defense staff and service representatives for the weekly Secretary of Defense staff meeting. Among the participants were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Warnke, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense George Elsey, Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius, Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown, Army Chief of Staff General William Westmoreland, [Page 978] Air Force Chief of Staff General John McConnell, Marine Corps Commandant General Leonard Chapman, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Thomas Moorer. Staff Secretary R. Eugene Livesay took notes of the meeting and wrote a summary of the major topics discussed. The participants first discussed events in Vietnam and Southeast Asia during the preceding week:

“Mr. Clifford said it has been a full week and it will be well to go back and review it. Activity in Southeast Asia picked up perceptively. As General Abrams has been warning us and we in turn have been alerting the American public it may be that the enemy’s third offensive has started. Mr. Clifford, however, believes it is too early to reach this conclusion. General Abrams feels it has been started. The activity has been mainly in the I and III Corps. Casualties are up substantially. The usual Thursday announcement this week may show our casualties twice that of the preceding week. Another indicator shows a great degree of participation by the ARVN in repelling the attacks. ARVN casualties are also up substantially and will be much higher than ours.

“He sees a reason to delay his own personal decision on whether or not the enemy’s third offensive has started. There is some possibility that General Abrams’ ‘spoiling’ operations might be successful, and he would like to give General Abrams every opportunity to abort this offensive. An enemy third offensive would have the effect of being generally inimical to our interests. It could have an adverse effect on negotiations in Paris, particularly if the enemy escalates and we are forced to escalate. If the enemy is determined to start the third wave offensive then we would have to face up to it. Later on he would like General Wheeler and General Westmoreland to comment on this activity.

“Mr. Clifford said that last Monday the President spoke to the Convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Detroit, Michigan. It was a stern speech. The President reiterated his attitude that Hanoi has to take some action before he takes further deescalatory steps.”

Later in the meeting, a general discussion of the military situation in Southeast Asia occurred:

“Mr. Clifford said this has been an important week in Southeast Asia. It may augur for serious developments ahead. He would like for General Wheeler followed by General Westmoreland to comment.

“General Wheeler said that in North Vietnam the enemy continues to rehabilitate the lines of communications and other facilities, including various commercial installations (e.g. cement plants). Movement of enemy troops and supplies to the South is at a high level. Yesterday there was a dog fight between 2 F–4s and 2 MIG 21s, although none of the aircraft were damaged. Infiltration is at a high rate. In July 1968 we identified 18,700 enemy moving south. The total from 31 March–31 July [Page 979] 1968 is between 100,000 and 110,000. Mr. Clifford asked if the July figure is less or more than June. General Wheeler said a little more. In March 1968 they moved 28,000; April-37,700; May-30,000; June-16,900; and July-18,700. Supply movements to support the additional people and the step up in military activity are substantial.

“There has been a perceptive step up this past week in operations country-wide in South Vietnam. Activity has been particularly heavy around DaNang and Chu Lai in I Corps and Tay Ninh in III Corps. The enemy is also pushing toward Saigon. There was considerable activity in the Duc Lap Special Forces camp but the enemy is now retreating from this engagement into Cambodia. Enemy agents and documents appear to confirm that the third offensive has started. General Abrams had previously noted that the enemy plans included attacks on outlying installations initially. These attacks were to draw U.S. and ARVN forces from important target areas to give the enemy a greater chance of success when the third wave attacks start. General Wheeler said he thinks the evidence of step up in activity is highlighted by casualties. This past week 323 U.S. were killed, nearly twice as many South Vietnamese—594, and around 5,000 Viet Cong/North Vietnamese, the highest since May 1968 for the enemy. Furthermore, there was considerable fighting over the weekend. Yesterday we lost 50 men killed, the South Vietnamese 120, and the enemy 928. There is no slackening off by the enemy. In fact, his activity is showing a steady climb. We have not discussed this publicly. We find it is better for the newsmen to discover this increased activity by themselves and apparently they are. We can anticipate a continued rise of enemy activity in the next several days. When they will be able to attack major objectives we are not sure.

“Mr. Clifford asked why the shelling of Saigon only lasted one day. General Wheeler said that he thinks that they were able to sneak in and set up a position but our quick reaction forced them out right away. General Westmoreland said he would agree. Saigon defenses have never been in better shape. This is partly because the South Vietnamese have put a single officer in command. At the time of the Tet offensive General Vien had to take command of the defense of Saigon. Only an officer of his stature was able to control General Loan who was in charge of the police. During the May offensive General Khang was in command of the Saigon defense. General Loan cooperated with him because they were friends. President Thieu was not happy with this arrangement but he needed to get his ducks lined up before making a change. Fate intervened and when General Loan was wounded, an overall commander was put in charge of both South Vietnamese military and the South Vietnamese police for the defense of Saigon. The cohesiveness of these forces has been improved. Among other actions taken is a decision that he, General Westmoreland, made about a year [Page 980] ago to have all of the watch towers being manufactured sent to the Saigon area. The watch towers contain starlight scopes, radios, and are manned by personnel using high power field glasses. From these towers they are able to triangulate on enemy fire. The towers are tied into the fire direction center for counter fire. The fact that we were able to react quickly to the recent firings isn’t to suggest that they won’t try to do it again.

“As to whether the third wave offensive has started or not, General Westmoreland feels that it has. He sees it as a sustained effort and we may not see a greatly increased tempo over that apparent now. He does believe there will be some increase. Some intelligence indicates it will last until 10 September. They will try to infiltrate cities with sapper units and their objective will be to destroy communications, such as blowing bridges. They are hitting the outposts which allows them to operate with impunity and to hide the movement of supplies. They are trying to win a tactical victory for the headlines it will bring. They will also attempt to have us divert resources from the high priority areas. Another purpose in hitting outposts is that when our forces concentrate to meet these attacks they can move supplies through areas away from the outpost. He thinks the attack on Duc Lap Special Forces camp was for this purpose. It is in a remote area and manned by CIDG personnel. They brought considerable forces against the camp and blew a bridge on the only route. We reinforced the camp with Army infantry battalions and used tactical air to put back the attack. A political reason for this attack against the Special Forces camp was to attract the native tribesmen (Montagnards) to their side. Their chief leader (Y-B’ham Enoi) recently visited Saigon to work with the Saigon Government on better arrangements between the FULRO movement and the Saigon government. The enemy is trying to impress these tribes with the feeling that the enemy is going to win and this would stop the growing rapport between Saigon and FULRO.

“General Westmoreland said the Achilles Heel of the enemy is logistics. Logistics governs their ability to sustain their offensive. This stresses the importance of their lines of communications. He thinks we are in a sound posture. Our mobility, flexibility and firepower allows us to shift our forces readily and concentrate firepower. It is also interesting to see some of the recent high kill ratios. For example, in one engagement 215 enemy were killed vs. 7 friendly. In another area 436 enemy were killed in two days.

“General Westmoreland said in summary he believes that the third wave offensive has started, but General Abrams’ counter-actions have kept it to a low order detonation. He sees a sustained enemy effort, with some step-up in the tempo.” (Johnson Library, Clark Clifford Papers, Minutes of Secretary of Defense Staff Meetings, March–September 1968)