146. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • Defense
  • Kenneth Rush
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • R/Adm. William Flanagan
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas Moorer
  • Capt. Kinnaird McKee
  • CIA
  • George Carver [name not declassified] (only for Mr. Carver’s briefing)
  • NSC
  • Maj. Gen. Alexander Haig
  • Richard Kennedy
  • John Holdridge
  • Mark Wandler

[Omitted here are the Summary of Conclusions and discussion related to the Soviet Union, which is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 216.]

Mr. Kissinger: You know, it’s possible for us to go back to the Paris negotiations at any time and table the President’s new proposals. In fact, I think we should do that. But it’s probably better to wait at least another two weeks before we do it. (to Adm. Moorer) Tom, what do you have?

Adm. Moorer: I’ve got three or four things.

Mr. Kissinger: Did the North Vietnamese sweep up the mines before they became activated? That’s my nightmare.

Adm. Moorer: Don’t worry. The mines are still there. (Went to special briefing map of North Vietnamese coast) The first thing I want to bring up is the fact that two Soviet ships have left Haiphong and gone to Cam Pha. In the meantime, we mined the approaches to Cam Pha.

Mr. Kissinger: That means the Soviet ships can’t get out of Cam Pha.

[Page 542]

Adm. Moorer: Right. They won’t be able to get out after 5:00 p.m., our time, when the mines become activated. Perhaps we should notify them of this. The information was contained in documents that have already been circulated, and I’m sure the Soviets went into Cam Pha knowing that the channels will be mined. But I thought that we might be able to improve our position by making certain that they know what the situation is.

Mr. Kissinger: They would only have four hours in which to get out.

Adm. Moorer: Yes, but at least the ships won’t be sunk.

Mr. Kissinger: I’ll take care of this.

Adm. Moorer: (Displayed another map showing the power grid system in the Hanoi–Haiphong area.) You asked yesterday about the North Vietnamese power supply. As you can see, the map shows the generating system—the power grid system—in the Hanoi–Haiphong area. We’ve already taken two of the generating stations out down south. The others have not been targeted yet.

(Displayed another map, showing interdiction targets.) Our interdiction effort is going well, I think. You can see the two railroads going through the buffer zone and on into China. One railroad spur comes from Haiphong, and all the railroads join at the bridge north of Hanoi. The bridge was hit again yesterday and last night. We scored hits with five 3,000-pound bombs. And we have a picture of it, too. I would say the bridge is impassable.

Mr. Johnson: Five 3,000-pound bombs hit the bridge?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. My people tell me the bridge is not usable at this moment. In addition, we’ve taken out some of the railroad bridges further north.

Mr. Kissinger: Do all the railroad lines go across that one bridge north of Hanoi?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. The North Vietnamese are still able to move some supplies by rail down to Vinh. From there, they distribute the supplies by boat and truck further south. But we’re making a big effort in the Hanoi–Haiphong area right now. We have the rolling stock trapped between the two bridges north of Hanoi, and we’ll work on the stock tonight. We also plan tonight to hit another bridge further to the northwest of Hanoi. Then we hope we can maintain that situation, while attacking the rolling stock and the yards south of Hanoi.

Mr. Johnson: How far south does that go?

Adm. Moorer: Down to Vinh. The railroad ends at Vinh. At that point, the North Vietnamese have to truck the supplies down Highway 7, into Laos. They also have to truck the supplies through the Mu Gia and Ban Kerai Passes.

[Page 543]

Mr. Kissinger: Even if they offload the ships in Haiphong, they won’t be able to transport the supplies.

Adm. Moorer: Except by truck.

Mr. Kissinger: And if they make a big effort with the trucks, they will use up even more of their POL.

Adm. Moorer: One thing is for sure. They won’t be able to maintain the volume of delivery that they had before.

I want to say something about the North Vietnamese air defenses. Their Migs weren’t as active yesterday as they were the day before. There is also some tenuous evidence—from communication intercepts—that a Soviet pilot who had been training the North Vietnamese was airborne yesterday. This isn’t anything that should worry us, but I just wanted to pass it on to you.

Concerning the An Loc situation, I talked to Johnny Vogt about an hour ago. He told me we’re laying on heavy Tac Air, gunship, VNAF and B–52 strikes. The B–52s are laying on the 72-aircraft delivery program. We anticipated the renewed attack on An Loc, and the timing of our intensified air effort has worked out well.

Once, when the B–52s were laying down a long line of bombs, the North Vietnamese broke and ran into the perimeter wire—where they were cut down. I just mention this to show how close we’re bombing to the perimeter.

Vogt says we’ve destroyed twenty or twenty-five enemy tanks. It also seems as though the South Vietnamese are holding. I already mentioned the regimental executive officer who surrendered.

Mr. Johnson: The latest reports are that ten Migs were downed yesterday. We originally thought only seven of them had been shot down. Did this all happen during the same action?

Adm. Moorer: Yes.

Adm. Flanagan: One of the Navy pilots even got three Migs in one flight.

Adm. Moorer: That’s not all. After he got the three planes, he was hit by a SA–2 missile. He had to bail out, but we picked him up. Now he’s back on the Constellation, ready to go again. In addition, he already had two Migs to his credit before yesterday’s action.

Mr. Rush: Doesn’t that make him the first ace in the war, now that he has five kills to his credit? Did anyone else ever get three planes in one flight?

Adm. Flanagan: Yes. One of our pilots once shot down five enemy planes in a flight during World War II.

Mr. Rush: I guess you have to send this Navy pilot back home now.

Adm. Moorer: No, we don’t. We’ll tell him to go out and get five more.

[Page 544]

Mr. Johnson: What weapons did he use to shoot the Migs down?

Adm. Flanagan: Sidewinders.

Mr. Johnson: Are they working now?

Adm. Flanagan: The Sidewinders have always worked. It was the Sparrow that gave us trouble.

Mr. Johnson: What did the North Vietnamese use to get our planes?

Adm. Moorer: The Mig 19s use 20-mm cannonfire. They apparently got two planes. SAMs got the other two.

Mr. Nutter: One French journalist in Hanoi reported that he saw three parachutes. He also reported that the railroad bridge was badly damaged.

Mr. Sullivan: Yes. That was Joel Henri.

Adm. Moorer: This action took place yesterday. Today, one of our planes was shot down near the Laotian border, but we expect to rescue the crew very shortly.

Yesterday we also hit the command and control center outside of Hanoi. The center is underground, and we used laser bombs in an attempt to destroy it. I don’t know if we were successful. This center controls all the North Vietnamese planes and missiles. I’m sure they have alternative centers, but this is the main one—the Colorado Springs of North Vietnam.

I also told you about the plan to insert South Vietnamese Marines behind the lines, didn’t I?2

Mr. Kissinger: Yes.

Mr. Rush: We spoke to the State Department about sending two additional squadrons of C–130s to Taiwan, and we both feel this should be done.

Mr. Kissinger: Why?

Adm. Moorer: We need these aircraft to provide some extra logistic support.

Mr. Rush: This would involve transferring about thirty aircraft and about 800–1,000 personnel from the U.S. to Taiwan.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we keep the move quiet?

Mr. Rush: Yes.

[Page 545]

Mr. Johnson: We wanted to make sure there were no other alternatives before we agreed to the move. It seems as though there are no other alternatives.

Mr. Rush: There are three C–130 squadrons on Taiwan now, and we want to send two more squadrons.

Adm. Moorer: It shouldn’t cause a great problem because these are not combat aircraft.

Mr. Rush: (to Mr. Kissinger) Is it okay to go ahead with it?

Mr. Kissinger: They [the Chinese]won’t like it.

Mr. Johnson: I know, but there is nothing else we can do.

Mr. Kissinger: Their reaction so far has been very mild.

Mr. Johnson: That’s right.

Mr. Carver: The reaction has almost been pro forma.

Mr. Kissinger: What about getting additional gunships to Vietnam? Can we do that?

Adm. Moorer: You mean the fixed wing gunships?

Mr. Kissinger: Yes.

Adm. Moorer: We are sending them out there as fast as possible.

Mr. Rush: Can we get some more out there?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. We are surging whenever we can.

Mr. Kissinger: How many have we sent recently?

Adm. Moorer: We sent six at one time a little while ago. I’ll get you a report on this and what we are doing.

Mr. Kissinger: What about the VNAF study?3 We need a specific plan, with specific dates—not a paper with general terms. If a cease-fire ever does come into effect, we will be grateful for whatever augmentation we’ve made in the Vietnamese Air Force. It’s important to have a specific plan.

Mr. Rush: Barry Shillito is back, and he can make some useful contributions to the study.4 We’ll work on it some more over the weekend.

[Page 546]

Mr. Kissinger: Can we have the plan Tuesday5 morning?

Adm. Moorer: I think so.

Mr. Rush: We’ll get it to you.

Mr. Kissinger: Good.

Mr. Sullivan: I think it would also be useful if the Agency gives us a map of Indochina, showing what a cease-fire would look like. After seeing that, we might decide, for example, to clean up the Bolevens Plateau before we go ahead with the cease-fire.

Mr. Kissinger: We’re not committed to a cease-fire in place, you know.

Mr. Sullivan: That’s right. But we may still want to improve our ground position as much as possible.

Mr. Carver: We’ll get the map for you. It will probably be large-scale, though.

Mr. Sullivan: That’s okay.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Republic of Korea’s request for equipment and support for its troops in South Vietnam, the Korean soldiers’ fighting ability, actions to take in relation to the Soviet Union, an attempt by the British to persuade the Chinese to recommend to the North Vietnamese that they should accept Nixon’s peace proposals, whether to use the Geneva Convention machinery for Vietnam, President Nixon’s directive to carry out a psywar campaign in North Vietnam, a nationwide public relations program to support the peace proposals, and whether the summit would be cancelled.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–116, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1–3–72 to 7–24–72. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. All brackets, except those that indicate the omission of material, are in the original.
  2. After the fall of Quang Tri City, the South Vietnamese planned and carried out, under the code name Song Than, a series of thrusts into the territory recently won by the North Vietnamese in MR–1. The purpose of Song Than was to keep the enemy off balance and slow its movement to the south toward Hue. The operations began on May 12 and the most unusual one was a 2-day amphibious and helicopter assault on a beach a few miles south of Quang Tri on May 24. The operations succeeded in their operational purpose but had little long-lasting strategic significance. (Andrade, America’s Last Vietnam Battle, pp. 165–171)
  3. Reference is to a Department of Defense study being prepared to determine the needs of the South Vietnamese Air Force. Its findings were merged into a larger program called Project Enhance, which Nixon approved on May 24. According to an official Air Force history, its purpose was “to restore the armed forces of South Vietnam to their pre-invasion strength and effectiveness, while attempting modest improvements.” (Nalty, Air War Over South Vietnam, p. 350) For a more detailed examination of the study and Project Enhance see Webb and Poole, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in Vietnam, 1971–1973, pp. 213–219.
  4. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations and Logistics. He led a team of senior logistics officers on the Joint Staff and the Army Staff, and representatives of the Navy and Air Force, to Saigon to determine urgent needs of the South Vietnamese armed forces. See footnote 3, Document 112.
  5. May 16.