193. Memorandum From John H. Holdridge of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • North Vietnamese Military Capabilities

CIA, in a June 27 Intelligence Memorandum (Tab 1) presents answers to NSC queries on topics treated in the June 8 CIA memorandum “The Effect of the Past Months’ Events on North Vietnamese Military Capabilities.” These questions and answers cover a broad spectrum of North Vietnamese logistic capabilities and problems throughout Indochina and the combat effectiveness of enemy main forces.2 CIA’s answers are summarized below:

I. Petroluem

A. How long will POL stocks last and when do you estimate consumption plus losses will force major cutbacks in activity levels?

Unless a reliable flow of petroleum is established, and significant quantities are received in the meantime, major cutbacks in activity levels in North Vietnam would probably have to occur soon after mid-July when stock theoretically would correspond to about 30 days supply; however, these widely dispersed stocks would be difficult to distribute and are subject to some destruction by U.S. interdiction.

B. Can the North Vietnamese import a substantial part of the average annual rate of 400,000 tons (first quarter of 1972 would stretch out to 600,000 tons per year)?

C. How much by truck?

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D. How much by the pipeline under construction?

The pipeline under construction could theoretically meet North Vietnam’s minimum requirements of 1,000 tons of POL per day; however, it probably cannot be used for multi-product service and presumably will be used to meet Hanoi’s minimum needs for motor gasoline. The pipeline might be completed in a week or two.

The daily (400 tons) diesel fuel requirement would require about 135 3 ton capacity tank trucks moving south each day and about 540 tank cars making the four day round trip from the Chinese border to Hanoi. Other POL products (of which 100 tons a day are needed) would require 50 2 ton capacity southbound trucks per day and about 200 cargo trucks between China and Hanoi.

E. Would the amount of POL that you estimate the North Vietnamese will be able to import materially affect North Vietnamese ability to sustain a high activity level in the South?

Basically, no. Petroleum requirements for use outside of North Vietnam are just over 5% of Hanoi’s total imports. Heavy rains during the summer severely restrict vehicle traffic in most of the Indochina combat and logistic areas and sufficient POL has probably already been stockpiled to meet most of the enemy’s wet season needs. Beyond this period, Hanoi can—albeit not without difficulty—probably meet its battlefield needs; however, POL needed to sustain Hanoi’s domestic transport system could place constraints on POL available outside of North Vietnam.

F. How effective would our interdiction be against the estimated imports?

It is unlikely that the enemy’s POL pipelines can be effectively interdicted; however, interdiction of truck transported POL is more effective. Whether the North Vietnamese will be able to meet their minimum requirements for both civil and military uses cannot as yet be determined.

G. With the lower level of tank activity in the South, is the North Vietnamese POL requirement substantially less?

No. Diesel fuel for tanks is only a small part of the enemy’s total POL demand and will amount to no more than 1,000 to 2,000 tons this summer.

H. To what degree has the diminished tank POL consumption been offset by increased truck operations required as a result of interdicted rail lines?

The net impact of reduced out-of-country requirements in the South and increased activity in the North is to raise POL requirement by a minimum of 75 tons per day or slightly more than 2% of the total POL needed during the wet season.

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II. Armor and Artillery

A. Can we expect to see armor used as it was at the beginning of the offensive? Have losses of tanks and skilled personnel been so great as to rule this out?

The considerable losses of NVA tanks and experienced armor personnel, coupled with the oncoming monsoons in MRs 2 and 3 and the Laotian Panhandle, will mean a reduced capability to deploy and use armor in these areas of South Vietnam during the next several months. The enemy’s overall armor capability has been degraded by losses, unskilled personnel and poor tactics.

B. Have the North Vietnamese been able to replace losses in the South?

No. Hanoi has not even made up its tank losses in MR–1.

C. What effects will weather have on the North Vietnamese ability to use armor and artillery and on its ability to move heavy supplies (e.g., ammunition and fuel)?

Except in MR–1, which has dry weather through August, rain will, in the coming weeks, considerably restrict the enemy’s movement of supplies and heavy weapons and his use of armor and artillery.

III. Trucks

A. What is the North Vietnamese truck inventory?

The North Vietnamese have between 18,000 and 20,000 trucks of which some 4,800 are used out of country.

B. Are North Vietnamese increased demands for truck transport supportable?

Yes, assuming transportation of only those items essential for basic economic needs and to continue the war at near present levels (also assuming no food imports will be needed).

IV. Combat Effectiveness of Main Forces

How much has combat effectiveness of the main force units been hurt by personnel losses, particularly NCO and officer losses? How do we assess the quality of replacement personnel and how will this affect combat effectiveness of particular units?

What North Vietnamese units are now ineffective? What percentage of the forces?

How long will it take to put these units in good fighting condition? (It would be most helpful to have a unit-by-unit assessment in response to the questions on combat effectiveness.)

As many as 40% of the enemy infantry regiments committed to the current campaign are at best only marginally effective. During the [Page 680] current offensive, the time needed to rebuild depleted units has varied from two weeks to over a month. Almost all regiments used in the offensive have been rebuilt once and many more than once. Each time a unit is rebuilt, its combat capability is progressively reduced, both quantitatively and qualitatively, since troop replacements are generally inferior and experienced cadre are hard to replace. The enemy’s losses have been heavy in MRs 1, 2, and 3, but his main force strength in or near MR–4 remains relatively intact.

While the enemy’s main force offensive capabilities have been weakened, even his ineffective units could probably give a good account of themselves in a defensive role, especially when they’re deeply dug into defensive positions.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–088, Washington Special Action Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Vietnam 6/28/72. Top Secret.
  2. The June 27 intelligence memorandum, attached but not printed, originated with Kissinger’s reading of the CIA memorandum, “The Effect of the Past Months’ Events on North Vietnamese Military Capabilities,” June 8. (Ibid.) In an undated memorandum to Helms, Kissinger wrote that the June 8 memorandum was “a most useful study. A reading of it, however, stimulates further questions.” He then posed questions about current POL stocks, the importation of additional POL by truck and pipeline, U.S. efforts to interdict POL importation, and the impact on operational effectiveness of the loss in battle of North Vietnamese soldiers and equipment. Kissinger’s memorandum is attached to a June 14 memorandum from Kennedy and Holdridge to Kissinger; ibid., Box 115, Vietnam Subject Files, Net Assessment of North and South Vietnam (Defense).