68. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Contingency Plan for Air Strikes Against Haiphong

Attached at Tab A is the plan submitted by the JCS for a one-time air operation against key military targets in the Haiphong complex.2

Essential Features. The plan has the following major elements:

Targets. The air effort will be concentrated against 10 targets in the Haiphong area including port facilities, warehouses, petroleum storage and the airfield (see separate map).

Duration. The strikes will be limited to a 24-hour period.

Forces. With 48-hours warning, carrier and air force units can provide 570 sorties.

Aircraft losses. Aircraft losses may be as high as 3 percent of the sorties in the initial strike phase but would subsequently decline.

Weather. The strikes must be conducted during periods suitable for visual bombing. During April, weather may require a delay of several days or longer after the order to execute.

Precautions. Care will be taken to minimize the risk to third country shipping and to avoid penetration of the 25/30 nautical mile buffer zone along the PRC border.

Civilian Casualties. About 300 civilian casualties are anticipated.

Aspects Requiring Refinement. In his memo to you commenting on the plan (Tab B),3 Secretary Laird identified several areas requiring further refinement and lists questions he has asked the Chairman, JCS to address on an urgent basis. These include:

Civilian Casualties. Will casualties be higher than estimated due to the lower alert status in comparison with earlier U.S. bombing efforts? He also has requested an assessment of the impact of bombing involving “substantially larger civilian casualties.” I have also asked Admiral Moorer to take another look at the plan with the view toward minimizing civilian losses.

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Shipping. What third country ships are likely to be in the harbor and what is their proximity to proposed targets? Laird wants an evaluation of the impact of casualties to third country shipping.

In addition to Secretary Laird’s points, the following minor questions should be addressed with regard to execution of the plan:

  • —Can 570 sorties be spared if the battlefield situation in South Vietnam has deteriorated to a point requiring the strikes? What impact would holds for weather have on air operations throughout SEA?
  • —Since visual bombing conditions are required, what will the actual time duration of the attack effort be? (Presumably about 12 hours)
  • —What are the maximum U.S. aircraft loss rates anticipated? (Since the percentage estimates decline after the initial attack wave, it is difficult to determine the anticipated range of losses precisely.)

Game Plan. At Tab C4 is a simplified military/diplomatic/political scenario for implementation of the plan. The essential features are:

  • —Special staff task group makes detailed assessment, prepares diplomatic/political scenarios, and explores options for diplomatic and military follow-on actions in the weeks after the strike.
  • —Meetings of principals and final assessments 3 days in advance.
  • —Execute orders to field commanders 2 days before D-day, with final clearance in Washington prior to launch.
  • —Briefings, statements, diplomatic consultations with allies, and messages to the USSR, PRC and NVN on the day of the strikes.

Secretary Laird’s View. In his memo (Tab B) Secretary Laird is very negative about the psychological and military value of this operation. He makes the following points:

  • —Since the PRC and USSR are the production sources for NVN war material, attacks against military targets in North Vietnam are only against the distribution system. The NVN can easily substitute other distribution systems.
  • —The positive political value of bombing is principally in the threat of loss of the relatively small NVN growth base. Once bombing has destroyed this growth base, Hanoi has little to lose through continued U.S. bombing.

In a personal note to you Secretary Laird writes that: “The political impact of these plans (referring to both mining and air strikes) may be what is wanted by the President. The military impact would be minor and the impact on present battle would be even less. If the Russians want an excuse to stop their present major (80% supplies) [Page 228] contributions to North Vietnam, mining might have that political impact but I would doubt it.”

His general attitude is reflected in several additional questions he reports having asked the CJCS to address:

  • —“What impact might such air operations have on our efforts to extract our POWs?”
  • —“What other target options are there which might achieve the basic objective but a less risk to U.S. forces and to the DRV civil populace?”

Comment. Although Secretary Laird is stretching a point in trying to find reasons for not conducting the operation, some of his points are valid. While this limited campaign is intended to produce a psychological effect by demonstrating U.S. ability and willingness to resume full-scale operations against North Vietnam and to create the impression that drastic actions are planned, it is by no means certain that this operation alone would have the desired impact. The domestic and international costs would be high and this small an effort would probably not be substantial enough to appear convincing to the enemy. In addition, it would allow time for generation of a strong domestic reaction in the United States which would diminish the validity of any threat of further operations. It can, of course, be depicted as limited retaliation for the enemy invasion and consistent with earlier Presidential warnings. In my view the political cost and likelihood of limited impact on North Vietnam would raise serious questions about the value of carrying out this step alone.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1133, Jon Howe, Vietnam Subject Files, May 8 [1972] Plans. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. Tab A is attached but not printed.
  3. Attached but not printed at Tab B is Laird’s April 6 memorandum.
  4. Tab C is attached but not printed.