95. 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
  • Maj. Gen. David Ott
  • JCS
  • Adm. Elmo Zumwalt
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (only for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC
  • Richard Kennedy
  • John Holdridge
  • Mark Wandler


It was agreed that:

  • —The Joint Chiefs of Staff should develop a plan for a South Vietnamese amphibious landing—or a feint of the landing—on the North Vietnamese coast.
  • —The Defense Department will submit as soon as possible its plan for resupplying the ARVN.
  • —State and Defense will update the study on a cease-fire in place.
  • —We will get a military judgment on the question of the enemy divisions remaining where they are.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Helms) Dick, what do you have?

Mr. Helms: [Reads his briefing, which is attached.2 Also read a report about the impact a leaflet with a picture of the President and Chinese leaders on it had on an NVA unit near Pleiku on March 29.]

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Zumwalt) Bud, do you have anything for us?

[Page 315]

Adm. Zumwalt: Not much. The situation in South Vietnam remains essentially the same. We are nervous and uncomfortable about II Corps. The situation in II Corps is far from a disaster, however, and the South Vietnamese are falling back in good order.

Mr. Kissinger: What ARVN forces are left in MR 2?

Mr. Johnson: Hasn’t the 22nd Division been knocked out?

Adm. Zumwalt: No. The division commander was killed when the command post was attacked, and the division has taken heavy casualties. General Dzu is handling the situation fairly well.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t know why the ARVN forces get so strung out. I know that they don’t want to lose provincial capitals, but that may not be a good idea, if they lose divisions in the process of holding the cities.

Adm. Zumwalt: They are not giving up divisions. Several battalions and regiments are still intact and are operational.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m not concerned so much with what forces are left. We can survive the loss of Kontum, but we can’t survive the loss of divisions if that happens on a regular basis.

Adm. Zumwalt: I wouldn’t write the 22nd Division off yet.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m not writing it off. I’m just suggesting that it may be better to back off and concentrate forces so that we can beat the enemy, instead of staying and fighting as isolated units.

Adm. Zumwalt: The scheme is to hold off the enemy long enough to make him concentrate his forces. When that happens, we destroy the enemy with air power. This scheme has been successful most of the time, but not this particular time. The ARVN forces are now moving down to Vo Dinh,3 where they will get reorganized. In the meantime, you should also remember that they have inflicted heavy casualties on the North Vietnamese.

Mr. Kissinger: I am aware of that. The 3rd, 5th, and 22nd ARVN Divisions have been badly clobbered.4 How long will the South Vietnamese be able to stand and fight before they collapse?

Adm. Zumwalt: The other side has been clobbered, too. They have suffered more than 18,000 killed in action.

Mr. Kissinger: Then it becomes a question of who will collapse first. (to Mr. Carver) George, what do you think?

Mr. Carver: I think it’s a little early to be talking about a South Vietnamese collapse. The 3rd and 5th Divisions were badly hurt, but the 5th Division has been somewhat effective around An Loc.

[Page 316]

Mr. Kissinger: Haig says the 5th Division was no good at all at An Loc. The RF and airborne troops were the only ARVN forces of any value there.

Mr. Carver: The 22nd Division is dispersed now. However, component battalions and regiments of the division are not out of the ARVN order of battle. They will regroup.

Mr. Kissinger: Where will they regroup?

Mr. Carver: We don’t know for sure. The plan, as Bud [Zumwalt] said, is for them to regroup at Vo Dinh. From a political point of view, Thieu feels it is important not to lose Kontum.

Mr. Sullivan: He apparently is dead set against losing Kontum.

Mr. Kissinger: At least one general is always wrong in every war.

Mr. Sullivan: Thieu is also thinking back to what happened during Lam Son 719, when the ARVN took a worse beating than it is getting now—yet was able to reconstitute itself. Thieu feels that his forces will be able to do that again.

Mr. Helms: One U.S. adviser estimates that about two-thirds of the 22nd Division will eventually struggle into Vo Dinh. If that’s the case, the Division should be reorganized in fairly short order.

Adm. Zumwalt: That’s right. We also expect a battalion of the 47th Regiment and the 9th Airborne Battalion to make it to Vo Dinh.5 The key thing in the battles for An Loc and Kontum is what the people sense has happened. Great significance will be attached to the loss of these cities.

Mr. Kissinger: I have no problem with An Loc. But, as you know, my worry has always been with the deployments in the central highlands. I raised this subject regularly at these meetings. The most important thing is to keep the North Vietnamese from scoring big victories. We want them to waste the dry season.

Adm. Zumwalt: We want to get them in a position where they are standing and fighting. Then we can hit them with air.

Mr. Kissinger: True—as long as we’re not losing divisions.

Adm. Zumwalt: We haven’t lost any divisions.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Sullivan) Bill, what is the political situation in Saigon?

Mr. Sullivan: The situation is surprisingly stable. An opposition Senator put a fairly mild motion in the Senate yesterday. We don’t think it will pass, although the Senate has been critical of Thieu in the past. The An Quang Buddhists are criticizing the North Vietnamese offensive. There is some effort on the part of the Catholics and Buddhists [Page 317] for a peace offensive—which would also call for the North Vietnamese to withdraw from South Vietnam. Thieu obviously sees the loss of a provincial capital as being more significant than seeing his troops take heavy punishment.

Mr. Kissinger: He has survived extraordinary vicissitudes.

Mr. Sullivan: He’s a cool fellow.

Adm. Zumwalt: I’d like to bring up two other points. The situation in MR 1 is such that the enemy can still send the one division remaining in North Vietnam across the DMZ. Since North Vietnam is a sanctuary against invasion, they may decide to take this gamble.

Mr. Kissinger: You’re talking about the 325th Division?

Adm. Zumwalt: Yes. We are also worrying about the troops that are moving away from the An Loc area. These troops may camp out during the rainy season, and they may be able to reinforce NVA main force units in other areas.

Mr. Kissinger: Except if the fighting in MR 3 closes down. Then the South Vietnamese can also move out their troops.

Mr. Carver: If the North Vietnamese pull out the 312th and 316th Regiments, it will take several weeks to refresh and reconstitute them. These regiments would need a rather complete refitting before they would be ready for new action.

Mr. Sullivan: If they decide to commit the 325th Division, they could bring the 312th Regiment up to take over the division’s functions in North Vietnam.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Zumwalt) You know, we have no objection to a feint of landing operations on the North Vietnamese coast, although I realize that the ARVN don’t have the forces to carry this off.

Mr. Sullivan: The Marines could do it.

Mr. Rush: All the Marines are already engaged.

Mr. Kissinger: The Marines wouldn’t be able to do it.

Mr. Carver: If the 325th Division were committed to action in the South and the infantry regiments were brought back to defend North Vietnam, the defense would be pretty light: only 12 infantry regiments, six of which are training regiments. Basically, they would have only six infantry regiments to defend North Vietnam.

Mr. Kissinger: We would have no problem if you plan to undertake—or fake—a landing on the North Vietnamese coast. There would be no flack from the President—as long as no U.S. forces are involved.

Mr. Carver: A successful landing would give the Politburo acute heartburn and loss of face on its home territory.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Zumwalt) Why don’t you develop a plan? Then we’ll see what it looks like.

[Page 318]

Mr. Zumwalt: Okay.

Mr. Kissinger: I want to emphasize again that the President is determined not to lose in Vietnam. Anything you come up with will be very welcome. I heard on the television this morning that the FANK are moving into the rear of the North Vietnamese. There is no report of panic in Hanoi, is there?

Mr. Sullivan: No.

Mr. Kissinger: Are those Soviet ships which turned away from Haiphong after the B–52 strikes now headed for Haiphong again?

Mr. Helms: Yes. A couple of them already got in.

Mr. Sullivan: A Polish ship, too.

Mr. Carver: There are signs of port congestion.

Mr. Johnson: Is the port operational?

Mr. Carver: Yes, but not yet at full capacity. We have signs that there are delays in berthing, for example.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Rush) Ken, you were going to do an urgent resupply plan for the South Vietnamese. Will we have it soon?

Mr. Rush: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: When will we be able to implement it?

Mr. Rush: We’ve already begun the implementation of it.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s get the plan. We want to get as much as possible into Vietnam during the next month.

Mr. Rush: We’re doing that.

Mr. Kissinger: I understand the leaflet business is working out well.

Mr. Helms: You missed the great leaflet caper yesterday.

Mr. Sullivan: We got another cable yesterday from Bunker and Abrams. They are very much against the campaign.

Mr. Kissinger: Abrams would oppose it if it takes one plane away from him.

Mr. Sullivan: That’s part of it, of course. We asked them again last night what texts they wanted.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Johnson) Alex, are you against the leaflet campaign?

Mr. Johnson: McCain says the campaign would not make him divert his resources. On the other hand, Abrams says he is flatly against it. I just don’t know.

Mr. Rush: McCain would be the guy who implements the campaign.

Adm. Zumwalt: That’s right. We would be using McCain’s planes.

Mr. Nutter: We could also do it on a cloudy day, when the planes are not otherwise occupied.

[Page 319]

Mr. Johnson: We agreed yesterday that we first want to see the texts of the leaflets.

Mr. Kissinger: Will we receive the texts soon? It’s been four weeks since we asked for them.

Mr. Sullivan: We asked them again last night to get the texts over here.

Mr. Kissinger: On the press side, we are in reasonably good shape.

Mr. Sullivan: The focus is beginning to fall on the President’s upcoming statement.

Mr. Kissinger: We’ll discuss that when some of the decisions have been made. There is one other thing I wanted to bring up today. We talked earlier about the possibility of the North Vietnamese—or some one else acting on behalf of the North Vietnamese—proposing a cease-fire in place. We don’t have a policy for that contingency.

Mr. Johnson: Yes we do. We have a paper on it.

Mr. Kissinger: But that was in a different situation.

Mr. Sullivan: The fundamentals of both situations are consistent.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Sullivan) Would you sum up the position for us?

Mr. Sullivan: We would want a cease-fire in place in the three Indochina states, not just Vietnam. We would insist on supervision. There would also be no U.S. withdrawals from Thailand or the offshore fleet.

Mr. Kissinger: We don’t want a cease-fire to be contingent on American withdrawals.

Mr. Sullivan: I don’t think the other side would cooperate if U.S. withdrawals were not part of the cease-fire.

Mr. Kissinger: Would we or the South Vietnamese accept a cease-fire if nine NVA divisions remained in Vietnam?

Mr. Sullivan: Bui Diem raised this issue with me recently. He assumed that any cease-fire offer made by the other side would be accepted by the U.S. The offer could also be accepted by the South Vietnamese, Diem said, if the NVA did not hold any provincial capitals. The South Vietnamese would have to reject the offer if provincial capitals were in enemy hands.

Mr. Kissinger: And this would be the case even if nine North Vietnamese divisions remained in South Vietnam?

Mr. Sullivan: According to Diem, the answer is yes.

Mr. Kissinger: He should not assume that the U.S. would do anything.

Mr. Sullivan: The way Bui Diem stipulated it, South Vietnam will look for Hanoi to propose a cease-fire in place. It’s Diem’s judgment that even with enemy divisions on South Vietnamese territory and even [Page 320] with the current deep penetrations, Thieu would accept the proposal if no provincial capitals were in North Vietnamese hands.

Mr. Johnson: Would Hanoi propose a cease-fire if it didn’t hold any provincial capitals?

Mr. Carver: No. They would lose face if they don’t control anything more than jungle and swampland.

Mr. Kissinger: How many provincial capitals would they have to hold in order to offer a cease-fire?

Mr. Carver: They would have to hold Kontum, Quang Tri, Hue and An Loc.

Mr. Kissinger: Just Kontum alone would not be enough?

Mr. Carver: No.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Sullivan) Bill, can you go through the paper and up-date it? Then we can talk about it tomorrow.

Mr. Sullivan: Yes.

Mr. Carver: This is why the North Vietnamese are fighting so hard at An Loc.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we also get for tomorrow a military judgment on the question of NVA divisions remaining where they are?

Adm. Zumwalt: We’ll do that.

Mr. Sullivan: I see the trawler story has hit the press, without any kind of a ripple. I understand the South Vietnamese briefer was asked the name of the ship, and he said that he didn’t know because it was written in Chinese.

Mr. Rush: Yesterday, we discussed the possibility of getting the Koreans to do more in Vietnam. Warren [Nutter] has something to bring up in regard to the Koreans.

Mr. Nutter: Yes. It’s the question of whether the Korean purchase of PT boats counts in the modernization ceiling. The Secretary sent a letter over here in March, and the Koreans have asked several times about this.

Mr. Kissinger: We’ll take action on it today. Does State agree?

Mr. Rush: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Kennedy) Dick, will you see that it is approved today?

Mr. Kennedy: Yes.

Adm. Zumwalt: Getting back to the question of a landing in North Vietnam. Might it be possible to ask Thieu to make a statement on the need for moving the DMZ up north, to the vicinity of Vinh. That would shake up the North Vietnamese.

  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 are in the original.
  2. The briefing, entitled “The Situation in Vietnam,” is ibid., Box H–086, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Vietnam 4/25/72.
  3. An ARVN staging area northwest of Kontum in MR–2’s Central Highlands.
  4. ARVN divisions stationed in, respectively, MR–1, MR–3, and MR–2.
  5. Units belonging to the 22d ARVN Division.