301. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1


  • Seizure of American Ship by Cambodian Authorities


  • The President
  • Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger
  • Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General David C. Jones
  • The Director of Central Intelligence William Colby
[Page 1040]


  • State
  • Deputy Secretary of State Robert Ingersoll
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements
  • WH
  • Donald Rumsfeld
  • Robert Hartmann
  • NSC
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • W. Richard Smyser

President: Will you tell me where we stand at this time?

Colby: I can give you a report on foreign reactions. I think it would be better if George would give you a wrap-up on our operation.

President: Please go ahead.

Colby: Mr. President, we have no reactions from Communist authorities in Phnom Penh to the U.S. military operation beyond what we had last night. In his statement on Phnom Penh radio at that time, Information Minister Hu Nimm was noticeably defensive in rationalizing the seizure of the vessel.

Although he did claim that the Mayaguez was on an intelligence mission, he stated several times that his government had no desire to stage “provocations” and that the Mayaguez had only been halted for “questioning.”

In the aftermath of the U.S. military operation, the Thai cabinet today apparently decided to expel a “senior member of the U.S. mission,” and to recall the Thai ambassador in Washington for consultation.

Thai newspapers today are also urging that the government:

  • —publicize all agreements between the U.S. and Thailand, and
  • —immediately close down all U.S. bases in Thailand.

Leftist politicians are now holding a rally in Bangkok. They reportedly intend to demand that all U.S. troops leave Thailand within 10 days.

The political left apparently believes that the time is right to create a political crisis for the Khukrit government.

Organizers of the demonstration plan to move crowds to both the prime minister’s office and the U.S. embassy.

The Thai military leaders, on the other hand, have privately continued to support the U.S. actions.

In Peking’s first reaction to the U.S. military action, Vice Premier Li Hsien-nien has accused the U.S. of an “outright act of piracy.”

[Page 1041]

Speaking at a banquet in Peking today, Li said that “when an American ship invaded Cambodia’s territorial waters, Cambodia took legitimate measures against the ship to safeguard her state sovereignty.” Li added that “the U.S. went so far as to make an issue of the matter” and bombed Cambodian territory and ships.

Li said the American action “should be condemned by world public opinion.”

Hanoi radio has characterized the operation as a “flagrant act of piracy” which shows that the U.S. still has not “learned from its defeats in Vietnam and Cambodia.”

The new government in Saigon has not commented, but it can be expected to parrot Hanoi’s line.

Soviet media continue to report the events surrounding the Mayaguez incident from foreign wire services without editorial comment.

East European commentary remains muted. The Yugoslav press has even referred to the Mayaguez as a “kidnapped” U.S. vessel.

The Cuban press has so far treated U.S. actions in a factual manner, but we have no comment since the U.S. operation was completed.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman has stated that “a container ship on open waters must not be subject to seizure” and that his government viewed the U.S. military action as “limited.”

In most major Western countries there has been little official reaction.

British and West German press comment has been generally supportive.

Press reaction from South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia has been favorable.2

Ingersoll: Bill Rogers spoke to the OAS Ministers while they were here, including the one from Panama. He said they were very pleased.

President: Jim, I would like to congratulate you and your whole Department for a job well done.

Have we had any report on the damage so far?

Jones: Not yet. We can summarize the claims, but we are not sure that they are accurate. Here is a photograph. It is the first one that has yet been received here. It shows the buildings around the airport before and after they were damaged. We understand that the damage reported on the aircraft was extensive.

[Page 1042]

President: Which airport was this?

Jones: The airport near Kompong Som, called Ream.

Kissinger: Were any boats sunk?

Jones: Yes, but we don’t yet know how many.

We have no Navy reports yet, just the Air Force. We need to survey all the aircraft involved in the operation.

Kissinger: Were the aircraft used land aircraft?

Jones: No, only the Coral Sea aircraft were used against Kompong Som. There were four waves. The first was armed reconnaissance. They did not expend ordnance. They found the shipping of other countries and did not want to take the risk. The three subsequent waves went against the airport, against the POL facilities, and against support facilities.

We put 240 Marines on the island, in total. We put 40 aboard the ship.

We lost three helicopters in the operation. The equipment took a lot of battle damage.

Our casualties were 1 killed in action, 1 missing, and 30 wounded. That is considerably lighter than we thought last night.3

President: Are all the Marines now on the Coral Sea or on the Hancock?

Jones: They are on the Coral Sea. We had a reserve of 1,000 on Thailand. But when the ship’s crew was returned, we stopped any more Marines going to the island. Then we put in another 80 in order to help the Marines that were there to extricate themselves.

President: I heard that the Marines on the Holt had gone to the island.

Jones: No, they did not have their full equipment.

Clements: How many helicopters were inoperative?

Jones: We got down to four Air Force helicopters and three from the Coral Sea. So there were only a few for the Marines who were left there. We thought we might have to keep people overnight on the island. But that was only the impression in Washington. They continued the flow of helicopters and they also used several boats from the destroyer, so that they were able to extricate all the Marines.

[Page 1043]

Kissinger: How many Cambodians were on the island?

Jones: We do not know, but they were obviously well armed with supplies. They put up a lot of fire against the helicopters.

President: That is probably why they moved the ship to that island from that other one where they had it.

Kissinger: Where did the boat carrying the crew come from?

Jones: From Kompong Som.

Kissinger: This indicates that the operation was really centrally controlled.

Jones: They brought a message that they had been sent out on a Thai fishing vessel in order to be returned, and they asked us to stop the bombing. We had one or two more runs, but we stopped thereafter.

Kissinger: How many aircraft were used altogether?

Jones: About 32 to 40.

Schlesinger: Not the 81 that had been on the carrier.

President: Henry, would you step out for a moment?

(At this point, the President and the Secretary of State stepped out for about 3 minutes. They then returned.)

President: Jim, I would like a full factual report giving a summary and chronology of what happened. It should include orders, summary results, photographs, etc., and indications of what we did when.4

Where is the ship now?

Jones: She is on her way to Singapore. We towed her for some distance but then she was able to get up steam and she wanted to go to Singapore.

President: It was a job well done. Let us now go on to the next item on our agenda.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Meetings File, Box 1. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Cabinet Room. This is Part I of III; Part II is discussion of the Panama Canal negotiations, and Part III is discussion of the Middle East.
  2. Department of State telegrams reporting foreign reaction to the U.S. operation are ibid., NSC Information Liaison with Commissions and Committees, 1975–1977, Box 39, General Accounting Office Request for Documents.
  3. On May 20 Deputy Director for Operations Brigadier General C. D. Roberts, Jr., USMC, concluded that the United States suffered 15 killed and 50 wounded in action during the Mayaguez operation. (Memorandum for the Record, National Military Command Center; Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC East Asian and Pacific Affairs Staff Files, 1973–1976, Box 28, Joint Chiefs of Staff, General)
  4. The Department of Defense responded with “Military Operations Which Resulted in the Successful Recovery of the SS Mayaguez and Crew.” (Ibid., Box 229, Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Report to the President, May 20, 1975, 2) On May 18 Ford asked the CIA, NSC, Department of Defense, and Department of State to evaluate their performance during the SS Mayaguez incident. (Memoranda from the President; ibid., Kissinger-Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1969–1977, Box 1, Cambodia, Mayaguez Seizure, 2) The individual Agency and Department reports, together with White House analysis, are ibid., John K. Metheny Files, Box 8, Mayaguez Performance Memoranda, 6/75–10/75.