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John S. McCain POW CIA-Defense Department Documents



Vietnam War: Gulf of Tonkin Incident - Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: Department of Defense Files, CIA Files, Department of State Files, White House Files, Secret White House Audio Recordings

689 pages of Department of Defense, CIA, State Department, and White House files, and twelve and a half hours of secretly recorded President Lyndon Johnson White House telephone conversations, related to the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

A clash between naval forces of the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) in August 1964 marked a significant turning point in the Cold War struggle for Southeast Asia and the future of the Vietnam War.  President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, grew concerned in early 1964 that the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), America's ally, was losing its fight against Communist Viet Cong guerrillas. The American leaders decided to put military pressure on Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnamese government in Hanoi, which directed and provided military support for the Communists in the South. President Johnson, Robert McNamara, and their advisors believed that naval forces could be used to help compel Ho Chi Minh to cease his support for the Viet Cong. The United States Navy armed the Republic of Vietnam Navy with Norwegian-built fast patrol boats (PTF), trained their Vietnamese crews, and maintained the vessels at Danang in northern South Vietnam. In covert operation 34A, also known as OPLAN 34-A, which was designed and directed by American officials in Washington and Saigon, the PTFs bombarded radar stations on the coast of North Vietnam and landed South Vietnamese commandoes to destroy bridges and other military targets. Many of the missions, however, failed for lack of good intelligence about the enemy's key military installations, defensive forces, and operating methods.

Consequently, Washington ordered the Navy to focus more attention on the coast of North Vietnam in its longstanding Desoto Patrol operation. The Desoto Patrol employed destroyers in intelligence-gathering missions outside the internationally recognized territorial waters and along the coasts of the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and North Vietnam. In early August of 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, under the operational control of Captain John J. Herrick, steamed along the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, gathering various types of intelligence. Shortly before, the South Vietnamese PTF force had bombarded targets further to the south of USS Maddox's patrol area.

North Vietnam's leaders, who knew from their own intelligence sources about the American connection to Operation 34A, were determined not to bend to U.S. pressure. Hanoi directed its navy, which had not been able to catch the fast PTFs, to attack the slower American destroyer. On the afternoon of 2 August, the Communists dispatched three Soviet-built P-4 motor torpedo boats against the USS Maddox. Torpedoes launched from the P-4s missed their mark. Only one round from enemy deck guns hit the destroyer; it lodged in the ship's superstructure. The North Vietnamese naval vessels were not so fortunate. Shellfire from Maddox hit the attackers. Then F-8 Crusader jets dispatched from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA 14) strafed all three P-4s and left one boat dead in the water and on fire. The action over, the USS Maddox steamed toward the mouth of the Gulf of Tonkin and supporting naval forces.

President Johnson and his national security advisors were surprised that Ho Chi Minh had not only failed to buckle under U.S. military pressure but had reacted to it in such a bold way. President Johnson, Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, the commander of American military forces in the Pacific, and Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, decided that the United States could not retreat from this clear challenge. They reinforced the USS Maddox with the destroyer USS Turner Joy (DD 951) and directed Captain Herrick to continue his intelligence-gathering mission off North Vietnam with the two naval vessels.

On the night of 4 August 1964, the warships reported making contact and then being attacked by several fast crafts far out to sea. Officers in the naval chain of command and U.S. leaders in Washington were persuaded by the interpretation of special intelligence and reports from the ships, that North Vietnamese naval forces had attacked the two destroyers. More recent analysis of that data and additional information gathered on the 4 August episode, now makes it clear that North Vietnamese naval forces did not attack Maddox and Turner Joy that night in the summer of 1964.

In response to the actual attack of 2 August and the suspected attack of 4 August, President Johnson ordered Seventh Fleet carrier forces to launch retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam. On 5 August, aircraft from carriers Ticonderoga and USS Constellation (CVA 64) destroyed an oil storage facility at Vinh and damaged or sank about 30 enemy naval vessels in port or along the coast. Of greater significance, on 7 August the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the so-called Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which enabled Johnson to employ military force as he saw fit against the Vietnamese Communists. In the first months of 1965, the President ordered the deployment to South Vietnam of major U.S. ground, air, and naval forces. Thus began a new phase in America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Some of the material included in this set was not declassified until April 2004.

Department of Defense Documents

211 pages of Department of Defense Documents including:

Critical Incident Report No.7, Command and Control of the Tonkin Gulf Incident. This report produced by the Department of Defense's Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering Weapons Systems Evaluation group, presents an account of command and control aspects of the Tonkin Gulf incident. The Report covers basic command decisions and actions during the incident; operations in connection with it and the communications support and information flow that were involved in its management. The report includes appendices covering important policy and planning actions which preceded the incident, the August 2 and 4 incidents, message and telephone traffic relating to it; and an outline chronology of the main events. The overall study is based upon an analysis of messages, logs, recorded telephone traffic, and other documentary materials.

Department of Defense Gulf of Tonkin Command and Control Conversation Transcripts. 75 pages of transcripts of recorded conversations taking place on August 4th and 5th, between the command and control top echelon. Among the participants are Robert McNamara, Pacific theater commander Admiral Sharp, General Wheeler, General McCutcheon, General Burchinal, Admiral Mustin, Commander Hattaway, and General Wisman.

White House Documents

30 pages of key White House documents including: A cable regarding the attack on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. This cable contains a chronology of the reported second attack by the North Vietnamese on the USS Maddox while it was on Desoto Patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin on August 4, 1964. The text of the message also details the response by the USS Maddox and the USS C. Turner Joy. A time chart for U.S. reprisal air attacks following the Tonkin Gulf Incidents. This chart records the dates and times that U.S. aircraft departed from the USS Ticonderoga and the USS Constellation, the times of air strikes on North Vietnam in response to the attack on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, and the time of President Lyndon B. Johnson's address to the nation. Maps of the USS Maddox Incident. These maps depicts the patrol routes of the USS Maddox and the USS C. Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin from August 2-7, 1964. President's Daily Diary Entries. These entries record basic information about the president's activities from August 2, 1964 through August 4, 1964. The memorandum for the record of White House Staff Meeting, August 5, 1964, 8 a.m.

CIA Files

101 pages of CIA files from before and after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident dealing with possible reactions from the North Vietnamese, China, and the Soviet Union to military actions taken in the region by the United States.

President Lyndon Johnson Secret White House Telephone Recordings

Twelve and a half hours of secret White House telephone recordings, recorded between August 3, 1964 and March 3 1966, dealing with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Among the participants are Robert McNamara, George Smathers, George Reedy, Dean Rusk, Larry O'Brien, Barry Goldwater, McGeorge Bundy, Walter Jenkins, Bill Moyers, Edward Kennedy, Anatoly Dobrynin, Richard Russell, Drew Pearson, and Rusell Long.

In his first telephone conversation with Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara concerning the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, August 3, 1964, 10:20 AM, President Johnson focucuses on political aspects of the incident. President Johnson tells McNamara that he wants him to give a private briefing to congressional leaders. McNamara told President Johnson, "I think I should also, or we should also at that time, Mr. President, explain this OPLAN 34-A. There's no question but what that had bearing on." Secretary McNamara then gives details about the OPLAN 34-A attack that took place before the August 2 incident with the Maddox. In future public hearings concerning the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Secretary McNamara denied any connection between the OPLAN 34-A activities and the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

On August 4, 1964 at 10:06 PM, President Johnson called his Republican 1964 presidential campaign opponent, Barry Goldwater. After leaving Goldwater on hold for one minute and seventeen seconds, Johnson informs Goldwater of his decisions regarding retaliation for the Gulf of Tonkin attack. Goldwater expresses his support for Johnson's actions.

State Department Detailed Historical Chronology

64  pages of text of a detailed Department of State chronology of the events of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, written by State Department historians. The chronology covers August 1st to August 10, 1964. The chronology is composed of transcriptions of excerpted documents from the Johnson Library, files of the Secretary of Defense and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs at the Washington National Records Center, and the decentralized files of the Department of State's Vietnam Working Group.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Oral History Transcripts

218 pages of transcripts of interviews conducted by staff members of the LBJ library and the National Archives and Records Administration. The text of five interview segments in which there is some mention of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. Interviews with Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, 1961-1968; Cyrus Vance, Deputy Secretary of Defense, 1964-1967; Roswell L. Gilpatric, Deputy Secretary of Defense, 1961-1964; Lawrence F. O'Brien, Special Assistant to the President for Congressional Relations, 1961-1965; and Aaron E. Henry, President, Mississippi Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1960-1993.


Includes 5 photos taken from the Maddox during the August 2 engagement.


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