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   Home      Gulf of Tonkin Incident

U.S. Reaction to events in the Gulf of Tonkin ~ August 1-3, 1964

At 3:40 a.m.EDT (3:40 p.m. Saigon time), August 2, the destroyer Maddox, on patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, reported that it was "being approached by high speed craft with apparent intention of torpedo attack. Intend open fire in necessary self defense." (Message 020740Z to Commander Seventh Fleet;Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 72 D 219, DeSoto Patrols,August) Twenty-seven minutes later, the Maddox reported that it was being attacked by three North Vietnamese patrol craft and had opened fire.(Message 020807Z to Commander Seventh Fleet; ibid.) In the ensuing engagement,the Maddox and aircraft from the U.S.S. Ticonderoga damaged two of the patrol craft which retreated to the North, and left one dead in thewater. Reports on the incident reached Washington shortly after 4 a.m.


Telegram from the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State

CINCPAC for POLAD. Ref Maddox incident, most important that we be authorized to give facts to GVN before Hanoi breaks story and falsified version is disseminated.  Request official version to be used and,when determined, what action USG expects to take. Please indicate how much of this latter information can be passed to GVN.

As you are aware, operational radio traffic relating to this incident was in clear.



Memorandum from the Duty Officer in the White House Situation Room to the President


 1. Early this morning the USS Maddox was attacked by three DRV PT boats while on patrol approximately 30 miles off the North Vietnamese coast in the Gulf of Tonkin.

2. The Captain of the Maddox returned the fire with 5-inch guns and requested air support from the carrier Ticonderoga on station nearby in connection with reconnaissance flights in that area.

3. Ticonderoga jets arrived shortly and made strafing attacks on the PT boats resulting in one enemy boat dead in the water, two others damaged and turned tail for home.

4. The Maddox reports no personnel or material damages.

5. Messrs.Rusk and McNamara have been informed of the incident and present plans are to release a press statement later today either from Washington or Saigon.

6. Additional details on the Maddox encounter will be available later today.

At 11:30 a.m.on August 2, the President met at the White House with Secretary Rusk, Under Secretary Ball, Deputy Secretary of  Defense Vance, General Wheeler, and intelligence experts to discuss the Tonkin Gulf incident. Johnson Library. The meeting lasted approximately 45 minutes and the President wrote that they studied the latest reports and considered a U.S.response. After concluding that a local North Vietnamese shore commander or a shore station had taken the initiative, the participants decided not to retaliate. They did, however, agree to dispatch a protest note to North Vietnam and to order a continuation of the patrol. (Johnson, Vantage Point, page113) No other record of this meeting has been found. The meeting is described as taking place "c. 10:30" in Rusk's appointment book.


Telegram from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff(Wheeler) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific

This is a DeSoto Patrol message. Reference: A. CINCPACFLTDTG 021104Z (NOTAL). B. ADMINO CINCPAC DTG 021255Z (NOTAL)

1. You are authorized to continue the DeSoto patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin area in conformance with routes and times specified in reference A, subject to the following:

a. Closest approach to the NVN mainland coastline will be 11 miles, repeat 11 miles.

b. Air patrol CAP will be provided during daylight hours, however, CAP will be maintained to the seaward of the two destroyers so as to preclude any possibility of overflight of NVN.

c. Be extremely watchful for any possible action including possible submarine activity either against the DeSoto patrol or the Ticonderoga task force.

d. Avoid close approaches to NVN coast during period when maritime activities related to OPLAN 34A are underway.


Telegram fromthe Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam

Washington ~August 2, 1964--1:41 p.m.

Maddox was engaged in fleet patrol similar to patrols conducted routine basis various parts of world. Ships engaged such activities operate in international waters.  For instance ship engaged in patrol along coast Communist China normally remains 15 NM from coast in view Chicom claim 12 mile limit. Observing claimed limits does not indicate recognition of claim. Firing by DRV patrol craft took place in international waters over 20 NM from coast of North Vietnam. Similar destroyer patrol was conducted February-March in Gulf of Tonkin by destroyer Craig. All of foregoing may be passed to GVN.

FYI. Maddox was on DeSoto Patrol and had been authorized approach 8 NM coast of North Vietnam or 4 NM to certain North Vietnamese islands. Destroyer Craig in Feb-March was authorized approach to 4NM coast of N VN. Maddox will resume patrol observing an 11 mile limit. In case DRV Department has no record of specific distance claimed by them so approach closer than 12 NM authorized. Just prior to the incident the Maddoxmay have approached to about 11 NM of coast.  Assume you have seen press release issued Honolulu this morning. End FYI.


Telegram from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of-Staff(Wheeler) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific

Washington ~ August 2, 1964--6:49 p.m.

This is a DeSoto Patrol Message. Reference: JCS 7680 DTG021725Z Aug 64 2 In event US vessels are attacked in international waters (11miles offshore or more), you will seek to destroy the attacking forces, however, pursuit into hostile waters or air space is not authorized.


Telegram from the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State

Deptel does not address itself to primary question raised Embtel namely what will be U.S. Government reaction to this attack? Dept [Emb]will appreciate that info. Unprovoked attack against U.S. destroyer ininternational waters by three illegal North Vietnamese torpedo boats will be received dramatically in current atmosphere Saigon. It is not adequate to local minds (nor indeed to ours) to state that attack was repelled and that patrol will continue.

This reaction, if it constitutes totality of U.S. Government intentions, will make it appear that we are prepared to accept regular Swatow harassment in international waters as normal concomitant our normal naval patrollingactivities. Such an attitude would immediately be construed in Saigon as indication that U.S. flinches from direct confrontation with North Vietnamese,especially since we apparently did not press home total destruction thosevessels which attacked Maddox.

To meet this situation, recommend prompt consideration of following actions:

a. Announce that Swatow will henceforth be attacked whenever found in international waters and maintain air and/or naval forces in readiness to do so.

b. Direct regular air surveillance of Swatow overflying DRV air space as required.

c. Mine approaches to Swatow harbors.

d. Create a torpedo capability in GVN Navy for use against appropriate targets, such as Haiphong dredges.

These are quick thoughts without opportunity for consultation with experts. However, we are impressed with need for prompt reaction and timely private communication ofintentions to GVN.

Requesturgent consideration these matters and advice soonest re statements which we may make privately to GVN.

On August 3 at 11:30 a.m., President Johnson called an impromptu press conference at the White House and read the following statement:

"I have instructed the Navy:

"1. to continue the patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Viet-Nam,

"2. to double the force by adding an additional destroyer to the one already on patrol

"3. to provide a combat air patrol over the destroyers, and

"4. to issue orders to the commanders of the combat aircraft and the two destroyers,(a) to attack any force which attacks them in international waters, and (b) to attack with the objective not only of driving off the force but of destroying it." (Department of State Bulletin, August 24, 1964, page 259)


Extracted from US State Department Archives

9th Marines
RVN Operations
Apache Snow
Big Horn
Big Lodge
Cameron Falls   
Chinook II   
Con Thien
County Fair
Dawson River
Dawson River
Deckhouse V
Dewey Canyon I
Double Eagle   
Double Eagle II
Eagle Pull
Frequent Wind
Georgia Tar
Harvest Moon   
   Deckhouse II
   Beau Charger
Hickory II  
Khe Sanh
Lancaster I
Lancaster II
Montana Mauler
   Saline II
Neosho II
Prairie II
Prairie III
Prairie IV
Prairie V
Scotland II
Utah Mesa
Virginia Ridge
War Bonnet 

TAOR-Tactical Area of Responsibility

I Corps, Da Nang, Red Beach, China Beach, Hill 55, Hill 327, Hill 282, An Hoa, Leatherneck Square, Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, Con Thien, Gio Linh, Cua Viet River, Quang Tri, Khe Sanh, Rockpile, Vandergrift, Ashau Valley, Dai Loc