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GENERAL DISCUSSION

Dr. Jack Shulimson. Marine Corns Historical Center. I have a comment rather than a question. I would just suggest that General Westmoreland was the coalition commander, the coalition being the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps. I'd like to reinforce what Bernard Nalty has been saying about Khe Sanh and the enemy's intentions. Some of the same units that were identified at Khe Sanh were met by the 1st Cavalry Division outside of Hue two weeks later. There is a suggestion by recent translations or recent histories by the North Vietnamese on the Khe Sanh Front (their rear headquarters) that their purpose was to draw as many American forces into Khe Sanh as possible. Perhaps we frustrated the North Vietnamese by not placing many ground forces there. It is most likely that the NVA would have taken Khe Sanh if they thought they could. But they weren't about to go in there.

I would like to add to what Graham Cosmas has suggested; I think the question of single manager was not only a question of control of air assets; it was a question of Westmoreland's doubts about the entire Marine Corps command. Westmoreland had two back channels to Washington; one was through CINPAC and one was directly to General Wheeler. To CINPAC and through CINCPAC to General Wheeler he suggested that he was going to implement single manager and he was also going to change the command and control in two northern provinces by establishing MACV forward headquarters. Directly to General Wheeler he mentioned doubts about Marine Corps tactics, Marine Corps generalship, and whether the Marine Corps could respond. He was even suggesting taking over direct control, putting an Army corps into two northern provinces and taking control away from III Marine Amphibious Force. I think, in a sense, single manager was again a back down sort of compromise.

Q Dr. Dean C. Allard. Naval Historical Center. Admiral Holloway, in light of all the interest today in the front page of the paper about bomb damage assessment, I wonder if you can make some comments about your role both as a carrier commander and then later as the Seventh Fleet commander, or your interest in the assessment of the damage hopefully inflicted ashore.

A Admiral James L. Holloway III. Let me go a little further back to the time I was a gunnery officer of a destroyer in the Seventh Fleet; in 1944, I think it was. In Leyte Gulf the Japanese Battle Fleet was moving to the north; as you recall, Admiral Halsey's task force was intercepting it and Navy carrier pilots were being launched on cyclic operations to strike the Japanese force coming up from the south outside the islands headed for the straits near Samar. And my impression -- and this is not as a historian; I'm an old veteran, so what I give you are my impressions, which you historians can clean up -- my impression was and I think the folklore at the time was that the Navy pilots coming back from their strikes on that force were claiming so many hits on the cruisers and the carriers that the BDAs [bomb damage assessments], which were only available when the pilot landed, were inaccurate. At that time the intelligence officer said, "What happened?" And the pilot said, "Oh, I put a 1,000-pounder right down the stack." And he probably thought he had, but to be honest with you, you're looking over your shoulder dodging Zeros and flak at the time so that kind of BDA was not very accurate. It was my impression that the pilots came back with the feeling that that Japanese force had been much more severely damaged than it was, and that's how the battle of Samar occurred.

Let me go back then to my second experience, which was as an F-9F pilot flying off a straight-deck carrier during the Korean War. Incidentally, when I retired from the Navy they said, "Would you do it all over again?" And I said, "Every bit of it except flying an F-9 of f a straight-deck carrier." But that was a fascinating time, because we were totally dedicated to supporting the forces ashore. Virtually all of our missions were either close support or close interdiction. Although we had photo planes, the technique was not very good and the intelligence officers debriefed every flight and again there was a tendency for a pilot to attribute more success to his effort than was realized. You have to remember, even a 500-pound bomb kicks up a lot of dirt and smoke and you look like you've really knocked the bejeebers out of things. But, you know, if you missed it by 10 feet and it was a strong bunker, you probably didn't put that gun emplacement out of business.

In Vietnam and our problem there, I think we learned by experience, and after virtually every strike mission, particularly an Alpha strike, we sent in the RA-5C for bomb damage assessment. And here is an aircraft that was probably the best we could have produced for that mission. It was supersonic; it was a redesign of a strike aircraft but built for very high speed, very high performance, and it would go in after the strikes and take the photographs. Unfortunately, we lost so many RA-5Cs in that process that we really had to rely on drones to a large extent by the time I came back as Commander Seventh Fleet. You can see the RA-5Cs' position; you just had 60 Air Force tactical aircraft and 60 Navy tactical aircraft bombing the bejeebers out of these gunners down there and consequently when one RA-SC comes in wings level at 5,000 feet, he had very slim chances of survival. That was one of the problems getting bomb damage assessment and I think we always tended to be a little optimistic for a number of reasons; we were participating in the war and we wanted to believe that we had done a little better than we had done in the past. Today, with the overhead systems and the kind of interpretations that they can give you, I think it's going to be much more accurate. I really take issue with the press's point that they are not getting the BDA fast enough, because photo interpretation is not just looking at the rubble, but trying to determine what is functional. For example, you can have a power plant that has been beaten up pretty badly with all the windows blown out. But, that generator is still working inside and that takes quite a bit of collateral photo interpretation to see if there is evidence that there is still power being put out. On the other hand there could be a building that looks almost undamaged but you have destroyed its function inside because it was perhaps a function that required a lot of people or a lot of very specialized equipment. I've taken too long to answer your question, but I see BDA improving in quality and its usefulness to the commander and that you're just not counting the bricks that are in that half-acre. You're trying to determine and tell the commander whether the function of that target has been interrupted, and if so, is it restorable.

Q David Isby. BDM Corporation. While of course we currently all focus, rightly so, on the events in the Persian Gulf, perhaps in the slightly longer term one area where the command-control relations of seaborne forces' air power may be more vital is in Europe; in operations of NATO as forward deployed American forces are reduced and the longstanding ability of the carriers to support NATO becomes more important. Do you feel that there are any historical lessons that we can apply to our evolving command-control relations for the use of carrier-based air in NATO?

A Dr. Edward J. Marolda. Would you like to expand a little more on that?

Q Isby. It perhaps shows first of all the need for the interoperability of air power. U.S. air power will be rendered much more in an allied sense than, for example, in Vietnam where allied air power was very largely American and the divisions were between services rather than nations. However, the carriers present a unified, concentrated group of air power which in a Europe which will have less concentration of forces, the forces may be deadlier, may have higher technology, but they will probably have less concentration than we had in the 1980s. Therefore, the need to integrate carrier air under theater command will probably be at a higher level, but I think the need is going to be there for a degree of carrier integration at theater level; at SACEUR rather than SACLANT.

A Admiral Holloway. Can I just offer a footnote on that? It has to do with a centralized command. It's been an observation over the years, and it's a personal observation, that completely centralized command is terribly inefficient. On the other hand completely decentralized command won't work either. There is a point some place between those two extremes that is best for the situation. And an observation over time is that in the beginning of a campaign or an incident you want very tight centralized command, and that's usually the President of the United States. As a matter of fact, in the Cuban missile crisis and in the Gulf of Tonkin, when you are concerned not only with military operations but political ramifications, you find that centralization is very much focused on a single person who is probably the National Command Authority. Frankly, and this may be wrong, but an impression I have, having served both in the field and in the Pentagon during Vietnam, was that the Pentagon wanted to retain that centralization of command as long as they could, until it was more than they could handle. And then it devolved more and more on the field commander. Because, and I guess it's a very cruel thing to say, but I think once the novelty of playing field marshal wore off on the part of a lot of people in town or it became too big for them, then they sort of let the military take it over again. But, in a general sense I would say at the beginning of a campaign you have a fairly highly centralized system and then you begin to delegate command and responsibilities for a number of reasons. One of which is you gain a certain amount of confidence in your subordinates; they get confidence in themselves; and you feel that you can tell Harry to take it because you have a pretty good idea what Harry's going to do and he's going to do it well.

Q Dr. Thomas Hone. Defense Systems Management College. I want to ask a question of Admiral Holloway. It was clear in 1965 that the Russians and Chinese would probably not intervene unless serious action was taken by the United States against North Vietnam. What if that action had been taken? Did you have the weapons and the plans to deal with the Chinese, for example, if they entered the war in force?

A Admiral Holloway. The answer is that during that period of time, we had our NATO responsibilities for fighting a war. I think there became sort of popular mind-set that if we went to war with the Soviet Union, the war would be fought in Europe. We forgot the fact that the Soviet Union is also a Pacific power. If something ever started in Germany, it's impossible to conceive of the Soviets in the Pacific not fighting and it would be a threat to Japan. During the time we were engaged in Vietnam, the Pacific Fleet, and particularly the Seventh Fleet, had responsibilities to support our forces for the defense of Japan. The same thing could have been said about a war with the Chinese. Consequently, we had in effect to withhold a part of our capability so that it could be made available to go up to Japan. Three carriers on the line in the Gulf of Tonkin; one of the other two carriers -- I'm sure this is declassified now, it's been so long ago -- but one of the other two carriers was on a very short notice to steam north and provide nuclear weapons to fill in the nuclear weapons plan for the defense of Japan. I believe I'm right in saying that while we were fighting in Vietnam, the Pakistan-Indian War [1971] erupted and we actually deployed carriers to the Indian Ocean to protect our interests at that time. So that is an example of why the Navy was so insistent upon taking a position of operating in support of the forces ashore. Because, they felt . . . I'm sure the JCS felt that they had to have those forces which are not specialized. Again, I go back to the fact that the Navy's conventional and nuclear war forces at that time were centered around the fast carrier striking group, as it was called. And if you're going to have a naval presence that made any difference, those were the forces that had to be deployed in the Indian Ocean, off Japan, or in a general war or to look after contingency interests some place else.

A Dr. Mark Jacobsen. Naval Historical Center. I think the United States was very, very much afraid of Chinese intervention and I hope with certain declassification eventually talking about Chinese intervention in 1965 and 1966. These were very, very vivid fears. And there was a considerable amount of good evidence that the Chinese would have intervened.

Q Jan Herman. Navy Bureau of Medicine. With the current situation, the current war going on in the Persian Gulf, I think perhaps some of us are tempted to think of parallels. Obviously, it was the most recent war we had experienced -- Vietnam. The use of, let's say B-52s in Khe Sanh, is something that's been brought up in recent days. Using that as a parallel for trying to, say, take out or soften up, if you will, the Republican Guard, do you see any other parallels? Or is that a valid parallel?

A Bernard Nalty. Office of Air Force History. There are some memoirs by North Vietnamese defectors who, while in South Vietnam organizing and supplying the troops, were caught in B-52 strikes and without exception it was a deadly, shattering experience. But still, as for Khe Sanh itself, our intelligence hadn't really gotten good enough to tell you exactly how the bombs had hit, or whether these enemy units were shattered, or for that matter exactly what units were where. The parallel between Khe Sanh and Saudi Arabia I find very, very divergent.

Q Dr. William Hammond. U.S. Army Center of Military History. To give you an example of the power of the B-52s . . . late in the war the United States ran a B-52 strike into Laos and then afterwards attempted to put a team of Green Berets and South Vietnamese in to survey the damage. And they were supposed to spend 3 or 4 days out there and then come back. Well, within about 24 hours they were on the radio requesting extraction. And the question came back, "Well why? You are supposed to be out there 2 more days." And they said, "Well, apparently you caught a huge number of the enemy in the open and we didn't bring enough water and all the streams are running red with blood."

A Nalty. That was one incident, but there was another incident where the team went in immediately after a B-52 strike and had to be extracted immediately because they were receiving so much fire from the ground. You can cite examples either way.

A Marolda. We can only hope its having a positive effect right now with the Republican Guards in the Iraqi-Kuwait border area.

Q Dr. Diane Putney. Air Force History. With the concept of fighting a war with one hand tied behind one's back, did anyone come upon in your research any evidence of not having enough aircraft to train pilots or ordnance or fuel because of our NATO commitments or because we were fighting these three air wars in Southeast Asia in the larger context of the Cold War? We couldn't put all the forces we actually had into Southeast Asia; we had to keep forces for our NATO responsibilities. Did you find that part of why we might have had our hands tied behind our backs was that we just didn't have enough to do three air wars in Southeast Asia in the context of the Cold War?

A Jacobsen. Supposedly at that time the United States had the capability to fight 2 1/2 wars. Vietnam was only a half-war. I'd like to toss out for general consideration that the month before the Tet Offensive opened, the North Koreans seized the Pueblo in its waters. I'm convinced that they did want to draw off the USS Enterprise. I'm convinced that that itself was a partly coordinated effort to draw down American resources in South Vietnam and to facilitate the success of the Tet Offensive.


11 July 2003