Bibliography on Tonkin Gulf Incidents, August 1964
Photography related to this incident
Selected Documents Relating to the Tonkin Gulf Incidents of 2 and 4 August 1964
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. 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. Johnson, 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 U.S. 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, 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, destroyer USS Maddox (DD 731), under the operational control of Captain John J. Herrick, USN, 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 Maddox's patrol area.
|Fragments of the North Vietnamese machine gun bullet recovered from USS Maddox following the 2 August 1964 attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. (From the collection of the Curator Branch, Naval Historical Center)|
In response to the actual attack of 2 August and the suspected attack of 4 August, the President 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 long, costly Vietnam War.