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Chronology of the Incident Concerning the USS Maddox on 2 August, dated 3 Aug 1964

Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Washington, D.C. 20301
Please Note Date

NO. 566-64
OXford 75131 (Info)
OXford 73189 (Copies)


August 3, 1964 

The following is a chronology of the incident concerning the USS Maddox (DD-731) on August 2, 1964:

(All times are Eastern Daylight Time)

11:00 P.M., August 1:
Maddox reported observing an estimated 75 junks near her assigned patrol area off the North Viet Nam coast. She reported changing her course in order to avoid the junk concentration and indicated that there was no evidence of any hostility.

1:30 A.M., August 2:
Maddox reported that three torpedo boats were on a southerly course heading toward the ship at extreme range (over 10 miles). The Maddox at this point was about 30 miles from the coast.

3:40 A.M., August 2:
Maddox reported she was being approached by the high speed (estimated 45 to 50 knots) craft whose apparent intention was to conduct a torpedo attack and that she intended to open fire in self-defense if necessary.

4:08 A.M., August 2:
Maddox reported she was being attacked by the three PT craft. She opened fire with her five-inch battery after three warning shots failed to slow down the attackers.

4:08 A.M., August 2:

The PT's continued their closing maneuvers and two of the PT's closed to 5,000 yards, each firing one torpedo. The Maddox changed course in an evasive move and the two torpedoes passed close aboard on the starboard side (100 to 200 yards).

USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) advised she was sending four already airborne F-8E's (CRUSADERS) with rockets and 20 mm. ammunition to provide air cover for Maddox. The pilots were instructed not to fire unless Maddox or the aircraft were fired upon.

4:21 A.M., August 2:

The third PT moved up to the beam of the Maddox and received a direct hit by a five-inch round, and at the same time dropped a torpedo into the water which was not seen to run. Machine gun fire from the PT's was directed at the Maddox. However, there was no damage or injury to personnel. The Maddox continued in a southerly direction to join with the C. Turner Joy (DD-951) as Ticonderoga aircraft commenced attacking the PT's. Zuni rocket runs and 20 mm strafing attacks were directed against two of the PT's and they were damaged. The third PT remained dead in the water after the direct hit by theMaddox. At 4:29 A.M., the aircraft broke off the engagement and escorted the Maddox towards South Viet Nam waters.

The C. Turner Joy has joined with the Maddox and they are continuing patrols in the area in international waters. Aircraft from the Ticonderoga are providing protective coverage.


Statement by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, 4 Aug. 1964:

Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Washington, D.C. 20301
Please Note Date

No. 571-64
OXford 53201 (Info.)
OXford 73189 (Copies)


August 4, 1964 

The following is the text of the statement of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara at a news conference Tuesday evening, August 4, 1964:

The President told the nation earlier tonight that the United States would take appropriate action in view of the unprovoked attacks in international waters on U.S. Naval vessels by torpedo boats belonging to North Vietnam.

I can tell you some of the action that has already been undertaken. U.S. Naval aircraft from the Carriers Ticonderoga and Constellation in the Bay of Tonkin area where our destroyers have undergone two deliberate attacks by the North Vietnamese have already initiated air strikes against the bases from which these PT boats have operated. Our naval aircraft have conducted strikes against certain other targets directly supporting the operation of the PT boats.

Again, in view of the unprovoked and deliberate attacks in international waters on U.S. naval vessels, the United States has taken the precaution of moving substantial military reinforcements to Southeast Asia. It is also making replacement deployments to the Western Pacific from the Continental United States.

It is not wise at the moment to identify or give the detailed strength of these movements, but I can assure you that they are appropriate to the provocation.

I would like to review, in chronological order, the two unprovoked attacks on our vessels as they were initiated by the North Vietnamese, not only on Sunday, August 2, but again today, Tuesday, August 4.

(All times are local times at destroyer's position.)

10:00 A.M., August 2
Maddox reported observing an estimated 75 junks near her assigned patrol area off the North Vietnam coast. She reported changing her course in order to avoid the junk concentration.

12:30 P.M., August 2
Maddox reported that three torpedo boats were on a southerly course heading toward the ship at extreme range (over 10 miles). The Maddox at this point was about 30 miles from the coast.

2:40 P.M., August 2
Maddox reported she was being approached by the high speed (estimated 45 to 50 knots) craft whose apparent intention was to conduct a torpedo attack and that she intended to open fire in self-defense if necessary.

3:08 P.M., August 2
The PT's continued their closing maneuvers and two of the PT's closed to 5,000 yards, each firing one torpedo. The Maddox changed course in an evasive move and the two torpedoes passed close aboard on the starboard side (100 to 200 yards).

USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) advised she was sending four already airborne F-8E's (CRUSADERS) with rockets and 20mm. Ammunition to provide air cover for Maddox.

3:21 P.M., August 2
The third PT moved up to the beam of the Maddox and received a direct hit by a five-inch round, and at the same time dropped a torpedo into the water which was not seen to run. Machine gun fire from the PT's was directed at the Maddox. However, there was no damage or injury to personnel. The Maddoxcontinued in a southerly direction to join with the C. Turner Joy (DD-951) as Ticonderoga aircraft commenced attacking the PT's. Zuni rocket runs and 20mm strafing attacks were directed against two of the PT's and they were damaged. The third PT remained dead in the water after the direct hit by theMaddox. At 3:29 P.M., the aircraft broke off the engagement and escorted the Maddox towards South Vietnam waters.

The C. Turner Joy joined with the Maddox and continued patrols in the area in international waters with carrier aircraft providing protective coverage.

Chronology of Second Attack
(All times are local time at the destroyer's position.)

After the first attack on the USS Maddox on Sunday, the Maddox joined with its sister destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, in the Gulf of Tonkin and resumed its patrol in international waters, as directed by President Johnson. The patrol was uneventful during most of the daylight hours of Tuesday, August 4.

Late afternoon, August 4, the Maddox reported radar contact with unidentified surface vessels who were paralleling its track and the track of the Turner Joy.

7:40 PM, August 4.
The Maddox reported that from actions being taken by the unidentified vessels, an attack by them appeared imminent. The Maddox was heading southeast near the center of the Gulf of Tonkin in international waters approximately 65 miles from nearest land.

8:36 PM, August 4. 
The Maddox established new radar contact with two unidentified surface vessels and three unidentified aircraft. At this time, U.S. fighter aircraft were launched from the USS Ticonderoga to rendezvous with the Maddox and the Turner Joy to provide protection against possible attack from the unidentified vessels and aircraft, in accordance with the President's previously issued directives.

9:08 PM, August 4.
The Maddox reported that the unidentified aircraft had disappeared from its radar screen and that the surface vessels were remaining at a distance. The U.S. aircraft from the Ticonderoga arrived and commenced defensive patrol over the Maddox and the Turner Joy.

9:30 PM, August 4.
Additional vessels were observed on the Maddox radar, and these vessels began to close rapidly on the destroyer patrol at speeds in excess of 40 knots. The attacking craft continued to close rapidly from the west and south and the Maddox reported that their intentions were evaluated as hostile.

9:52 PM, August 4.
The destroyers reported that they were under continuous torpedo attack and were engaged in defensive counterfire.

10:15 PM, August 4. 
The destroyers reported that they had avoided torpedoes and had sunk one of the attacking craft.

10:42 PM, August 4. 
The destroyers reported that they had evaded additional torpedoes and had sunk another of the attacking craft. Other protective aircraft had arrived overhead, but weather and darkness were hampering their capabilities.

10:52 PM, August 4.
The Maddox reported that the destroyers were again under attack.

The patrol reported that, even though torpedoes had been fired at them, they had suffered no hits nor casualties and that the defensive aircraft from the Ticonderoga were illuminating the area and attacking the enemy surface craft.

12:32 PM, August 5.
The patrol reported that at least two enemy craft had been sunk and that low ceilings continued to hamper the aircraft operations.

12:54 AM, August 5.
The Turner Joy reported that during the engagement, in addition to the torpedo attack, she was fired upon by automatic weapons while being illuminated by searchlights.

1:30 AM, August 5.
The destroyers reported that the attacking craft had apparently broken off the engagement.

The Maddox and Turner Joy were directed to resume their patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin at daylight on the 5th of August.


Statement by Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Sylvester, 4 Aug. 1964:

Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Washington, D.C. 20301
Please Note Date

No. 570-64
OXford 53201 (Info.)
OXford 73189 (Copies)


August 4, 1964 

The following statement was issued today by Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Sylvester:

"A second deliberate attack was made during darkness by an undetermined number of North Vietnamese PT boats on the USS Maddox and USS C. Turner Joy while the two destroyers were cruising in company on routine patrol in the Tonkin Gulf in international waters about 65 miles from the nearest land. The attack came at 10:30 P.M. local time (10:30 A.M., August 4, Washington time.)

"The PT boats were taken under fire by the destroyers and thereafter by attack aircraft from the Ticonderoga and the Constellation.

"The attackers were driven off with no U.S. casualties, no hits and no damage to either destroyer.

"It is believed that at least two of the PT boats were sunk and two others damaged."


Statement by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, 5 Aug. 1964:

Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Washington, D.C. 20301
Please Note Date

No. 575-64
OXford 53201 (Info)
OXford 73189 (Copies)


August 5, 1964 

The following is the text of a statement made by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara at a news conference at 9:00 a.m., Wednesday, August 5, 1964:

"As you know on August 2 and again on August 4, North Vietnamese surface vessels attacked U.S. destroyers operating on routine patrol in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. In retaliation for this unprovoked aggression on the high seas, our forces have struck the bases used by North Vietnamese naval craft.

"During the night, 64 attack sorties were launched from the aircraft carriers Ticonderoga and Constellation against 4 North Vietnamese patrol boat bases and an oil storage depot supporting these bases.

"The oil storage depot containing 14 tanks and representing 10% of the petroleum storage capacity of the country was 90% destroyed. Smoke was observed rising to 14,000 feet.

"In addition to damage to the bases and to their support facilities, approximately 25 patrol boats were damaged or destroyed.

Two of our aircraft were lost and two were damaged; all others have been recovered safely.

"The destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy are continuing their patrol in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin.

"Last night I stated moves were underway to reinforce our forces in the Pacific area. These moves include:

a. Transfer of an attack carrier group from the First Fleet to the Western Pacific.
b. Movement of interceptor and fighter bomber aircraft into South Vietnam.
c. Movement of fighter bomber aircraft into Thailand.
d. Transfer of interceptor and fighter bomber squadrons from the U.S. to advance bases in the Pacific
e. Movement of an anti-submarine task force into the South China Sea.
f. The alerting and readying for movement of selected Army and Marine forces."


List of Targets in North Vietnam Under Attack by Carrier Aircraft:

Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Washington, D.C. 20301
Please Note Date

No. 576-64
OXord 5-201 (Info.)
OXord 7-3189 (Copies)


August 5, 1964 

Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara today identified targets in North Vietnam under attack by U.S. carrier aircraft as follows:

Hon Ga--Patrol boats and associated facilities.

Loc Chao--Patrol boats and associated facilities.

Phuc Loi--Patrol boats and associated facilities.

Vinh--Oil storage.

Quang Khe--Patrol boats and associated facilities.


Summary of Carrier Air Strikes Against Targets in North Vietnam, 6 Aug 1964:

Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Washington, D.C. 20301
Please Note Date

No. 579-64
OXford 5-3201 (Info.)
OXford 7-3189 (Copies)


August 6, 1964 


Following are the results, based on latest reports, of the 64 attack strike sorties flown from the U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Ticonderoga and USS Constellation to five targets in the Gulf of Tonkin, North Vietnam:

(a) Of the some 30 patrol craft sighted during the attacks, it is estimated that 25 patrol boats were destroyed or damaged.
(b) Ninety percent of petroleum storage facility at VINH destroyed.
(c) Seven (7) antiaircraft installations in VINH area destroyed or severely damaged.

The USS Ticonderoga aircraft conducted three of the attacks against North Vietnam patrol boat concentrations and their associated support facilities. One strike was on the boats and facilities located at QUANG KHE. The second and third were on additional boats and activities at PHUC LOI and on the petroleum storage area located at nearby VINH. In addition, there was also a re-strike made on the VINH oil storage area.

The QUANG KHE attack, which took place at 1:15 a.m. EDT, was accomplished by 6 F-8 "Crusader"jets. The strike at PHUC LOI, including the nearby oil storage area at VINH, was conducted at 1:25 a.m. EDT by 6 F-8 "Crusader," 6 A-4 "Skyhawk," and 4 A-1 "Skyraider" aircraft. Ten A-4 "Skyhawk" and 4 F-8 "Crusader" jets participated in the re-strike at VINH at 4:45 a.m. EDT. An estimated 8 storage tanks were set ablaze during the first attack on VINH. From 2 to 4 additional tanks were set ablaze during the second raid.

Moderate antiaircraft fire was encountered during the first strike on VINH and 2 antiaircraft positions near the oil storage area were attacked and destroyed. During the re-strike, a heavier concentration of antiaircraft was encountered and an estimated 5 guns of a 6-gun position were subsequently destroyed.

One (1) "Crusader" aircraft sustained flak damage during the first attack on VINH but proceeded safely to DANANG, South Vietnam.

Navy aircraft from the carrier Constellation began a simultaneous attack on the remaining two targets, HON GAY and LOC CHAO at 3:45 a.m. EDT. Ten (10) A-4 "Skyhawks," 2 F-4 "Phantoms," and 4 A-1 "Skyraiders," participated in the attack on HON GAY. Five (5) A-4 "Skyhawks," 3 F-4 "Phantoms," and 4A-1 "Skyraiders" participated in the raid on LOC CHAO.

Five (5) patrol craft were sighted during the attack on HON GAY and it was estimated that all 5 were destroyed. At LOC CHAO, 2 of the 6 patrol craft sighted were seriously damaged. Both attacks lasted 25 minutes.

Aircraft attacking HON GAY experienced moderate to heavy antiaircraft fire during the attack from numerous gun positions on the hill overlooking the harbor. Also, all operating guns aboard all of the patrol craft were fired throughout the attack. The Navy aircraft utilized 2.75" rocket and 20mm strafing attacks at both HON GAY and LOC CHAO.

One (1) A-4 "Skyhawk" from Constellation was shot down by antiaircraft fire during the attack on HON GAY. The pilot reported he was hit after completing his second attack on the patrol boats in HON GAY harbor. He indicated that his plane was uncontrollable and that he was ejecting. Witnessing pilots, who were also being subjected to heavy antiaircraft fire, indicated that they saw a splash approximately 3 miles from the harbor entrance, which could have been the downed "Skyhawk." A 60 second "beeper" which is normally activated when a chute opens was heard over the radio, but there has been no confirmed report of the sighting of a parachute. Lt. (JG) Everett Alvarez, Jr., of San Jose, California, previously reported as missing, was the pilot of this plane.

A second aircraft from Constellation, an A-1 "Skyraider" was lost due to antiaircraft fire during the attack on LOC CHAO. No parachute was seen and the aircraft was observed to crash into the sea in the vicinity of the LOC CHAO ESTUARY.

A third aircraft from Constellation, an A-1 “Skyraider” was hit by antiaircraft fire in the vicinity of LOC CHAO but made a safe return to the ship with minor damage.


Statement by Asst. Sec. Of Defense Arthur Sylvester, 7 Aug 1964:

News Release
Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Washington, D.C. 20301
Please Note Date

No. 583-64
OXford 53201 (Info)
OXford 73189 (Copies)


August 7, 1964 

Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Sylvester made the following statement today at 3:15 P.M. EDT:

Because there is apparently some confusion in news reports today about the timing of the announcement of the U.S. retaliatory action Tuesday, August 4, I have secured the following statement from the Secretary of Defense, a statement which is attributable to him:

"I recommended to President Johnson that he schedule his announcement of the retaliatory attack against the North Vietnamese torpedo boats and their supporting installations for 11:40 P.M., August 4, because:

"1. By that time U.S. naval aircraft had been in the air on their way to their targets approximately one hour.

"2. Hanoi, through its radar, had then received indications of the attack.

"3. The time remaining before the aircraft arrived over their targets would not permit the North Vietnamese to move their boats to sea or to alert their forces.

"4. It was important that the people of our country learn of the manner in which their government was responding to the attacks on its vessels from their President rather than from Hanoi which was expected to announce the attack at any moment.

"5. It was desirable that the North Vietnamese government and others be told as soon as possible the character of the attack--"Our response for the present will be limited and fitting. We ... know ... the risks of spreading conflict. We will seek no wider war."

"As you know, the North Vietnamese government did not have time to move their forces; our attacking aircraft found the torpedo boats at their docks; the attack was highly successful."


20 FEBRUARY 1968

Mr. Chairman:

On 6 August 1964, I appeared before this Committee and testified concerning the attacks in the Tonkin Gulf on the destroyers U.S.S. Maddox and U.S.S. Turner Joy, and our response to those attacks.

Over three and one-half years have passed since that time. However, even with the advantage of hindsight, I find that the essential facts of the two attacks appear today, as they did then, when they were fully explored with this Committee and other members of the Congress.

The relevant events, and their significance, were the subject of intensive debate in the House and Senate. Both my testimony and that of other officials of the Government reported the evidence that established conclusively the occurrence of these attacks on US naval vessels operating in international waters. This evidence was available to us at the time of the decision to make a carefully tailored response to the attacks. In my testimony, I noted that, while sonar and radar readings may be subject to interpretation and argument because of sea and atmospheric conditions, we had intelligence reports of a highly classified and unimpeachable nature which established, without question, that the attacks took place on both August 2nd and August 4th.

Also fully explored at the time was the question whether the attacks on the Maddox and Turner Joy were in any way provoked by or related to certain South Vietnamese naval activity which occurred in the period from July 30th to August 4th. As I stated then, and repeat now, our naval vessels played absolutely no part in and were not associated with this activity. There was then, and there is now, no question but that the United States Government knew, and that I knew personally, the general nature of some countermeasures being taken by the South Vietnamese in response to North Vietnam's aggression. As I informed Congress, the boats utilized by the South Vietnamese were financed by the United States. But I said then, and I repeat today, that the Maddox and the Turner Joy did not participate in the South Vietnamese activities, that they had no knowledge of the details of these operations and that in no sense of the word could they be considered to have back-stopped the effort.

As the Chairman noted in the Senate debates, he was informed that "our boats did not convoy or support or back up any South Vietnamese naval vessels" and that they were "entirely unconnected or unassociated with any coastal forays the South Vietnamese themselves may have conducted." He was so informed and the information was completely accurate. When the South Vietnamese conducted the first of their two naval operations against North Vietnamese targets during this period, the Maddox patrol had not even begun and the ship was at least 130 miles to the south east. The attack on the Maddox on August 2nd took place 63 hours after completion of this South Vietnamese naval operation. When the South Vietnamese boats conducted their second foray, the Maddox and the Turner Joy were at least 70 nautical miles to the north east. The attack made against them on August 4th was almost a full day after this second South Vietnamese operation.

The facts thus show today, as they showed three and one-half years ago, that attacks occurred against our ships both on August 2nd and August 4th, that we had available to us incontrovertible evidence of these attacks when the decision was made to make our limited and measured response, and that these attacks were in no sense provoked or justified by any participation or association of our ships with South Vietnamese naval operations. I would like briefly to review these facts with you.

On the 2nd of August 1964, the U.S.S. Maddox was engaged in a patrol in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. At no time during the conduct of her patrol did Maddox depart from international waters, or engage in any hostile act. Yet, while she was 28 miles from the coast of North Vietnam, on a course away from the coast, Maddox was attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. At least 3 torpedoes were directed by the boats at the Maddox, as well as machine gun fire. The Maddox avoided all torpedoes and, together with aircraft arriving on the scene from the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, repelled the attack and sank or damaged the attacking craft.

The attack on Maddox took place in daylight. North Vietnamese reports of their plans had previously been obtained from an intelligence source. The attacking craft were clearly seen by Maddox personnel and were photographed. The launching of the torpedoes by these PT boats was also observed as were the torpedo wakes passing near Maddox. Machine gun fire from the attackers was also observed and indeed, one bullet was recovered -- it is in our possession as I have it here this morning for your inspection. [This bullet is held by the Naval History and Heritage Command's Curator]

This was an unprovoked attack on a ship of the United States on the high seas. Nevertheless, no reprisal by the United States was undertaken. The Maddox, fortunately, had avoided significant damage itself, and inflicted damage on the attackers. Since no rational motive for the attack was apparent, we believed it possible that it had resulted from a miscalculation or an impulsive act of a local commander. After the second attack, the Chairman commented in Senate debate that I had stated, after the first attack on the Maddox, that I did not expect it to be repeated. He also noted that this showed how wrong I was.

On August 3, the following day, a note of protest was dispatched to the North Vietnam regime at the direction of the President. It concluded with the words: "The United States Government expects that the authorities of the regime in North Vietnam will be under no misapprehension as to the grave consequences which would inevitably result from any further unprovoked offensive military action against U.S. forces." At the same time, the President made public his instructions to the Navy to continue and to add another destroyer to its patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin.

It was within this context that we received, at about 9:20 Washington time on the morning of 4 August, information from an intelligence source that North Vietnamese naval forces had been ordered to attack the patrol. 

Soon thereafter reports from the Maddox were received that the patrol was being approached by high speed surface radar contacts and that an attack appeared imminent. Other amplifying messaged quickly followed and by about 11:00 A.M., we received a flash report that our destroyers, then located some 60 to 65 miles from the coast of North Vietnam, were actually under attack. Throughout the remaindered of the morning and early afternoon, flash message reports of the engagement, some ambiguous and some conflicting, continued to pour in. Frequent telephone contact was maintained with the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Hawaii. The President was kept informed of these developments.

During this period, I had a series of meetings with my chief civilian and military advisors in which the apparent ambiguities and contradictions in the reports were examined and reconciled to our satisfaction. We identified and refined various options for a response to the attack, to be presented to the President. Among these options was the air strike against the attacking boats and their associated bases, which option was eventually selected. As the options were identified, preliminary messages were sent to appropriate operational commanders alerting them to the several possibilities so that initial planning steps could be undertaken.

In the early afternoon, the National Security Council met, at which time we briefed the participants, including the President, on the available details of the attack. Shortly thereafter, having received the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we recommended to the President, and he approved, a response consisting of an air strike on the PT and Swatow boat bases and their associated facilities. During all of this time, the message reports of the engagement from the ships, plus other information of a very highly classified nature received during the attack, were being reviewed to eliminate any doubt that an attack on the destroyers had in fact occurred.

For example, I saw a message from the on-scene Task Group Commander which expressed doubts as to the validity of many of the sonar reports. I discussed this message by telephone with the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, and informed him that, although we would continue with the preparations, the reprisal strike would not be executed until we were absolutely positive of the attack. He of course agreed and in a later telephone call informed me that he was satisfied, from all the reports he had on hand, that an attack on our ships had taken place.

Finally, at about 6:30 P.M., Washington time, the message to execute the strike was transmitted by the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific.

Those are the essential details. To recapitulate, on August 2nd, one of our destroyers was attacked by North Vietnamese naval forces without provocation while on patrol on the high seas. Since the destroyer had suffered no damage and had repulsed and damaged her attackers, and since the possibility seemed to exist that the incident was an isolated act, no further military response was made. North Vietnam was warned the next day, however, of the "grave consequences which would inevitably follow" another such attack. Furthermore, the President announced that the patrol would continue and would consist of two destroyers. The next night, the two destroyers were also attacked without provocation on the high seas by North Vietnamese Naval forces. 

When these facts were established to the complete satisfaction of all responsible authorities, we responded with an air strike on the facilities which supported the attacking vessels.

Now, three and a half years later, there again seems to be debate about the essential accuracy of the above account. The questions that appear now to be raised are the same as those considered and settled at the time:

Was the patrol in fact for legitimate purposes?

Were the attacks "unprovoked?"

Was there indeed a second attack?

If there was a second attack, was there sufficient, evidence available at the time of our response to support this conclusion?

Was the Patrol In Fact For Legitimate Purposes

Patrols of the nature of those carried on by Maddox and Turner Joy were initiated in the Western Pacific in 1962. They were carried out in international waters along the coastlines of Communist countries in that area. They were open patrols and no hostile actions were ever taken by the United States forces involved. Provocative actions were avoided. The purpose was to learn what we could of military activity and environmental conditions in these parts of the world, operating in waters where we had every legal right to be. The primary purpose of the Maddox was to observe North Vietnamese naval activity in those waters, in view of the evidence we had of infiltration by sea by North Vietnam into South Vietnam. Other secondary purposes were area familiarization and observation by visual and electronic means of any other activity of military interest. We had the undisputed right to do this. In view of our assistance to South Vietnam, such observations were needed.

The suggestion has appeared incidentally that because Maddox prior to commencement of its patrol took aboard certain communications equipment, with personnel to operate this equipment, its patrol had some different and presumably more sinister purpose than others which had preceded it. This is simply not true. The mission of observation which I have outlined was to be fulfilled with the regularly installed equipment of the ships. The extra equipment brought aboard Maddox consisted in essence of standard shipboard radio receivers added to the ship's normal complement of such receivers in order to give an added capability for detecting indications of a possible hostile attack on the patrol.

The Congress, at the time of the debates on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, was aware that visual and electronic surveillance of the area was one of the purposes served by the De Soto patrol. Any suggestion now that the installation of "passive" radio receiving equipment changed the essential nature of the patrol is unwarranted.

I might add that virtually all of the De Soto patrols, since their commencement in 1962, had been outfitted with similar equipment for the same primarily defensive purposes.

Were the Attacks Unprovoked

I have heard it suggested that the patrol provoked the attacks by intruding into the territorial waters of North Vietnam. The facts are these:

Prior to the first attack, on 2 August, the Maddox had been engaged on its patrol since 31 July. At no time during the conduct of this patrol did the Maddox depart from international waters. It had been instructed to approach the North Vietnamese coastline no closer than 8 nautical miles and any off-shore island no closer than 4 nautical miles. Maddox adhered scrupulously to these instructions. When the patrol resumed with Maddox and Turner Joy, the ships were instructed to remain at least eleven miles from the coast. These instructions also were followed. The United States recognizes no claim of a territorial sea in excess of 3 miles. This consistent position of the United States was reemphasized at the close of the 1960 Convention on Law of the Sea in Geneva.

There have, however, been statements reported in the press that the Maddox entered into waters claimed by North Vietnam as territorial. Such statements have no basis in fact. At no time prior to the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf incidents did the North Vietnamese Government claim a width of territorial sea in excess of 3 miles. The North Vietnamese Government succeeded the French Government, which adhered to the 3 mile limit. Under the rules of international law, no claim by North Vietnam in excess of 3 miles would be assumed unless specifically made and published. It should be noted that Cambodia, a sister successor state, publicly adopted the French 3 mile rule on achieving independence. Later, it proclaimed a 5 mile limit. South Vietnam claims 3 miles. The first statement of North Vietnam which approaches a "claim" in excess of 3 miles occurred well after the attacks on 1 September 1964 in the form of a broadcast from Radio Hanoi in which it was stated, "The Democratic Republic of Vietnam declared that the territorial sea is 12 miles." No official documentary confirmation of the claim asserted in this broadcast is known to exist.

In short, at no time during the patrol did either of the destroyers leave the high seas and enter areas claimed by the North Vietnamese or recognized by the United States as national waters.

The question might be asked, however: Should not we as a practical matter have assumed a claim of 12 miles since this is the uniform position of the communist countries? The simple answer is that communist countries do not have such a uniform position: Cuba and Poland each adhere to the traditional 3-mile limit, while Yugoslavia and Albania claim 10 miles.

Another point relating to "provocation" was discussed and disposed of during the debates on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the hearings prior thereto but, of late, it seems to have been resurrected. It is the suggestion that our patrol was in some way connected with certain reconnaissance and bombardment activities of South Vietnamese patrol craft against North Vietnam.

I informed members of this Committee of these activities of the South Vietnamese in an informal meeting on 3 August 1964, after the attack on the Maddox. The subject was again raised in lesser detail in my testimony before this Committee on 6 August 1964. I pointed out that these raids were a legitimate attempt by the South Vietnamese to counter and retaliate against the systematic infiltration of their country by sea which had been carried out by North Vietnam for the previous 2-1/2 years. I described the scope of that infiltration -- i.e., 140 known incidents between July and December 1961, an estimated 1400 infiltrators having been landed in South Vietnam during that time.

With respect to the legitimacy of those South Vietnamese operations, you, Mr. Chairman, stated during the Tonkin Gulf floor debates:

"The boats that may have struck at the coastal areas of North Vietnam may have been supplied by us. We have been helping South Vietnam arm itself. I do not know about the specific boats.

"I personally think this is a perfectly legitimate and proper way to defend oneself from the kind of aggression South Vietnam has been subjected to for years." 

Senator Morse, at the hearing on August 6, specifically raised the question of a connection between our patrol and the South Vietnamese bombardment of two North Vietnamese islands which had occurred some 2-1/2 days prior to the attack on Maddox, and I responded that there was no connection. The two operations were separate and distinct. I informed you that our destroyers took no part whatsoever in the South Vietnamese operation. They did not convoy, support or back up the South Vietnamese boats in any way. As I stated during the hearings:

"... as I reported to you earlier this week, we understand that the South Vietnamese sea force carried out patrol action around these islands and actually shelled the points they felt were associated with this infiltration.

"Our ships had absolutely no knowledge of it, were not connected with it; in no sense of the word can be considered to have backstopped the effort."

That statement remains entirely accurate. I can confirm today that neither the ship Commanders nor the embarked Task Group Commander had any knowledge of the South Vietnamese action against the two islands or of any other specific South Vietnamese operations against the North. Higher Naval commands were made aware of the operations by Commander U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, in order to avoid mutual interference or confusion between our patrols and those operations.

Throughout the patrol conducted first by the Maddox alone and later by the Maddox and the Turner Joy, the US destroyers were directed to remain in waters which would keep them from becoming operationally involved with the South Vietnamese activity. The restrictions this imposed on the patrol were such that, at one time, consideration was given to its abandonment. The Task Group Commander knew only that certain South Vietnamese naval operations were periodically carried on in the area. He had no detailed knowledge of their type or where or when they would be conducted. Indeed, his lack of knowledge was such that he mistakenly identified the South Vietnamese craft returning from their operation of July 31st as Soviet P-6 class boats.

In point of fact, our patrols and the shore bombardments by South Vietnamese forces were separated in both time and space. When South Vietnamese PTFs bombarded the islands of Hon Nieu and Hon Me on the night of 30-31 July, the Maddox had not even commenced her patrol, and was at least 130 miles to the southeast of the nearest of those islands. At the time of the attack the Maddox on 2 August, the South Vietnamese boats had been back at their base in DaNang for almost 53 hours.

I learned subsequent to my testimony of 6 August 1964 that another South Vietnamese bombardment took place on the night of 3-4 August. At the time of that action, the Maddox and Turner Joy were at least 70 miles to the northeast. The North Vietnamese attack on the Maddox and Turner Joy on the night of 4 August occurred some 22 hours later.

I think it important, too, in dealing with this issue, to recall that the President had announced publicly on 3 August that our patrol would continue and consist of two destroyers. It is difficult to believe, in the face of that announcement, and its obvious purpose of asserting our right to freedom of the seas, that even the North Vietnamese could connect the patrol of the Maddox and Turner Joy with a South Vietnamese action taking place 70 miles away.

Was There Indeed A Second Attack

I know of no claim that the attack on Maddox on August 2nd did not occur. As for the second attack, the incident occurred on a very dark, moonless, overcast-night. As would be expected under these conditions, some uncertainty existed and to this day exists, about some of the precise details of the attack. But there should be no uncertainty about the fact that an attack took place. The evidence pertaining to the incident is reviewed in the following paragraphs.

On the evening of 4 August 1964 Task Group 72.1 consisting of USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy, with COMDESDIV 192 embarked in Maddox and acting as CTG 72.1, was proceeding on an easterly course in the Gulf of Tonkin at a speed of twenty knots. At about 7:40 P.M. Tonkin Gulf time,* the Task Group Commander (CAPTAIN J. J. HERRICK, USN) observed on the surface search radar at least five contacts, which he evaluated as probable torpedo boats, located about 36 miles to the northeast of the two ships. At 7:46 P.M. Maddox and Turner Joy changed course to 130 and increased speed to 28 knots to avoid what the Task Group Commander had evaluated as a trap.

Shortly after 9:00 P.M. both ships' radars held contacts approximately 14 miles to the east. These contacts were on course 160, speed 30 knots. At that time the two US ships were approximately 60 miles from the North Vietnamese coast.

At about 9:39 P.M. both Maddox and Turner Joy opened fire on the approaching craft when it was evident from their maneuvers that they were pressing in for attack positions. At about this time, the boats were at a range of 6,000 yards from Maddox when the radar tracking indicated that the contact had turned away and begun to open in range. Torpedo noises were then heard by the Maddox's sonar. A report of the torpedo noise was immediately passed to the Turner Joy by inter-ship radio and both ships took evasive action to avoid the torpedo.

A torpedo wake was then sighted passing abeam Turner Joy from aft to forward, approximately 300 feet to port on the same bearing as that reported by Maddox. This sighting was made by at least four of Turner Joy's topside personnel: the forward gun director officer (LTJG John J. Barry, USNR); the port lookout (Edwin R. Sentel, SN USN); by a seaman who was in the forward gun director with the director officer (Larry 0. Litton, SN, USN); and by a seaman who was operator of the after gun director (Roger N. Bergland, SN, USN).

At about 10:24 P.M., one target was taken under fire by Turner Joy. Numerous hits were observed on this target and it disappeared from all radars. The commanding officer and other Turner Joy personnel observed a thick column of black smoke from this target.

Later (10:47 P.M.) during the attack a searchlight was observed by all signal bridge and maneuvering bridge personnel including the commanding officer of USS Turner Joy. The beam of the search light did not touch the ship, but was seen to swing in an are toward Turner Joy and was immediately extinguished when aircraft from the combat air patrol orbiting above the ships approached the vicinity of the search light (Senior Chief Quartermaster Walter L. Shishim, USN; Richard B. Johnson, SMI, USN; Richard D. Nooks, QM 3, USN; Richard M. Bacino, SM2, USN; and Gary 0. Carroll, SM3, USN, stationed on theTurner Joy's signal bridge all made written statements that they sighted the searchlight).

The silhouette of an attacking boat was seen by at least four Turner Joy personnel when the boat came between the flares dropped by an aircraft and the ship. When these four men were asked to sketch what they had seen, they accurately sketched P4 type boats. (None of the four had even seen a picture of a P4 boat before.) (Donald V. Sharkey, BM3, USN; Kenneth E. Garrison, SN, USN; Delner Jones, GMG SN, USN, and Arthur B. Anderson, FT SN, USN, are the four personnel from Turner Joy who sighted the boat.)

In addition to the above, a gunner's mate second class stationed aft of the signal bridge aboard USS Maddox saw the outline of a boat which was silhouetted by the light of a burst from the three-inch projectile fired at it. (Jose R. San Augustin GMG2, USN).

The Commanding Officer of Attack Squadron 52 from the Ticonderoga (CDR G. H. Edmondson, USN) and his wingman (LT J. A. Burton), while flying at altitudes of between 700 and 1500 feet in the vicinity of the two destroyers at the time of the torpedo attack both sighted gun flashes on the surface of the water as well as light anti-aircraft bursts at their approximate altitude. On one pass over the two destroyers, both pilots positively sighted a "snakey" high speed wake one and one-half miles ahead of the lead destroyer, USS Maddox.

Two U.S. Marine Corps personnel who were manning machine guns on USS Maddox saw lights pass up the port side of the ship, go out ahead and pass down the starboard side. Their written statement asserts their belief that this was one or more small boats at high speed. (These were Mathew B. Allasre, SGT, USMC and David A. Prouty, L/CPL, USMC.)

In addition to the above, intelligence reports received from a highly classified and unimpeachable source reported that North Vietnam was making preparations to attack our destroyers with two SWATOW boats and with one PT boat if the PT could be made ready in time. The same source reported, while the engagement was in progress on August 4, that the attack was under way. Immediately after the attack ended, the source reported that the North Vietnamese lost two ships in the engagement.

No one within the Department of Defense has reviewed all of this information without arriving at the unqualified conclusion that a determined attack was made on the Maddox and Turner Joy in the Tonkin Gulf on the night of 4 August 1964. Vice Admiral Roy L. Johnson, USN, Commander of the U.S. SEVENTH Fleet at the time, stated in his review of the combined chronology and track charts submitted by the Task Group Commander: "Commander, SEVENTH Fleet, is convinced beyond any doubt that Maddox and Turner Joy were subjected to an unprovoked surface torpedo attack on the night of 4 August 1964." Admiral T. H. Moorer, then Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, concurred in that appraisal.

In Washington, the Director of the Joint Staff, Lieutenant General David A. Burchinal, USAF, analyzed the incoming information from message traffic, with the assistance of the Joint Staff. He then gave his evaluation to the Secretary of Defense: "The actuality of the attack is confirmed."

In the face of this evidence, I can only conclude that many of the persistent questions as to whether or not an attack took place must have arisen from confusion between the August 4th attack and another incident which occurred on the 18th of September 1964, i.e., about 45 days later. At that time, the US destroyers Morton and Edwards were patrolling, at night, in the Gulf of Tonkin, and initially reported themselves under attack. While the ensuing situation reports indicated the probability of hostile craft in the area of the patrol, it was decided at both Washington and field command levels that no credible evidence of an attack existed. It should be noted that the intelligence source that confirmed the attacks of August 2nd and 4th provided no evidence of any enemy action on September 18th. In view of our unresolved doubts, no retaliatory action was taken. Many individuals who were not aware of all of the facts about allthree incidents, i.e., 2 August, 4 August and 18 September, have made the mistaken assumption that descriptions of the 18 September incident were referring to the second Tonkin Gulf incident. Aware of the negative findings on 18 September, they have mistakenly assumed that there is serious doubt as to whether the "second" Tonkin Gulf attack in fact took place.

As a final point on this issue, US naval forces in the three and one-half years which have elapsed since the August 1964 incidents have captured several North Vietnamese naval personnel. These personnel were extensively interrogated. One of these, captured in July 1966, state he had taken part in the 2 August 1964 attack on the Maddox, and his account of that attack coincided with our observations. He professed no knowledge of the 4 August attack and said that he believed that PT boats were not involved. He stated that Swatows could have been used for that attack. His disclaimer of PT participation is contradicted by information received from a later captive. A North Vietnamese naval officer captured in July 1967 provided the name of the Commander of a PT squadron. In intelligence reports received immediately after the 4 August attack, this Commander and his squadron were identified by name and number as participants.

If There Was a Second Attack, Was There Sufficient Evidence Available at the Time of Our Response to Support This Conclusion

Some of the details cited above, particularly the statements of eye witnesses, although gathered immediately after the attack, had not reached Washington at the time that the reprisal air strikes were ordered executed. Sufficient information was in the hands of the President, however, to establish beyond any doubt then or now that an attack had taken place. Allow me to repeat again that information: 

An intelligence report of a highly classified and unimpeachable nature received shortly before the engagement, stating that North Vietnamese naval forces intended to attack the Maddox and Turner Joy.

Reports from the ships that their radars indicated they were being shadowed by high speed surface vessels.

Reports from the ships that they were being approached by the high speed vessels and an attack appeared imminent.

Reports from the ships that they were under attack.

A report from the ships that searchlight illumination had been utilized by the attacking craft and that gunfire against the patrol had been observed.

A report that two torpedoes had passed close to the Turner Joy and that there had been positive visual sightings of what appeared to be cockpit lights of patrol craft passing near the Maddox.

An intelligence report stating that North Vietnamese naval forces had reported they were involved in an engagement.

Reports from the U.S. ships that they had sunk two and possibly three of the attacking craft.

An intelligence report stating that North Vietnamese naval forces had reported losing two ships in the engagement.

A report from the on-scene Task Group Commander that he was certain that the ambush had taken place, although precise details of the engagement were still not known.

A report from the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific that he had no doubt that an attack had occurred.

As a final point, I must address the suggestion that, in some way, the Government of the United States induced the incident on 4 August with the intent of providing an excuse to take the retaliatory action which we in fact took. I can only characterize such insinuations as monstrous.

The effective repulsion of the August 2nd attack on the Maddox with relatively high cost to the small North Vietnamese Navy, coupled with our protest which clearly and unequivocally warned of the serious consequences of a recurrence, made us confident that another attack was unlikely. The published order of the President that the destroyers should continue to assert the right of the freedom of the seas in the Gulf of Tonkin, and setting forth the composition of the patrol, should have served to avoid any future misunderstanding. As the patrol resumed the ships were ordered to remain 11 miles from the coastline in lieu of the 8 miles ordered on the previous patrols, hardly indicative of an intent to induce another attack. As a matter of fact, on their own initiative the two ships approached the coastline no closer than 16 miles during their patrol. But beyond that, I find it inconceivable that any one even remotely familiar with our society and system of Government could suspect the existence of a conspiracy which would include almost, if not all, the entire chain of military command in the Pacific, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and his chief Civilian Assistants, the Secretary of State, and the President of the United States.

*To convert local Tonkin Gulf Time to EDT, subtract 12 hours.

Source: The above press releases, as well as Robert McNamara's statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are located in the "Vietnam War" vertical files in the Navy Department Library.


Published: Tue Aug 25 10:07:44 EDT 2015