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Subject: soc.history.war.vietnam FAQ: Tonkin Gulf Incident
This article was archived around: Sun, 18 Nov 2001 10:25:27 -0700
Posting-Frequency: monthly (1st)
Frequently Asked Questions: soc.history.war.vietnam
This FAQ was prepared by Prof. Edwin E. Moise of Clemson
The Tonkin Gulf Incidents of 1964
On the morning of July 31, 1964, the US Navy destroyer
began a reconnaissance patrol, called a DESOTO patrol, along
of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. The main goal was
information about the coastal defense forces.
It was expected that the North Vietnamese coastal defense
be quite active, so a lot could be learned about them,
number of covert operations were being carried out against
Vietnamese coast around this time. These operations, under
(Operations Plan) 34A, were carried out by moderate-sized
(some old American PT boats with the torpedo tubes removed,
new Norwegian-built Nasty boats, about the size of a PT
Around midnight on the night of July 30-31, OPLAN 34A
Danang shelled two of North Vietnam's offshore islands, Hon
Me and Hon
Ngu (a.k.a. Hon Nieu).
On the afternoon of August 2, when the MADDOX was not far
from Hon Me,
three North Vietnamese torpedo boats came out from Hon Me
the MADDOX. The attack was unsuccessful, though one bullet
heavy machinegun on one of the torpedo boats did hit the
This is often referred to as the "first attack."
Warning: many books have the interval between the OPLAN 34A
Hon Me and the attack on the MADDOX much shorter than it
two and a half days.
The MADDOX left the Gulf of Tonkin after this incident, but
on August 3, accompanied by another destroyer, the TURNER
There were more OPLAN 34A raids on the night of August 3-4,
shelling two points on the North Vietnamese mainland. The
did not participate; the raids were carried out by the boats
Late on the afternoon of August 4, the two destroyers headed
the North Vietnamese coast toward the middle of the Gulf of
That night, they began picking up what appeared to be
vessels on their radar. They believed they were being
opened fire. Most of the supposed attacking vessels,
appeared only on the radar of the TURNER JOY, not the radar
MADDOX. Some men on the destroyers decided later that what
appeared on the radar had just been ghost images; others
radar images were genuine torpedo boats attacking them. This
referred to as the "second attack."
The following afternoon, aircraft from two US aircraft
TICONDEROGA and the CONSTELLATION, carried out retaliatory
The targets for the most part were coastal patrol vessels of
Vietnamese Navy, but a major petroleum storage facility at
the town of
Vinh was also hit, and in fact the destruction of this
the most important accomplishment of the airstrikes.
On August 7, the US Congress passed, almost unanimously, the
Gulf Resolution," giving President Johnson basically a blank
use "all necessary measures" to deal with "aggression" in
Johnson administration had been wanting to get such a
the Congress; the Tonkin Gulf incidents made a good excuse.
not appear, however, that the incidents had been
concocted in order to provide the excuse.
Everett Alvarez, Jr. and Anthony S. Pitch, Chained Eagle
Fine, 1989). Alvarez was one of the pilots who flew air
over the destroyers during the Second Tonkin Gulf
following day, during air strikes at Hon Gai, he was
he was the first pilot captured by the DRV.
Anthony Austin, The President's War (New York: Lippincott,
quite detailed account of the Tonkin Gulf incidents,
internal processes by which the United States
Joseph F. Bouchard, "Uses of Naval Force in Crises: A Theory
Stratified Crisis Interaction." Ph.D. dissertation,
University, 1989. 1236 pp. (When Bouchard later
as a book, he had to cut it to a much smaller size.
was one of the things that got cut.)
William B. Cogar, ed., New Interpretations in Naval History:
Papers from the Eighth Naval History Symposium.
Institute Press, 1989. Contains papers on Tonkin Gulf
Marolda and Edwin Moise, and comments on them by James
Steve Edwards, "Stalking the Enemy's Coast", Proceedings
(February 1992), pp. 56-62. A very unreliable account.
John Galloway, The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (Rutherford:
Dickinson University Press, 1970). The actual text is
short, but this volume has long useful appendices,
complete official transcripts (classified material
crucial Senate committee hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin
incidents, held August 6, 1964 and February 20, 1968.
some of the deleted passages have now been released by
Joseph Goulden, Truth is the First Casualty. Chicago: Rand
Samuel E. Halpern, M.D., West Pac '64 (Boston: Branden
By a medical officer who was aboard the Maddox.
Gerald Kurland, The Gulf of Tonkin Incidents.
Charlotteville, NY: Sam
Har Press, 1975.
Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Sen. Thurston B. Morton, "Only the G.O.P. can Get Us out of
Saturday Evening Post, April 6, 1968, pp. 10-12.
"The 'Phantom Battle' that Led to War", U.S. News & World
23, 1984. A good retrospective study of the Tonkin
Incidents of August 1964, with a lot of information
interviews with participants.
Harry F. Rosenthal and Tom Stewart, "Tonkin Gulf" (AP
Arkansas Gazette, July 16, 1967, reprinted in
Record, February 28, 1968, p. 4582.
John W. Schmidt, The Gulf of Tonkin Debates, 1964 and 1967:
A Study in
Argument. Ph.D. thesis, Speech, University of
Jim and Sybil Stockdale, In Love and War. New York: Harper
1984. Revised and expanded edition: Annapolis: U.S.
Institute, 1990. Memoirs of a senior U.S. Navy pilot
wife, important for the pilot's account of the Tonkin
Incidents (Stockdale was in the air above the Maddox
2 and August 4, 1964, and commanded one of the
strikes against the North August 5), and also for the
(Stockdale was a prisoner from 1965 to 1973; his wife
leader of the League of POW/MIA families). A
expanded edition was published in 1990(?).
Susan B. Sweeney, "Oral History and the Tonkin Gulf
Interviews about the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War,"
Journal of Oral History, 7:3 (November 1986), pp.
I.F. Stone, "McNamara and Tonkin Bay: The Unanswered
New York Review of Books, March 28, 1968, pp. 5-12.
Eugene G. Windchy, Tonkin Gulf. New York: Doubleday, 1971.
The best of
the early books on the topic.
David Wise, "Remember the Maddox!", Esquire, April 1968, pp.
Edwin E. Moise
Copyright (c) 1997 Edwin E. Moise. Non-commercial
educational purposes permitted if document is unaltered.
commercial use, or storage in any commercial BBS is strictly
prohibited without written consent.