Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin


On board the Maddox, August 1964.

The victory over Japan led to the beginning of the collapse of the colonial system on the Asian continent. As early as August 13-15, 1945, the KPIK Conference (Communist Party of Indochina) decided to launch a general uprising in Vietnam with the aim of gaining complete independence. On September 2, on behalf of the Provisional Government, Ho Chi Minh, at a half-million rally in Hanoi, announced the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam, announcing the emergence of a free and independent state - the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

The former metropolis - France creates a puppet state in the South of Vietnam in opposition to the DRV, the so-called Cochin China, and in 1945-1946. French troops launched hostilities here, and then waged a war of conquest throughout the country. This war lasted nine years (until June 1954). The War of Resistance became for the DRV a period of formation of official relations with a number of large Asian and European countries.

On January 30, 1950, diplomatic relations were established between the DRV and the USSR.This was of great political and economic importance for strengthening the position of Hanoi in the international arena, and at the same time the isolation of the “state of Vietnam” created by the French government in 1949 in the South, led by its former emperor Bao Dai, intensified.

At the final stage of the Resistance War in 1953, the Soviet Union began to supply the DRV with modern types of weapons, ammunition, medicines, food, and consumer goods.

The Soviet Union played a major role in the preparation of the famous Geneva Agreements on the tasks of restoring peace in Indochina. According to the Geneva Agreements of 1954, the territory of Vietnam was temporarily divided by a demarcation line, carried out approximately along the 17th parallel, along the Benhai River. In violation of the Geneva Agreements of 1954, the so-called Republic of Vietnam was created in October 1955 in the south of the country with the support of the Americans. As a result, the liberation struggle continued on its territory.


Helicopter Squadron Air Force personnel on the UH-1 over S.E. Asia. (18 July 1970) Photo by Sgt. Robert W. Ingianni

After the division of Vietnam in 1954, Soviet vessels transported troops, equipment, and a population from South Vietnam to North. Only the ship "Arkhangelsk" in the period from October 1954 to February 1955made 12 flights and transported 30307 people and 1289 tons of cargo. The American fleet carried out a similar operation from August 1954 to May 1955. 113 different ships (transports, landing ships) transported 310,000 Vietnamese civilians, many of whom were Catholics, from North Vietnam to South.

At the same time, according to Western data, the Soviet ship made the first delivery of weapons to South Vietnam. In 1954, a Soviet vessel, apparently attracted to the repatriation of southern residents to the north, approached OngDoc (the mouth of the CaMau river) and unloaded six tons of weapons and ammunition previously packed for storage and subsequent use.

During the war years, approximately 70% of all aid to the DRV was provided by the Soviet Union. The USSR assisted in strengthening the defensive capability of the DRV. This also applied to the Vietnamese fleet. The fleet of Vietnam began to be created after the end of the Resistance war on May 7, 1955, as a coast guard. On January 24, 1959, it was transformed into the ‘Office of the Navy’ (Cuc Hai Quan) fleet. But they became real armed forces on January 3, 1964 with the formation of the “Naval Command 759 ″, just before it was transformed into the“ Naval Brigade 125 ″.

In 1956, the DRV received four minesweepers from China; and in 1959 they received 24 Swatow class patrol vessels from the Chinese. In 1961, the DRV fleet received 12 Soviet torpedo boats (Project 123 bis - "TK-287", "TK-294", "TK-296", "TK-297", "TK-298", "TK-299 "," TK-317 "," TK-319 "," TK-320 "," TK-552 "," TK-553 "," TK-556 ") and four Soviet anti-submarine boats.

On February 15, 1961, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam decided to establish the South Vietnam Liberation Army, which launched active hostilities. He was assisted by the DRV. Saigon troops began to suffer one defeat after another.

The undercover operations carried out by the USA using the South Vietnamese fleet intensified, in 1964. 37 operations were carried out at the end of spring - early summer of 1964, and then the DRV political bureau gave the order to the armed forces of the country in June to destroy any enemy violating their borders.


American ship off the coast of South Vietnam

On June 30, the DRV patrol vessel fired several shots at two jet aircraft flying along the coast.

On July 6, the North Vietnamese fleet went to martial law to resist operations off its coast,The naval headquarters organized the forward headquarters at Quang Khe under the direction of the representative of the fleet commander Nguyen Ba Phat, the base of torpedo boats was located between Vinh and Dong Hoi, the area where the enemy’s fleet most often acted. The naval vessels were in high readiness, the sailors were withdrawn from the holidays and underwent additional training. Used ships of the type Swatows and P-4. The Swatows were Chinese gunboats received from China, with a speed of 28 knots. With a length of 83 feet, they carried a team of 30 people, were armed with 37-mm and 14.5-mm guns and machine guns, radar and depth bombs. Torpedo boats of the P-4 type were built in the USSR, they developed a speed of 50 knots. They had a team of 11 people and were armed with two torpedo tubes and a 12.7-mm machine gun. According to the instructions of the headquarters of the 135 division of torpedo boats, stationed at Ben Thuy and Quang Khe was in full readiness to attack any enemy vessel invading territorial waters.


On July 24, the Americans planned the next raid operation of the South Vietnamese fleet. Early in the morning of July 31, four vessels involved in the OPLAN 34-A mission shelled the islands of Hon Me and Hon Nieu north of Vinh.The two boats firing at Hon Me, in turn, were attacked by North Vietnamese gunboats and unsuccessfully pursued for 43 miles from the side of the T-142 type Swatow. At the same time, the American fleet conducted an electronic intelligence operation, codenamed "Desoto", along the coast of North Vietnam. On July 15, Admiral Grant Sharp, Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC), requested that the Desoto patrol be activated. Washington gave the go-ahead and two days later the destroyer Maddox received an order to participate in the mission. The destroyer entered the Gulf of Tonkin on July 31 and headed along the North Vietnamese coastline. The “Desoto” patrols, conducting electronic reconnaissance, acted only in international waters, and differed significantly from the combat operations of OPLAN 34-A, which usually violated the territorial waters of the DRV. But for the Vietnamese command, these were “enemy” warships operating off the Vietnamese coast. And if we consider that both operations coincided in time, it is not surprising that Hanoi regarded the actions of the United States as links in one chain.

On the morning of August 1, the ASA site in Phu, the Republic of Vietnam, controlled the Swatows class T-146 patrol vessel, it found the destroyer and notified the command. Americans also noticed that they were discovered.During the night of August 1-2, the North Vietnamese command continued to monitor the actions of the destroyer who was east of Hon Me 25 miles from the coast. At night, nothing happened and Maddox returned to his assignment by walking along the coast. Four boats of the Swatows type "T-142", "T-146", "T-166" and "T-135" were engaged in tracking the actions of the destroyer. Their actions were coordinated from Port Wallut.

At 13.00 from the island of Hon Me in the direction of the destroyer, the torpedo boats of the 135th division of T-333, T-336 and T-339 set off.


North Vietnamese boats close to the "Maddox". August 2, 1964.

At 2 pm on August 2, the Maddox radar detected an approach from the southwest of three P-4 torpedo boats. Warned SIGINT about Vietnamese intent to attack, Maddox began to move southeast, increasing speed from 11 to 25 knots. North Vietnamese boats probably visually tracked the American ship without using their radar and staying at a distance.

At about 2.40 pm, the destroyer Maddox, 35 miles off the North Vietnamese coast, sent a message that speedboats were approaching it with the intention of attacking it with torpedoes. The destroyer commander declared that he would fire if necessary. For the next twenty minutes, the pursuit continued.Vietnamese boats reduced the distance between them and the destroyer.

At 15.00 the captain of the destroyer ordered to open fire, if the boats approached up to ten thousand yards.

Around 15.05, Maddox fired three projectiles, opening fire first. About this beginning of the battle never reported the Johnson government, it always emphasized that the Vietnamese boats opened fire first. A few minutes later, "Maddox" renewed fire. Only after this torpedo boats attacked the destroyer. But their attacks were ineffective. According to American data, the boats fired two torpedoes from a long distance, the destroyer easily dodged them. Maddox hit one boat with his artillery, then damaged the second boat, which prepared the torpedo for release and opened fire from a 12.7 mm machine gun on the destroyer, while its commander was killed on the boat.


North Vietnamese torpedo boat goes from the fire "Maddox" August 2, 1964.

At 15.30 boats turned to the shore. Within fifteen minutes after the request for help, American planes from the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga attacked the departing boats. According to them, one of the T-339 boats damaged from the destroyer during the battle burned and apparently sank, the other boats, though damaged, were gone.In fact, the Vietnamese boats did not lose, the “sunk” “T-339” managed to repair the damage and reached the base, although 4 crew members were killed and 6 were injured. The T-333 was hit three times and received minor damage, including The "T-336" received more significant damage, it had 2 wounded. But in Hanoi, until August 4, they did not know about the state of affairs on the torpedo boats involved in the battle. Only one shot hit the destroyer. Anti-aircraft fire from torpedo boats hit one American plane, forcing it to land in Da Nang.

Despite the fight, the Americans stopped the operation. But the DRV ships were clearly not up to the continuation of the clashes. At 4:30 pm on August 2, the Vietnamese patrol vessel T-142 received an order to arrive in the area north of Hon Me Island and make contact with another patrol vessel T-165. The T-146 also received orders from Haiphong to help P-4 torpedo boats return.

On August 3, the North Vietnamese merchant ship Thong Nhat sailing to Haiphong reported that two aircraft had flown around the ship.

At 15.10 on August 3, OPLAN 34-A operation forces, using 4 boats, made another raid on Vinh Son, firing at the radar station, which allowed Hanoi to accuse the United States of supporting the fleet of South Vietnam with his two destroyers. The rescue operation continued.

At midnight on August 3, "T-142" and "T-146" were in the area of ​​Hon Me Island trying to contact the T-165 torpedo boat searching division 135 of the division.

By early evening on August 3, Haiphong ordered the T-142 to track the Desoto patrol. The T-379, which was previously instructed to observe the Desoto patrol, sailed to Hon Ngu Island.

This allowed at 22.50 to state that the situation at sea was “peaceful.” The T-142 took up a position north of two American destroyers, watching them and informing Hanoi. Both American ships reported that they were escorted from the north at a distance of thirty-eight miles by the DRV patrol vessel, which uses radar. Meanwhile, the main task of the DRV fleet was an operation to rescue torpedo boats damaged during the battle of 2 August. Late on the night of August 3, Haiphong informed T-142 that the rescue tug Bach Dang would soon leave Haiphong and head towards Hon Me to tow T-333 and T-336 to Haiphong or Port Wallut, it was expected that the tug will come at noon on August 4th. In the meantime, the T-146 was ordered to stay with two damaged boats.

On the night of August 4, a tropical thunderstorm broke over the Gulf of Tonkin. In the stormy sea, in absolute darkness, the teams of Maddox and Turner Joy clung to navigation tools, direction finders and sonars.

At 20 o'clock local time, Herrick transmitted a message that, based on the intercepted radiograms, he "had the impression" of the possibility of hostile actions by the DRV fleet, and requested Tikonderogu to send air support forces to the patrol area. Eight airplanes, taking off from an aircraft carrier, circled over destroyers for 40 minutes, but did not find any ships of the DRV.

The American destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy (TurnerJoy) marched in the area between Honme and Lach Chuong when at 19.40 Maddox radars discovered the presence of five North Vietnamese torpedo boats and opened fire with tracer shells.


On board the Maddox, August 1964.

To describe further events, we first give an excerpt from a report from the Pacific Fleet Commander G. Sharp (US time):
“B 21.08 On 4 August, when Maddox and Turner Joy were heading southeast about 60 miles from the shores of North Vietnam, the radar spotted three rapidly moving targets at a distance of about 14 miles east of two ships. At 21.19 the targets were visible on the screens of the radars of both ships and showed possible hostile intentions, changing course and speed, taking positions from which it was possible to launch torpedoes.“Maddox” and “Turner Joy” opened fire when, based on the maneuvers of approaching targets, it became obvious that they were in a position to launch torpedoes. About a minute later, Maddox acoustics heard the sound of an approaching torpedo and informed Turner Joy about the launch of the torpedo. ” Total sondox operator Maddox counted 22 torpedoes going to the ships. Rapidly maneuvering, the destroyers began to move away from the "torpedo attack", firing on the sides of all calibers. In Washington, where there was still an early morning, a message was sent about the "unprovoked attack on US ships."

The memorandum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam categorically stated:
“The first, and most important, is shameless fabrication, since, day and night on August 4, 1964, no vessel of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was in the area where US destroyers were allegedly“ attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats for the second time ”... At the same night 20.00 to 22.00, approximately at a time when torpedo boats from North Vietnam allegedly “attacked Maddox” and “Turner Joy”, gunfire was heard and the lights of signal rockets and aircraft off the coast of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam were visible in international waters.

At that moment when the American destroyers were “fighting” with the Vietnamese ships, the fleet of the DRV was busy with other things. At the same time, there were no operational torpedo boats in the area, and the Swatows patrol vessels did not carry torpedo tubes. "T-146" was ordered by Haiphong to accompany the tugboat "Bach Dang" which was returning, while after that the "T-146" was to be sent to Chay Bay near Haiphong harbor. In the evening, "T-142" told Haiphong that the "T-146" was towing the "T-336" back, since the "T-333" in tow "Bach Dang" needed fuel, with a part of it fuel. The T-142 was generally used as a kind of radio repeater for other ships. The other Swatows "T-379" was near Hon Matt, the other two "T-130" and "T-132" were near Hon Me, and the "T-165" was ordered to leave Haiphong at 14.48 at sea.


According to other sources, South Vietnamese boats that were carrying out operations according to “Plan 34-A” could have been involved in the incident. The aforementioned memorandum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam said that the night of the Saigon regime with board numbers HQ.609 and HQ.11 had not returned to the base in Da Nang. It is likely that these boats were in the field of view of the Maddox radars and were sunk by naval artillery fire.The captains of the destroyers who received the order to gather irrefutable evidence of an attack on them, and a few days after the “second Tonkin incident” could not tell anything intelligible. So, on August 6, Captain "Turner Joy" informed Admiral Murer: "The most convincing evidence is that John Jerome Wurry, Lytton Larry and Sentinel Edward saw the trail of a torpedo running." If we recall that everything happened on a dark night and in a strong storm, then one cannot but agree that this evidence is nothing more than the imagination of frightened sailors. They simply could not see the torpedo track.

Thus, there was no incident between the boats of the DRV and the American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin on August 4, 1964.

The first information about a possible attack on the destroyers came to Washington at 9.20 am (hereinafter, Washington time) on August 4, after Captain Herrick had similar suspicions based on intercepted negotiations of the DRV Coast Guard.

A radiogram "lightning" about the "attack held" entered the Pentagon at 11.00, and McNamara immediately notified the president.Without even asking if there are any facts or convincing evidence of an “attack,” the Ministry of Defense launched full-fledged preparations for “retaliatory” military actions.

At 11.10, McNamara convened a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to which M. Bundy and D. Rusk invited. The OKNSH was instructed to select from the list it had compiled in the spring of 1964 several targets on the territory of the DRV for bombing them.

Shortly after noon, a brief meeting of the National Security Council was held at the White House, at which McNamara said: "... North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked two US destroyers, Maddox and Turner Joy, who carried out De Soto patrol approximately 60 miles from North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. As it seems to us now, 9 or 10 torpedoes were fired at ships. Two torpedo boats were reportedly sunk, and another three or six were fired upon. There are no casualties on our side yet. ” Already from these words of McNamara it is obvious that at that time there was no clarity regarding what happened at the US military leadership. Discussion of the military and political aspects of the beginning of open aggressionagainst DRV L. Johnson continued at lunch with McNamara, Rask, M. Bundy, S. Vance and CIA Director J. McCone.

At 13.25 OKNSH tore McNamara off the table in order to inform him that the targets for the bombing had been chosen. Meanwhile, Admiral G. Sharp and Moorer received a message from Herrick that “all events leave room for serious doubts” and that it is necessary to “conduct thorough reconnaissance from the air and a full assessment of the situation before any additional actions are taken” .


At 4 pm, Sharpe called McNamara and shared doubts with him about "there really was an attack on the destroyers." The Minister of Defense ordered the admiral to continue the search for "evidence", but left the order for the bombing of the DRV in force. The data received in the subsequent hours to Washington from the Gulf of Tonkin could in no way be considered a convincing reason for aggression against North Vietnam. “The details of the events are a vague picture,” the commander of the American Seventh Fleet telegraphed. “I interviewed witnesses who saw mast lights or something similar near Maddox.”Some of them said that they probably mistook the torpedoes for the boats that approached Maddox. The appearance of a torpedo track on sonar can be explained by the noise of the ship itself. Currently we can’t set the number of boats. "Turner Joy" reports that two torpedoes passed near him. "

Invited to the meeting, the director of the US Information Agency C. Rowan addressed McNamara: “Do we know for sure that the provocation of North Vietnam really took place? Can we definitely say what happened? We must be prepared for charges of fabricating the incident. " To this, the Minister of Defense calmly replied: "We will know everything exactly the next morning." It is also clear from the minutes of this meeting that Washington was perfectly aware of the legitimacy of the DRV measures to protect its territorial waters and that the response of North Vietnam was not at all “unprovoked”. Answering L. Johnson's question: “Do they want war by attacking our ships in the Gulf of Tonkin?”, The director of the CIA replied: “The North Vietnamese are working to protect against our attacks on their coastal islands.”


McNamara briefed those present on the content of the order to start the bombing and said that “in addition to the air strikes, we plan to send large American reinforcements to the area. They will include ships, people and airplanes. ” A detailed list of parts ready to depart for Vietnam was ready. Rasck read a pre-drafted congressional resolution draft. Five minutes after the SNB meeting, L. Johnson met with the leaders of the factions of both parties in Congress. Without informing them of the absence of any evidence, he stated that there had been an “unprovoked attack” on American ships, and demanded the adoption of a resolution granting the president unlimited powers regarding the use of military force in Vietnam.

At 22.43 Washington time from the decks "Ticonderoga" and "Constellation" the bombers took off and headed for North Vietnam.

At 11.40 pm, President Johnson appeared on television and told Americans: “Repeated attacks on the United States military must be met not only with passive defense, but with a positive response.This answer is given now while I am talking to you. ” The moment for the television performance was not chosen by chance. “By this time,” explained McNamara, “US aircraft were already in the air for an hour. Hanoi on its radar has already received a signal about the attack. There was not enough time left before the bombers reached the target, so that North Vietnam could launch its ships into the sea or declare the combat readiness of its forces. It was important that the people of our country find out about this ... from the president, not from Hanoi, who was expected to announce an attack at any moment. ”


On the morning of August 5, 1964, the raid of the American aviation on the cities of North Vietnam was the first act in the long tragedy of the bombing of the DRV that lasted until 1972. He marked the end of the "special war" of the United States in Vietnam and the beginning of the implementation of the war "local".

The hearings on the Tonkin incident at the joint meeting of the Armed Forces and Foreign Affairs Committees in the Senate on August 6 took 1 hour and 40 minutes. Senator J.W. Fulbright, to whom L. Johnson took the role of the main lobbyist in favor of the resolution, said much later: “At first it never occurred to me that the president,his secretary of state and secretary of defense will lie to the committee. I thought you could believe that they were telling the truth, even if not all. But their lies and distortion of facts at the hearings on the Tonkin incident effectively misled the committee, the whole country, and me personally. ”

On August 7, the resolution was adopted unanimously by the House of Representatives; in the Senate only Democrats Morse and Grüning voted against it. Enlisting the sanction of lawmakers, the Johnson administration waited until the end of the 1964 election campaign and, beginning in February 1965, began systematic bombing of the DRV. In the course of the aggression in Vietnam, the US air force brought down 13 million tons of explosives to the cities of the DRV. A month later, American combat units landed in South Vietnam and entered into military operations. By December 1965, the 400-thousand army was already there.


American soldiers in Vietnam.

In the late 1960s, the United States was swept by an unprecedentedly wide wave of public discontent with the undeclared war in Vietnam. Apparently, this was caused not only by the enormous cost of the war and heavy casualties (during the years 1961–1967, nearly 16,000 US troops were killed and 100,000 wounded; the total losses from 1961 to 1972 were 46,000 killed and over 300,000 wounded) , but also a demonstration on television of the destruction caused by US forces in Vietnam.Johnson’s decision not to stand for a new term, which was announced simultaneously with the refusal of the bombing of North Vietnam, was the result of a protest movement unfolding in the country against his policy in Vietnam.


Vietnamese soldiers on the battlefield.

The last American military units left Vietnam in April 1973, and in August the US Congress passed a law prohibiting any use of American forces in Indochina.

From 1961 to 1975, 56,555 American soldiers were killed, 303,654 people were injured. The Vietnamese killed at least 200,000 Saigon soldiers, about a million soldiers of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and the army of North Vietnam, as well as half a million civilians. A few more million people were injured, about ten million were left homeless.

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  • Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

    Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin

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