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Gulf of Tonkin incident information

Gulf of Tonkin incident
Part of the Vietnam War

Photo taken from USS Maddox during August 2 encounter, showing three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats.
DateAugust 2, 1964 (1964-08-02)
Gulf of Tonkin
19°42′N 106°46′E / 19.700°N 106.767°E / 19.700; 106.767
Result Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; escalation of the War in Vietnam
Gulf of Tonkin incident United States Gulf of Tonkin incident North Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
  • Robert McNamara
  • U. S. Grant Sharp Jr.
  • Roy L. Johnson
  • George S. Morrison
  • John J. Herrick
  • Le Duy Khoai[1]
  • Van Bot
  • Van Tu
  • Van Gián
  • Sea:
  • 2 destroyers
  • 1 aircraft carrier
  • Air:
  • 4 aircraft[2]
3 torpedo boats
Casualties and losses
  • 1 destroyer slightly damaged
  • 1 aircraft slightly damaged[3]
  • 1 torpedo boat severely damaged
  • 2 torpedo boats moderately damaged
  • 4 killed
  • 6 wounded[4]

The Gulf of Tonkin incident (Vietnamese: Sự kiện Vịnh Bắc Bộ) was an international confrontation that led to the United States engaging more directly in the Vietnam War. It consisted of a confrontation on August 2, 1964, when United States forces were carrying out covert amphibious operations close to North Vietnamese territorial waters, which triggered a response from North Vietnamese forces. The United States government falsely claimed that a second incident occurred on August 4, 1964, between North Vietnamese and United States ships in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Originally, US military claims blamed North Vietnam for the confrontation and the ostensible, but in fact imaginary, incident on August 4. Later investigation revealed that the second attack never happened. The official American claim is that it was based mostly on erroneously interpreted communications intercepts.[5][6][7] The National Security Agency, an agency of the US Defense Department, had deliberately skewed intelligence to create the impression that an attack had been carried out.[8][9][10][11]

On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing a signals intelligence patrol as part of DESOTO operations, was approached by three North Vietnamese Navy[12] torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron.[1][5] Maddox fired warning shots and the North Vietnamese boats attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire.[5] In the ensuing engagement, one U.S. aircraft (which had been launched from aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga) was damaged, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, and four North Vietnamese sailors were killed, with six more wounded. There were no U.S. casualties.[13] Maddox was "unscathed except for a single bullet hole from a [North] Vietnamese machine gun round".[5]

On August 3, 1964, destroyer USS Turner Joy joined Maddox and the two destroyers continued the DESOTO mission. On the evening of August 4, the ships opened fire on radar returns that had been preceded by communications intercepts, which US forces claimed meant an attack was imminent. The commander of the Maddox task force, Captain John Herrick, reported that the ships were being attacked by North Vietnamese boats when, in fact, there were no North Vietnamese boats in the area. While Herrick soon reported doubts regarding the task force’s initial perceptions of the attack, the Johnson administration relied on the wrongly interpreted National Security Agency communications intercepts to conclude that the attack was real.[5]

While doubts regarding the perceived second attack have been expressed since 1964, it was not until years later that it was shown conclusively never to have happened. In the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, the former United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted that the supposed August 4 attack, for which Washington authorized retaliation, never happened.[14] In 1995, McNamara met with former North Vietnamese Army[15] General Võ Nguyên Giáp to ask what happened on August 4, 1964. "Absolutely nothing", Giáp replied.[16] Giáp confirmed that the attack had been imaginary.[10] In 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified; it concluded that Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2, but that the incident of August 4 was based on bad naval intelligence and misrepresentations of North Vietnamese communications.[5]

The outcome of the incident was the passage by U.S. Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by communist aggression. The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces to South Vietnam and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam.

  1. ^ a b Moïse 1996, p. 78.
  2. ^ Moïse 1996, p. 82.
  3. ^ Moïse 1996, pp. 82, 83.
  4. ^ Moïse 1996, p. 92.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Robert J. Hanyok, "Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2–4 August 1964"; Quote: This mishandling of the SIGINT was not done in a manner that can be construed as conspiratorial, that is, with manufactured evidence and collusion at all levels. Rather, the objective of these individuals was to support the Navy's claim that the DESOTO patrol had been deliberately attacked by the North Vietnamese [on Aug 4]..., Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001 Edition, Vol. 19, No. 4 / Vol. 20, No. 1.
  6. ^ Cite error: The named reference :1 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  7. ^ Cite error: The named reference :2 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  8. ^ Hanyok, Robert. "Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964". Naval History and Heritage Command. Washington: United States Navy.
  9. ^ Fujimoto, Hiroshi (2014). "The Legacy of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident". Nanzan Review of American Studies. 36: 113–121 – via Connecting Repositories.
  10. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference :0 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. ^ Paul, Erik Charles (2012). "The Construction of East Asia". Neoliberal Australia and US imperialism in East Asia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 114–145. doi:10.1057/9781137272782. ISBN 9781137272775.
  12. ^ Starry. Department of the Army. 1978. P. 248
  13. ^ Moïse 1996, pp. 78, 82, 92.
  14. ^ "Film: The Fog of War: Transcript". Errol Morris. Retrieved June 28, 2021. McNamara: "It was just confusion, and events afterward showed that our judgment that we'd been attacked that day was wrong. It didn't happen. And the judgment that we'd been attacked on August 2nd was right. We had been, although that was disputed at the time. So we were right once and wrong once. Ultimately, President Johnson authorized bombing in response to what he thought had been the second attack ? It hadn't occurred, but that's irrelevant to the point I'm making here. He authorized the attack on the assumption it had occurred…"
  15. ^ Starry. Department of the Army. 1978. p. 248
  16. ^ McNamara asks Giáp: What happened in Tonkin Gulf? Archived March 6, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Associated Press, 1995

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