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TOP SECRET - Vietnam Declassifying America

ROLLING THUNDER Program Begins:

JanuaryJune 1965  Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3 
NND Project Number: NND 63316. By: NWD Date: 2011 
IV.C Evolution of the War (26 Vols.) 
 Direct Action: The Johnson Commitments, 1964-1968 (16 Vols.)  3. ROLLING THUNDER ProgramBegins: JanuaryJune 1965 
Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3 
NND Project Number: NND 63316. By: NWD Date: 2011
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IV . C. 3.
 THE ROLLING THUNDER PROGRAM BEGINS 

SUMMARY and ANALYSIS

 The United States decisions, in the early months of 1965, to launch a program of reprisal air strikes against North Vietnam, evolving progressiv~ly into a sustained bombing campaign of rising  intensity, were made against a background of anguished concern over the threat of imminent collapse of the Government of South Vietnam and of its military effort against the Viet Congo The air war against the North was launched in the hope ·that it would strengthen Gv~ confidence and cohesion, and that it would deter or restrain the DRV from continuing its support of the revolutionary war in the South. There was hope also that a quite modest bombing effort would be sufficient j that the demonstration of US determination and the potential risks and costs to the North implicit in the early air strikes. would provide the US with substantial bargaining leveragej and that it would redress the "equation of advantage" so that a political settlement might be negotiated on acceptable terms. 

 


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Continued:


Once set in motion, however, the bombing effort seemed to 
stiffen rather than soften Hanoi's backbone, as well as to lessen
the willingness of Hanoi's allies particularly the Soviet Union,
to work toward compromise. Moreo~er, compromise was ruled out in
any event, since the negotiating terms that the US proposed were
not comproml.se II terms, but more akin to a "cease an esl.S or er

tha~, from the DRV/VC point of view, was tantamount to a demand for

thel.r surrender.

As Hanoi remained intractable in the face of a mere token
demonstration of U.S. capability and resolve, U.S. policy shifted
to a more deliberate combination of intensified military pressures
and modest diplomatic enticements. The carrot was added to the
stick in the form of an economic development gesture, but the coercive
element remained by far the more tangible'and visible component of

U.S. policy. To the slowly but relentlessly rising air pressures
against the North was added the deployment of US combat forces to
the Sout~. In respo~se to public pressures, a major diplomatic
opportunl.ty ,vas provl.ded Hanoi for a quiet backdown through a
brief bombing pause called in mid-May, but the pause seemed to be
aimed more at clearing the decks for a subsequent jntensified
resumption than it "Tas at evoking a reciprocal act of de-escalation
by Hanoi. Tne U.S. initiative, in any event, was unmistakably
rebuffed by North Vietnam and by its Communist allies, and the
opposing positions were more hopelessly deaalocked than ever before.
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Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
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It is the purpose of this study to reconstruct the immediate
circumstances that led up to the U.S. reprisal decision of February 1965,
to retrace the changes in rationale that progressively transformed
the reprisal concept into a sustained graduated bombing
effort, and to chronicle the relationship between that effort and
the military-political moves to shore up Saigon and the militarydiplomatic
signals io dissuade Hanoi, during the crucial early
months of February through May of 1965.

*******

Background to Pleiku. The growing realization, throughout 1964,
that the final consolidation of VC power in South Vietnam was a distinct
possibility, had led to a protracted US policy reassessment and a
determined search for forceful military alternatives in the North that
might h~lp salvage the deteriorating situation in the South. The
proposed program of graduated military pressures against North Vietnam
that emerged from this reassessment in late 1964 had three major
objectives: (1) to signal to the Communist enemy the firmness of U. S.
resolve, (2) to boost the sagging morale of the GVN in the South, and

(3) to impose increased costs and strains upon the DRV in the North.
Underlying the rationale of the program was the hope that it might
restore some equilibrium to the balance of forces, hopefully increasing
the moment of US/GVN bargaining leverage sufficiently to permit an
approach to a negotiated solution on something other than surrender
terms. .
Throughout the planning process, (and even after the initiation
of the program) the President's principal advisors differed widely in
their views as to the intensity of the bombing effort that would be
desirable or required, and as to its likely effectiveness in influencing
Hanoi's will to continue its aggression. The JCS, for example, consistently
argued that only a most dramatic and forceful application
of military pOl-rer would exert significant pressure on North Vietnam,
but firmly believed that such application could and would affect the
enemy's will. Most civilian officials in State, OSD, and the White
House, on the other hand, tended to favor a more gradual, restrained
approach, "progressively mounting in scope and intensity," in which
the prospect of greater pressure to come was at least as important
as any damage actually inflicted. But these officials also tended,
for the most part, to have much less confidence that such pressures
would have much impact on Hanoi's course, making such equivocal
assessments as:' "on balance ~ile believe that suc.."h. action would have
some faint hopl; of really improving the Vietllamese situation. "

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Reprisal Planning. In spite of these rather hesitant judgments)
the graduated approach was adopted and a program of relatively mild
military actions aimed at North Vietnam was set in motion beginning
in December 1964. At the same time) detailed preparations were made
to carry out bombing strikes against targets in North Vietnam in
reprisal for any future attacks on U.S. forces. These preparations
were made chiefly in connection with the occasional DESOTO Patrols
that the US NavY conducted in the Gulf of Tonkin which had been
fired upon or menaced by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on several
previous occasions during 1964. In order to be prepared for an
attack on any future patrol) a pre-packaged set of reprisal targets
was worked up by CINCPAC on instructions from the JCS) and preassigned
forces were maintained in a high state of readiness to
strike these targets in accordance with a detailed strike plan that
provided a range of retaliatory options.


In late January) a DESOTO Patrol was authorized to begin on
Feb. 3 (later postponed to Feb. 7) and Operation Order FLAMING DART
was issued by CINCPAC) providing for a number of alternative US air
strike reprisal actions in the eventuality that the DESOTO Patrol
were to be attacked or that any other provocation were to occur)
such as a spectaculaT VC incident in South Vietnam. At the last
moment) hovlever) the Patrol was called off in deference to Soviet
Premier Kosygin's imminent visit to Hanoi. U.S. officials hoped
that the USSR might find it in its interest to act as an agent of
moderation vis a vis Hanoi in the Vietnam conflict) and wished to
avoid any act that might be interpreted as deliberately provocative.
Nevertheless) it was precisely at the beginning of the Kosygin visit)
during the early morning hours of February 7) the the VC launched
their spectacular attack on US installations at PleikU) thus triggering
FLAMING DART I) the first of the ne1-l carefully programmed US/GVN
reprisal strikes.


Imperceptible Transition. By contrast with the earlier Tonkin
strikes of August) 1964 which had been presented as a one-time
demonstration that North Vietnam could not flagrantly attack US
forces with impunity) the February 1965 raids were explicitly
linked with the "larger pattern of aggression" by North Vietnam)
and were a reprisal against North Vietnam for an offense committed
by the VC in South Vietnam. When the VC staged another dramatic
attack on Qui 1lhon on Feb. 10) the comb ined US/GVN response) named
F~IING DART II) was not characterized as an event-associated
reprisal but as a generalized response to "continued acts of aggression."
The new terminology reflected a conscious U.S. decision to broaden
the reprisal concept as gradually and imperceptibly as possible to

. accommodate a much wider policy of sustained) steadily intensifying
air attacks against North Vietnam) at a rate and on a scale to be
determined by the U.S. Although discussed publicly in very muted

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tones, the second Fh~ING DART operation constituted a sharp break
with past US policy and set the stage for the continuing bombing
program that was now to be launched in earnest.


Differences in Advocacy. While all buc one or two of the
President's principal Vietnam advisors favored the initiation of a
sustained bombing program, there were significant differences among
them. McGeorge Bundy and Ambassador Maxwell Taylor, for example,
both advocated a measured, controlled sequence of raids, carried
out jointly with the GVN and directed solely against DRV military
targets and infiltration r outes . In their view, the intensity of
the attacks was to be varied with' the level of VC outrages in SVN
or might be progressively raised. But whereas McGeorge Bundy's
objective was to influence the course of the struggle in the South
(boosting GVN morale) improving US bargaining power with the GVN,
exerting a depressing effect on VC cadre), Ambassador Taylor's
principal aim was'~o bring increasing pressure on the DRV to cease
its intervention." It was coercion of the North, rather than a
rededication of the GVN to the struggle in the South that Taylor
regarded as the real benefit of a reprisal policy. CINCPAC) on
the other hand) insisted that the program would have to be a very
forceful one --a "graduated pressures" rather than a "graduated
reprisal" philosophy --if the DRV were to be persuaded to acceed
to a cessation on U.S. terms. The Joint Chiefs, in turn) (and
especially Air Force Chief of Staff General McConnell) believed
that the much heavier air strike recommendations repeatedly made
by the JCS during the preceding six months were more appropriate
than the mild actions proposed by Taylor and Bundy.


Initiating ROLLING THUNDER. A firm decision to adopt "a program
of measured and limited air action jointly with the GVN against
selected military targets in the DRV" was made by the President on
February 13, and communicated to Ambassador Taylor in Saigon. Details
of the program were deliberately left vague, as the President wished
to preserve maximum flexibility. The first strike was set for February
20 and Taylor was directed to obtain GVN concurrence. A semi-coup
in Saigon) however) compelled postponement and cancellation of this
and several subsequent strikes . Political clearance was not given
until the turbulence was calmed with the departure of General Nguyen
Khanh from Vietnam on Feb 25. U.S. reluctance to launch air attacks
during this time was further reinforced by a UK-USSR diplomatic
i~itiative to reactivate the Cochairmanship of the 1954 Geneva Con~
ference with a view to involving the members of that conference in
a consideratiun of the Vietnam crisis. Air strikes executed at that
moment, it ~as feared) might sabotage that diplomatic gambit) which

.
Washington looked upon not as a potential negotiating opportunity)
but as a convenient vehicle for public expreSSion of a tough U.S.

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position. The Co-Chairmen gambit) however) languished -and
eventually came to naught. The first ROLLING THUNDER strike was

finally rescheduled for Feb 26. This time adverse weather forced
its cancellation and it was not until March 2 that the first of
the neW program strikes) dubbed ROLLING THUNDER V) was actually
carried out.

In the closing' days of February and during early March) the
Administration undertook publicly and privately to defend and propound
its rationale for the air strikes) stressing its determination
to stand by the GVN) but reaffirming the limited nature of its
objectives toward North Vietnam. Secretary Rusk conducted a
marathon public information campaign to signal a seemingly reasonable
but in fact quite tough US position on negotiations) demanding
that Hanoi "stop doing what it is doing against its neighbors"
before any negotiations could prove fruitful. Rusk's disinterest
in negotiations at this time was in concert with the view of virtually
all the President's key advisors) that the path to peace was not then
open. Hanoi held sway over ~ore than half of South Vietnam and could
see the Saigon Government crumbling before her very eyes. The balance
of power at this time simply did not furnish the U.S. with a basis for
bargaining and Hanoi had no reason to acceed to the hard terms the

U.S. had in mind. Until military pressures on North Vietnam could
tilt the balance of forces the other way) talk of negotiation could
be little more than a hollO'l-T exercise.
Evolving a Continuing Program. Immediately after the launching
of the first ROLLING THUNDER strike. efforts were set in motion to
increase the effectiveness) forcefuiness and regularity of the program.
US aircraft loss rates came under McNamara 's scrutiny) with the result
that many restrictions on the use of U.S. aircraft and special ordnance
were lifted) and the air strike technology improved. Sharp annoyance
was expressed by Ambassador Taylor over what he considered an unnecessarily
timid and ambivalent US stance regarding the frequency and
weight of U.S. air attacks. He called for a more dynamic schedule
of strikes) a several week program) relentlessly marching North) to
break the will of the DRV. Army Chief of Staff General Johnson)
returning _from a Presidential survey mission to Vietnam in mid-March)
supported Taylor's view and recommended increasing the scope and
tempo of the air strikes as well as their effectiveness. The President
accepted these recommendations and) beginning with ROLLING THUNDER VII
(March 19») air action against the North was transformed from a
sporadic) halting effort into a regular and determined program.

Shift to Interdiction. In the initial U.S. reprisal strike s
and the first ROLLn~G ~HUNDK~ actions) target selection had been

. completely dominated by political and psychological considerations.
With the gradual acceptance) beginning in March) of the need for a
militarily more significant sustained bombing pro~ram) a refocusing

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of target emphasis occurred, stressing interdiction of the DRV's
lines of communication (LOC's) --the visible manifestations of
North Vietnamese aggression. The JCS had called the SecDef's
attention to t his infiltration target complex as early as midFebruary,
and an integrated counter-infiltration attack plan
against LOC targets south of the 20th parallel began to be
developed by CINCPAQ, culminating at the end of March in the
submission of the JCS 12-week bombing program. This program
was built around the "LOC-cut" concept developed by the Pacific
Command and was strongly endorsed by General Westmoreland and
Ambassador Taylor. The JCS recommended that only the first phase


, (third through fifth weeks) of the 12-week program be adopted, as
they had not reached agreement on the later phases. The JCS submission,
however, was not accepted as a program, although it
strongly influenced the new interdiction-oriented focus of the
attacks that were to follow. But neither the SecDef nor the
President was willing to approve a multi-week program in advance.
They preferred to retain continual personal control over attack
concepts and individual target selection and to communicate their
decisions through weekly guidance provided by the SecDef's ROLLING
THUNDER planning messages.

April I Reassessment. By the end of March, in Saigon's view,
the situation in South Vietnam appeared to have rebounded somewhat.
Morale seemed to have been boosted , at least temporarily, by the air
strikes, and Vietnamese forces had not recently suffered any major

' defeats. ' Washington, on the other hand, continued to regard the ,
situation as "bad and deteriorating," and could see no signs of "give"
on the part of Hanoi . None of the several diplomatic initiatives
that had been launched looked promising, and VC terrorism continued
unabated, with the March 29 bombing of the US embassy in Saigon
being by far the boldest provocation.

Ambassador Taylor returned to Washington to participate in a
Presidential policy review on April I and 2, in which a wide range
of possible military and non-military actions m South and North
Vietnam were examined. The discussions, however, did not deal
principally witn the air war, but focused mainly on the prospect
of major deployments of US and Third Country combat forces to South
Vietnam. As a result of the discussions the far-reaching decision

, "

,

was made, at least conceptually, to permit US troops to engage in

, offensive ground operations against Asian insurgents. With respect
to future air pressures policy, the actions adopted amounted to
little more than a continuation of "roughly the present slowly
ascending tempo of ROLLING THUNDER operations," directed maiD~y
at the LOC targets that 'Here then beginning to be struck. The


, 'Director of Central Intelligence John McCone demurred, arguing
that a change in the US ground force role in the South'also demanded
comparably more forceful action, against the North. He felt that
the ground force decision was correct only "if our air strikes
against the North are sufficiently heavy and damaging really to
hurt the North Vietnamese ." '


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A "Carrot" at Johns Hopkins. Although devoting much effort to
public explanation and private persuasion) the President could not
quiet his critics. Condemnation of the bombing spread and the
President was being pressed from many directions to make a major
public statement welcoming negotiations. He found an opportunity
to dramatize his peaceful intent in his renowned Johns Hopkins
address of April T) in 'Thich he (1) acceptec. the spirit of the
IT-nation Appeal of March 15 to start negotiations "without posing
any preconditions)" {2) offered the vision of a "billion dollar
American investment" in a regional Mekong River basin development
effort in which North Vietnam might also participate) and (3)
appointed the illustrious Eugene Black to head up the effort and to
lend it credibility and prestige. The President!s speech evoked
much favorable public reaction throughout the world) but it failed
to silence the Peace Bloc and it failed to move Hanoi. Premier
Pham Van Dong responded to the President!s speech by proposing his
famous Four Points as the only correct way to resolve the Vietnam
problem and) two days later) denounced the President!s proposal as
simply a "carrot" offered to offset the "stick" of aggression and
to allay public criticism of his Vietnam policy. But this is as
far as the President was willing to go in his concessions to the
Peace Bloc. To the clamor for a bombing pause at this time) the
Administration responded with a resounding "No."

Consensus at Honolulu. By mid-April, communication between
Washington and Saigon had become badly strained as a result of
Ambassador Taylor!s resentment of what he regarded as Washington!s
excessive eagerness to introduce US combat forces into South Vietnam)
far beyond anything that had been approved in the April 1-2 review.
To iron out differences) a conference was convened by Secretary
McNamara at Honolulu on April 20. Its main concern was to reach
specific agreement on troop deployments) but it also sought to
reaffirm the existing scope and tempo of ROLLING THUNDER. The
conferees agreed that sufficient pressure was provided by repetition
and continuation of the strikes, and that it was important not to
"kill the hostage" by destroying the valuable assets inside the
"Hanoi do-not." Their strategy for victory was "to break the will
of the DRV/VC by denying them victory ." Honolulu apparently
succeeded in restoring consensus behTeen Washington and Saigon.
It also marked the relative downgrading of pressures against the
North) in favor of more intensive activity in the South. The
decision) at this point) was to "plateau" the air strikes more
or less at the prevailing level) rather than to pursue the relentless
dynamic course ardently advocated by Ambassador Taylor and
Admiral Sharp in February and March) or the massive destruction of
the North Vietlamese target complex ccnsistently pressed by the
Joint Chiefs.

Following Honolulu) it was decided to publicize the fact that
"interdiction" was now the major objective of the bombing) and
Secretary McNamara devoted a special Pentagon briefing for the
press corps to that issue.


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First Bombing Pause. Pressure for some form of bombing halt
had mounted steadily throughout April and early May and, although
the President did not believe that such a gesture would evoke any
response from Hanoi he did order a brief halt effective May 13, "to
begin" as he expressed it "to clear a path either toward restoration
of peace or tovrard increased military action, depending on the reat!tion
of the Communists. It The political purpose of the pause --to test
Hanoi's reaction --was kept under very tight wraps, and the project
was given the code name MAYFLOWER. A great effort was made to inform
Hanoi of the fact of the pause and of its political intent. Soviet
Ambassador Dobrynin was given an oral explanation by Secretary Rusk,
confirmed by a tough written statement, reasserting Rusk's public
position that the cessation of the DRV's attacks upon South Vietnam
vas the only road to peace and that the US would be watchful, during
the pause, for any signs of a reduction in such attacks. A similar
statement was sent to U.S. Ambassador Kohler in Moscow, for personal
transmittal to the DRV Ambassador there. Kohler, however, met with
refusal both from the DRV Ambassador to receive, and from the Soviet
Foreign Office to transmit,the message. A written note, sent to the
DRV embassy, was returned ostensibly unopened . . Nevertheless, it is

quite clear that Hanoi was more than adequately advised of the
contents of' the U.S. message through the various diplomatic channels
that were involved.


Given the "rather strenuous naturelt of the U.S. note to Hanoi
and the briefness of the pause, it is hardly surprising that the
initiative encountered no receptivity from the Soviet government
and evoked no positive response from Hanoi. The latter denounced
the bombing halt as "a worn out trick of deceit and threat .•• "
and the former, in the person of Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko
in a . conversation with Rusk in Vienna, branded the U.S. note to
Hanoi as "insultinglt.


Having thus been unmistakably rebuffed; the President ordered
the resumption of the bombing raids effective May 18. The entire
pause was handled with a minimum of public information, and no
announcement was made of the suspension or of the resumption. But
prime ministers or chiefs of state of a half dozen key friendly
governments were briefed fully after the event. A still somewhat
ambiguous diplomatic move was made by Hanoi in Paris on May 18, a
few hours after the bombing had been resumed, in which Mai Van Bo,
the DRV economic delegate there seemed to imply a significant
softening of Hanoi's position on the Four Points as Itprior conditions."
But subsequent attempts at clarification left that issue as·ambiguous
as it had been before.

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IV. C.
A CHRONOLOGY OF ROLLING THUIillER MISSIONS
FEBRUARY -JUNE, 1965

CHRONOLOGY

DATE
EVENT OR DOCUMENT DESCRIPTION

6 Jan 1965 William
Bundy MemoTaking
note of the continued politi


randmn for Rusk
cal deterioration in SVN, B1L~dy concludes
that, E:ven though it will get
vTorse, the US should probably proceed
vrith Phase II of t he December
pressures plan, the escalating air
strikes against the North.

8 Jan 1965 2,000 Korean troops South Korea sends 2,000 military
arri ve in SVN advisors to SVN , the first such nonUS
support.

27 Jan 1965 Huong Government General Khanh ousts the civilian
ousted government headed by Huong and
assmnes puwer s of government himself.

McNaughton Memorandmn
McNaughton is as pessimistic as

for Secretary of
William Bundy about prospects in the

Defense
South. He feels the US should evacu


ate depende~ts and respond promptly

at the ne~d, :;,'eprisal opportunity.

McNamara's penc illed notes reveal

more optimism about the results of

air strikes t han
McNaughton.

28 Jan 1965
JCSmessage 4244 to A resumption of the DESOTO Patrols
CINCPAC on or about 3 February is authorized.

29 Jan 1965 JCSl1-70-65
The JCS urge again that a strong
reprisal action be taken immediately
after the next DRV/VC provocation.
In particular, they propose targets
and readiness to strike should the
forthcomin& resmnption of t he DESOTO
Patrols be challenged.

4 Feb 1965 CJCS m~ssage 4612 to In view of Kosygin's impending visit
CINCPAC to Hanoi, authority for the DESOTO
Patrol is cancelled.

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DATE

4 Feb 1965
(Continued)

6 Feb 1965

7 Feb 1965

8 Feb 1965

EVENT OR DOCm~~

SNIE 53-65 IIShort

Tel1U Prospects in

South Vietnamll

Kosygin arri ves in

Hanoi

VC att ack US base at
Pleiku

President decides to
retaliate

McGeorge Bundy Memorandum
to the
PreSident: liThe
Situation in South
Vietnamlt

FLAMnm DART I

x

DESCRIPTION

The intelligence cow~unity does not
see the conditions of politi cal instability
in SVN improvi ng in the
months ahead . The political base
for counterinsurgency "<ill reIllain
weak .

Soviet Premier Kosygin arrives in
Hanoi for a state visit that will
deepen Soviet commitment to the DRV,
and eA~and Soviet economic and military
assistance.

Well-coor dinated VC attacks ~it the
US advi sors ' barracks at Pleiku and
the helicopter base at Camp Holloway.

The NSC is convened in the evening
(6 Feb . Vlashington time) and with


.the recommendation of McGeorge Bundy,
Ambassador Taylor and General Westmoreland
from Sajgon, decides on a
reprisal strike against t he North in
spite of Kosygin's presence in Hanoi.

Completing a fact-gathering trip to
SVN on the very day of the Pleiku
attack, Bundy acknowledges the bad


.state of the GVN both politically
and militarily, but nevertheless
recommends that the US adopt a policy
of IIsust ailled reprisallt against the
North and t hat we evacuate US dependents
from Saigon. The reprisal
policy should begin from specific VC
attacks but gradually escalate into
sust ained att acks as a form of pressure
on the DRV to end its support
of the VC and/or come to terms with
the US.

49 us Navy jets conduct the first
FLA1\UNG D.ART reprisal· -attack on the
Dong Hoi ar~y barracks; a scheduled
VNAF attack is cancelled because of
bad weather.

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DATE

9 Feb 1965

10 Feb 1965

11 Feb 1965

12 Feb 1965

EVENT OR DOCUMENT

VNAF strikes Horth

Embassy Saigon

message 2445

VC attack US billet
in Qui Nhon

FIJI.MING DART II

Embassy Saigon
message 2495

JCSM-IOO-65

Embassy Saigon
message 2536

xi

DESCRIPTION

The previously aborted VNAF strike
is carried out against the Vu Con
Barracks vlith US aircraft flying
cover.


Taylor cables hi s support of the
McGeorge Bundy proposal but lays his
str ess on the· sustained air campaign
as a means of pressuring the DRV to
"cease its intervention," r ather t han
a s a me~DS of strengthening the
allied positi on in the South.

In an act of defiance, t he VC bomb
a US enlisted men ts billet in Qui
Nhon , killing 23 Americans .


Hit hin 24 hours of t he VC attack ,
the US r etali ates in an air attack
on thE Chap Le and Chanh Hoa Army
Barracks . The att ack is not linked
specifically by the \'Jhite Hous e to
Qui Nhon but to a list of VC incidents.


Taylor outlines tough terms for any
end to t he bombing. The DRV must
cease its i ntervention, the VC end
the insurgency, both return to the
1954 and 1962 accords.


Responding to a McNamara request and
within his limitations, t he JCS
recommend an 8-week air campaign
against the Hort h confined mostly to
panhandle t argets and with targets
to be attacked in the order of ascending
risk. General McConnell did not
feel the proposal was adequate. To
carry out the program, additional
deployments are requested.

Taylor further spells out his ttgradu_
ated repris.....l tt concept, giving as its
objectives in the order of their
importance: (1) to affect the will of
Hanoi; (2) to bolster GVN morale; and

(3) to physically damage the DRV and
thereby reduce its ability to support
the VC.
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DATE
13 Feb 1965

17 Feb 1965

18 Feb 1965

19 Feb 1965

EVENT OR DOCm-lENT

B-52s sent to area

ROLLum THUNDER
approved by President;
DEPTEL to Saigon 1718

CINCPAC message
170217 February to


JCS

UK reports Soviet
interest in Geneva
Talks


President schedules
ROLLnm THUNDER


SNIE· 10-3/1-65

Thao "semi-coup"

Embassy Saigon
message 2665

DESCRIPl'ION

Approval i s given for the dispatch

· of 30 B-52s to Guam and 30 KC -135s
to Okinawa for contL~gency'use in
Vietnam.


The President decides to inaugurate
ROLLll;G Ttl~~ER sustained bombing
of the North under strict limitations
vrith programs approved on a week-byweek
basis.

Admiral Sharp urges that t he strikes
be conceived as "pressures!! not
"reprisals" a.~d that any premature
discussions or negotiations with the
DRV be avoided. We must convince them
that the cost of their aggression is
prohibitive.

The UK Ambassador, Lord Harlech, informs
Rusk that the Soviets have
approached the UK about reactivating
the 1954 Geneva Conference in the
current Vietnam crisis. After an
initial US interest, the Soviets back




off and the matter dies.

President Johnson sets February 20 as
the date for the beginning of ROLLING
THUNDER and informs US Ambassadors in
Asia.


The intelligence community gives its
view that sustained attacks on the
DRV would probably cause it to seek
a respite rather than to intensify
the struggle in the South.


Colonel Thao, a longtime conspirator,
launches a "semi-coup" against Khanh,
designed to remove him but not the
Armed Forces Council. He is quickly
defeated but the AFC decides to use
the incident to remove Khanh itself.
The events drag on for several days.

Taylor recommends urgently that the
ROLLING THlJNIJER strike be cancelled
until the political situation in Saigon
has clarified. The President agrees.

xii TOP SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316 . By: NWD Date: 2011


TOP SECRET -Sensitive

DATE

19 Feb 1965
(Continued)

21 Feb 1965
24 Feb 1965

27 Feb 1965

28 Feb 1965

2 Mar 1965

3 Mar ·1965

EVENT OR DOCUMENT
CM-438-65

Khanh resigns

U.S. reassures
Peking
State Dept. issues

"White Paper" on DRV

aggression


ROLLING THUNDER

announced

First ROLLING THUNDER
strike

President decides to

send CSA, H.K. Johnson,

to Vietnam

Tito letter to J olmson

xiii



DESCRIPTION

In a memo to McNamara, Wheeler

proposes a systematic attack on the

DRV rail system as t he most vulner


able link in the transportation

system. Military as opposed to

psychological value of targets is

already beginning to enter discus


sions.

Unable to rally support in the Armed
Forces Council, Khanh resigns.

In a meeting in Warsaw the Chinese

are informed that while the U.S.

will continue to take those actions

required to defend itself and South

Vietnam, i t has no aggressive in


tentions toward the DRV.

The State Department issues a "White
Paper" detailing its charges of aggression
against North Vietnam.

U.S. and GVN make simultaneous an·
nouncement
of decision to open a
continuous limited air campaign
against the North in order to bring
about a negotiated settlement on
favorable terms.

·104 USAF planes attack Xom Bang annno

depot and 19 VNAF aircraft hit the

Quang Khe Naval Base in the first

attacks of ROLLING THUNDER.

The President decides to send Army
Chief of Staff, Gen. H.K. Johnson,
to Saigon to explore with Taylor and
Westmoreland what additional efforts
can be made to improve t he situation
in t he South, complementarily to the
strikes against t he North.

Yugoslav President Tito, in a letter
to Johnson, urges i mmediate negotiation
on Vietnam without conditions
on either side.

TOP SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316. By: NWD Date: 2011


TOP SECRET -Sensitive

DATE
5-12 Mar 1965

6 Mar 1965

8 Mar 1965

9 Mar 1965

10 Mar 1965

EVENT OR DOCUMENT

Gen. Johnson trip

to Vi.etna.m

Marines sent to

DaNang

Marines land at

Da Nang

Embassy Saigon msgs .

2888, and 2889

U Thant proposes big

pOloler conference

u.S. rejects Thant
proposal
Some bombing restrictions
lifted

CJCS memo to SecDef
CM-469-65

xiv

DESCRIPTION

Army Chief of Staff, Gen. H. K.

Johnson, tours Vietnam on a mis


sion for the President.

TYro Marine Battalion Landing Teams
are ordered to Da Nang by the President
to ta.."k.e up base security functions
in the Da Nang perimeter.

The hro Marine battalions land at

Da Nang and set up defensive posi


tions.

Taylor expresses sharp annoyance at
what seemsto him an unnecessarily
timid and ambivalent U.S. stance on
air strikes. The long delay between
strikes, the marginal weight of the
attacks, and the great ado about
diplomatic feelers were ,veakening
our signal to the North . He calls
for a more dynamic schedule of
strikes, a multiple "reek program re1entlessly
marching North to break
Hanoi's will.

U Thant proposes a conference of the
big powers with North and South
Vietnam to start preliminary negotiations.


The U.S. rejects Thant's proposal

until the DRV stops its aggression.

The President lifts the restriction

on the use of napalm in strikes on

the North, and eliminates the re


quirement for Vietnamese co-pilots

in FARMGATE missions.

In a memo to SecDef with preliminary

reports on U.S. aircraft losses in
hostile a-ction, ·Hheeler requests
better ordnance, more recce, and
greater field command flexibility in
alternate target selection for
weather problems.

TOP SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316. By: NWD Date: 2011

'TOP SECRET


DATE

EVENT OR DOCUMENT

J2 Mar 1965
State msg . 1975 to
Saigon


President replies
to Tito

13 Mar 1965
Embassy Saigon msg .
2949


13-18 Mar 1965
Conference of nonaligned
nations in
Belgrade


14-15 Mar 1965
ROLLING THUNDER VI

14 Mar 1965
Gen. Johnson submits
his report to SecDef

15 Mar 1965
President approves
most of Johnson
report

19 Mar 1965
ROLLING THUNDER VII

Sensitive

DESCRIPTION

ROLLING THUNDER VI is authorize6. for
the next day; it is subs2q,uently delayed
until the 14th because of
weather.

In his repiy to Tito the President
indicates the only bar to peace is
DRV aggression vrhich must stop
before talks can begin.

Taylor complains about the postponement
of RT VI, stating that too much
attention is being paid to the specific
target, any target ,vill do since
the important thing is to keep up the
momentum of the attacks.

Tito calls a meeting of 15 nonaligned
nations in Belgrade. The
declaration calls for negotiations
and blames "foreign intervention"
for the aggravation of the situation.

The delayed RT VI is carried out and
is the heaviest attacK thus far with
over 100 U.S. aircraft and 24 'VNAF
planes hitting two targets.

Gen. Johnson submits a 21-recommendation
report including a request that
the scope and tempo of strikes against
the North be increased and t hat many
of the restrictions on t he strikes be
lifted.

Having reviewed the Johnson report,
the President approves most of his
recommendations including those for
expanding and regularizing the campaign
against the North. The new
guidelines apply to RT VII on 19 Mar .

The first week's program of sustained
bombing und2r the name ROLLING
THUNDER VII begins.

xv
TOP SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Exec utive Order 13526, Section 3,3
NND Project Number: NND 63316 . By: NWD Date: 2011


TOP SECRET -Sensitive

DATE
20 Mar 1965

21 Mar 1965

24 Mar 1965

27 Mar 1965

29 Mar 1965

EVENT OR DOCUMENT

STEEL TIGER Begins

CINCPAC msg. to JCS

210525 Mar .

McNaughton memo "Plan
of Action for South
Vietnam"

JCSM-221-95

VC bomb US Embassy

DESCRIPI'IOJ'"

Acting on a CINCPAC recomIT!endation the

Administration had approved the separa


tion of the anti -infiltration bombing

in the Laotian panhandle from the

BARRELL ROL"~ strikes in support of

Laotian forces. The former are now

called STEEL TIGER .

In a long cable, CINCPAC proposes a

program for cutting, in depth, the DRV .

logistical network, especially below

the 20th parallel. The plan calls for

initial intensive strikes to cut the

system and then regular armed recce to

eliminate any residual capacity, or

repair efforts.

McNaughton concludes that the situation
in SVN probably cannot be i mproved
without extreme measures against the DRV
and/or the intervention of US ground '
forces. He gives a thorough treatment
to the alternatives and 'risks with particular
attention to the strong air
campaign on the North . He takes note of
the various escalation pOints and tries
to assess the risks at each level. He
evaluates the introduction of US troops
and a negotiations alternative in the
same manner .

The JCS formally propose to SecDef a
pl an already discussed withmm for an
escalating 12-week air campaign against
the North with a primarily milit aryphysical
destruction orientation.
Interdiction is the objective rather
than will-breaking.

In a daring bomb attack on the US Embassy,
the VC kill many 'Americans and
Vietn~mese and cause extensive damage .
Taylor leaves almost simultaneously for
talks in "v1 e.shington.

x vi

TOP SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 303
NND Project Number: NND 63316. By: NWD Date: 2011


DATE
31 Mar 1965

1 Apr 1965

2 Apr 1965

5 Apr 1965

TOP SECRET -Sensitive
EVENT OR DOCUMENT DESCRIPrION
CINCPAC msg . to JCS CINCPAC recow~ends a spectacular attack
310407 IfJar • against the North to retaliate for the
bombing of the Embassy. The President

rejects the idea.

NSC meeoGing wj.th 'l'aylor
The Presiden...., meets with Taylor and the
NSC to begin' a major policy revie,.,r .

McGeorge Bundy memo
Bundy recommends little more than a continuation
of the ongoing modest RT program,
gradually hitting the LOC choke
pOints. He does, however, recommend removing
the restriction on the Marines to
static defense. Focus is on winning in
SVN.

NSC meeting
The White House policy review continued
with another meeting of th~ principals.

Rostow memo to SecState
In a memo to Rusk, Walt Rostow proposes
knocking out the DRV electric power grid
as a means of bringing her whole urban
industrial sector to a halt.

NSC meeting
At the NSC meeting the President approves
the Bundy recommendations including the
proposal to allow US troops in Vietnam a
combat role.

McCone dissents from
CIA director McCone circulates a memo

Presidential decision
dissenting from the Presidential decision
to have US troops take part in active
combat. He feels tha t such action is not
justified and wise unless the air attacks
on the North are increased sufficiently to
really be physically damaging to the DRV
and to put real pressure on her.

Canadian Prime Minister
Canadian Prime ~linister Lester Pearson in

suggests pause
a speech in Philadelphia suggests that the
US call a halt to the bombing in the interests
of getting negotiations started.

JCSM-265-65
The JCS report confirmation of the construction
of a SAM missile site near Hanoi
and request authority to strike it before
it becomes operational. ~~eir request is
not acted on at the time.

xvii
TOP SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316. By: NWD Date: 2011


TOP SECRET -Sensitive

DATE

6 Apr 1965

7 Apr 1965

8 Apr 1965

17 Apr 1965

18 Apr 1965

19 Apr 1965

20 Apr 1965

EVENT OR :OOCUMENT

NSAM 328

President ' s Johns

Hopkins Speech

Pham van Dong's "Four
Points"

Presidential press

conference

Rusk press conference

Taylor opposes the
ground build-up

Hanoi rejects 17nation
appeal

Honolulu Conference

. DESCRIPTION

The Presidential decisions of April 2 are

promulgated using the verbatim language

of the Bundy memo .

In a major speech ~t Johns Hopkins Univ


ersity, the President outlines his hope

for a peaceful, negotiated settlement .

in Vietnam. He names Eugene Black as the

US negotiator and offers to assist both

North and South Vietnam on a regional

basis to the tune of $1 billion in the

post-I-lar reconstruction and economic de


velopment of SEA .

Rejecting to the President's initiative,
the DRV Foreign Minister, Pham van Dong
announces his famous "Four Points" for
the settlement of the war . Each side
sees settlement in the caputulation of thE·
other. Peking denounces the President ' s
speech also.

In a press conference the President ack


nowledges the failure of his most recent

peace overtures .

Secretary Rusk rejects suggestions from

Canada and others to suspend the bombing

in order to get peace talks started. He

reiterates the President ' s view that

Hanoi does not I-lant peace.

Having been bombarded with cables from

Washington about a bUild-up in ground

forces to carry out NSft~ 328, Taylor re


acts opposing the idea in ~ cable t o

McGeorge Bundy.

Hanoi rejects the proposal of the 17 non aligned
nations for a peace conference
without pre-conditions by either side.

Secretary McNamara meets with Taylor,
Westmorelana) Sharp) Wm. Bundy, and
McNaughton in Honolulu to review the implementation
and interpretation of NSAM.

xviii TOP SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Executi ve Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316 . By: NWD Date: 2011


TOP SECRET -Sensitive


DATE

21 Apr 1965

22 Apr 1965

23 Apr 1965

24 Apr 1965

25 Apr 1965

26 Apr 1965

28 Apr 1965

EVENT OR DOCUMENT

SecDef memo to the

President

Intelligence assessment
TS #185843 -c

Rusk Speech

U Thant calls for pause

McGeorge Bundy memo

McNamara press briefing

McCone resigns and
submits last memo

DESCRIPI'ION

328. A plateau on air strikes) more effort
in the South) and the specifics of
force deployments are agreed to.
Secretary Mc~amara reports the results of

the Honolulu Conference to the President

and indicates that harmony has been res


tored among the vievlS of the various

advisors.

The intelligence community indicates that

\~ithout either a massive increase in the

air campaign or the introduction of US

combat troops) the DRV would stick to its

goal of military victory.

In a speech before the American SOCiety

of International Law) Rusk makes first

public mention of interdiction and pun


ishment as' the purposes of the US bomb ing

rather than breaking Hanoi 's will.

U Thant asks the US to suspend the bombing :
for three months in an effort to get negotiations
. The proposal is rejected in
Washington.

In an effort to clarify internal government
thinking about negotiations) Bundy

outlines his view of US goals. His expo


sition is a maxi mum US position whose
acceptance would amount to surrender by
the other side.

In a special briefing for the press complete
with maps and charts) McNamara goes
into considerable depth in explaining the

interdiction purposes of the US strikes
against the North .

McCone who is leaving his post as CIA Director
(to be replaced by Admiral Raborn)

submits a last memo to the President op


posing the bUlld-up of ground forces in
the absence of a greatly intensified campaign
against the North.

xix TOP.SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316 . By: NWD Date: 2011


TOP SECREr -Sensitive



DATE

4 May 1965

6 May 1965

10 May 1965

11 May 1965

EVENT OR DOCUMENT

President denies DRV

willingness to nego


tiate

Embassy Saigon msg.

3632

CIA Director Raborn

assessment

CM-600-65

State Department msg .
2553

Embassy Saigon msg .
3731

State Department msg.
2557

DESCRIPTION

In a speech at the ~~ite House ) the President
indicates that the DRV has turned
back all peace initiatives) either from
the US or from neutral parties.

Taylor confirms the President ' s vie\~ about
the DRV by noting that in Hanoi ' s estimates
they a::ce still expecting to
achieve a c~ear-cut victory and see no
reas on to negoti ate . ·

Commenting) at the President's request)

on McCone ' s parting memo on Vietnam) Ra


born agrees with the assessment that the

bombing had thus far not hurt the North

and that much more would be needed to

force them to the negotiating table. He

suggests a pause to test DRV intentions

pnd gain support of world opinion before

beginning the intensive air campaign that

he believes '''ill be required .

. The Chairman of the JCS recommends to the

Secretary that the SAM. sites already iden


tified be attacked.

The President informs Taylor of his intention
to call a temporary halt to the bomb ing
and asks Taylor to get PM Quat ' s concurrence.
The purpose of the pause is t o
gain flexibility either to negotiate if
the DRV shows interest) or to intensify
the air strikes if they do not. He does
not intend to announce the pause but
rather to communicate it privately to
Moscow and Hanoi and await a reply.

Taylor reports Quat 's agreement but pre


ference not to have the pause l inked to

Buddha's birthday.

State confirms the decision) agrees to

avoid reference to the Buddhist holiday,

and indicates that the pause will begin

on May 13 and last for 5-7 da ys.

xx TOP SECRET -Sensitive


Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316. By: NWD Date: 2011



TOP SECRET -Sensitive


DATE

12 May 1965

13 May 1965

14 May 1965

15 May 1965

16 May 1965

EVENT OR DOCUMENT

Department of State

msg. 3101

Embassy Moscow msg .

3391

Presidential speech

Embassy Moscow msg .
3425

British Consul-HanOi
transmits the pause msg .

MA.CV msg. 16006

Rusk-Gromyko meet in
Vienna

Embassy Saigon msg.
3781

DESCRIPI'ION

Kohler .in Moscow is instructed to contact

the DRV Ambassador urgently and convey a

message announcing the pause . SiD1Ul


taneously, Rusk was transmitting the mes


sage to the Soviet Ambassador in Washing


ton.

In MOSCQiv, the DRV Ambassador refuses to
see Kohler or receive the message. A
subsequent attempt to transmit the message
through the Soviet Foreign Office also
fails when the Soviets decline their
assistance.

The President avoids reference to the

pause in a major public speech, but does

calIon Hanoi to consider a "political

solutionl1 of the' war.

Kohler suggests that the language of the

message be softened before ·i t is trans


mitted to Hanoi via the British Consul in

the DRV capital.

Having rejected Kohlerts suggestion, State
has the British Consul in Hanoi transmit
the message . The DRV refuses to accept
it.

Westmoreland, with Taylor's concurrence,

recomDlends the use of B-52s for patterned

saturation bombing of VC headquarters and

other area targets in South Vietnam.

In a meeting between the two men in

Vienna, Gromyko informs Rusk that the

Soviet Union will give firm and full sup


port to the DRV as a "fraternal socialist

state."

Taylor suggests that the DRVts cold response
to our initiative warrants a re


sumption of the bombing. The level should
be linked dil~ctly to the intensity of VC
activity in the South during the pause.

xxi TOP SECRET -Sensitive



Declassified per Exec utive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316 . By: NWD Date: 2011

DATE

>17 May 1965

18 May 1965

20 May 1965

21 May 1965

2 Jun 1965

3 Jun 1965

TOP SECRET


EVENT OR DOCUMENT

President decides to

resume bombing

Allies informed of impending
Lpcumption

Bombing resumes

Hanoi denounces the

pause

Hanoi ' s Paris demarche

Rostow memo "Victory
and Defeat in Guerilla
Wars"

Peking denounces
the paus e

SNIE 10-6-65

ICC Commissioner

Seaborn sees Pham Van
Dong
xxii

Sensitive

DESCRIPI'Ir:.

~p ~resident decides that Hanoi's reQPonse
can be regarded as negative and
orders the bombing to resume on May 18 .

US Asian and European allies are forewarned
of the impending resumption of
bombing . In a separate msg. the President
authorizes the radar recce by B-52s of
potential SE..l\. targets-.

After five days of "pause" the bombing

resumes in the North .

On the evening of the resumption, the DRV
Foreign Ministry issues a statement describing
the pause as a "deceitful maneuver"
to pave the way for further US
acts of war .

Somewhat belatedly the DRV representati ve
in Paris, IV1ai Van Bo discusses the "four
points" with the Quai some"lo/'hat softening
their interpretation and indicating that
they are not necessarily preliminary con ditions
to negotiations .

I n a memo for the Secretary of State
Rostow argues that a clear-cut US Victory
in SVN i s possible. It re~uires mainly
more pressure on the North Bnd effective
conduct of the battle in the South.

Declaring its support for the DRV, Pekipg '
denounces the President ' s bombing pause
as a fraud.

The intelligence cornmunity gives a pessimistic
analysis of the likelihood that
Hanoi will seek a respite from the bo~bing
through negotiation.

In a meeting in Hanoi with DRV Foreign
Minister Pharo Van Dong~ ICC Commissioner
Seaborn (CanL3a ) confirms Hanoi ' s rejec tion
of current US peace initiatives .


TOP SECRET -Sensitive



Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316 . By: NWD Date: 2011


TOP SECRET -Sensitive

DATE EVENT OR DOCUMENT
12 Jun 1965 SVN Premier Quat
resigns
15 Jun 1965 3ecDef memo to JCS

24 Jun 1965 Ky assumes pover

DESCRIPI'ION

SVN Premier Quat hands his resignation
to the Armed Forces COQDcil.

McNamdra disapproves the JCS recomm~ndation
for air strikes against the SAM
sites and IL 28s at DRV air bases since
these might directly challenge the SOviet
Union.

Brig. Gen. Nguyen Cao Ky assumes power
and decrees new measures to strengthen
GVN prosecution of the war .

r


xxiii TOP SECRET -Sensitive




Declassified per Executive Order 13526, Section 3.3
NND Project Number: NND 63316 . By: NWD Date: 2011


TOP SECRET -Sensitjve

A clillOiTOLOGY OF ROLLIim THl.JJ.'Ill)BR MISSIONS

FEBRUA.BY -JUTE , 1965 *

ROLLING THUNDER 1 was scheduled on 20 February 1965 as a one-day reprisal
strike by U.S. and VNAf forces, against Quang Khe Naval Base and Vu Con
Barracks. Two barracks and an airfield were authorized as weather alternates .
ROLLING THUNDER I was cancelled because of a coup in Saigon and diplomatic
moves between London and MoscO\{ . ROLLING THUNDER 2, 3, and 4 were planned as

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