Document 20. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler) to Secretary of Defense McNamara (1)


Washington, May 17, 1965.

Over-all Appraisal of Air Strikes Against North Vietnam, 7 February 1965 through 30 April 1965

1. Between 7 February and 30 April 1965, US/RVN forces attacked sixty specific JCS-designated targets in North Vietnam. Of these, 43 targets were struck by US aircraft and 17 by VNAF aircraft. In addition, 86 armed reconnaissance missions were flown against lines of communication, targets of opportunity, and coastal ships.

2. The only two occasions when enemy aircraft interfered with our strikes were on 3 April when a MIG damaged a US aircraft, and on 4 April when two North Vietnamese MIGs shot down two US planes. In addition, one US aircraft on air patrol over the Gulf of Tonkin on 9 April was lost during an intercept with Hainan Island-based MIGs. Otherwise, enemy reaction has been limited to antiaircraft fire from weapons up to 57mm in size. The South Vietnamese have lost six planes and four pilots killed, missing and captured. US losses have been 30 planes and 17 personnel killed, missing and

3. Our air strikes have not reduced in any major way the capability of the DRV armed forces to perform their mission of defense of the homeland, to train their own and infiltration forces for South Vietnam and Laos, and to provide logistic support at present levels of activity. The interdiction of lines of communication, however, has magnified DRV problems in providing logistic support to the southern portion of North Vietnam. Moreover, although supplies sufficient for their current military needs can still reach the area near the 17th Parallel, reduction of route capacities has degraded DRV ability
to support any major offensive beyond its own borders into Laos or South Vietnam.

4. Although over-all economic effects are considered to be minor, the accumulating damage being inflicted on rolling stock and fixed facilities is forcing the DRV to expend greater effort to maintain distribution of essential supplies in the southern region of North Vietnam. The destruction of the Thanh Hoa electric power plant has reduced electric power available to the Thanh Hoa area by 60 per cent. The operation of phosphate and superphosphate plants and rice processing plants are the industries which will be most affected by the power shortage. Additionally, defense preparations both north
and south of the 20th Parallel are believed to have diverted considerable resources from normal economic activities--a diversion the regime can ill-afford in view of its bare subsistence level economy.

5. Assessment of the impact of our air strikes on the attitudes of the North Vietnamese Government and people must continue to be deduced from the relatively small number of reports received by Free World sources and from statements made by DRV officials and citizens. Analysis of available evidence leads to the following conclusions:

a. The local population in North Vietnam is becoming increasingly aware of our air strikes and a sense of uncertainty has been generated among the populace. Western observers, however, see no signs that the people are pressing the regime for a settlement of the conflict. Rather, the popular reaction to the strikes seems to be that of "grim determination to continue the fight." In general, the populace appears to be responding favorably to the increased political and military controls imposed by the regime.

b. Early in April, Western diplomatic observers described the atmosphere in Hanoi as "fairly relaxed," although a suggestion of greater anxiety in official statements and in the press was noted. North Vietnam's propaganda output vigorously stresses the theme that the "army and the people" are stirred to profound hatred and are responding positively "to defeat the US aggressors." The tone of statements emanating from Hanoi gives no inkling that the DRV has weakened in its determination to continue supporting the Viet Cong while persevering in their resistance to US air actions against North Vietnam. Emphasis in DRV public statements, however, on the growing opposition within the US to the "aggressive war" being waged by the US may be an indication that the regime's leaders are hoping that the appearance of grim determination on their part and flagging resolve on our part will still permit them to achieve their objectives in South Vietnam.

6. In summary, our air strikes to date, while magnifying DRV logistic support problems in southern North Vietnam and reducing their current ability to support overt aggression outside their borders, have not reduced their over-all military capabilities in any major sense. Neither have we seriously hurt the North Vietnamese economy. The North Vietnamese regime, with no apparent opposition from its populace, gives every impression of being determined to continue on its present course.

7. At Tabs A through E are more detailed discussions of specific aspects. (2)

Earle G. Wheeler


(1) Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1265, Vietnam 381. Top Secret. A note on the source text reads: "Sec Def has seen."

(2) None printed.

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