Document 25. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam (1)

Washington, June 1, 1965, 7:57 p.m.

2769. To Ambassadors Taylor and Johnson only from Under Secretary. We have now reached a point in planning for successive Rolling Thunder operations where we must be clear as to precisely what we are trying to do.

In broad terms, there are two possible approaches to the Vietnamese struggle:

I. The major premise of the first approach is that the war must be won in the South. Under this approach, airstrikes in the North should be regarded as ancillary to our operations in the principal theater. Such air strikes should be designed to achieve three purposes:

A. To raise morale in South Viet-Nam and give credibility to our intention to stay the course.

B. To lower the morale of the North Vietnamese and to create concern in Hanoi that the USG might extend its bombing so as greatly to increase the costs of trying to overrun SVN by military means.

C. To harass supply lines and reduce the ability of North Viet-Nam to conduct effective infiltration of men and materials.

II. The second approach places much greater emphasis on the total contribution of the air attacks in the North to the ultimate decision. Under this approach our air offensive would so be designed as to impose increasing pressure on the North Vietnamese until they stopped their action against the South even though we might not be winning the war in the South.

The distinction between these two approaches has direct relevance to the conduct of the air offensive. Since, under the first approach, it is assumed that the war must ultimately be decided in the South, we should avoid those North Vietnamese targets (such as those in the Hanoi-Haiphong area) that would be most likely to trigger a greater Chinese and Soviet intervention. If, as suggested in Embtel 768, (2) the tonic effect of bombing on South Viet-Nam morale is wearing off, do you believe that this effect would be heightened by intensifying the bombing of North Viet-Nam even though it
might bring a larger Chinese and Soviet involvement?

If on the other hand, we accept the logic of the second proposal, we should presumably be prepared to assume greater risks of Chinese and Soviet involvement in an effort to persuade Hanoi to stop. This means that we might logically proceed, within the relatively near future, to bomb the military installations in the Hanoi-Haiphong area. Such an action would seek to achieve the ultimate US objective without the need to depend on victory in the South which would make the risks of a greater Moscow-Peiping involvement worth assuming.

The relevance of all this to the present situation is obvious. Action against NVN by US-GVN forces has now reached a critical point. We must decide whether to proceed on one of the three following courses:

The first is to continue progressively to move northward in our air attacks, recognizing that any further movement nearer the Hanoi-Haiphong area poses grave danger of a serious encounter with MIGs that could draw us into attacks on MIG bases and SAM sites and the attendant possibility of greater Chinese and Russian involvement. In fact, the Rolling Thunder operations, for several weeks, have been in areas where the MIGs might easily have engaged. Their failure to do so (except once) may well be because they are waiting for the early activation of the SAM sites. Attacks on Haiphong and Hanoi could be expected to offer the same dangers as strikes on the MIG bases.

A second possibility is to move northward but keep far enough west of the Hanoi-Haiphong area to avoid the range of the SAMs. This would be on the assumption--not yet proven--that this course would offer less danger of escalation. We would like your comments on the validity of this assumption. Would the Chinese permit us to approach nearer their territory without reacting?

A third possibility is to expand the present rules to include industrial and other non-military targets that would not entail high civilian casualty rates. This course would permit a continuation of bombing south of the 20th Parallel without providing reactions appreciably different from attacks on the present target systems.

In order to make these decisions we need your answers to the following questions:

1. Do you believe that our best hope is to seek to win the war in the South while employing air attacks in the North for the ancillary purposes outlined in assumption I above maintaining approximately the same level and geographical scope of bombing as Rolling Thunder programs to date?

2. Do you now believe that, in view of the military and political difficulties in SVN we should begin to shape our air effort against the North more in the direction of assumption II above?

3. Do you believe that we would have a reasonable chance of persuading Hanoi to quit by increasing the destructiveness of our air attacks so long as the Viet Cong were winning or at least holding their own in the South? If so, do you believe that such pressure could be mounted without unacceptable risks to the United States from an enlarged Soviet/Chinese involvement?

4. Taking into account your answers to the above questions, how do you apply these answers to the requested authorization for Rolling Thunder 17 tomorrow morning? (3) RT 17 includes suggested strikes on target 43, Qui Hau Ammo Depot, which is 12 NM farther north than target 47.11 in RT 16 program,(4) 3 NM closer to Phuc Yen (47 NM) and same distance (40 NM) from Hanoi; target 82.11 Ben Thuy Thermal Power Plant; and target 71/18.17 Ben Thuy Port and Ferry with estimated civilian casualty loss of 59 persons.

Finally let us know how you feel about the method in which authorized strikes are carried out. Do you learn about targets sufficiently in advance? Do you favor existing authority to permit repeated restrikes of given target until given damage level achieved? Should strikes against North be run daily or intermittently?

Question of IL-28s is being given separate study here.

Rusk


Footnotes:

(1) Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Flash; Nodis. Drafted and approved by Ball.

(2) Reference is to telegram 3768 from Saigon, May 15, in which the Embassy reported that Buddhist leader Tri Quang had told Embassy officers thathe believed that the psychological lift achieved by the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam and the landing of U.S. troops in South Vietnam was wearing off. (Ibid.)

(3) In JCS telegram 3263 to CINCPAC, June 2, the JCS detailed the target list and intent of Rolling Thunder Seventeen and authorized CINCPAC to implement the bombing program. (Ibid.)

(4) Target 47.11, authorized as a bombing target in the execute message for the Rolling Thunder Sixteen program, was the Hoai An ammunition depot, located 26 nautical miles north of the 20th parallel. (JCS telegram 2672 to CINCPAC, May 22; ibid.)

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