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Gulf of Tonkin Incidents

Gulf of Tonkin Incidents (1964).In 1964, under OPLAN (Operations Plan) 34A, the United States was sending small vessels with Vietnamese crews into the Gulf of Tonkin on convert raids against the North Vietnamese coast. On the afternoon of 2 August, the U.S. Navy destroyer Maddox, on what was called a DeSoto patrol, was gathering various information, including electronics intelligence (elint) about the coastal radar defenses, and signals intelligence (sigint) from intercepted radio messages. North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the Maddox, unsuccessfully, near an island that had been shelled in an OPLAN 34A raid three nights before. U.S. aircraft briefly pursued the retreating torpedo boats attempting to sink them, but otherwise there was no retaliation.

A second incident was reported on the night of 4 August. The men on the destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy who described torpedo boats attacking them certainly believed this at the time. Many later decided they had been shooting at ghost images on their radar. Many others who were there, and some later historians like Marolda and Fitzgerald, believe there was a genuine attack. The preponderance of the available evidence indicates there was no attack.

In retaliation for the supposed second attack, U.S. aircraft attacked North Vietnamese naval vessels at several locations along the coast 5 August, plus a fuel storage facility at Vinh. On 7 August, the House of Representatives passed 416–0, and the Senate 98–2, the so‐called Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving the President Lyndon B. Johnson a blank check for further military action in Vietnam.
[See also Commander in Chief, President as; Vietnam War, U.S. Naval Operations in the; Vietnam War: Causes.]


Edward Marolda and and Oscar Fitzgerald , From Military Assistance to Combat, 1959–1965, 1986.
Edwin Moise , Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (1996).

Edwin E. Moise

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