The Pentagon Papers
Document 26, Memorandum from Arthur Radford for the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the President's Special Committee on Indochina, "Discussions with General Paul Ely," 29 March 1954, pp. 455-460.
THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
MEMORANDUM FOR THE PRESIDENT'S SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON INDO-CHINA:
SUBJECT: Discussions with General Paul Ely.
1. During the period 20-24 March I conducted a series of discussions with General Ely, Chairman of the French Chiefs of Staff, on the situation in Indo-China. I am setting forth herein a summary report of these discussions with particular relation to those items which were included in Phase A report submitted by the Special Committee.
2. General Ely requested urgent action for the United States to effect early delivery of various items of material that had previously been requested through the MAAG-Indo-China. These requests were all met to the satisfaction of General Ely with exception of:
a. 14 C-47 aircraft which are in critical supply and were not in the urgent category.
b. 20 helicopters and 80 additional U.S. maintenance personnel. An alternative solution is now being worked out through routine channels.
3. In connection with the foregoing is the solution that was evolved to meet the French request for 25 additional B-26 aircraft for a third squadron. There is no doubt that French capabilities for maintenance and aircraft utilization fall far short of acceptable standards and that the supply of additional aircraft alone is not the remedy to inadequate air power in Indo-China. However, in view of the importance of the morale factor at the present time in relation to the struggle for Dien Bien Phu, it was agreed, and the President has approved, to lend the French these aircraft. Certain conditions were imposed which General Ely accepted:
a. A special inspection team headed by an Air Force General Officer would proceed to Indo-China immediately to examine French maintenance, supply problems, and utilization of U.S. aircraft furnished the French. A report will be made to the Secretary of Defense with a copy being given to General Navarre.
b. The aircraft will be returned to the U.S. Air Force at the end of the current fighting season about the end of May, or earlier if required for service in Korea. Decision as to permanent acceptance and support of the third B-26 squadron will be made after the report of the special examination (para 3a above) has been analyzed.
4. General Ely informed me that steps had been taken by the French Air Force to supply additional aviation mechanics to Indo-China and to replace our 200 U.S. Air Force mechanics along the following lines:
a. The tour of duty of 200 French mechanics due for early return to France is being extended two months. This will permit the operation of the 25 additional B-26s without need for more U.S. personnel. 15 Air crews now in training in France and North Africa are being sent by air to IndoChina.
b. Fifty mechanics are being sent from France within the next month and beginning 1 June, one hundred additional per month will be sent to a total of 450.
c. The 200 U.S. Air Force mechanics can be released "within 8 days of 15 June."
5. General Ely raised the question of obtaining authorization to use the C-119 transports to drop napalm at Dien Bien Phu. Although the U.S. does not expect spectacular results, this was approved on condition:
a. No U.S. crews were involved.
b. The French high command requested the diversion of this air lift capability to meet the emergency situation at Dien Bien Phu.
6. I presented to General Ely our views in regard to expanding the MAAG to assist the French in training the Vietnamese, indicating to him the importance which we attach to this action, first, to obtain better results, secondly to release French officers for combat service. General Ely was most unsympathetic to any encroachment on French responsibilities or significant expansion of the MAAG. The reasons given related to French "prestige," possible lack of confidence in French leadership by the Vietnamese, "the political situation in France" etc. The only commitments I was able to get from General Ely were:
a. He would urge General Navarre to be most sympathetic to the advice given by the officers recently assigned to MAAG (such as Colonel Rosson).
b. He would request General Navarre to discuss the utilization of U.S. staff officers with General O'Daniel on the spot in a broad, understanding and comprehensive manner." I would make a similar request of General O'Daniel.
c. He would make some informal soundings in Paris on the subject of increased U.S. participation in training and would communicate further with me-informally-through General Valluy.
I conclude that the French are disposed firmly to resist any delegation of training responsibilities to the U.S. MAAG.
7. Much the same attitude was manifested by General Ely in regard to U.S. operations in the fields of psychological, clandestine and guerrilla warfare. No commitment was obtained except that General Ely would discuss the matter with Mr. Allen Dulles (which he did).
8. General Ely submitted a request in writing, copy attached as Enclosure "A," as to what action the U.S. would take if aircraft based in China intervened in Indo-China. I exchanged the following agreed minute with him on this matter:
"In respect to General Ely's memorandum of 23 March 1954, it was decided that it was advisable that military authorities push their planning work as far as possible so that there would be no time wasted when and if our governments decided to oppose enemy air intervention over Indo-China if it took place; and to check all planning arrangements already made under previous agreements between CINCPAC and the CINC Indo-China and send instructions to those authorities to this effect."
9. The particular situation at Dien Bien Phu was discussed in detail. General Ely indicated that the chance for success was, in his estimate, "50-50." He discounted any possibility of sending forces overland to relieve the French Garrison. He recognized the great political and psychological importance of the outcome both in Indo-China and in France but considered that Dien Bien Phu, even if lost, would be a military victory for the French because of the cost to the Viet Minh and the relatively greater loss to the Viet Minh combat forces. Politically and psychologically the loss of Dien Bien Phu would be a very serious setback to the French Union cause, and might cause unpredictable repercussions both in France and Indo-China.
10. In regard to the general situation in Indo-China General Ely's views were essentially as follows. The loss of Indo-China would open up all of South East Asia to ultimate Communist domination. Victory in Indo-China is as much a political as a military matter. The French hope to get agreement with the Viet Nam in current discussions in Paris which will implement the July 3rd declaration and lead to more enthusiastic cooperation and participation in the war by the Vietnamese. They hope also to get more positive leadership from Bao Dai who, at this time, is the only potential native leader. From the more optimistic point of view, assuming that Dien Bien Phu was held and native support assured, he expected that military successes but not total military victory would be achieved in 1954-1955, following the broad concept of the Navarre Plan and within presently programmed resources. Ultimate victory will require the creation of a strong indigenous army, extending operations to the north and west, manning and defending the Chinese frontier and the commitment of resources greatly in excess of those which France alone can supply. He envisages some sort of a coalition or regional security arrangement by the nations of South East Asia.
11. I raised with General Ely the question of promoting General Navarre in order that General O'Daniel might retain his rank of Lt. General without embarrassment to Navarre. General Ely made no commitment, pointing out that rank in the French Army resulted from a Cabinet action depending upon seniority. He indicated that the Cabinet might possibly consider a promotion for General Navarre if Dien Bien Phu was held.
12. General Ely made quite a point of explaining in "great frankness" actions on the part of the United States which were causes of friction. Those mentioned specifically were:
a. Americans acted as if the United States sought to control and operate everything of importance; that this was particularly true at lower levels and in connection with FCA operations.
b. The United States appears to have an invading nature as they undertake everything in such great numbers of people.
c. French think that McCarthyism is prevalent in the U.S. and actually is akin to Hitlerism.
d. Americans do not appreciate the difficulties under which the French must operate as a result of two devastating wars.
e. Many Americans appear to favor Germany over France.
f. U.S. administrative procedures are enormously wasteful, irritating and paper heavy.
g. In Germany the U.S. forces have the benefit of better weapons and most modern techniques, whereas the French forces do not.
h. In connection with offshore procurement, the U.S. appeared to lack confidence in the French in the manufacture of most modern weapons and equipment.
I endeavored to set the record straight on each of these particulars and stressed the fact that Americans were growing very impatient with France over its lack of action on the EDC and German rearmament and French tendencies to overemphasize their prestige and sensitivities.
13. General Ely indicated that the leaders of the present French Government were fully aware of the importance of denying Indo-China to the Communists and the prevention of Communist domination of South East Asia. He stated that they would take a strong position at the Geneva Conference but, inasmuch as France could make no concessions to Communist China, they looked to the United States for assistance as the United States could contribute action that the Communist Chinese sought, i.e., recognition and relaxation of trade controls.
14. During the course of the discussions General Ely stressed that, from the military standpoint, one of the major deficiencies in Indo-China was offensive air power. I took this opportunity to pose the proposition of incorporating an air component within the framework of the Foreign Legion or alternatively forming an International Volunteer Air Group for operations in Indo-China. General Ely manifested casual interest but made no commitment to do more than consider the matter further on his return to Paris.
15. As I stated in a brief memorandum to the President, copy attached as Enclosure "B," I am gravely fearful that the measures being undertaken by the French will prove to be inadequate and initiated too late to prevent a progressive deterioration of the situation in Indo-China. If Dien Bien Phu is lost, this deterioration may occur very rapidly due to the loss of morale among the mass of the native population. In such a situation only prompt and forceful intervention by the United States could avert the loss of all of South East Asia to Communist domination. I am convinced that the United States must be prepared to take such action.
Admiral, U.S. Navy
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Washington, 23 March 1954
ADMIRAL ARTHUR W. RADFORD
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
FROM: GENERAL PAUL ELY
The absence of enemy air has been a characteristic of the military situation in Indochina since the beginning of operations. Therefore, an enemy air intervention would carry grave consequences.
On the other hand, the lack of jettable airfields in Vietminh controlled areas leads to the conclusion that any intervention by modern aircrafts would start from Chinese territory.
Without prejudging decisions of a general nature which our governments could take in the event of an air aggression starting from China, it seems to me it will be of some use to study the best way of limiting the effects that such an attack might have on the French Air Force units and on the Corps Expeditionnaire even if it were carried out by aircraft of a doubtful nationality; this last assumption has not been made so far.
Can direct intervention by U.S. aircraft be envisaged and, if such is the case, how would it take place?
Contacts have already been made in the past by CINCPAC and the French CinC Indochina on this problem. I feel they ought to be renewed and pave the way for more precise studies and more detailed staff agreements with a view to limiting the air risk which characterizes the present situation.
/s,/ P. ELY
THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
Washington, D. C.
MEMORANDUM FOR THE PRESIDENT
24 March 1954
SUBJECT: Discussions with General Ely relative to the situation in Indo-China.
1. During the period 20-24 March I conducted a series of discussions with General Ely, Chairman of the French Chiefs of Staff, on the situation in IndoChina. In addition, General Ely conferred with the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of CIA and the U.S. Military Representative to NATO.
2. General Ely requested urgent action to make early delivery of various items of material that had previously been requested through the MAAG Indo-China. These were all arranged to the satisfaction of General Ely except for 14 C-47 transport aircraft which are in critical supply and did not come in the urgent category. Noteworthy is the supply of 25 additional B-26s for a third squadron which will be furnished immediately on a temporary loan basis. A recent request for 20 helicopters and 80 additional U.S. maintenance personnel was discussed and he was informed that it was not possible to grant the request at this time.
3. General Ely made no significant concessions in response to suggestions which would improve the situation in Indo-China. He explained French difficulties involving domestic problems and maintenance of prestige as basic reasons for his non-concurrence. He agreed to explore informally the possibility of accepting limited U.S. assistance in training the Vietnamese, but is generally in opposition.
4. General Ely submitted a request in writing as to what action the U.S. would take if aircraft based in China intervened in Indo-China. No commitment was made. The matter is being referred to the Secretary of State.
5. General Ely affirmed the gravity of the situation at Dien Bien Phu stating the outcome as 50-50, and emphasized the great importance of that battle from the political and psychological standpoint. In this I am in full accord but share the doubts of other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as to the adequacy of the measures being taken by General Navarre. He was given approval to use C-119 transport aircraft to drop Napalm provided no U.S. crews were involved.
6. General Ely expressed the view that military successes but not total military victory were to be expected in 1954-1955, with the presently programmed resources in pursuance of the Navarre Plan. He considers the problem in IndoChina to be political as well as military. Ultimate victory will require the independence of the Associated States, development of a strong indigenous army, manning and defending the Chinese frontier and commitment of resources greatly in excess of those which France can supply. He envisages some sort of coalition by the nations of S. E. Asia.
7. As a result of the foregoing conferences I am gravely fearful that the measures being taken by the French will prove to be inadequate and initiated too late to prevent a progressive deterioration of the situation. The consequences can well lead to the loss of all of S. E. Asia to Communist domination. If this is to be avoided, I consider that the U.S. must be prepared to act promptly and in force possibly to a frantic and belated request by the French for U.S. intervention.
/s/ ARTHUR RADFORD
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