The Pentagon Papers
Gravel Edition
Volume 4
Chapter 2, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604.
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)

Section 4, pp. 447-477

5. Developments in the Ground War: Strategy Takes Shape

Ground operations in the period February into early May followed essentially the pattern predicted by COMUSMACV in his earlier assessments and statements of strategy. The PRAIRIE series of operations conducted by the Marines to counter infiltration through the DMZ had received permission during the month to employ artillery fire against military targets north of the DMZ and the enemy had responded with heavy mortar attacks on friendly positions throughout the PRAIRIE operations area. Operation DE SOTO designed to clear and secure the Sa Huyen salt flats prior to the April harvest had been termed "successful." Operation PERSHING in northern Binh Dinh continued as part of an extensive allied effort to break the enemy hold in the area.

The 1st Cavalry Division participated in OPERATION THAYER II, southwest of Bong Son in II Corps area. This clearing operation netted 228 enemy killed before it was terminated in mid-February. Across the Corps Tactical Zone in Pleiku Province, OPERATION SAM HOUSTON operating on the border between Pleiku and Kontum Provinces was countering increasing enemy forces at the egress of their Highland border sanctuaries. In III Corps the most significant operation was JUNCTION CITY, the largest operation of the war, initiated in 22 February with an airborne assault into the long time enemy sanctuaries in northern Tay Ninh Province. Another major offensive into War Zone C, OPERATION GADSTON began on 2 February but achieved relatively insignificant results. FAIRFAX, on the outskirts of Saigon, continued to screen that city and secondarily to conduct US-ARVN buddy system operations concentrating on civic action during the day and conducting extensive patrols and ambushes during the night. (See Figure 2, Monthly Evaluation (February 1967) map.)

In March the tempo of the war increased partially in reaction to the burgeoning infiltration in I Corps Tactical Zone. South of the DMZ, Marines continued to conduct counter infiltration operations with PRAIRIE II and PRAIRIE III, operations characterized by bloody assaults designed to retain control of key terrain features dominating infiltration corridors leading down from the North. In the western highlands of II Corps, U.S. forces in OPERATION SAM HOUSTON were experiencing frequent heavy ground clashes with enemy units which sortied out of their sanctuaries and attempted to operate in Pleiku and Southern Kontum Provinces. JUNCTION CITY continuing in III Corps experienced heavier contact in War Zone C, while FAIRFAX and other screening operations were regarded as successful on the strength of a steady decline in enemy initiated incidents on the outskirts of the city. ARVN divisions continued to operate in IV Corps but there are no large operations reported. (See Figure 3, Monthly Evaluation (March 1967) map.)

The first major operational dislocation of U.S. forces to the north occurred in early April when TASK FORCE OREGON (a provisional division) was created and moved north into Quang Hgai Province thereby releasing Marine units for operations further north in the vicinity of the DMZ. Some of the bitterest fighting of the war occurred in late April near Khe Sanh in western Quang Tri Province, coming as a direct result of the USMC strategy of fighting for control and holding of key terrain commanding infiltration routes. The Marines were engaged in a series of charp and bloody hill battles reminiscent of those fought in the late stages of the Korean War. The mounting presure of the enemy forces in and adjacent to the DMZ not only prompted creation of Task Force OREGON but hastened additions of artillery and air support units in the area. In the Western Highlands of II Coprs, OPERATION SAM HOUSTON terminated to be followed immediately bu OPERATION FRANCES MARION. This new operation retined the original mission of its predecessor border surveillance and protection of installations in the Pleiku-Kontum area. JUNCTION CITY continued in III Coprs tactical zone, but there was a notable decline in activity in that area, possibly attributable to the thinning out of U.S. units to provide for the dispositions to I Corps Tactical Zone. Some 53 ARVN infrantry battalions, one Ranger battalion, and one regional force battalion were reported performing missions in direct support of Revolutionary Development. Country-wide VC incidents directed at disruption of the RD effort increased as the VC attempted to influence the hamlet elections conducted during April (See Figure 4, Monthly Evaluation (April 1967) map.)

In May, attention focused on I Corps where heavy fighting continued. Operation PRAIRIE IV conducted by the Marines in conjunction with smaller operations. BEAU CHARGER, HICKORY and LAM SON was directed toward blocking the major enemy infiltration into northern Quang Tri. Indications were that the enemy was building up in preparation for a probable coordinated offensive and allied military activity was directed toward disrupting his plans. Altogether 24 operations in I Corps tactical zone achieved "significant results," 14 of those operations resulting in over 100 enemy killed. U.S. Marines and ARVN forces also entered the DMZ for the first time and reported over 800 enemy killed. In Southeastern Quang Ngai Province, OPERATION MALHEUR conducted by Task Force OREGON reported 369 enemy killed by the month's end. In II Corps FRANCES MARION continued to experience heavy fighting in the border regions as border infiltration attempts by large NVA/VC units continued on the upswing. (See Figures 5,6,7 and 8 for Corps Monthly Operational Maps, May 1967.)

6. The Domestic Debate Continues: Polarization at Home

Domestic views about the war were beginning to polarize in early February. Edmund Reischauer, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his dismay with the administration's persistent adherence to the domino theory and its variations, one which he said was now "dropped in the trash can of history wrapped in a Chinese rug." Student leaders in their Washington Convention had denounced the draft system and urged the abolition of selective service. In early February, 1,900 women marched upon the Pentagon protesting the war policies and 5,000 American scientists, 17 of them Nobel Prize winners, pleaded with the White House for a review of U.S. policy on chemical and biological warfare in Vietnam. General Gavin was urging before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee an immediate and unconditional halt of American bombing asking for what he termed "a strategy of sanity." In early March, Robert Kennedy had delivered a strong speech in the Senate calling for a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam, a proposal which Secretary Rusk publicly buoyed by the preceding day's announcement of the Mansfield Resolution supporting the administration's policy in Vietnam.

Resistance to the war and its costs were beginning to be reflected in administration actions. In early February President Johnson asked for $6.2 billion in foreign aid for two years, the smallest appropriation in the 20-year history of the program noting that the opposition to a larger program stemmed from "a view of needs at home and the costs of the struggle in Vietnam." In early March the President announced that we were beginning to mine the rivers in the north, authorizing long-range artillery shelling across the DMZ and commencing naval bombardment of military targets in the DMZ in North Vietnam border areas. When questioned, he defended the new activities stating that he would "not describe them as a step up in the war" but only as boosts "desirable and essential in the face of immediate infiltration and build-up." There was increasing public emphasis from the White House on peace feelers to Hanoi and detente with the Soviet Government. The first exchange of letters between Kosygin and Johnson confirming the willingness of the Soviet Government to discuss means of limiting the arms race was publicly announced on 3 March. On 22 March the Johnson-Ho letters were released, an event which in the view of most commentators placed Johnson in a somewhat more tenable position vis-a-vis Vietnam war policythan he had previously enjoyed.

Despite intensive efforts to alleviate the problem of credibility, events continued to reveal that the administration was being less than frank with reporters. In early February the Pentagon acknowledged that it had lost 1800 aircraft in Vietnam as opposed to the 622 "combat planes" which it had quoted earlier. R. W. Appel wrote in the New York Times questioning COMUSMACV infiltration figures. A week later, in another article which received wide circulation, Appel reported that the pacification effort was greatly hindered by South Vietnamese Government foot-dragging, a conclusion which found considerable sympathy among the group already dissatisfied with South Vietnamese Government pacification performance.

The public and the press alike were becoming increasingly wary of the statistics coming out of Washington. Even the Chicago Tribune in early March surmised
that either the figures coming out of MACV were wrong or those coming out of the Pentagon were misleading. The paper cited a recent joint press conference held by McNamara and Rusk in which they announced that communist military forces in Vietnam had suffered tremendous casualties in the past four months, quantitatively an increase of 40-50%, thus reducing their effectiveness significantly, but in the next sentence announcing that serious communist military activity in Vietnam had "increased substantially."

By mid-March editorial commentary was focusing on the theme that generally there would be more and wider war. American casualties announced on 10 March were higher than those for any other week of the war: 232 KIA, 1381 WIA, 4 MIA for a total of 1617. Four days later the U.S. conducted the heaviest attacks of the 1967 air war on North Vietnam (128 missions flown by approximately 450 aircraft). Not only was there a feeling that the war would be longer and more intense, but the public was becoming increasingly aware of its costs. In mid-March the House Appropriations Committee approved a $12 billion supplemental appropriations bill and a week later the Senate overwhelmingly approved a $20.8 billion military procurement program. The ease with which the appropriations bills were being passed was not truly indicative of the mood of Congress which was becoming increasingly divided about the war. The Stennis Subcommittee (Preparedness) was carrying the military's fight for more troops. In late March Stennis charged that "American commanders in Vietnam are not getting all the troops they want and the bombing of the north is overly restricted." The Pentagon reply to this was that "there had been no reduction in any program of troop deployments previously approved by the Department of Defense." Senator Symington was publicly urging wider air raids of North Vietnam to include attack of the MIG airfields. By late March, Stennis' charges were coming in drum-fire fashion focusing on charges that future troop deployments to Vietnam would fall below approved levels; that urgent military appeals for the bombing of more meaningful targets in North Vietnam were being arbitrarily denied and that the Pentagon was responsible for a gross shortage of ships in Vietnam. Prior to General Westmoreland's return to the U.S. in late April, General Abrams had been named as his Deputy Commander and it appears that indeed, despite Westmoreland's promises of victory, it would be a long war. For early that week the infiltration/casualty figures for the first quarter of 1967 were released, and they indicated that despite huge Red losses of nearly 25,000 men in the first 12 weeks of that year, nearly 4,000 more than that amount had infiltrated during the same period and were now active in enemy units in the South.


1. Systems Analysis--Vanguard of the Reaction

The search for alternatives to the major force increases proposed by the JCS was, as we have observed, intensive and widespread but the most cogent critique of MACV's strategy developed in the Systems Analysis OlfIce headed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Alain Enthoven. Here a concentrated attack was launched on the two most vulnerable aspects of COMUSMACV's operations: the feasibility of the "war of attrition" strategy pursued in the face of the uncertainty about NVN infiltration, and "search and destroy tactics to support it." The reaction in Systems Analysis to the 18 March troop request submitted by COMUSMACV was one of surprise and incredulity. Everyone who had worked in the problem area of ground force deployments believed that COMUSMACV had received the message during the Program 4 discussions, that any troops were going to be difficult to come by and those that were forthcoming had to be completely and convincingly justified.

Immediately upon receipt of the MACV requirements request Alain Enthoven ordered that a detailed analysis of the request be made. The initial cuts at the request made by his staff were simply in the form of tables comparing the approved Program #4 and the new force levels required. These were completed and to the Secretary of Defense within a week aftr the initial MACV request reached the Pentagon.

The more detailed follow-up analysis prepared in Systems Analysis initially concentrated upon the "unfortunate lack of analysis" in the MACV/JCS request, one which failed to explain how the extra forces were needed to avoid defeat. Despite this orientation toward the analytic lacunae the germ of the basic, vital critique which was to emerge was there. The preface of the draft lamented the lack of analysis and evidence, seemingly proof in itself that the request should be denied, but more fundamentally it continued:

Despite considerable progress in the Vietnam conflict during the past year, an end to the conflict is not in sight and major unresolved problems remain. North Vietnam still believes it can win in the long run, in the name of nationalism if not communism. It has been fighting for over 25 years against the Japanese, French, and Americans and appears prepared to fight indefinitely. The reaction of COMUSMACV to this unsatisfactory situation is to request more U.S. forces, rather than to improve the effectiveness of the RVNAF, and U.S. and other Free World forces.

Hanoi is willing to wait. We have hurt them some, and we can even hurt them some more, but not so badly as to destroy their society or their hope for regaining in the future the material things they sacrifice today. Their policy will be to wait until dissent in the US (coupled with world opinion) forces us to retire. Our only hope is to establish an equally strong and patient nationalism in South Vietnam.

We, too, must be willing to wait. We cannot establish a strong Southern nationalism in a few months or a year. If we leave before that is one [sic], we will have lost, regardless of the military havoc we have caused in SEA.

Additional forces, added burdens on the US economy, and calling of the reserves will only serve to increase DRV's belief that the US will not remain in SVN for the long pull. Additional forces make it appear that we are trying for the quick kill. Hanoi knows that we cannot achieve it and that the American public will be bitter and divided unless we do. We should be looking for ways to ease the burden for the years ahead, rather than making the war more costly.

The diversion of resources from other national goals also had costs which demanded accounting:

If we are to stay, we must have the backing of the US electorate. As we divert resources from other national goals, as US lives are lost, and as the electorate sees nothing but endless escalation for the future, an increasing fraction will become discouraged. If this keeps on in the future as it has in the past, we will have to leave SEA before stability is achieved, losing all that we have invested up to that point, and foregoing the general stability of the world which was established as a result of the Korean War. If we are not to lose everything, the trends will have to be changed: the increase in unfavorable public opinion will have to be slowed; the development of SVN society will have to be speeded.

The memorandum recommended that only enough forces be provided to meet minimum military goals:

Thus we must provide only enough US forces to meet minimum military goals. These goals are: (1) to deter a Chinese Communist invasion; (2) to prevent military defeat in South Vietnam, and (3) to prevent excessive terrorism. We have at least sufficient forces presently deployed to meet these goals.

Additional forces will add additional cost, further degrading public opinion and preventing expansion of critical domestic programs. They would present the prospect of unending escalation, splitting the American public even more openly and seriously.

These goals, of course, differed greatly from those outlined by the Joint Chiefs in JCSM 702-66 in November and JCSM 218-67 in April. The military aims in the Systems Analysis memo were passive in nature, and obviously based upon new assumptions about the likelihood of success, and therefore were directed toward much different terminal goals than those the JCS proposed.

The recommendations made by Systems Analysis were based upon two fundamental arguments: (1) That the additional forces were unlikely to increase VC/ NVA losses beyond any level intolerable to the enemy; and (2) that the additional forces would not help the pacification task measurably. It argued:

Additional forces are very unlikely to increase VC/NVA losses beyond any level intolerable to the enemy. Assuming that the enemy has no control over his losses, the table below shows projected enemy losses. Only when the projection is based on recent peak losses does the rate of enemy losses exceed the rate at which MACV and USIB agree the enemy can go on replacing them indefinitely, and then only by 139 per week for the MACV "minimum essential" force, and 431 for the "optimum" force. Even at a decrease in enemy forces of 431 per week, over 10 years would be needed to eliminate the enemy.


Program IV force MACV "minimum essential" force MACV "optimal" force
Peak losses* 3188 3404 3696
Avg. losses* * 2121 2265 22460

DIA USIB estimate of enemy capability to sustain losses indefinitely = 3265.

* Based on January-March 1967 enemy losses to all causes.
** Based on CY 66.

However, just as we can control our aircraft losses, there is clear evidence that the enemy has considerable control over his ground force losses. He is hurt most often when he chooses to assault U.S. forces (e.g., Junction City). On large operations, stealth is impossible. Consequently over 90% of the large firefights that develop in such operations are initiated by the enemy, and in over 80% of the cases there is a clear indication of a planned enemy attack. The enemy can probably hold his losses (all causes) to about 2000 per week regardless of our force levels or operations. Additional forces cannot defeat him so long as he has the will, some popular support and we lack timely intelligence.

Additional forces will not help the pacification task measurably. This cannot be accomplished with 480,000 or 560,000 U.S. military forces and probably not at all without (1) a far more effective Revolutionary Development (RD) program supported by Vietnamese forces and (2) a more stable and progressive GVN, both of which will require patience and emphasis on political-economic objectives rather than military ones. It is clear from the USMC experience in I CTZ that U.S. forces can deny VC control but cannot secure the population. There were fewer people in the "secured" catgeory in I CTZ at the end of CY 66 than at the beginning.

Our experience in Operation FAIRFAX just west and south of Saigon further supports the conclusion that in spite of good intentions and good actions, the U.S. military cannot undertake pacification and expect to withdraw after a short period, leaving the area secure. In FAIRFAX, still being conducted, 3 U.S. battalions were "temporarily" deployed with 3 ARVN battalions to secure the area near Saigon. The U.S. battalions are still engaged 2½ months longer than planned and will be for the foreseeable future. Fewer than 1 VC per U.S. battalion-equivalent per day has been killed, most of the VC infrastructure has temporarily moved out of the area but has not been captured, the U.S. has made many friends (but of unknown longevity), the ARVN made few friends and actually look worse than before, after comparison with the Americans, and the populace in general are reserving judgment until they know the VC have left permanently. Part of the reason for ARVN ineffectiveness is lack of supplies and support-items (e.g., barbed wire) which the U.S. troops had in ample supply. We would be much better off to provide the GVN with such supplies rather than deploy additional U.S. forces.

In brief, the additional forces are likely neither to reduce the enemy force nor contribute significantly to pacification. These goals can only be met by improving the efficiency of the forces already deployed and, particularly, that of ARVN. But additional U.S. forces decrease the incentive to MACV and the GVN to make the Vietnamese shoulder a larger portion of the burden. The RVNAF appear to have done well by all statistical measures in IV CTZ, where they have been provided only logistical and combat support by the U.S., and very badly in the other areas where the U.S. has taken over the war while denying them significant support.

Finally, it returned to the "old" piaster issue which had proven such a potent instrument of control earlier during the Program 4 deliberations:

Additional forces will also damage the SVN economy, as we saw when Program 4 was approved. Inflation in January-March 1967 was 20%. Even apart from the rice situation, prices were up 7%, or 28% on an annual basis. The inflation still hits hardest GVN civilian and military personnel, on whom we must rely to eventually pacify the country.

MACV, of course, appears to be doing a good job of holding down piaster spending. Program 4 forces now appear to cost P41.0 billion in CY 67, after correcting for an apparent reporting error and MACV might be able to hold to about P44 billion in CY 68 even with increased forces. Nevertheless, the SVN economy is still far from sound, and more forces compound the problem.

It closed by carefully listing the following recommendations:

1. That additional forces for SEA not be approved and the currently approved Program #4 ceiling be firmly maintained.
2. MACV be directed to submit a plan by Aug 1, 1967 to enhance the effectiveness of the RVNAF forces. In the long term the RVNAF must assume a greater role for maintaining the security of SVN. The longer the task is delayed, the more difficult it becomes. We have made the Koreans into an effective fighting force, and we must do the same for the RVNAF. They can do the job far better and cheaper than we can, and they will remain after we leave.
3. MACV be directed to submit a plan by the same date, to increase the effectiveness of approved US and FWMAF forces. This should include consideration of changes in tactical employment (e.g., greater use of long-range patrols, fewer battalions in static defense, and more efficient use of available helicopter resources).
4. Consideration be given by MACV, CINCPAC, and the JCS and OSD of possible steps to reduce the cost of our efforts in SEA. The conflict is almost certainly going to be a long one. If we expect the American public to support such an effort for an extended period of time we must hold the costs to an acceptable level.

The draft included two tables, one a summary of deployments to Southeast Asia and the other a breakout of the additional MACV requirements request. These are shown below.


Program #4 FY 1968*
1967 1968 MACV Requirement Minimum Optimum Essential
June Dec. June
Personnel SVN (000) 441.0 473.2 482.6 558.9 676.4
US Maneuver Bns 82 90 90 108 130
Artillery Bns 56 2/3 59 2/3 61 2/3 75 2/3 89 2/3
Engineer Bns 53 54 53 67 79
Fighter-Attack A/c (US) 999 1042 1002 1146 1182
InCountry Naval Vessels 28 424 430 589 589
Piaster Expenditures (6 months ending) 20.3 20.3 20.0 23.2 29.0

* Level off cost for 6-month period. Includes CINCPAC estimated contract construction.


Minimum Essential (a) Optimum (b)
Strength (000) 84.1 (c) 201.6
Maneuver Bns 21 43 (c)







Artillery Bns 15 28
Engineer Bns 14 26
Tactical Fighter 8 13
APB (Barracks Ships) 3 3
ARL (Repair Ship) 2 2
RAS (River Assault Sqds) 2 2
LST 9 10
PBR (River Patrol Boats) 50 50

(a) Required by 30 June 1968. Includes Practice Nine Forces (7822 personnel) approved on 8 Apr 67.
(b) Includes "Minimum Essential"; required ASAP, assumed to be 31 December 1968.
(c) JCS recommend 1 USMC and 1 USAR division if reserves are called, adding 12,300 personnel.
NOTE: Includes organic as well as non-organic units.

Enthoven was given the final draft just discussed on the 28th. He was not completely satisfied with the basic thrust of the paper-to him it did not adequately emphasize the deeper political and psychological issues bound up in seemingly endless troop increases with little or no promise of ultimate success. The Assistant Secretary sat down and drafted an outline for a final memorandum he intended to take to Mr. McNamara. In it he cogently laid out his opposition to further increases and the reasons why. He believed that "adding 200,000 Americans" would not do anything significant, considering that:

. . . . (a) VC/NVA losses don't go up in proportion to our forces; they haven't in past 18 mos.
(b) even if they did, additional 200,000 U.S. forces wouldn't put VC/ NVA losses above their ability to sustain or their willingness to accept.
(c) Our studies indicate VC/NVA control their losses, within wide limits. They start most fights. Their losses go up when they're attacking.

The final point as to whether the VC/NVA could control their ground force losses within wide limits was based upon a Systems Analysis study of small unit engagements during 1966. In the study, SA concluded that:

Washington D.C. 20301

4 May 1967


SUBJECT: Force levels and enemy attrition

Although MACV has admitted to you that the VC/NVA forces can refuse to fight when they want to, this fact has played no role in MACV's analysis of strategy and force requirements. (For example, in his October 1965 briefing, General DePuy said, "The more often we succeed at (search and destroy operations) the less often will the VC stand and fight.") Because enemy attrition plays such a central role in MACV's thinking, and because the enemy's degree of control over the pace of the action determines how well he can control his attrition, we have taken a hard look at the facts on the enemy's tactical initiative. From reliable, detailed accounts of 56 platoon-sized and larger fire-fights in 1966 we have classified these fights according to how they developed. The first four categories in the table all represent cases in which the enemy willingly and knowingly stood and fought in a pitched battle; these categories include 47 (84%) of the 56 battles. The first three categories, enemy ambushes and assaults on our forces, have 66% of the cases; these three plus category 4a, comprising the cases where the enemy has the advantage of surprise, have 78% of the cases.

The results are independently confirmed from two sources. First, the ARCOV study, which analyzed a different set of battles in late 1965 and early 1966, found that 46% of the fights begin as enemy ambushes and that the enemy starts the fight in 88% of the cases; moreover, it found that 63% of the infantry targets encountered were personnel in trenches or bunkers. Second, we have analyzed the After-Action Reports submitted to MACV by the line commanders in the field; although generally vague and incomplete in their descriptions of what happened, they broadly confirm the drift of the above numbers.

These results imply that the size of the force we deploy has little effect on the rate of attrition of enemy forces. This conclusion should scarcely surprise you in view of the trend of enemy losses in 1966 and in view of the obvious sensitivity of month-to-month enemy losses to his known strategic initiatives. What is surprising to me is that MACV has ignored this type of information in discussing force levels. I recommend that you inject this factor into the discussion.


The table entitled: "Types of Enemy Engagements Described in Combat Narratives," (below) presents the study data in tabular form:


Category Description Nr. of Engagements Percent of Total Percent Subtotals
1. Hot Landing Zone. Enemy attacks U.S. troops as they deploy onto the battlefield 7 12.5  
2. Organized enemy attack against a U.S. static defense perimeter. 17 30.4  
3. VC/NVA ambush or encircle and surprise a moving U.S. unit, using what is evidently a preconceived battle plan. 13 23.3 66.2
4. A moving U.S. unit engages the enemy in a dug-in or fortified position:      

a. The main engagement comes as a virtual surprise to the American tactical commander because the enemy is well concealed and has been alerted either by observations of our unit or by our engaging apparent stragglers nearby.

7 12.5 78.7

b. The U.S. tactical commander has reasonably accurate knowledge of enemy positions and strength before committing his

3 5.4 84.1
5. U.S. unit ambushes a moving enemy 5 8.9  
6. Chance engagement, both sides surprised 4 7.1  
TOTAL 56 100.1  

The United States could not adequately "pacify" either, in Enthoven's estimation, but it could provide an "umbrella" against VC/NVA main forces. He assumed our forces were adequate for that based on:

(a) experience of past year (VC/NVA haven't won a battle; they've taken heavy losses trying)
(b) look at force ratios, corps by corps and consider our firepower/mobility advantage on top of that.

The finished memorandum as it emerged provided a powerful set of reasons for holding the ground force line:

Draft #1
May 1, 1967


SUBJECT: Increase of SEA Forces

MACV has asked for a "minimum essential force" which would add 2 1/3 divisions, 8 tactical fighter squadrons, and 85,000 personnel to Program 4. His
"optimum force" would add 4 2/3 divisions, 13 tactical fighter squadrons, and 200,000 personnel, for a total of about 670,000 in SVN.

MACV/JCS offer no analysis to show that these extra forces are needed toavoid defeat, or even that they are likely to achieve any specific goal. But I am concerned far less about this unfortunate lack of analysis than I am by the whole strategy which such a massive increase in combat forces must imply.

Though the North Vietnamese are indeed communists, we have come up against something more than just Marxism. We are facing the strongest political current in the world today: nationalism. That is the force which welds the North Vietnamese together, just as it does so many other peoples today.

Having seen both the Japanese and the French come and go, the North Vietnamese are now fighting the United States. For their little country to triumph finally over the greatest nation the world has ever known would surely serve as the ultimate vindication of nationalism as a policy. Enticed by this goal, and hardened by 25 years of more-or-less continuous fighting, the North Vietnamese will, I fear, continue to endure great hardship. We have hurt them with our bombing, and we can hurt them more. But we can't hurt them so badly as to destroy their society or, more to the point, their hope, not only for regaining the material things they sacrifice today, but the whole of South Vietnam.

But how can they hope to beat this great nation? As MACV himself said before the Congress, the enemy "believes our Achilles heel is our resolve." They believe that public opinion in the United States will eventually force our retirement. And they could be right.

As for our own goals, I see only one way of establishing stability in Vietnam. We must match the nationalism we see in the North with an equally strong and patient one in the South. No matter what military success we may achieve, if we leave before that is done, there can be no stability, and we will have lost everything we have invested in South Vietnam. Indeed, we will jeopardize much of the general stability in the world which we bought at the price of the Korean War.

Therefore, I see this war as a race between, on the one hand, the development of a viable South Vietnam and, on the other, a gradual loss in public support, or even tolerance, for the war. Hanoi is betting that we'll lose public support in the United States before we can build a nation in South Vietnam. We must do what we can to make sure that doesn't happen. We must work on both problems together: slow the loss in public support; and speed the development of South Vietnam. Our horse must cross the finish first.

With regard to public support, some people feel we simply have no business being in this war, while others are just against all wars. We can't do much about that. But there are other factors influencing public support that we can control. Casualties are one. Diversion of the national wealth from badly needed domestic programs is another. But the biggest of all may well be escalation.

Since 1961, and particularly since 1965, the public has seen an apparently unending escalation of this war. This must have a strong psychological effect. There must be many who are more concerned about the unbroken upward movement of spending and casualty rates than they are about the current levels. Our escalation is designed to put pressure on the North Vietnamese. But they may be more resolved to withstand it than the United States electorate is. I believe that's the basis of Hanoi's strategy.

If MACV's additional forces are approved, our casualty rate may not rise, but our expenditure rate certainly will, and the ominous history of unending escalation will be maintained. That combination will reduce public support, and we will have even less time to develop a strong nation in the South.

With regard to developing that nation, more United States forces aren't going to solve the pacification problem. In spite of the Marines' ability to deny the Viet Cong control of an area, there were fewer people in the "Secured" category in I Corps at the end of 1966 than at the beginning. In Operation Fairfax, southwest of Saigon, the 3 U.S. battalions which were "temporarily" deployed with 3 ARVN battalions to secure the area were supposed to leave 2½ months ago. But they are still there, and will be for the foreseeable future. The kill rate per U.S. battalion-equivalent has been less than one V.C. per day and most of the V.C. infrastructure has evaded capture by moving out. Though the U.S. forces have made many friends (of unknown loyalty), the ARVN has made few and, in comparison with the Americans, the ARVN has lost prestige in the eyes of the populace, who are still worried that the V.C. may return.

Part of the reason for the ineffectiveness of the ARVN is a lack of supplies and support items, such as barbed wire, which the U.S. forces have in abundance. While more U.S. forces bring more barbed wire, that's doing it the hard way. The pacification program depends, instead, on better support for Vietnamese forces and a more energetic national Government. This program requires not only time and patience, but political and economic progress rather than military victories.

As we saw when Program 4 was approved, additional forces are a burden on the South Vietnamese economy. Inflation in the first 3 months of 1967 alone amounted to 20%. Even apart from the rice situation, prices rose 7%, or 28% on an annual basis. MACV is doing a good job in holding down piaster spending. It looks like the Program 4 forces will cost P41 billion in 1967, and MACV might be able to hold to P44 billion in 1968, even with increased forces. Nevertheless, the SVN economy is still far from sound, additional forces would mean slower progress, and the inflation would still hit hardest on the very civilian and military personnel on whom we must rely if pacification is ever to succeed.

Furthermore, if we continue to add forces and to Americanize the war, we will only erode whatever incentives the South Vietnamese people may now have to help themselves in this fight. Similarly, it would be a further sign to the South Vietnamese leaders that we will carry any load, regardless of their actions. That will not help us build a strong nation.

If you agree that more U.S. forces would speed the "horse" that is carrying public opinion toward rejection of the war, while slowing the "horse" carrying the development of a strong nation in the South, the only justification left would be to achieve other military objectives, of which I can imagine four:

1) To deter a Communist Chinese invasion. I see no sign of a change in Communist Chinese intentions. Were they to invade, they would face a formidable force already in place, and more available if needed, particularly with mobilization. Furthermore, I feel that the very nationalism which drives the North Vietnamese also inhibits them from calling in the same Chinese who have subjugated them in the past.

2) To prevent a military defeat in South Vietnam. I do not think there is danger of any significant military defeat, given the forces we have in place now. I have attached an appendix to this memorandum which shows that we already enjoy favorable force ratios.

3) To prevent terrorism. Though there is terrorism in South Vietnam now, I doubt that additional U.S. combat forces would significantly reduce it. This is a job for police-type forces, not maneuver battalions.

4) To raise VC/NVA losses to a level they cannot sustain. Presumably, this would be something above the weekly loss rate of 3,265 which the DIA/USIB estimate they can swallow indefinitely.

On the most optimistic basis, 200,000 more Americans would raise their weekly losses to about 3,700, or about 400 a week more than they could stand. In theory, we'd then wipe them out in 10 years. But to bank on that, you have to assume that (1) enemy losses are just proportional to friendly strength, and (2) that the unusually favorable kill ratio of the first quarter of 1967 will continue. However, if the kill ratio should be no better than the 1966 average, their losses would be about 2,100--less than 2/3 of their sustaining capability.

But even that figure is misleading. Losses just aren't directly related to the size of our force. Between the first and fourth quarters of 1966, our forces increased 23%, but their losses increased only 13%--little more than half as much.

Finally, the most important factor of all is that the enemy can control his losses within wide limits. The VC/NVA started the shooting in over 90% of the company-sized fire fights; over 80% began with a well-organized enemy attack. Since their losses rise (as in the first quarter of 1967) and fall (as they have done since) with their choice of whether or not to fight, they can probably hold their losses to about 2,000 a week regardless of our force levels. If, as I believe, their strategy is to wait us out, they will control their losses to a level low enough to be sustained indefinitely, but high enough to tempt us to increase our forces to the point of U.S. public rejection of the war.

In summary, I feel that adding more U.S. combat forces would be a step in the wrong direction. They are not needed for military security, and they could not force higher losses on the North Vietnamese. But they might play right into the hands of Hanoi by burdening the United States and increasing internal opposition to the war, while delaying the birth of the strong nation in the South which is our only hope of real stability. Therefore, I recommend the following:

1) Maintain the Program 4 ceiling.

2) Tell the electorate that, barring the unexpected, we'll stick with the present forces which are all we need, not only to stop the VC/NVA militarily, but also to exact a high price from Hanoi. Tell them that our "escalation" will now turn toward the building of a nation which will be strong enough to bring a natural stability to Vietnam so that we can leave for good.

3) Tell MACV to start making good analyses of his operations and feeding them back into his planning so that we can get more out of not only the U.S. and allied forces, but the ARVN as well.

4) Find ways to reduce costs for the long haul ahead. For example, cut back on the costly but ineffective bombing north of Route Package 4.

I know it's much easier to write down these recommendations than it is to get agreement on carrying them out. But I think we're up against an enemy who just may have found a dangerously clever strategy for licking the United States. Unless we recognize and counter it now, that strategy may become all too popular in the future.



Attached as an Appendix to the basic memorandum was also a detailed, corps by corps, analysis of COMUSMACV's minimum force requirement. Not only did this analysis question the calculations that had furnished the basis of the requirements but it criticized the unselective and unqualified goals: infiltration to be impeded, invasion deterred or defeated, TAORs expanded and joined, enemy driven to the hinterlands, base areas destroyed, LOC's secured, RD programs expanded, and GVN control extended.

The thrust of its conclusions was that emphasis should be placed not upon more forces, but upon employing the ones we already had in SVN more effectively.

In detail, it explicated the Systems Analysis view of how COMUSMACV's employment of forces by Corps could be improved:

COMUSMACV's Minimum Force Requirement--An Analysis

Ground Forces

MACV indicated on 18 March, and in Appendix B to JCSM 218-67, that his minimum essential needs are 2½ divisions for I CTZ. He now proposes that 1½ divisions go to I CTZ to supplement 2 brigades moved from III CTZ, (a total of 2 divisions instead of 2 1/3) and 1 division goes to III CTZ. The III CTZ thus gains one brigade on balance.

The 1 1/3 more divisions in I CTZ appears excessive for the mission. The total threat to I CTZ is only 95,000 VC/NVA personnel, including irregulars and political infrastructure. There are already more than 200,000 friendly forces there, not counting the 2 SLF battalions earmarked for I CTZ support. Any invasion by the NVA divisions now near the DMZ could easily be held with the forces now deployed and available to MACV. Calculations indicate that the 2 Army brigades already sent to I CTZ plus one more brigade (already in Program 4 for PRACTICE NINE) should be adequate to hold the DMZ and to extend the Marine tactical area of responsibility (TAOR) throughout the coastal plains area of I CTZ. Uncertainties and other calculations may well produce different results, but informal USMC staff review indicated our calculations were reasonable. In any event, these calculations are reproducible.

The MACV requirement is based on no known calculations. It is based on unselective and unquantified goals: infiltration to be impeded, invasion deterred or defeated, TAOR's expanded and joined, enemy driven to hinterlands, base areas destroyed, LOCs secured, RD programs expanded, and GVN control extended.

The division for III CTZ is justified by MACV to replace the 9th division, always designated for IV CTZ, not III CTZ. Nonetheless he could have argued that at least 2/3rd of the division is required to replace the 2 brigades sent to I CTZ. There is no evidence that the programmed III CTZ forces, without the 2 brigades but with the additional brigade equivalent now programmed (1 more Australian bn, an airborne bn, and an armored cavalry squadron) is inadequate; or that added forces could accomplish more. The force ratio would still be about 345,000 friendly to 74,000 enemy (4.7 to 1). In addition there is a mechanized battalion programmed for IV CTZ that might well be used more effectively in II CTZ. Moreover, the way III CTZ forces are employed, in multi-divisional operations of the Junction City/Manhattan variety, should be analyzed with great care before additional forces are even considered. Our analysis has shown that present forces could be employed more effectively (and at less cost) if greater emphasis were given small unit operations.

Furthermore, it is not clear that the entire 9th Division should be afloat, one brigade at the Dong Tam Base and one brigade at a base in III Corps (in addition to the separate mechanized battalion). These forces, working with the ARVN, should be adequate to counter the VC main force units and provide needed security for the RD effort. The threat in IV Corps is primarily from small units and guerrillas and should be encountered on that level, not with multi-brigade operations.

A greater return can probably be realized by giving the ARVN better support rather than increasing the size of the U.S. forces. The 2 ARVN divisions in IV Corps have less than half the artillery support of U.S. forces; five 105/155mm tubes and no heavy artillery tubes per ARVN battalion (in U.S. Army battalion equivalents) compared to ten 105/155mm tubes plus two one half 175 mm and 8" tubes per battalion for the U.S. Army forces. In addition, the amount of tactical air and armed helicopter support provided the ARVN forces country-wide is meager compared to that provided U.S. forces. During the 4th quarter of 1966 each U.S. battalion received about 500 hours per month of UH-1 support versus only 120 hours per battalion-equivalent for ARVN. In IV Corps the ARVN received 280 hours per battalion per month; in the other corps areas only 60 hours. There is no indication MACV has the same sense of urgency about increasing ARVN effectiveness as it has about increasing the number of U.S. forces.

This same document provided an alternative approach to calculating the minimum essential force. It is quoted in its entirety below, for it argues that given new objectives (those of preventing military disaster and providing time for ARVN first to improve and then do its job) the minimum essential force was 28 battalions smaller than that already programmed in Program 4! (Again, assuming that the present enemy threat remained constant.) The approach read:


U.S. objectives in SVN require U.S. and FWMAF forces sufficient to prevent military disaster and to provide time for the ARVN first to improve and then to do its job. This force is 28 battalions smaller than the Program 4 force for the present enemy threat.

Before U.S. intervention, the VC decimated and demoralized the ARVN reaction and reserve force by successful ambushes and attacks. The 17 US/ FW battalions deployed by July 1965 ended the deteriorating trend. In both I CTZ and II CTZ, VC control over the population peaked by July 1965, and it declined even earlier in III and IV CTZ.

Since then, the enemy increased from 99 to 151 infantry-type battalions at the end of December 1966. As of 31 December 1966 we had 98 infantry-type battalions, more than enough to counter the enemy force considering the intelligence available. Of the 98 battalions 34 were engaged in TAOR patrol; 46 were engaged in operations that were initiated by hard intelligence; and the 18 others were predictably unproductive. The 46 battalions were obviously sufficient to counter the 151 VC/NVA infantry-type battalions, witness the total lack of enemy success. This suggests that we need 1 battalion for each 3 enemy infantry-type battalions, in addition to those needed for static defense. The 18 battalions ineffectively employed plus the 10 additional infantry-type battalions in Program 4 that close after January 1, 1967 are enough to counter 84 additional enemy bns. Thus we need deploy no more forces until the enemy goes above 235 battalions, which does not seem to be his present intent. (The enemy peak was 155 infantry-type bns in July 1966, and was 147 at 31 March 1967).

US/FW Force Requirement

Enemy Force Required Mobile US/FW Force US/FW Force for TAOR Patrols Total Required U.S. Force
151 46 34 80
235 74 34 108

The 3 to 1 ratio is supported by results in battle. Our forces routinely defeat enemy forces outnumbering them two or three to one. In no instance has a dug-in U.S. company been overrun, regardless of the size of the attacking enemy force, and nothing larger than a company has come close to annihilation when caught moving. Seven battalions of Marines defeated two NVA divisions in HASTINGS, and single battalions of 1st Air Cavalry defeated regimental-sized forces in pitched battles in the Ia Drang Valley in the Fall of 1965.

These factors need confirmation, in actual practice, by how well the forces are doing in the field and by progress in RD. VC/NVA military victories and large areas succumbing to VC require a reaction regardless of calculated force requirements. But there is no sign of anything like that in the forseeable future. Moreover, a sharp improvement in our effectiveness should result from improvements in the flow of intelligence and in the tactical employment of our forces. Achieving such improvements should be the main objective at this time.

So armed, on May Day Enthoven carried the finished memorandum to McNamara's office and proceeded to discuss its contents. However, probably not to his surprise, he found that McNamara was thinking along the same lines--in fact, he had already set John McNaughton to preparing a Draft Presidential Memorandum setting forth the same basic political arguments that Systems Analysis was making. The "hard" data in the Enthoven memorandum was the kind of back-up McNamara understood and appreciated and it buttressed most of the beliefs he already held. He asked Enthoven for some detailed follow-up related to VC/NVA control of engagements and casualties. There is no record that the Assistant Secretary left the signed memorandum with the Secretary of Defense, but there seemed little requirement for that. The ideas and position in it had been escalated to the DPM level where such ideas would receive the highest level attention and consideration.

2. A New Look At the "Plimsoll Line": Alternatives to Increases Restudied

Shortly after the first hard signs of resistance began to surface in May an SNIE analyzing Soviet attitudes and intentions toward the Vietnam war was published. It was an SNIE which in effect reinforced the fears which many held about increasing the intensity of the Vietnamese conflict. The SNIE concluded that at some point the USSR would create an atmosphere of heightened tension with the United States if, in fact, U.S. force increases and intensified bombing continued. In the words of the estimate:

The Soviets might take certain actions designed to bolster North Vietnam and possibly to warn the United States such as the provision of limited numbers of volunteers or crews for defense equipment or possibly aircraft. They might also break off negotiations with the United States on various subjects and suspend certain agreements now in effect. The mining or the blockade of the North Vietnamese coast would be most likely to provoke these responses, since this would constitute a direct challenge to the Soviets and there would be little they could do on the scene.

This document, coming as it did at such a crucial juncture in the deliberations over ground force strategy and deployments in Vietnam, had a significant impact upon the thinking of those charged with making the decision of "go" or "no go," and the document itself was quoted throughout some of the explicit development of alternatives which followed its publication in both Systems Analysis and in ISA.

As McNaughton worked on a series of drafts preparing the 19 May DPM which was to follow, a number of leads were being pursued throughout the government, all related in some way to relieving the pressures for more United States troops in Vietnam. One of these was a directed effort to obtain more allied troops especially from the nations on the periphery of South Vietnam or near Southeast Asia. On 4 May McNaughton asked that an analysis of South Vietnamese troop deployments in relation to population of the participating countries be prepared. This analysis, based upon population of the countries involved, concluded that for an increase of 100,000 U.S. troops the "allocable" share for various countries would range from 14.5 thousand for Korea to 53.4 thousand for Indonesia. For the details of this particular study see table on p. 470.


(Population in Millions; Troops in Thousands)

Current or Approved Strength in SVN Per Million of Population
Increase Required To Meet US Ratio
"Allocable"Share Per 100,000 US Troops (b)
470 (a)
New Zealand
Rep of China

(a) Excludes naval forces in South China Sea and US forces in Thailand.
(b) 100,000 troops represents 500 per 1,000,000 of US population. "Allocable" shares for other nations are calculated on this basis.

Somewhat along the same line, on 11 May, Walt W. Rostow prepared a paper devoted to what he termed a "troop community chest operation for Vietnam." Rostow had seen the ISA Annex which we just mentioned, and commented that he felt that a project that Bill Leonhart had been working on which related to vietnamese force deployments to the level of each contributor's armed forces might be more meaningful and realistic plus having the very desirable charateristic of being more negotiable because it would require no country to increase its total armed forces in order to send troops to Vietnam. The table that he attached to the paper showed that if each country dispatched the same percentage of its total armed forces to Vietnam as the United States had done, about 14%, that there would now be an additional 70,000 troops in that country. Furthermore, if you asked each country to contribute an increment to match an additional United States increase of 100,000, and if those increments represented the same percentage of each country's total armed forces, then the result would read something like this: Korea--18,700; Australia--2,000; New Zealand--400; Thailand--4,000; and the Philippines--1,300; for a total of 126,400 troops added. This approach is interesting because later in July President Johnson was to begin "arm twisting" a number of national Heads of State, and the force totals developed here by Leonhart provided the base line from which he negotiated.

The other events of note, both directed at increasing the effectiveness of American forces already in Vietnam, occurred during early May. The first was the issuance of NSAM 362, entitled "Responsibility for U.S. Role in Pacification," in which Mr. R. W. Komer was appointed the Deputy for Pacification (Revolutionary Development) with the personal rank of Ambassador to operate under COMUSMACV. This, as we noted earlier, was partially the outcome of President Johnson's desire to get the pacification program back on the track. Komer as well as most of the officials concerned with the decision, had known that this development was coming since the time of the Guam Conference. In the NSAM the President noted:

Our purpose of unifying responsibility for Pacification (RD) under COMUSMACV is to permit logistic and administrative economies through consolidation and cross-servicing. I expect sensible steps to be taken in this direction. Any inter-agency jurisdictional or other issues which may arise in country will be referred to the U.S. Ambassador.

This new organizational arrangement represents an unprecedented melding of civil and military responsibilities to meet the overriding requirements of Viet Nam. Therefore, I count on all concerned--in Washington and in Viet Nam--to pull together in the national interest to make this arrangement work.

This NSAM, of course, represented the fruition of what had been a longstanding recommendation to consolidate Revolutionary Development under the individual who possessed primary responsibility and controlled the resources, COMUSMACV. However, in the estimation of many, especially those who evaluated its later effectiveness and tried to determine whether or not any real good had been accomplished by the reorganization, it represented yet one more instance of the American penchant for organizational tinkering, one which usually relieved the people making the organizational changes from really getting down and rooting out the basic causes of the problem. The other interesting evaluation concerned the question of what level of combat service support staffing there should be in South Vietnam. In April, a number of studies were made, all designed to try to determine whether the level of combat service support was too high, about correct, or needed some revision in the upward direction.

Mr. Victor K. Heyman, Director of the SEA Programs Division in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Analysis), toured the Vietnam area in early May and visited the First Logistical Command. He was concerned generally whether manning levels were adequate to the task assigned by COMUSMACV, and, specifically, whether or not the new peak level of 70,000 men to be reached during Program 4 was excessive. In his trip report, he observed that the Army Program 4 strength of 322,000 included only 66,000 men in maneuver battalions. Furthermore, if combat support, aviation companies, advisors, special forces, division and brigade staffs, and construction battalions were added, these increases would bring the "combat" total to only 165,000 men or 51% of the total Army force. He felt that the balance of 157,000 in other units appeared excessive and recommended to Secretary McNamara that the JCS be asked to analyze it.

In particular, United States Army Vietnam, First Logistical Command was scheduled to total, as we noted, approximately 70,000 men at the peak of Program 4. This was the equivalent of nearly 5 Army divisions or 70 infantry battalions. Furthermore, the First Log Command did not include aviation supplies/ maintenance units or construction battalions and the substantial combat service support staffing which was organic to divisions and separate brigades. To these increments must be added the 40,000 man equivalent furnished by contractors, local national employment and support from the off-shore bases. Although comparing the services could be misleading because of different doctrines and organizations, a rough comparison revealed that the Army ratio was about one man in First Log Command to support 3.6 men in other USARV units compared to a Navy-Marine Support ratio in 1st Corps Tactical Zone or 1:5.6 men. In view of the different tactical situations (the I CTZ one was more intensive combat) Heyman was led to conclude that a detailed review of Army support should be made--since simply comparing the ratios suggested that 45,000 men might be adequate for the 1st Log Command or that the Command need not be increased until USARV strength exceeded 462,000 men. In view of this analysis, Heyman recommended that Program 4 should be cut to its essentials to "improve the tooth to tail rate" and that until the review which he had recommended had been completed the Secretary of Defense should defer approval for deployment of any First Log Command units through August 1967.

The Secretary of Defense approved this recommendation to defer further incremental increases to First Log Command and asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a detailed study justifying added increases and analyzing in depth the Combat Service Support Staffing levels in South Vietnam.

3. The Quest for Capabilities: The Search for Limits

Great emphasis in May focused upon capabilities, with particular attention being paid to just what capabilities the services had to provide troops and units (or equivalents) below the point where they would be reduced to calling upon reserves or drawing down units already in Europe. On May 5, Systems Analysis forwarded a brief study to the Secretary of Defense which analyzed the additional MACV requirements and compared them to the estimated capability of the services to provide matching units. The study, which concluded that the services had only the capability to provide 66,000 of the 186,000 troops requested under the MACV "Optimum Plan" and only 19 maneuver battalions of the 42 included in that larger plan is presented in the table on the following page.

Additional MACV Requirements and Estimated Capabilities
December 31, 1968

MACV Optimum Estimated Capability
Land Forces
Strength (000) 186 66
Divisions 3 2/3 (b)
Brigades 5 4 (a)
Maneuver Bns (42) (19) (a)
Artillery Bns 28 28
Engineer Bns 20 0 (c)
Aviation Cos. 22 0 (c)
Signal Bns 5 3 (d)
Naval Forces
Strength--In-country only (000) 8.5 8.3
Riverine Assault Forces    

APB (Barracks Ships)

3 3

ARL (Repair Ship)

2 2

AN (Net Tender)

1 1

RAS (River Assault Sq.)

2 2 (e)
River Patrol Forces    

PBR (River Patrol Boats)

50 50
Landing Ships    

LST (Tank Landing Ship)

10 0 (f)
Gunfire Ships    

CA (Cruiser--8")

1 1 (g)

DD (Destroyer--5")

5 5 (h)
Construction Battalions    


5 5
Tactical Air Forces
Strength (000) 6.5 6.5
Tactical Fighter 13 13 (i)
Construction Squadron 1 1
Total Personnel (000) 201 81

(a) Includes one Armored Cavalry Regiment of 3 squadrons, and 9th MAB from Okin.
(b) 6 bns of 101 st Abn plus 1 airborne tank bn.
(c) Trained personnel not available under current rotation policy.
(d) Further analysis may show more available.
(e) Using 70 LCM-6s from war reserve.
(f) Five LSTs now scheduled for transfer to MSTS (Korean manning) can be retained and added to SEVENTH Fleet. No real increase in SEA lift would result.
(g) To meet this requirement indefinitely two ships must be activated. Four 8"-gun cruisers now in fleet can meet requirement through Oct. '68. Activation of BB as recommended by SecNav would provide needed ship through April 1969. Second ship must be activated for operations after 1969.
(h) Destroyer requirement can be met in various ways: 1) increase the number of LANTFLT destroyers rotated to PACFLT. This can be done without affecting SIXTH Fleet deployments but would require a further increase in LANTFLT operations tempo; 2) Reactivate mothballed DDs; or 3) Use Naval Reserve Training Fleet (Cat.
A) DDs and replace them with reactivated Mothballed DDs.
(i) Includes ii Air Force and 2 Marine squadrons. The 11 Air Force TFS can be provided two ways: 1) Deploy 5 CONUS F-4, 1 F-ill, 1 F-100 and 3 A-i squadrons. The A-i squadrons would be formed using surplus Navy aircraft; 2) 3 F-4 squadrons from WESTPAC could be deployed in lieu of the A-i squadrons but this would necessitate 2 or 3 of the remaining 4 WESTPAC squadrons being returned to CONUS to augment the training base.

This document reflected the Secretary of Defense's immediate concern with trying to find maneuver battalions and troops within existing service capabilities and trying to avoid approaching the personnel "sound barrier" and that of having to call up reserves or to partially mobilize units. As a check on this analysis, on 8 May Secretary McNamara distributed the estimate to the services and asked their comments. On 12 May, General Johnson of the Army replied that the Army could probably exceed the estimated capability by about 6 maneuver battalions. He based this new estimate upon the assumption that procurement of critical items of equipment could be accelerated by mid-year 1967, that some withdrawal of equipment from the Reserve Components and non-deploying STRAF units would be authorized and that some new methods would be developed to accelerate the Army's ability to sustain forces in short tour areas. He did not elaborate upon this final assumption, one which was to prove one of the Army's primary personnel problems, that of either extending the length of short tours or changing basic policies about consecutive tours to these areas.

The upshot of all of this concern about capabilities was a May 18 memorandum prepared for the Secretary of Defense by Alain Enthoven, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis. In it, he analyzed and synthesized the information presented on the additional deployment capability of the services. Crucially it noted that the Army had the capability of providing 84,000 more troops, some 24,000 greater than the original estimate which had been given to McNamara earlier in the month. It included 21 maneuver battalions instead of 16. But, again, this estimate was based upon the assumptions that the deployment of the 5th Mechanized Division, then NATO-committed, and the rest of the 101st Airborne Division would be approved for deployment to SEA; that an as yet unidentified improved solution to the rotation base problem could be found and that there would be more and faster procurement of equipment, especially helicopters. End strength increases for the Army at the end of FY 69 were estimated to be 177,000 compared with the 110 to 120,000 which had been previously calculated. The increase by December 1967 was to be 77,000 and by June 1968, 118,000. The latter figure was about 70% of the strength required by December of 1968.

The significance of the 18 May memorandum seems to be that it said: within rather narrow limits the figure of 60-65,000 is the Army's capability to provide troops in the form of maneuver battalions properly equipped, ready for deployment within the time frame-all below the requirement to mobilize the reserves. It also indicated that the Air Force, although strained and possibly drawing down units in Europe and other STRAF directed missions could meet the deployment schedules within both the "optimum" and the "minimum essential" range, although it would be preferable in the view of Harold Brown to meet only the minimum essential requirement and to leave the TFS's which were already assigned to NATO on that station. The 60,000 figure which we just mentioned was to reappear later, much later in fact, when Secretary McNamara travelled to Saigon in late July to "negotiate" the new force levels for Program 5.

4. Bombing in the North: Its Contribution to the Ground War Reexamined

In early May attention also focused on how the bombing campaign in the North could better contribute to successful military outcomes in the South. Three important memos appeared during the first week in May, all devoted to this program. On 5 May, in a draft memorandum for the President, John McNaughton proposed that all of the sorties allocated to the ROLLING THUNDER program be concentrated on the lines of communication, or what he called the "funnel" through which men and supplies to the south must flow between 17- 20°, while reserving the options and the intention to strike in the area north of this (or in the 20-23° area) as necessary to keep the enemy's investment in defense and in repair crews high throughout the country. In arguing for this course of action, he noted that General Wheeler, when General Westmoreland was in Washington in April, had said that the bombing campaign was reaching the point where all of the worthwhile fixed targets, except the ports had been struck. McNaughton did not believe that the ports should be struck nor closed by mining, primarily because of the confrontation which he saw this might cause with the Soviet Union. Examining the bombing alternatives, he observed that we could continue to conduct attacks north of the 20° parallel, that is continue striking minor fixed targets while conducting armed reconnaissance against movement on roads, railroads and waterways. This course, though, was costly in American lives and in his estimation involved serious dangers of escalation, either with the Chinese or the Russians. The loss rate in Hanoi/Haiphong Route Package 6 for example was more than six times the loss rate in the southernmost route packages 1 and 2, and actions in the Hanoi/Haiphong area involved serious risks of generating confrontations with the Soviet Union and China, both because they involved destruction of MIGs on the ground and counters with MIGs in the air and because they might be construed as U.S. intention to crush the Hanoi regime. The military gain of the expanded bombing appeared to be slight; in fact, McNaughton could locate no evidence at the time to establish some convincing connection between operations in the north against targets north of the 20° parallel and enemy actions in the South. Furthermore, if the United States believed that air attacks in the area would change Hanoi's will, they might have been worthwhile, he added, and consequently reduce the loss of American life in the south and the risk of the expansion of the war in the North. However, McNaughton noted there was no evidence that this would be the case, for there was considerable evidence that such bombing would strengthen Hanoi's will. He quoted Consul General Rice of Hong Kong when he said that there was very little chance that by bombing we could reach the critical level of pain in North Vietnam and that "below that level pain only increases the will to fight." Robert Thompson had also been quoted as saying, when he was here in late April, that our bombing, particularly in the Red River Basin area was "unifying North Vietnam." The old argument that bombing in the northern area was necessary to maintain the morale of the South Vietnamese or American fighting men was discounted. Although General Westmoreland had fully supported attacks against targets in the Hanoi/Haiphong areas and had said during his visit here in late April that he was "frankly dismayed at even the thought of stopping the bombing program," his basic requirements had continued to be requests for attacks on what he called the extended battle zone near the DMZ.

McNaughton's closing paragraphs in this memorandum indicate that he was not only interested in trying to develop a better fit between bombing operations in the North and ground operations in the South, but that he was also clearing the way for getting Hanoi to change its position on negotiations. He noted that to optimize the chances of a favorable Hanoi reaction to an American restriction of the bombing the scenario should be:

. . . . to inform the Soviets quietly (on May 15) that within a few (5) days the policy would be implemented, stating no time limits and making no promise not to return to the Red River basin to attack targets which later acquired military importance, and then . . . to make an unhuckstered shift as predicted on May 20. We would expect Moscow to pass the May 15 information on to Hanoi, perhaps (but probably not) urging Hanoi to seize the opportunity to de-escalate the war by talks or otherwise. Hanoi, not having been asked a question by us and having no ultimatum-like time limit, might be in a better posture to react favorably than has been the case in the past. Nevertheless, no favorable response from Hanoi should be expected, and the change in policy is not based on any such expectation.

This policy, he recommended, should then publicly be handled by explaining (1) that, as always, we had said the war must be won in the south; (2) that we had never believed that the bombing of the war would produce a settlement by breaking Hanoi's will or by shutting off the flow of supplies; (3) that the north must pay the price for its infiltration; and (4) that since the major military targets in the north had been destroyed we were now concentrating on the narrow neck through which supplies must flow, sincerely believing that concentrated effort there as compared with dispersed effort throughout NVN would increase the efficiency of our interdiction effort; and that (5) we retained the option to return further north and restrike those targets if military considerations so required.

A White House memorandum, prepared by Walt Rostow, on the same subject, essentially repeated what McNaughton had said. To Rostow the policy issues and contention were first revolving around choices involving the North and these, in turn, broke out to either: (a) closing the top of the funnel--under this strategy he meant that we could mine the major harbors and perhaps bomb port facilities and even consider a blockade; in addition, attacks would be made systematically against the rail lines between Hanoi and mainland China. He exhibited little confidence that this would have a very important effect upon the North Vietnamese war effort especially in light of the tremendous costs which he anticipated, especially the political costs vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists. He concluded for this expanded course of action that tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and Communist China would surely increase but that if we were very determined we could impose additional burdens on Hanoi and its allies, that we might cut their capacity below requirements, but that the outcome was uncertain; (b) attacking what was inside the funnel. This was essentially what the Air Force and Navy had been trying in the Hanoi/Haiphong area for some weeks. Rostow disagreed with the contention that the attacks on the Hanoi-Haiphong area had no bearing on the war in the south, a significant difference from what McNaughton believed. In Rostow's estimation the North Vietnamese had diverted massive amounts of resources, energies and attention throughout the civil and military establishment of North Vietnam. This gross dislocation, in turn, imposed general economic, political and psychological difficulties on the north during a period already complicated by a bad harvest and some food shortages. He did not accept the CIA assessment that the bombings in the North in fact hardened the will of the people, and in his judgment, up to that point our bombing had been a painful additional cost that they had been willing to bear to pursue their efforts in the south. Although he acknowledged that there were uncertainties about the eventual political costs of expanded or continued bombing in the Hanoi-Haiphong area, he played down what was becoming an increasingly attractive line of argument--that the continuation of attacks at about the level that we had been conducting in Hanoi-Haiphong area would lead to increased Soviet pressure on Berlin or even some kind of general war with the Soviet Union. In fact, in Rostow's words, "What the Soviets have been trying to signal is--keep away from our ships, we may counter escalate to some degree; but we do not want a nuclear confrontation over Vietnam."

The next alternative (c) that Rostow discussed was the one which McNaughton had recommended-that of concentrating our bombing efforts in Route Packages 1 and 2. The advantages of these he saw would plainly cut our loss rate in pilots and planes, that we might somewhat improve our harassment of infiltration into South Vietnam, and that we would diminish the risk of counterescalatory action by the Soviet Union and Communist China, as compared with the first two courses he had listed. He did not recommend that we pursue Course A since the returns "did not on present evidence seem high enough to justify the risk of Soviet-Chinese countermeasures and heightened world tensions." In this, he felt that he was supported by the conclusions of the majority of the intelligence community. With respect to the second option which he had outlined, he felt:

I believe we have achieved greater results in increasing the pressure on Hanoi and raising the cost of their continuing to conduct the aggression in the South than some of my most respected colleagues would agree. I do not believe we should lightly abandon what we have accomplished; and specifically, I believe we should mount the most economical and careful attack on the Hanoi power station our air tacticians can devise. Moreover, I believe we should keep open the option of coming back to the Hanoi- Haiphong area, depending upon what we learn of their repair operations; and what Moscow's and Peiping's reactions are; and especially when we understand better what effects we have and have not achieved thus far.

I believe the Soviet Union may well have taken certain counter-steps addressed to the more effective protection of the Hanoi-Haiphong area and may have decided--or could shortly decide--to introduce into North Viet Nam some surface-to-surface missiles.

Rostow favored the third option ((c)--bombing below the 20°) because, in his words, he felt that we were "wasting a good many pilots in the Hanoi- Haiphong area without commensurate results and that the major objectives of maintaining the B option, or the restrikes back into the Hanoi-Haiphong could be achieved at a lower cost."

He, too, addressed the problem of presenting this to the American public, noting that "we shall have to devise a way of presenting our total policy in Vietnam in a manner which is consistent with diminished attacks in the Hanoi-Haiphong area; which is honest; and which is acceptable to our own people. Surfacing the concept of the barrier may be critical to that turnaround as will be other measures to righten infiltration and improve RVNAF pacification and that provision of additional allied forces to permit Westy to get on with our limited but real role in pacification, notably with the defense of I Corps in the North and the hounding of provincial main force units."

These three memos reflect the basic trend of thought reference the bombing campaigns in the north as they developed in early May. Later in May, as we shall see, the Joint Chiefs of Staff came in with their proposals to "shoulder out" foreign shipping and mining in the harbors in the north and for more intensive interdiction both north of and below the 20th parallel against North Vietnam. This basic dispute led to the preparation of a draft Presidential memorandum at the end of May devoted to an analysis of the bombing and which provided policy recommendations on it for the President.

Go to the Next Section of Volume 4, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604

Glossary of Acronyms and Terms

Go to Volume 1, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950." pp. 1-52

Go to Volume 1, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954," pp. 53-107

Go to Volume 1, Chapter 3 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954," pp. 108-178.

Go to Volume 1, Chapter 4 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. and France in Indochina, 1950-56," pp. 179-241

Go to Volume 1, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960," pp. 242-314

Go to Volume 2, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961,"pp. 1-127

Go to Volume 2, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963," pp. 128-159.

Go to Volume 2, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964," pp. 160-200.

Go to Volume 2, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963," pp. 201-276.

Go to Volume 2, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967," pp. 277-407.

Go to Volume 2, Chapter 6 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Advisory Build-up, 1961-67," pp. 408-514

Go to Volume 2, Chapter 7 of the Pentagon Papers, "Re-Emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967," pp. 515-623.

Go to Volume 3, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965," pp. 1-105.

Go to Volume 3, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965," pp. 106-268.

Go to Volume 3, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965," pp. 269-388

Go to Volume 3, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July 1965," pp. 389-485

Go to Volume 4, Chapter 1, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.

Go to Volume 4, Chapter 2, of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604.

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