Tonkin Gulf Incident

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The Tonkin Gulf Incident

The Tonkin Gulf incident refers to two attacks on American destroyers by North Vietnamese patrol boats. The first incident, which occurred on August 2, 1964, was confirmed by the North Vietnamese.[1] The second incident is shrouded in controversy. Many insist it never happened,[2] including the North Vietnamese military, but the US sailors involved claim that it did. One of the results of the two incidents was the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, a Congressional resolution granting President Johnson the power that he needed to conduct military actions in Vietnam.

History of the incident

In the summer and fall of 1964, the US conducted what were called "Desoto patrols" off the coast of North Vietnam, in international waters. The purpose of these patrols was to collect signals intelligence on North Vietnamese military communications. At the same time, the South Vietnamese military was conducting raids on North Vietnamese facilities located on the coast and some of the islands.

On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox was patrolling in international waters when she was attacked by three North Vietnamese patrol boats.[3] The attack occurred in broad daylight, in calm seas. The USS Ticonderoga sent air support. By the time the incident was over, one of the patrol boats was dead in the water, one was heavily damaged and its commander killed, and the other suffered light damage. The disabled boat was towed back to base. The Desoto was struck by one machinegun round to her superstructure.

On August 4, 1964, the USS Maddox was operating in the same area, in conjunction with the USS C. Turner Joy, when both boats thought they were attacked again. It was dark and the seas were choppy. Visibility was limited. Air support from the USS Ticonderoga was again sent to assist, but the visibility was so poor that the aircraft reported never seeing any enemy patrol boats.

The Controversy

Over the years, many have argued that the attack never took place.[4] At the time, President Johnson, said, "those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish".[5] Those "dumb sailors" were men with WWII experience. One of them stated, “Sir, I have been a destroyerman for 15 years and I know the [expletive deleted] difference between a dolphin and a torpedo wake. That was a [expletive deleted] torpedo.”[6] Numerous eyewitnesses aboard the Maddox and the Turner Joy reported visual sightings of torpedo wakes and PT boats, making it almost certain that an attack occurred.[7]


  1. Pho, Luu Quang. "An Heroic Battle in the Bay of Thanh Hoa" (PDF). Vietnam Veterans for Factual History. Thanh Nien. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 
  2. Cohen, Jeff; Solomon, Norman. "30-Year Anniversary: Tonkin Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War". FAIRNESS & ACCURACY IN REPORTING. FAIR. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 
  3. "Publicly Released Information". Naval History and Heritage Command. U.S. Navy. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 
  4. Moises, Edwin (December 9, 1996). Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (First ed.). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807823002. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 
  5. Drea, Edward. "Gulf of Tonkin Incident: Reappraisal 40 Years Later". Historynet. World History Group. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 
  6. Vasey, Lloyd R. "Tonkin: Setting the Record Straight" (PDF). Vietnam Veterans for Factual History. US Naval Institute. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 
  7. Treanor, Jim. "What's Wrong with Tonkin Gulf Incident "History" at 50+" (PDF). Jim Treanor. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 

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