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“The Gulf of Tonkin Incident” and the lessons of defeating the enemy right at the first battle of the Northern people and troops

On 5August,1964, with the made-up “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” the US  waged a sabotage war  against the north of Vietnam by their Air Force and Navy with the aim to destroy fighting morale of Vietnamese people. However, they suffered from apposite counter-attacks with unique art of war of the northern people and troops.

A Vietnamese Naval ship in combat against the US aircraft (File photo)

In the year 1964, though the US and Sai Gon puppet regime tried to hold up, the situation in  the South of Vietnam became unceasingly engulfed.  The US  “Special War” strategy was basically destroyed and on the edge of a total bankruptcy. Facing the issue, the White House proposed a series of reckless  actions in which the widening of a sabotage war to the north of Vietnam with the aim to weaken the North, is considered part of the “Special War”. To that end, on the one hand, the US conducted the “Operation Plan 34A” for electronic surveillance, hijacked Northern citizens for collecting intelligence news, used commando to sabotage. On the other hand, they deployed their fleet of patrol  boats to the Gulf of Tonkin to show their strength and collect intelligence about coastal defence of the North for further advances as planned.

After intruding the North’s territorial waters, on 2 August,1964, the USS Maddox destroyer approached close to the coast of Thanh Hoa province (at about 6 nautical miles) and  had provocative actions.  But our Navy had bravely driven them out of our waters, breaking their plan. To create a strong psychological impact on the US Congress and the public and an “international crisis”, “ a threat to the US honourable image”, in the evening of 4August,1964, the USS Maddox and Turner Joy destroyers opened fire and reported being attacked, making up the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” with false accusation: US destroyers were “unprovokedly” attacked by the North Vietnamese Navy for the second time when  they were conducting  normal operations in the international water. On the pretext of this incident, on 5August,1964, the US President Johnson suddenly ordered 64 aircrafts to launch attack against the north of Vietnam, starting the large-scaled sabotage war against the North.

Having well prepared and with high vigilance, the northern  people and troops responded the enemy with appropriate counterattacks. In the first engagement with the US Air Force, we shot down 08 jets, damaged 03 others and arrested 1 pilot; the enemy’s ratio of damage was about 12%. This is the first significant victory, bringing about belief and offer huge potential for northern people and troops to win the sabotage war of the US. The victory is the crystalization of the virtue, mind and strength of the Vietnam people from which a number of valuable lessons in organizing people’s war and air defence can be drawn out, including:

1. Building determination, activeness and resoluteness to defeat the US Air Force when they invaded the northern air zone.

Realizing the US plan to escalate the war against the North, on 27March, 1964 President Ho Chi Minh convened the Special Political Conference. He called on the whole people and troops to raise their fighting will, be ready to smash down any provocative and sabotage acts of the US; be ready to sacrifice for the Fatherland, for the people and for the country’s revolution. This call resembled the determination of the whole Party, people and troops to fight and  win the resistant war against the US. With the spirit and high determination of a nation with rich tradition in fighting against the aggressors , right after the call of President Ho Chi Minh, all  authorities, branches, forces and localities demonstrated a clear determination to win the US, defend the North and liberate the South. The US believed that conducting air raids,  they would beat the will and determination to liberate the South and reunite the country of the Vietnamese people. However, they were taken aback by our courage, command level, combat readiness capability and the power of people’s war of Vietnam.

2. Building all people war posture on the deep, extensive, and interconnected anti-aircraft front to fight the enemy with all forces and  weapons. On the basis of analyzing, assessing revolutionary situation of both the South and the North, sharply in 1963, the Central Military Commission, with a strategic vision, made and ratified the  North defense plan, the wartime mobilization plan. After that,  when the risk of an air attack on the North became more and more apparent, the General Staff held the first People Air-Defense Conference (January, 1964); placed the air-defense force (March, 1964) and the whole armed force of the North (June, 1964) on the combat-ready alert. This was Central Military Commission’s sound leadership; the armed forces and all people’s necessary, timely preparation to build the all people air-defense posture, all people war posture on the deep, extensive, and interconnected anti-aircraft front to cope with the enemy’s new way of operation. Accordingly, triple armed air-defense systems were implemented, extensively constructed, mainly located in strategic positions in cities, industrial zones, airports, harbours, and big constructions. Moreover, people air-defense forces were established in localities; patrolling, defense positioning in coastal regions, border areas, along the West border were enhanced. Exercises, air-defense alert, medical care, firefighting were frequently and closely conducted. National air-defense troops upgraded combat readiness level, reinforced training. Notably, low altitude aircraft engagement networks were formed all over the North controlled by 2.500 Militia groups who served to hunt aircrafts, secretly ambushing in the key areas and directions easily broken into by the enemy.  Thanks to people’s deep, extensive, interconnected and focused air-defense posture, the North’s military and people defeated the air raid right at  the first battle. In this combat, although the enemy proactively attacked different targets and areas suddenly, they were defeated by our military and people’s multi-layered, multi-range air-defense network in every position. Our air-defense network was spread everywhere on  land, rivers, and sea. In spite of the fact that we had no modern air-defense weapons and equipment yet, even without participation of Missile troops and Air force, with a unique posture, we always controlled the combat and pushed the enemy into unexpected and passive situation, which was the highlight of our air-defense art in the combat August 5, 1964.

Apart from that, the highlight of military art in the first battle  victory also reflected in the close coordination between triple armed air-defense force and People’s Navy, People’s armed Police, and other forces; the coordination between on-the-spot and mobile forces.

The air and naval sabotage war against the North by the U.S failed right in the first battle (August 5, 1964). It was over 50 years, but the lesson on winning the first battle of our military and people is still valid, which needs applying in the cause of building and defending Fatherland in the new situation.

Xuan Nguyen

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