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Vietnam War Timeline: 1963 - 1964

1963
January
2nd At Ap Bac, ARVN units equipped with U.S. helicopters and armored personnel carriers suffer their first major pitched battle defeat by Viet Cong forces.
May
8th Buddhists in Hue demonstrate against a recently imposed ban on the public display of religious flags. When initial attempts to disperse the crowd fail, government troops fire on the protesters, killing nine and wounding fourteen. President Diem blames the incident on the Viet Cong.
10th Buddhist clergy submit a manifesto to the GVN. Their demands include; freedom to fly the Buddhist flag, legal equality with the Catholic church and the punishment of the perpetrators of the May 8th incident.
18th Ambassador Nolting attempts to persuade Diem to address the Buddhist grievances and admit responsibility for the May 8th incident.
30th Approximately 350 Buddhist monks demonstrate in front of the National Assembly in Saigon.
June
4th GVN creates a committee headed by Vice President Tho to resolve the Buddhist dispute.
11th A Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, burns himself to death in protest against the Diem regime. The incident shocks the world.
16th Following negotiations, a joint GVN-Buddhist communique outlines details of a settlement. However, no responsibility for the May 8th incident is affixed and the agreement only papers over the crisis.
17th GVN crushes further Buddhist riots
27th President Kennedy announces that Henry Cabot Lodge will replace Frederick Nolting as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).
July
15th Ambassador Nolting convinces Diem make a radio address announcing concessions to the Buddhists.
19th Under U.S. pressure, Diem coldly delivers a two-minute radio address announcing minor Buddhist concessions.
August
5th A second Buddhist monk commits suicide by fire in protest against Diem’s administration. Madame Nhu, the wife of Diem's brother, refers to the immolations as barbecues.
14th In his final meeting with Ambassador Nolting, Diem agrees to publicly repudiate Madame Nhu's remarks.
15th Diem tells the New York Herald Tribune that conciliation with the Buddhists has been his policy from the start
20th Senior Generals ask Diem to declare martial law so that they can return Buddhist monks from outside Saigon to their own provinces and thereby reduce tensions in the capital. Diem approves the request at midnight.
21st Under the cover of martial law, forces loyal to Nhu ransack Pagodas across the country, arresting over 1,400 monks. The raids finally destroy any U.S. illusions about Diem's conciliatory approach to the Buddhists.
22nd Henry Cabot Lodge, the new U.S. Ambassador, arrives in Saigon
23rd General Kim, deputy to General Don, tell Rufus Phillips of the U.S. mission that a firm American stand for the removal of the Nhus would unify the army and permit it to act against them.
24th Ambassador Lodge tells the State Department that "Nhu, probably with the full support of Diem, had a large hand in planning the action against the Buddhists..."

Believing that Dem's handling of the crisis is losing popular support and harming the war effort, State Department officials Hilsman, Harriman and Forrestal instruct Lodge that the U.S. can no longer tolerate Nhu's continuation in power. If Diem is unwilling to remove Nhu, the generals are to be told that the U.S. will be prepared to halt economic and military support and will assist them any interim breakdown of the GVN.

The authors of the Aug 24 cable are widely criticised in Washington for encouraging a coup. However, neither the White House or the State Department rescind the instructions to Lodge
29th General Duong Van Minh tells the CIA's Lou Conein that the U.S. should suspend aid to Diem's regime as a sign of U.S. support for the coup
31st Unable to get sufficient forces to Saigon, General Minh calls off the coup.
September
2nd In an interview with Walter Cronkite, President Kennedy says that more effort is needed by the GVN to win popular support. This can be achieved "with changes in policy and perhaps personnel".
10th General Krulak and Joseph Mendenhall return from a 4-day assessment trip to Vietnam. Krulack reports that the shooting war is going well and that the political crisis has had little impact. Disagreeing, Mendenhall argues that disaffection with Diem's regime threatens the breakdown of the government. After receiving the contradictory reports President Kennedy asks "You two did visit the same country, didn't you?"
11th The White House delays economic aid renewal for Vietnam whilst examining how it might used to pressure Diem.
October
2nd After visiting Vietnam to further assess the military and political situation, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor confirm the progress of the war. However, they recommend that some aid be suspended (but without formal announcement) to put pressure on Diem to reform. They also advise against a coup but state that alternative leadership should be identified and cultivated.

In accordance with the McNamara-Taylor recommendations, the White House announces plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of the year.
5th President Kennedy approves the McNamara-Taylor recommendations, including the unannounced suspension of the commodity import program.

In a meeting with the CIA's Lou Conein, General Minh ask for clarification of the U.S. position with respect to a change of government in South Vietnam.
6th President Kennedy tells Ambassador Lodge, the U.S. doesn’t want to stimulate a coup against Diem, but does not wish to thwart one either.
27th Diem meets with Ambassador Lodge, but is unwilling to discuss changes to his administration
27th Lodge tells Washington that he is powerless to stop the coup, the matter is entirely in Vietnamese hands.
November
1st General Duong Van Minh leads an assault on the Presidential palace. Diem and Nhu initially manage to escape to the Cholon area of Saigon via an underground passage. After finally surrendering the following morning, the pair are murdered in the back of an Amored Personnel Carrier.
5th The new government of South Vietnam (GVN) is announced. General Minh becomes President and Chief of the Military Committee, which will oversee a civilian cabinet.
5th General Minh is announced as Chairman of the Executive committee of the Military Revolutionary Council
8th The U.S. recognizes the new GVN
22nd President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as the new U.S. leader.
26th In National Security Action Memorandum 273 President Johnson reaffirms Kennedy's policies and establishes economic and military aid to the new Minh government. NSAM 273 also states that plans should be developed for covert military operations up to 50km into Laos and asks the GVN to focus its counterinsurgency efforts on the Mekong Delta, where the Viet Cong threat is greatest.
December
6th A USOM report on Long An province in the Mekong Delta describes the near collapse of the Strategic Hamlet program.
31st U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam: 16,300
1964
January
14th Lt. General William Westmoreland is appointed Deputy Commander of MACV
24th MACV Studies & Observations Group (SOG) is formed to carry out Oplan 34A, aprogram of covert actions against North Vietnam.
30th General Nguyen Khanh, commander of II Corps, seizes power from the Minh government in a bloodless coup.
February
12th SNIE (Special National Intelligence Estimate) 50-64 concludes that.."South Vietnam has, at best, an even chance of withstanding the insurgency menace during the next few weeks or months."
March
8th Robert McNamara (Defense Secretary) and Maxwell Taylor (JCS Chairman) begin a 5-day trip to appraise the situation in Vietnam.
16th McNamara reports to the President that the situation in Vietnam is far worse than was recognized in NSAM 273 (26 Nov 1963). Approximately 40% of South Vietnamese territory is now under de facto Viet Cong control. ARVN and paramilitary desertion rates are increasing while the Viet Cong are recruiting energetically and effectively.
16th In National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 288 President Johnson stresses the importance of Vietnam to the security of the whole of South East Asia (Domino Theory). Johnson also adopts all of McNamara's recommendations to improve the situation, which include:
  • Full support for Khanh's government and opposition to further coup
  • Support for Khanh's National Service policy
  • An increase in RVNAF by 50,000 men
  • A raise in both the military and paramilitary pay scales
  • The provision of new aircraft, vehicles and river craft
  • To begin contingency planning for both "Retaliatory Actions" and a program of "Graduated Overt Military Pressure" against North Vietnam
April
4th General Khan announces mobilization- all able bodied males aged 20-45 to be subject to national service
SIGMA I-64 War Game reveals that North Vietnam would respond to U.S. bombing by pouring more troops in to the South
May
15th MAAG-Vietnam is absorbed by MACV and disbanded
30th The Honolulu conference begins. With the situation in the Vietnam countryside still deteriorating, Senior policymakers decide to expand the U.S. advisory effort to district level within eight critical provinces
June
2nd At a conference in Honolulu, major U.S. policymakers discuss obtaining a Congressional Resolution on Vietnam
9th The CIA's Board of National Estimates challenges the Domino Thesis of NSAM 288. In its memorandum to the President the CIA state "With the possible exception of Cambodia, it is likely that that no nation in the area would quickly succumb to Communism as a result of the fall of Laos and Vietnam."
20th Following the departure of General Paul Harkins, William Westmoreland is appointed acting MACV Commander
July
6th The Viet Cong launch an attack on the U.S. Special Forces camp at Nam Dong. Special Forces Captain Roger H. C. Donlon will be awarded the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam war for his actions during the battle. Among the 55 defenders killed were two Americans and AATTV advisor WO2 Kevin Conway, Australia's first combat death of the Vietnam War.
New Zealand troops arrive to work with the Australians in Phuoc Tuy province
31st SOG / SES Vietnamese gunboats carry out a covert OPLAN 34A attack on two North Vietnamese coastal bases.
August
1st General William Westmoreland officially becomes Commander of MACV
2nd The destroyer USS Maddox is attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats whilst on a De Soto (electronic intelligence gathering) patrol in the Tonkin Gulf. The Maddox returns fire and requests air support from the carrier Ticonderoga. The carrier jets strafe the PT boats, damaging two and crippling the other.
4th In a repetition of the August 2nd incident, both the Maddox and her companion ship C. Turner Joy are reportedly attacked by North Vietnamese PT boats. Neither ship suffers any damage and there is uncertainty about the actuality of this second attack.
CIA Director John McCone tells the National Security Council that the North Vietnamese were reacting defensively to the OPLAN 34A attacks. He says "They are responding out of pride and on the basis of defense considerations. The attack is a signal to us that the North Vietnamese have the will and determination to continue the war. They are raising the ante."
5th After strenuous attempts to confirm the attacks, the U.S. launches retaliatory air strikes (Operation Pierce Arrow) against four North Vietnamese PT boat bases and the Vinh oil depot
6th Defense Secretary Robert McNamara appears before a joint session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees to testify on the August 2nd and 4th attacks in the Tonkin Gulf. He states that the Maddox was on a routine patrol and that the North Vietnamese attacks were unprovoked and deliberate.
7th U.S. Congress unanimously passes the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, enabling the President to take "all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." The resolution (H.J. RES 1445) passes the Senate with only two dissenting votes. The resolution is later cited as the necessary authority for military action without the need for a formal declaration of war.
September
19th A Montagnard uprising flares up at five CIDG camps around Ban Me Thout in the Central Highlands (II Corps) . Angered at mistreatment by the Vietnamese, the rebels kill a number of LLDB (Vietnamese Special Forces) soldiers and imprison several US advisors. The rebellion ends after five days of negotiations, with the GVN agreeing to organize a conference of highland leaders in Pleiku from 15 to 17 October.
October
1st 5th Special Forces Group deploys to Vietnam to oversee Special Forces operations
November
1st A Viet Cong attack on the U.S. air base at Bien Hoa kills four Americans and destroys several B-57 bombers
3rd President Lyndon Johnson enjoys a landslide election victory over Republican Barry Goldwater
December
24th Viet Cong saboteurs explode a bomb at the Brinks Hotel, a billet for U.S. military personnel in Saigon. 2 Americans are killed in the blast and 107 Americans, Vietnamese and Australians are injured.
31st U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam: 23,000

1961-1962    1965