On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing a signals intelligence patrol as part of DESOTO operations, was monitored by three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron. Maddox initiated the incident by firing three “warning” shots, and the North Vietnamese boats replied with torpedoes and machine gun fire. One U.S. aircraft was damaged, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, and four North Vietnamese sailors were killed, with six more wounded. There were no U.S. casualties.USS Maddox was “unscathed except for a single bullet hole from a Vietnamese machine gun round”.
It was originally claimed by the National Security Agency that a Second Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead, evidence was found “ghosts” and not actual North Vietnamese torpedo boats. In the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, the former United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted that the August 2 USS Maddox attack happened with no Defense Department response, but the August 4 Gulf of Tonkin attack never happened. In 1995, McNamara met with former Vietnam People’s Army General Võ Nguyên Giáp to ask what happened on August 4, 1964, in the second Gulf of Tonkin Incident. “Absolutely nothing”, Giáp replied. Giáp claimed that the attack had been imaginary.
The outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted US President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by “communist aggression”. The resolution served as Johnson’s legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam.
President Johnson prepares the U.S. for war with North Vietnam on Aug. 4, 1964