Key point: In the immediate wake of the events that transpired in August of 1963, the USS Maddox quickly became a symbol of North Vietnamese aggression
The United States Navy commissioned the USS Maddox toward the end of World War II as a fast carrier escort for action in the Philippines and South China Sea. An Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer, the Maddox supported carrier raids against Japan and American operations on Okinawa after recovering from a Kamikaze attack earlier in 1945. She would also participate in UN operations during the Korean War, but would gain infamy prior to the Vietnam War in the Gulf of Tonkin.
In early 1964, South Vietnamese forces, trained and supported by American commandos, began conducting raids on strategic North Vietnamese positions, termed Operation Plan (OPLAN) 34A. These raids provoked North Vietnamese forces to engage American Naval ships in the Gulf of Tonkin who had been collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) for the OPLAN 34A raids.
Shipping out from Taiwan in July 1964
In July of 1964, Maddox shipped out from Taiwan to collect SIGINT as part of her Desoto patrol along the coast of North Vietnam from the Demilitarized Zone up to China. OPLAN 34A raids were being conducted in the area and North Vietnamese naval forces were actively responding to South Vietnamese incursions.
On August 1st, Maddox intercepted SIGINT indicating North Vietnamese patrol torpedo boats were getting underway, potentially to engage the Maddox. With the three North Vietnamese vessels quickly approaching, Maddox’s Captain John J. Herrick ordered warning shots across the bow of the advancing vessels once the aggressors came within 10,000 yards. When addressed, the North Vietnamese responded with torpedoes and 14.5mm machinegun fire. Unable to sail close enough to inflict damage on the Maddox during the 22-minute skirmish, the North Vietnamese retreated to the northwest. American F-8 Crusaders arrived on the scene from carrier Ticonderoga and pursued the North Vietnamese torpedo boats, heavily damaging two of the three while leaving one flaming and dead in the water.
Phantom Attack & Gulf of Tonkin Resolution