On February 7th 1965 the US base at Camp Holloway was attacked by the Viet Cong. Camp Holloway was near to the South Vietnamese town of Pleiku. Eight US soldiers were killed with over 100 injured. Johnson had two choices. He could both ignore it and treat the attack as a minor one that would not lead to an escalation in terms of the scale of attacks on US bases. Alternately, he could, as commander-in-chief of US forces, order a major military response in a show of power that the Hanoi government would have to respond to. The US military had already selected a number of military targets in North Vietnam and Johnson opted for the second option – though there is little evidence that Johnson was willing to try the diplomatic approach at this moment in time.
Within twelve hours of the attack on Camp Holloway, Johnson ordered aircraft from the carriers ‘USS Coral Sea’ and ‘USS Hancock’ (both based off the coast of North Vietnam) to attack the Vit Thu Lu military barracks and the ports at Dong Hoi. Combined with these attacks, aircraft from the Da Nang base in South Vietnam attacked communication centres in the North.
These attacks were meant to be a show of strength from the US military. The main aim was to convince Ho Chi Minh that America’s huge military capability made opposition to it untenable. General Maxwell told the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee that the bombing raids of Operation Flaming Dart were meant, “to change the will of the enemy leadership”.
Three days later 23 US military personnel were killed and 22 injured in a bomb attack at barracks in Qui Nhon. Johnson ordered Flaming Dart II. US aircraft attacked a barracks at Chanh Hoa. Johnson stated that the attacks were in response to “continued aggression”. The use of such a phrase gave Johnson the opportunity to justify what was to be known as ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’ – a bombing campaign against the North that was to meant to last eight weeks but lasted for over three years.
During Operation Dart 1, US aircraft flew 49 sorties. During Operation Dart II, 99 sorties were flown.