The SS Mayaguez Incident of 1975 

On May 12, 1975, the U.S. merchant ship, SS Mayaguez, was seized by Khmer Rouge gunboats in international waters off the coast of Cambodia. A rescue operation was mounted, including a Marine landing on the island of Koh Tang. The rescue operation failed to locate the ship's crew members and sustained losses of 41 killed and 50 wounded. The Cambodians then released the crew members who had been taken off the ship. The failed effort was partially the result of a lack of accurate intelligence. See Andrew, For the President's Eyes Only, pp. 408-410.

Guilmartin, John F., Jr. [LTCOL/USAF (Ret.)]For

1. "The Mayaguez Incident, 12–15 May 1975: A 30-Year Retrospective." Air & Space Power Journal 19, no. 1 (Spring 2005). []

"[V]irtually everything that could go wrong did."

2. A Very Short War: The Mayaguez and the Battle of Koh Tang. College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press, 1995.

For Cohen, FA 75.2 (Mar.-Apr. 1995), Guilmartin makes the Mayaguez incident "into a case study on the impact of communications on warfare. The result is a brilliant and exceptionally clear tactical study that offers a point of departure for broader reflections on the nature of contingency and uncertainty in all military operations."

Holland, Proceedings 122.9 (Sep. 1996), calls the book "[s]uccint, clear, [and] easy to read." The author "brings technical knowledge and operational experience rarely found in historians.... Guilmartin finds fault and lays blame as precisely as he can in the levels of command above the on-scene participants. But this book is not about making of policy; rather it is about the execution of policy." The book is "inspirational reading."

Head, Richard G., Frisco W. Short, and Robert C. McFarlane. Crisis Resolution: Presidential Decision-Making in the Mayaguez and Korean Confrontations. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1978.

Zagoria, FA (Jul. 1978), notes that the referenced Korean confrontation involved "the North Korean murder of two U.S. servicemen along the DMZ in August of 1976." This "extraordinarily detailed and informative study" will be "[e]xtremely useful to those interested in the day-to-day management of crises by the security bureaucracy."

Johnson, J.M., R.W. Austin, and D.A. Quinlan. "Individual Heroism Overcame Awkward Command Relationship, Confusion, and Bad Information Off the Cambodian Coast." Marine Corps Gazette, Oct. 1977, 24-34. [Petersen]

Messegee, J.A., et al. "Mayday for Mayaguez." U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Nov. 1976, 93-111.

Petersen: "Participant accounts."

Reminick, Gerald. An Act of Piracy: The Seizure of the American-flag Merchant Ship Mayaguez in 1975. Palo Alto, CA: Glencannon, 2009.

Keiser, Proceedings 135.12 (Dec. 2009), finds that this book "is an impressive history that features verbatim statements by many of those directly involved in the action."

Rowan, Roy. The Four Days of Mayaguez. New York: Norton, 1975.

Warner, Time, 3 Nov. 1975, says "[t]his fresh, immediate account ... manages to put the event in lucid perspective." The author's "facts, speedily and scrupulously assembled, make a strong, if arguable case for the American response."

Vandenbroucke, Lucien S. Perilous Options: Special Operations as an Instrument of U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Oxford University, 1993. E8404V36

Cohen, FA 73.2 (Mar.-Apr. 1994), calls this a "commendable study of ... the Bay of Pigs, the Son Tay raid, the Mayaguez rescue and the Desert One fiasco.... Readers ... may set aside the didactic concluding chapter and content themselves with four well-researched cases."

According to Immerman, AHR 100.1, "Vandenbroucke identifies common explanations for the outcomes [of his four cases]. These include faulty intelligence, poor interagency and interservice cooperation and coordination, a decision-making system plagued by flawed advice and wishful thinking, and micromanagement by both civilian and military leaders far removed from the theater of operations.... This is a suggestive study, but asking broader questions would have made it more compelling."

Hilsman, PSQ 109.4, refers to the author's "calm gathering of the facts" and "convincing analysis." The author "shows that only one of the four principal special operations in the last thirty years was justified." The "book contains only a few minor errors." For example, it was the Soviets, not Castro, who took the initiative in placing Soviet missiles in Cuba. "More serious is the author's overall conclusion that ... the United States should put more emphasis on espionage.... But the fact is that ... espionage has been successful only in ferreting out technical and scientific secrets and almost never plans for offensives and the like."

Wetterhahn, Ralph. The Mayaguez Incident and the End of the Vietnam War. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2001.

According to Bartlett, Proceedings 127.7 (Jul. 2001), this work "adds nothing new about the chain of events that took place in the Gulf of Siam in 1975." However, the author "does provide ... new details about the tragic outcome." The reviewer is "unconvinced" by Wetterhahn's argument that three Marines left behind on Koh Tang Island were not dead at the time of the withdrawal. In addition, the book does not include a bibliography and has "a number of factual errors."


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