Year 11

Gulf of Tonkin incident

I can explain the importance of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Year 11

Gulf of Tonkin incident

I can explain the importance of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

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Lesson details

Key learning points

  1. US President Lyndon B. Johnson continued US involvement in Vietnam.
  2. An American ship was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin.
  3. American ships thought they were attacked a second time, but they were mistaken.
  4. America launched air strikes on North Vietnam in response.
  5. America did not officially declare war on North Vietnam, but Congress authorised aggressive action to be taken.

Common misconception

Highly-trained members of the military and government tend not to make mistakes.

Everyone is capable of making errors, sometimes big and far-reaching ones, especially if they are under a great deal of stress.


  • Gulf - a gulf is a deep inlet of a sea almost surrounded by land, with a narrow mouth

  • Patrol - a patrol is a repetitive journey aimed at keeping watch over a particular area

  • Congress - Congress is the group of elected representatives that decide laws in the United States, made up of the Senate and House of Representatives

For the decision making task, allow students to make a snap judgement then introduce other factors that the government would have also considered, e.g. Domino theory, Red Scares, the upcoming election, to mimic the complex nature of the decision.
Teacher tip

Content guidance

  • Contains conflict or violence.


Adult supervision suggested.


This content is © Oak National Academy Limited (2024), licensed on Open Government Licence version 3.0 except where otherwise stated. See Oak's terms & conditions (Collection 2).



6 Questions

Why did Ngo Dinh Diem refuse to allow elections in 1956 that would have unified the country?
he didn't have enough time to organise the election process
he suspected the North of cheating
the North and South could not agree on how to organise the elections
Correct answer: he feared he would lose
How did the Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, protest against Diem's regime on 11th June 1963?
he led an angry mob to the Presidential Palace
he led an armed rebellion against the South Vietnamese Army
he went on hunger strike
Correct answer: he set himself on fire
Which neighbouring countries to Vietnam did the Ho Chi Minh Trail pass through? Choose two options.
Correct answer: Cambodia
Correct answer: Laos
Myanmar (Burma)
Complete the following sentence: John F. became president of the United States in 1961.
Correct Answer: Kennedy, kennedy
Match the keywords to their correct definition.
Correct Answer:napalm,fire bombs

fire bombs

Correct Answer:Agent Orange,defoliant used to destroy the jungle canopy

defoliant used to destroy the jungle canopy

Correct Answer:Vietcong,communist guerrilla force

communist guerrilla force

Sort the following events into the order in which they occurred.
1 - formation of the Vietcong
2 - self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc
3 - assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem
4 - assassination of President Kennedy

6 Questions

What happened in South Vietnam after the assassination of Diem?
an increase in anti-government protests
a period of stability in government
Correct answer: a quick succession of different governments, creating instability
a decrease in Vietcong and North Vietnamese activity
What was the purpose of the OPLAN 34A missions conducted by the US Navy?
to create accurate maps of the coastline of Vietnam
Correct answer: to provide information to assist South Vietnamese surprise raids
to find out North Vietnamese demands for a peace treaty
to test out new technology and weaponry
How many North Vietnamese patrol torpedo boats chased down and fired upon the USS Maddox on 2nd August 1964?
Correct Answer: Three, three, 3
Match the vessel to the damage it received on 2nd August 1964.
Correct Answer:USS Maddox,a single bullet hole

a single bullet hole

Correct Answer:North Vietnamese patrol boats,four sailors dead, six injured

four sailors dead, six injured

How many North Vietnamese patrol torpedo boats attacked the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy on the night of 4th August 1964?
Correct Answer: Zero, zero, None , none, 0
How did Johnson respond to the report of an attack on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy?
Correct answer: he launched a bombing raid on North Vietnam
he called Ho Chi Minh directly to discuss the matter with him
he launched an enquiry to find out exactly what had happened
he called the South Vietnamese government for advice on what to do next

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