May 21, 2024

The Miami News (via JFK Library)

The Republic of China government secretly established the “Guoguang Operations Office” (國光作業室) in 1961, which was responsible for formulating plans for a counterattack against the mainland. After entering 1962, President Chiang Kai-Shek became more actively involved in preparing for the counterattack. During a meeting on January 24th with the Director of the US Naval Auxiliary Communications Center (NACC, CIA’s Taipei Station), Ray Cline, Chiang directly asked, “Do you currently think it is an appropriate time for us and the United States to discuss launching a counterattack against the mainland?” To prevent the situation from escalating, the Kennedy administration sent high-level officials to Taipei to urge President Chiang to abandon this idea. However, President Chiang only agreed to postpone the initiation of the counterattack from June to October but did not completely give up on the idea.

On April 20th, the ROC government established the “420 Committee” to study the plan for the counterattack on the mainland. Participants included Generals Lai Ming-Tang (賴名湯), I Fu-En (衣復恩), Huang De-Mei (黃德美), and Chao Kuang-Han (趙光漢), with Lai serving as the chief committee member. Ray Cline did not have an official role in the 420 Committee as he was leaving for the US on that day to assume the position of Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA.

To raise funds for defense spending, the Legislative Yuan passed the Temporary Special Defense Levy Act (國防臨時特別捐徵收條例) on April 27th, which imposed a 20% to 50% levy on various taxes and bus ticket prices from May 1st until June 3rd of the following year. On May 10th, a classified cable sent from Taipei by the CIA stated that the government’s military forces had completed 80% of their operational preparations and that if everything went smoothly, all units would be ready for combat within three months. The cable also noted that Chiang Kai-Shek had made up his mind and that once preparations were complete and there was a chance of successful landing, the government would take action regardless of the United States’ stance.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) across the Taiwan Strait also became aware of the ROC government’s active actions. Mao Zedong met twice with PLA Chief of Staff Luo Ruiqing on May 17th and 29th, instructing Luo to prepare for the situation in the Taiwan Strait as well as the border situation with India and the Soviet Union. On June 10th, the CCP Central Committee issued an instruction to the whole country titled “On Preparing to Crush the Kuomintang’s Invasion of the Southeast Coastal Region” (關於準備粉碎國民黨軍進犯東南沿海地區的指示), ordering several divisions to mobilize towards the Fuzhou Military Region. The United States immediately detected these actions (likely through monitoring radio communications) and the CIA’s daily intelligence brief, “The President’s Intelligence Checklist,” delivered to President Kennedy on June 11th, mentioned the movement of Chinese forces, although their true intentions were still uncertain.

China’s ambassador to Poland, Wang Bingnan, made a rare request to privately meet with the US ambassador to Poland, Cabot, on June 15th. However, Wang, on the scheduled day of the meeting, claimed to be ill and canceled the meeting, leaving the United States uncertain about the intentions of China. As Chinese troops continued to pour into the Fuzhou Military Region, the situation became increasingly tense. On the 20th, President Kennedy convened a meeting at the White House with high-level government officials, including Defense Secretary McNamara and CIA Director McCone, to discuss the situation in the Taiwan Strait. McCone believed that based on the scale and urgency of the Chinese troop movements, they were likely planning a surprise attack on the small island Kinmen (金門). However, McNamara, who spoke next, believed that the situation was not so serious and even questioned the CIA’s intelligence-gathering capabilities. He suggested gathering more information and proposed sending two U-2 aircraft from the Strategic Air Command to support Taiwan. He proposed that when the weather was favorable, four U-2 aircraft would be simultaneously flown by ROC pilots at the controls to achieve the maximum effect.

McCone stated that the reconnaissance missions of the U-2 would be limited by the weather conditions. Kennedy, approaching the situation from an outsider’s perspective, asked McCone if it would be possible for the U-2 to fly at a lower altitude. McCone later instructed the CIA’s U-2 headquarters to deploy one U-2 aircraft, Article Number 342, from Detachment G at Edwards Air Force Base to support Detachment H in Taoyuan, Taiwan. This U-2 aircraft arrived in Taiwan on the 26th. Together with the two U-2s already present at Taoyuan Base, a total of three U-2 aircraft (358, 378, 342) were stationed simultaneously!

The CIA had earlier planned to carry out the GRC 114 mission on the morning of the 23rd, Taipei time. The mission involved reconnaissance of the movements of Chinese Communist forces along the southeast coast of mainland China. However, due to unfavorable weather forecasts in the target area, the mission was postponed three times and ultimately had to be canceled. On the other hand, the GRC 115 mission, which involved reconnaissance of the same area but along a different route, was carried out as scheduled on the morning of the 26th, piloted by Chen Huai in U-2 aircraft number 358. The following is the route map for that mission:

On June 29 and June 30, the Black Cat Squadron carried out the GRC 116 and GRC 117 missions, respectively, with Gimo Yang and Mike Hua as the pilots. These missions involved intensive monitoring of the movements of the People’s Liberation Army along the coastal provinces of the Taiwan Strait. However, the Chinese Communist forces had ceased their maneuvers around June 25. In July, Gimo Yang flew the GRC 119 mission on the 6th. The reconnaissance take did not change the United States’ previous assessments, and there were no indications of China’s intention to attack the outlying islands.

On July 10, Chen Huai flew the GRC 120 mission. However, the Chinese Communist forces still showed no further movements.

History later revealed that the tense situation of the so-called Third Taiwan Strait Crisis did not escalate further. However, it is worth noting that in addition to the deployment of U-2 aircraft, reconnaissance operations under the codename BOWTIE were conducted starting from June 20. When weather conditions permitted, RF-101 aircraft were dispatched daily from Taiwan to conduct reconnaissance missions in the vicinity of Fuzhou, Xiamen, and Shantou. On July 3, 4, and 5, two sorties were conducted each day, and on the 6th, it increased to three sorties. The following diagram shows the flight route for the reconnaissance mission in Fuzhou:

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