This detailed Vietnam War timeline has been researched and compiled by Alpha History authors. It spans the period from January 1960 to December 1964. If you would like to suggest an event or date or this timeline, please contact Alpha History.
April: North Vietnam imposes universal military conscription for all adult males, with an indefinite term of service.
April: Eighteen South Vietnamese intellectuals sign the Caravelle Manifesto, a petition criticising the corruption and nepotism of the Diem regime.
April: Ngo Dinh Diem responds to this by closing several opposition newspapers and arresting journalists and intellectuals.
May 4th: The US more than doubles its military advisors in Vietnam, from 327 to 685 men.
November 8th: John F. Kennedy is elected president of the United States.
November 11th: South Vietnamese (ARVN) military officers, led by Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu, declare Ngo Dinh Diem “incapable of saving the country from communism” and attempt to remove him from power.
November 12th: The anti-Diem coup is defeated after troops loyal to Diem enter Saigon. Dozens of people are killed in the fighting.
December 20th: The National Liberation Front (NLF), later dubbed the Viet Cong, is established.
January 6th: Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev delivers a speech promising Soviet support for “wars of liberation” around the world.
January 20th: John F. Kennedy is inaugurated as US president.
January 28th: Kennedy releases plans to combat counter-insurgency in Vietnam by increasing US military training and support.
March 23rd: A US aircraft is shot down by insurgents while flying a reconnaissance mission over Laos.
March 28th: President Kennedy hears a damning intelligence report on the ineffectiveness of the Diem government and the growing communist insurgency in South Vietnam.
April 9th: Ngo Dinh Diem is re-elected as president of South Vietnam, winning 89 per cent of the vote. Many question the validity of this election.
April 29th: President Kennedy authorises another 100 military advisors to be sent to South Vietnam.
May 5th: At a press conference, John F. Kennedy tells reporters that if the situation does not improve, it may be necessary to deploy US combat troops in South Vietnam.
May 11th: US vice-president Lyndon Johnson makes an official visit to South Vietnam. While there he meets Ngo Dinh Diem and promises additional military aid.
June 12th: North Vietnamese leader Pham Van Dong meets with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing. Both criticise the US for interfering in Vietnam.
September 1st: Viet Cong guerrillas launch more than 40 attacks against ARVN positions in Kontum province.
October 1st: A meeting of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) hears that the US is prepared to deploy troops in Vietnam if it becomes necessary.
October 11th: President Kennedy is advised that the US would need to deploy 40,000 combat troops to defeat the Viet Cong and another 120,000 troops to withstand an invasion of South Vietnam.
November 16th: Kennedy agrees to supply South Vietnam with more planes, helicopters and military advisors, but refuses to commit US combat troops.
December 11th: Some 400 US troops arrive in South Vietnam.
December 22nd: James T. Davis is killed while leading an ARVN attack near Cau Xang. He is the first US soldier to die in combat in Vietnam.
January 20th: US military advisors in Vietnam are authorised to follow ARVN troops into combat.
February 3rd: Ngo Dinh Diem signs a decree formally approving the Strategic Hamlet program.
February 7th: Two additional US companies arrive in South Vietnam, bringing the number of American military personnel there to 4,000.
February 24th: Chinese state radio declares that the US is waging an undeclared war in Vietnam.
February 27th: Ngo Dinh Diem’s presidential palace in Saigon is bombed during an abortive coup attempt.
March 22nd: The ARVN begins Operation Sunrise, attacking Viet Cong positions in Binh Duong. This operation begins resettlement into Strategic Hamlets.
May 15th: President Kennedy sends 5,000 US troops into Thailand to stop communist insurgents from crossing the Laos-Thai border.
July 23rd: Fourteen nations, including the US, China, Soviet Russia and North and South Vietnam, sign an agreement on the neutrality of Laos.
August: Australian military advisors arrive in South Vietnam.
January 2nd: At Ap Bac, a force of 2,500 ARVN soldiers is defeated by the Viet Cong. This battle highlights the Viet Cong’s use of guerrilla tactics, as well as problems and weaknesses within the ARVN.
April 22nd: US Secretary of State Dean Rusk says the struggle for Vietnam is unlikely to be brief. Rusk describes the US will have a “limited and supporting” role in Vietnam.
May: US defence secretary Robert McNamara sets a timetable for withdrawing US military personnel from Vietnam.
June 3rd: Buddhist demonstrations break out in Hue, in response to the Diem government’s repressive policies. The government responds by imposing martial law.
June 11th: Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc commits suicide in central Saigon by setting himself alight. His self immolation attracts global media attention and highlights the lack of religious freedom in Diem’s South Vietnam.
June 27th: Kennedy appoints Henry Cabot Lodge as the next US ambassador to South Vietnam. Lodge takes up his duties in late August.
July 17th: A demonstration by around 1,000 Buddhists turns violent and is suppressed by Diem’s police.
August 21st: Ngo Dinh Diem imposes martial law and orders troops to raid Saigon’s largest Buddhist pagoda.
September 2nd: John F. Kennedy appears on US television. He pledges to support the struggle against communism in South Vietnam but is also critical of the Diem government.
September 21st: Kennedy sends Robert McNamara and Maxwell Taylor to investigate the situation in South Vietnam. He asks for “the best possible on the spot appraisal of the military and paramilitary effort to defeat the Viet Cong”.
October 11th: After considering the report from McNamara and Taylor, Kennedy signs National Security Action Memorandum 263. It plans to transfer responsibility for security in South Vietnam to the ARVN, allowing for the withdrawal of 1,000 US troops within three months and the bulk of US troops by late 1965.
October 31st: South Vietnamese general Duong Van Minh, acting with the support of the CIA, launches a military coup which removes Ngo Dinh Diem from power.
November 1st: South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem is executed in an armoured van, the day after his overthrow.
November 15th: A US official in Saigon reports that 1,000 American military personnel will be withdrawn beginning December 8th.
November 22nd: John F. Kennedy Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, purportedly by a lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald. Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as president while flying back to Washington.
November 26th: Four days after Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson signs National Security Action Memorandum 273, reversing the planned withdrawal of troops outlined in Memorandum 263 of October 11th.
March: A peace conference at Yale plans anti-war protests for the spring.
May 2nd: Hundreds of protestors, mainly students, gather in New York City and march to the United Nations, in protest against growing US involvement in Vietnam.
May 12th: In New York, 12 young protestors burn their draft cards as an act of defiance.
July 6th: Warrant Officer Kevin Conway becomes the first Australian military death in Vietnam.
August 2nd: The USS Maddox is fired on by North Vietnamese gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin; Washington claims this was an act of unprovoked aggression.
August 4th: President Johnson addresses the nation, informing Americans about the Tonkin attack and promising to seek a resolution from Congress.
August 5th: American carriers launch Operation Pierce Arrow, flying 64 bombing runs against North Vietnamese patrol boat bases and oil storage facilities.
August 5th: Johnson writes to Congress, seeking a resolution to back military intervention in Vietnam to protect the interests of the United States and its allies.
August 10th: Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution almost unanimously (416-0 in the House, 48-2 in the Senate) authorising military action in Indochina, but stopping short of a declaration of war.
October: Communist China successfully tests an atomic bomb, signalling its arrival as a nuclear power.
November 3rd: Lyndon Johnson elected as US president by a considerable margin.
November 10th: Robert Menzies unveils plans to increase the military and introduce ‘national service’ in Australia.
December 18th: The Australian government offers to send ground troops and additional advisors to Vietnam.
December 19th: The first coordinated protests against the Vietnam War sees demonstrations in a number of American cities, including New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and Boston.