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44 years ago, today . . .

5317 Views 38 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  lysander

The largest B-52 air strike in history was launched.

At 2:51 PM (local) the first of 87 B-52s lifted off the runway at Andersen AFB, Guam, to be joined by another 42 out of U-Tapao RTNAB, Thailand. All total, 129 B-52s from three Strategic Air Wings (43rd Bombardment Wing (BW), 307th Strategic Wing (SW) and 72nd Strategic Wing [Provisional]) were launched for strikes against Hoa Lac, Kep, Phuc Yen, Kinh No, Yen Vien, Gia Lam, Hanoi.

Four B-52s had to return to base after take-off, due to mechanical issues, three B-52s had issues that prevented bomb release over their targets, and one was hit by a SAM moments before bomb release, 121 B-52s dropped over 4 million pounds of bombs that night.

As Brown cell turned away from Hoa Lac airfield after bomb release, a MiG warning was sent out that one was attempting to intercept the bomber stream. In Brown 03 (B-52D 55-0676 out of U-Tapao), the trail bomber of the trail cell, SSgt Samuel O. Turner picked up the rapidly closing MiG and engaged it with his radar directed quad-fifties. After about three bursts the MiG disappeared from his screen. Another tail gunner observed the engagement and confirmed the kill. This was the first kill by a B-52 tail gunner.

In addition to the B-52s, there were fifteen F-111A bombing sorties, thirteen F-105G and four F-4C sorties for SAM suppression, sixty-three escort/CAP fighter sorties and twenty-two chaff bomber sorties, nine Navy A-7 SAM suppression sorties, thirty-four Navy and Marine A-6 Intruder bombing sorties, and 240 additional tanker, command and control, radar, and electronic warfare sorties in support of the night's mission.

One F-111A, one Navy A-7C, one B-52D and two B-52Gs (one was the Deputy Airborne Commander's aircraft) were lost, with another three B-52s damaged.

Seven crewmen were killed (two, the F-111 crew, are still listed as missing).

Lt Col Donald L. Rissi
Lt Col Ronald J Ward (MIA)
Maj James R. McElvan (MIA)
Capt Richard W. Cooper
1st Lt Robert J. Thomas
TSgt Walter L. Ferguson
TSgt Charlie S. Poole
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And then in the daylight you saw all the brand new blue swimming holes that weren't there yesterday...


CAVman in WYoming
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While large strategic bomber raids would have been impressive, in the sense that it would have impressed on the NV leaders the resolve of the US to win the war, in 1964, it would not have been as effective as it was in late 1972.

The B-52F, the first model assigned to SEA, were not all fitted with external hard points for conventional ordnance, nor did they have the Big Belly conversion. Both the conventional bomb pylons and the Big Belly were brought about by the fact that the F models weren't as effective as, or as efficient as tactical aircraft. Coupled with the fact that B-52 crews were not trained in flying in large formations*. The older D models were converted due to the fact that they were no longer considered front line nuclear capable aircraft, and there were a lot of them, they were the second most numerous model produced, right behind the Gs.

While dropping twenty-seven 750 pound M-117 bombs (the maximum load for a F, G or the current H, without external carriage) all at once, will get your attention, the Big Belly, with 84 bombs internally and 24 bombs externally, could deliver 108 bombs, 4 times as many, inside a box about 1/4 mile long and 200 yards wide.

* On July 19th 1965, the very first Arc Light mission flown resulted in the mid-air collision of two B-52 with the loss of eight crew. Two years later it happened again.

It wasn't just the B-52 raids. The 1964 recommendations called for severing the rail lines with China, mining Haiphong harbor, destroying the dikes around Hanoi and destroying the electrical generation plant. All these took place(with the exception of destroying the dikes) during Linebacker II. Granted, the B-52Ds made a REAL impact on the NV leaders. Severing the rail lines with China and mining Haiphong harbor prevented the Chinese and Soviets from resupplying Hanoi with SAMs and other critical war materials.
It wasn't just the B-52 raids. The 1964 recommendations called for severing the rail lines with China, mining Haiphong harbor, destroying the dikes around Hanoi and destroying the electrical generation plant. All these took place(with the exception of destroying the dikes) during Linebacker II. Granted, the B-52Ds made a REAL impact on the NV leaders. Severing the rail lines with China and mining Haiphong harbor prevented the Chinese and Soviets from resupplying Hanoi with SAMs and other critical war materials.

And Yet...

'They' tell us Vietnam Vets to---'Get Over It!'


CAVman in WYoming
It wasn't just the B-52 raids. The 1964 recommendations called for severing the rail lines with China, mining Haiphong harbor, destroying the dikes around Hanoi and destroying the electrical generation plant. All these took place(with the exception of destroying the dikes) during Linebacker II. Granted, the B-52Ds made a REAL impact on the NV leaders. Severing the rail lines with China and mining Haiphong harbor prevented the Chinese and Soviets from resupplying Hanoi with SAMs and other critical war materials.
Your mixing up Linebacker I with Linebacker II.

Haiphong was mined in May 1972, it was the first thing done by the Navy during Operation Linebacker I.

From 9 May to end of October 1972, all of the targets you mention were attacked and destroyed or seriously damaged by Tactical Air and Task Force 77 aircraft.

Unfortunately, as happened in Germany during WW2, things were quickly repaired. Just in time to be bombed again in December (Linebacker II)

Operation Linebacker I is another interesting story to be told at a later date. But there are no B-52s in it, they were still restricted to below the 17th parallel.
DAY 5 - A Change of Tactics, and Targets

SAC and the Commands at U-Tapao and Andersen again reviewed the tactics they were using and the nature of the SAM threat. It was decided that the high threat area of Hanoi would be avoided by B-52s for now. The Haiphong rail yards and the Haiphong oil storage facility were the targets of day five.

The Haiphong rail yard would be hit by 12 B-52Ds and the oil storage facility would be hit with 18, all aircraft were from the 307th SW out of U-Tapao. F-111As would perform precision night strikes in and around the Hanoi/Haiphong air fields and an afternoon strike of 34 F-4s and 24 A-7 would attempt LORAN guided bombing Viet Tri trans-shipment point and Bac Giang rail storage.

There would be a major change in the tactics used, the B-52 stream would approach Haiphong from the Gulf of Tonkin to the south, with each cell on a separate track, with the track fanning out as they came north. At approximately 60 miles south of Haiphong the ten individual cells would form six streams, but still none would be directed at any one particular target. Three of the streams would feint due west as if headed for Hanoi. At 30 miles south of Haiphong the six tracks would converge toward their assigned targets. The exact spacing and timing was designed so the bombers would converge on the Initial Point (IP) and as they turned to begin the bomb run, the cells would be spaced approximately 75 seconds apart. The PTT was to the north and back out over the gulf.

SAM suppression support for the night was 4 F-105Gs, 6 F-4Cs and 5 F-4Es, another 27 F-4 would fly escort/CAP and 15 more F-4s for chaff dispersal. The Navy provided more support as the targets were closer to the carriers, in the form of 14 A-6s and 4 A-7s, in the form of SAM suppression.

The attack went as planned and not one B-52 was damaged by SAM or AAA fire. The quality and effectiveness of the Navy SAM suppression rated a personal compliment from CINCSAC.

There was one loss that night: F-111A (Jackel 33) was attacking the Hanoi port facilities, and took, what the pilots believed to be a small arms round in the engine just after bomb release. The damaged engine was shut down and the crew attempted to continue exiting of the target area at high mach. Approximately 50 miles southwest of Hanoi the F-111 had enough abuse and the remaining engine quit. The crew successfully separated from the aircraft in the escape module and made it safely to the ground. The escape module landed in an unpopulated and wooded area, so the downed crew had a chance to evade immediate capture. (More on this later . . .)

As noted earlier, even though the B-52s at Andersen were not flying missions up north, they were not idle, on the 22nd of December 1972, 22 B-52Gs and 6 B-52D hit targets in support of Arc Light in the south. The daily Arc Light commitments were 20 to 30 aircraft, these requirements had not been reduced because of Linebacker. Due to the tireless effort of the maintenance and support facilities at U-Tapao and Andersen, all aircraft requirements were met during this period.

And just a further note on the support personnel, little guys like the cooks often get overlooked. The B-52, "Dr Strangelove" not withstanding, does not have safes, stoves, or much else in them, they are surprisingly quite cramped inside. During the 12 to 14 hour mission from Guam to Vietnam and back, the crew subsisted on boxed meals delivered to the aircraft prior to launch. About two meals per man. On Day One, that added up to around 1600 meals to be prepared, boxed and delivered to the aircraft dispersed on the ramp.

Then there were the ordnance personnel . . . upwards of 6,000 bombs per day were required to be uncrated, assembled, and loaded.

The ramp at Andersen with 150 B-52.
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The ramp at Andersen with 150 B-52.
What a picture Lysander, thanks. That really brings it all into perspective.

Your mixing up Linebacker I with Linebacker II.

Haiphong was mined in May 1972, it was the first thing done by the Navy during Operation Linebacker I.

From 9 May to end of October 1972, all of the targets you mention were attacked and destroyed or seriously damaged by Tactical Air and Task Force 77 aircraft.

Unfortunately, as happened in Germany during WW2, things were quickly repaired. Just in time to be bombed again in December (Linebacker II)

Operation Linebacker I is another interesting story to be told at a later date. But there are no B-52s in it, they were still restricted to below the 17th parallel.
My apologies. Imagine what a difference there would have been in the Vietnam War IF LBJ and McNamara had actually followed the Joint Chiefs' recommendation. Hell, imagine what a difference there would have been IF LBJ and McNamara had let the flag officers RUN the war WITHOUT their interference...GI3
Who is Sam Uplink*? - Day Six

For the first time in the campaign SAM sites were to be the primary targets of B-52 strikes. Three SAM sites, designated VN 660, VN 537 and VN 563, situated about 60 miles to the northeast of Hanoi were each to be attacked by 6 B-52D from Guam, while 18 B-52Ds from U-Tapao and 6 B-52Ds from Guam hit the Lang Dang rail center near the Chinese border. Similar tactics as the night before were used with the cells fanning out prior to converging on the target. An even dozen F-111A flights attacked their usual nightly targets.

Planned support was 7 F-105Gs, 6 F-4Cs and 5 F-4Es for SAM suppression, there was reduced CAP and chaff support (12 and 3 respectively) due to fewer enemy assets that far north of Hanoi. USN/USMC support was in the form of 14 A-6s.

The tactic of attacking an active SAM site required some modification to the bomber formation, since the bombers would have to fly directly over the SAM site. ECM protection of the bomber fails when the bomber passes in to the “burn-through” zone. This is the radius where the ground based transmission signal surpasses the airborne ECM transmission signal and the ground radar can see through the ECM noise. Ordinarily, B-52s tired to void flying into the burn-through zone, since even mutual ECM protection was not possible in the burn-through zone, the cells split up and each aircraft in the cell striking a separate SAM site, and the second cell doing the same. Observation of SAM activity over the past five days indicated that NVA gunners used the first cell of a stream as a “pathfinder” for the flight path of subsequent cells, and even if jammed or suppressed by ARM missiles they could volley fire or home-on jam. USAF tacticians hoped the SAM gunners would mistake the attacking bomber as the lead aircraft of the lead cell and just track his progress. By the time the bombs hit, it would be too late to react.

After bomb release over the SAM site, the individual bombers, now separated, would have to rejoin and re-form their formations for egress. For maneuverable fighters in the day, this was no problem, but for a B-52, at night, this would be a test of skill.

A serious hitch in plans came when the MIGCAP and SAM suppression support forces reported they could not make their attacks on time prior to the arrival of the B-52s. Despite concerns and discussion among commanders on whether the risk was worth the results, the B-52 attacks went as scheduled with no losses.

An electronic warfare EB-66C (Hunt 02) suffered engine failure and went down sometime that night, with the loss of the entire crew.

Early that evening, a Marine F-4J, escorting a photo reconnaissance flight was hit by AAA. The crew managed to make it out over water before having to eject, and were recovered.

Maj Henry J. Repeta
Maj George F. Sasser
Capt William R. Balwin

* The SA-2 Guideline is a command guided missile. The ground station has two radars, one tracks the target, and the other tracks the missile. The fire control computer calculates course corrections for the missile to achieve intercept and by radio link sends the course information to the missile (the “uplink”). One of the active defenses was to deny the ground station from communicating with the missile by jamming the radio frequency ("no-uplink"). The US Nike missile, as well as the Navy's ship board missiles used the same type of command guidance.
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Day Seven

For the third night in a row, the heavily defended Hanoi area was avoided by the BUFFs. The planned missions were 12 B-52Ds were to hit the rail yard at Kep and 18 B-52Ds were to hit the rail yards at Thai Nguyen. There would be only 3 F-111A flights against Kep, Phuc Yen and Yen Bai airfields just prior to the B-52 strikes. Afternoon strikes of 30 F-4 using LORAN bombing techniques against the Bac Giang and Thai Nguyen trans-shipping points.

SAM suppression would come from 7 F-105Gs, 4 F-4Cs and 5 F-4Es, 22 F-4s would provide escort/CAP and an additional 16 F-4s would dispense chaff. The Navy/USMC would provide minimal support from 3 A-6s, 2 A-7s and 4 F-4s.

The U-Tapao based B-52s would make a wide sweeping approach to the northwest, outside the SAM coverage area, skirt along the Chinese border duck inside the SAM coverage area to bomb their targets and return to the Chinese border to make their exit over the Gulf of Tonkin. To further confuse enemy defenses the cells within the waves would not all make the same PTT to exit on slightly different tracks and rejoin further away from the target.

No B-52 received any SAM damage, but Purple 02 took a minor hit from AAA. MiG-21 attempted to engage Black and Ruby cells, but inflicted no damage. The tail gunner of B-52D 55-0083, Ruby 03, Airman First Class Albert Moore, was credited with one kill, the second, and last, MiG shot down by a tail gunner in the war. (Probably, it will be the last aircraft to be shot down by defensive fire from a US bomber in history.)

A Navy A-7E (Battle Cry 314) from VA-113 off the USS Ranger on a SAM suppression sortie was downed by AAA with the loss of the pilot.

LT Philip S. Clark, Jr. (USN)
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Christmas, 1972:

There were no bombing attacks on North Vietnam.

Partly as an act of offering the NV Government a chance to return to the negotiating table with some honor, Nixon sent such a request that day. There was no rely from the North Vietnamese.

The other reason was symbolic . . .

The 26 hour pause, however, did not alter a thing for the command staff, maintenance and support crews at U-Tapao, Andersen, Kadena, Clark, Korat, Thaki, Ubon, Udorn, or any of the carriers on Yankee station. There were aircraft that needed to be ready to go the next day, and a lot of them, and a mission to be planned . . .
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A Furious Return to Downtown - Day Eight

Day Eight marked a return of massed strikes on targets in the high threat Hanoi area, and the most ambitious to date. For the first time in since Day One, over one hundred B-52s would fly into North Vietnamese airspace, 120 B-52 sorties were launched. But, this time there would be a major difference. On the first three days of bombing, the three waves were separated by three to four hours, this night from the time of the first bomb release to the time of the last release was to be just 15 minutes. This would also mark the return of flights over North Vietnam by G model aircraft, however, all Gs would be those with the Rivet Rambler ECM modification kit.

The target list was:

Target..........................................Aircraft.....TOT (Zulu).........Assigned Cells

Thai Nguyen Rail Yard (1)....B-52G..........1530 - 1545.........Opal, Lavender, Wine, Sable, Lemon, Walnut
Kinh No Complex (2)...............B-52D..........1530 - 1535.........Black, Ruby, Rainbow
Duc Noi Rail Yard (3)............B-52D..........1537 - 1545.........Indigo, Brown, Ash
Gia Lam Rail yards (4)...........B-52D.........1530 - 1536........Snow, Slate, Cream
Hanoi POL storage (5)...........B-52D.........1538 - 1545.........Lilac, Pinto, Cobalt
Giap Nhi Rail Yard (6)...........B-52D..........1530 - 1545.........Pink, White, Ivory, Yellow, Ebony, Smoke
VN 549 SAM Site (7)............B-52D..........1530.......................Rust
Van Dien Supply Point (8)....B-52D..........1532 - 1545.........Maroon, Amber, Silver, Red, Gold
Haiphong Rail Yard (9)..........B-52G..........1530 - 1542.........Paint, Brick, Grape, Purple, Copper
Transformer Station (10).......B-52G..........1530 - 1542.........Maple, Hazel, Aqua, Bronze, Violet

Due to the compression of aircraft, airspace and a desire to keep the North Vietnamese guessing, multiple ingress and egress routes were planed. It also called for the use of multiple flight levels which had, in the past, pretty much been limited to 36,000 feet.

Black cell would lead Ruby, Rainbow, Indigo, Brown and Ash cells in from the west, turn southeast and fly along Thud Ridge to their targets in a fairly straightforward manner. After the bomb run, they would turn to the northeast and exit along Snow cells ingress route.

Snow cell would lead Slate, Cream, Lilac, Pinto and Cobalt in from the east over Cam Pha, near the Chinese border, where they would separate into two diverging tracks until about 40 miles from the target then turn south and converge on the their two targets, a PTT to the northwest to avoid Pink cell then exit over Laos.

Pink cell would lead their stream in from Laos on almost a due north course then turn east toward Hanoi. After the bomb run they would turn 90 degrees to the south and exit on the same track Rust had taken inbound.

Rust cell would lead Maroon cell and the following cells north over Nam Dinh turn directly toward their intended target then execute a 90 degree PTT to avoid both Pink and Snow streams the southwest also exiting over Laos.

Paint cell would parallel Snow cell’s track to the south, and over Cam Pha turn towards Haiphong and after bomb release turn 90 degrees to the southeast to avoid Maple cell and exit “wet feet.” Maple cell would fly almost a reciprocal course to the Paint cell stream.

Opal cell’s stream would fly north from Thailand well to the west of the SAM coverage area, swing to the north of it and swoop down on Thai Nguyen. Post target they would reverse course and exit along their own ingress route.

The plan of attack kept the weaker B-52Gs from the high threat “downtown” Hanoi area.

Three F-111A strikes on Lang Lau rail yards, Bac Giang rail yards and Viet Tri storage complex would occur about an hour before the B-52 strikes and 15 minutes prior to the B-52 arrival 4 F-111A attacks on the airfields of Yen Bai, Kep, Hoa Lac and Phuc Yen. After B-52 bombers had left, three F-111A bomb runs would take place at Kep RR, Hanoi Radio and Bac Giang TSP to keep the enemy guessing about whether there would be more attacks that night.

Over 200 sorties were flown in support of the nights attacks. SAM suppression would be in the form of 9 F-105G, 4 F-4Cs and 5 F-4Es, 34 escort/CAP flights from F-4s and 23 F-4 chaff flights. A further 10 A-6 and 11 A-7 came from the Navy.

That afternoon about an hour before the B-52s at Andersen took off the Hanoi electrical transformer station was bombed by 32 Air Force A-7D using LORAN aiming. No results were observed.

At quarter after four (local, 0815Z) Andersen AFB was the site of the largest ever single B-52 launch in history took place. One hundred combat loaded B-52s* sat nose to tail along the taxi way (78 for the mission, plus 12 spares). The first B-52, B-52D-25-BW, serial number 55-0680, with Major Bill Stocker at the controls and Colonel James McCarthy, in the observer seat, as overall Airborne Commander (ABC), roared off the runway at 1618 local (0816Z) and at 90 second intervals, for the next two and a half hours, B-52 after B-52 followed it to join the long stream of aircraft heading west. To keep the runway at Andersen clear for uninterrupted takeoffs, aircraft experiencing problems were to divert to Agana Airport (the commercial airport for Guam) 60 miles to the south, This meant Agana airport, the only other concrete strip on the island capable of handling the BUFF, had to be kept clear of all traffic. One unfortunate Pan Am flight due in to Agana around 1600 requested landing instructions from Agana Approach Control only to be asked how much fuel he had on board, when he replied about 3-1/2 hours, he was told to remain in a holding pattern at 10,000 feet, 70 miles south of the island and expect a three hour delay, when the Pan Am flight asked why the delay, the response was: “for tactical considerations . . ."

At Kadena, the tanker support launch hit a snag when an inbound C-141 had a serious in-flight emergency this shut down the runway for about 20 minutes. The tanker support for Wave III was going to be about 15 minutes late. This threw the whole plan into jeopardy, not only from a tactical point of view, but since egress and ingress routes overlapped, mid-air collisions were highly likely. The mission might have to be scrubbed.

The ABC for Wave III, Maj Tom Lebar and his navigators, Maj Vern Amundson and Capt Jim Strain calculated that if the refuel point was moved closer to the inbound tankers and modified their routing they might be able to catch up with Wave I and II. Colonel McCarthy in Wave I instructed Lebar to make the attempt, but if they could not be in position by the time Wave I crossed the 17 parallel, the mission would be scrubbed. Just as Wave I began its turn north over the Gulf of Tonkin, Wave III joined up as scheduled. The mission was “GO”.

It took about 45 minutes for a B-52 to cross the coast/border, make their bomb run, and exist to safe country, either the Gulf or into Thailand. The NVN had used the previous day off to good effect and the SAM sites had loaded up with missile and were freely expending them this night. Once the entire force was committed to the attack, Col McCarthy had little to do, so he settled back in the jump seat and counted SAMs, he got to 26 before they started to come too fast to count. MiG activity was also abundant. In some cases MiG 21s would fly formation off the wing of a B-52 radioing altitude and heading information to SAM and AAA batteries, in others attempting to close within range to fire an Atoll missile, but breaking off went illuminated by a tail gunner’s radar.

Over Gaip Nhi, Ebony 02 was hit by a SAM and exploded almost immediately, the Radar Navigator, Navigator, Co-pilot, and Gunner escaped the aircraft and were captured, the pilot and EWO were killed. About two minutes later Ash 01 had a SAM explode over the right wing knocking out the outboard pair of engines and wounding the tail gunner, losing altitude and struggling to maintain control it headed for the coast. Ash 01 would make it to within a mile of U-Tapao, and while on the second attempt to set down on the runway, now with all four engines on the right side out, the damaged B-52 succumbed to its injuries, rolled over and crashed. The aircraft was too low for the downward ejection seats to be used so the entire crew elected to take their chances in the crash. The Pilot, Navigator, Radar Navigator, and Electronic Warfare Officer were killed, the Co-pilot** and Gunner were pulled from the wreckage moments before it exploded, both severely injured.

All in all, the mission was judged a success. Nineteen targets were bombed and 231 sorties flown, at a cost of two B-52s, and six lives.

Lt Col Donald A. Joiner
Maj Lawrence J. Marshal
Capt Robert J. Morris
Capt Roy T. Tabler
Capt James M. Turner
Capt Nutter J. Wimbrow III


*This would represent 2/3 of the total number of B-52s assigned to Andersen AFB at that time. Considering that Arc Light missions were still being supported, that is a truly outstanding readiness rate. One has to admire the dedication and effort of the men of the 303rd Consolidate Aircraft Maintenance Wing.

** On 11 September 2001, Robert Hymel, the Co-pilot of Ash 02, now a management analyst working at the Pentagon, was killed when AA Flight 77 was deliberately crashed into the building.
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There are a few real good audio tapes from Lilac 2 on the 26th Dec night's mission.

This is the longer of the two, and unfortunately in five parts, but has better subtitles than the second and more of the post strike conversation.

This is the one with a nice live map:

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A Continuing Effort - Day Nine

Both Ebony 02 and Ash 01, lost on the 26th were part of incomplete cells. In each case one of the three bombers in those two cells had had mechanical trouble that required its return to base (given the “press-on” rules, these would have been serious mechanical troubles). The orders were now that in the case of a bomber having to abort, the remaining bombers would join the cell to their front to form a five ship cell, this would keep the ECM jamming cover adequate to prevent any single ship to be “spot-lighted” by radar.

The plan for attack was a smaller scale version of the night before, except that it excluded Haiphong. Only 60 aircraft were required for this night mission. This time, the window of the attacks was compressed to 12 minutes, as there were fewer aircraft:

Target................................Aircraft............TOT (Zulu)....................Assigned Cells

VN 234 SAM Site..................B-52D...............1559................................Ruby
Duc Noi Rail Yard..................B-52D...............1603 - 1609.................Wine, Amber, Black
VN 243 SAM Site..................B-52D...............1600................................Ash
Van Dien Supply Point..........B-52D...............1602 - 1609.................Paint, Rainbow, Silver
Trung Quan Rail Yard..........B-52D...............1600 - 1609.................Green, Cobalt, Topaz, Ivory
Lang Dang Rail Yard.............B-52G...............1600 - 1612.................Beige, Cherry, Chrome, Chestnut, Opal, Gray, Cinnamon
VN 549 SAM Site..................B-52D...............1600................................Lemon

The mission routes were simpler, with each route careful laid out to minimize the time spent in the SAM coverage area.

Ruby cell would lead the Wine group in from the west, down Thud Ridge, making a straight in approach towards Doi Noi. As Ruby cell passed over VN 234 SAM site in would dump its cargo of 324 bombs and continue to Duc Noi where the following three cells would unload, all would then head north towards the Chinese border. Then as they cleared the SAM zone, they would turn back west and skirt around the western edge of the SAM zone and head South, them home.

Ash cell would lead the Paint group in from the southeast, as they crossed the coast, they would turn west and head straight in for Hanoi. About 15 miles from the target, Ash would break off to attack VN 243, and post bomb release, rejoin the stream as they continued west over Laos and then south.

The Green and Beige groups would come in from the Gulf north of Cam Pha, here, Green through Ivory would break off and head toward Thai Nguyen. About twenty miles inland, Green would turn toward the target, at approximately 15 mile intervals each of the following cells would execute a similar dog leg. Beige and the following cells would just go straight in bomb Lang Dang near the Chinese border, turn around and exit the way they came in.

Lemon cell would also enter from Laos. They would take the shortest route to their target, bomb it, and then take the shortest route to the Gulf.

SAM suppression was stepped up for the night, 14 F-105Gs, 4 F-4C and 5 F-4E. The number of CAP/escort and chaff flights remained the same at 32 and 23 sorties, respectively. Again, the Navy was not heavily tasked, requiring to provide just 3 A-6s and an A-7.

Ash 02 was the first to encounter trouble. They successfully bombed VN-243, crews in the following Paint cell reported at least one SA-2 was destroyed during its lift-off, and damage to the radar cause others in flight to go erratic. Unfortunately, the exit route of Ash cell was very close to VN-549, which had gained a reputation as sharp-shooters. Ash 02 was hit but managed to stay airborne long enough to make it over Laos where the crew bailed out, where they were all recovered.

Minutes later, Cobalt 01 was hit by a SAM seconds from bomb release. The Radar Navigator tried to execute weapons release as the passed over the target. When this attempt failed the Pilot ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. The Navigator and Electronic Warfare Officer, both severely wounded by the SAM detonation, did not make it out. The others were captured.

Earlier that afternoon two F-4Es on MIGCAP/Escort were shot down by MiG-21s in dogfights, both crews were taken prisoner.

Also, that afternoon the another chapter in the shoot down of F-111, Jackel 33, played out. The previous day, after evading capture since being downed on the 22nd, Capt Sponeybarger (Jackel 33A) was captured. The NVA intensified its search for Jackel 33B (1st Lt William Wilson). A massive search and rescue mission was launched on the 27th of December. Search and Rescue elements made contact with Wilson and HH-53s where directed to his location. The primary recovery aircraft HH-53C, 69-5788, Jolly Green 73, located Wilson and began recovery operations. As the jungle penetrator was being lowered, the helicopter started to take small arm fire from NVA troops. The refueling probe was shot up and the co-pilot wounded, but it remained in a hover as Wilson attempted to grab the penetrator. Weakened by lack of food and water after being on the run for five days, Wilson lost his balance, fell and rolled down the hill away from the helicopter. Unable to remain, due to increasingly accurate fire, Jolly Green 73 had to break off the rescue attempt. Unable to take on fuel due to the damaged refuel probe, JG 73 set down in a clearing inside the Laos border. A second HH-53 (Jolly Green 63) landed and picked up the crew, including Capt Miguel Dereira with a broken arm. A third helicopter (Jolly Green 54) attempted to recover classified documents and equipment, but enemy fire drove them off. An Air Force A-7 Sandy*, part of the escort package was called in to destroy the helicopter with bombs to prevent its capture.

Wilson managed to evade capture for two more days, but on the 29th of December, while attempting to recover a food and water packet dropped by orbiting A-7 Sandys, he was captured.

Two men were lost this day:
Maj Allen L. Johnson
1st Lt Ben L. Fryer

* In November 1972 all USAF A-1 were turned over to the VNAF, USAF A-7 Corsairs picked up the role of S&R Ecsort.
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More Strikes Downtown - Day Ten

The previous day, the North Vietnamese Government sent a message to President Nixon that they would return to the negotiation after he called a halt to the bombing. Nixon, however, had had experience with these types of promises from the NV Government during the Linebacker I bombing campaign. Nixon sent no diplomatic reply to this offer. Sixty B-52s would bomb targets in the Hanoi area this night.

Tactics continued to evolve. The spacing of aircraft within the cell was further decreased; pilots flew close enough to the aircraft to their front that they could see the glow of the engine exhaust. The eight “lights” strung out in a line formed an artificial horizon and allowed for the aircraft to coordinate turns by keeping their wings level with the line formed by the row engines. Also, the tactic of varying the time between bomb release and the start of the PTT, while good at throwing off the aim of enemy gunners, it had the adverse effect of destroying cell integrity, and mutual ECM support through cell integrity was far more important in preventing successful SAM engagements.

Target................................Aircraft............TOT (Zulu)...............Assigned Cells

Lang Dang Rail Yard (1).....B-52G.................1515 - 1539.............Snow, Brown, Lilac, Bronze
...................................................B-52D.................1531 - 1539.............Smoke, Orange, Quilt, Violet (G)
SAM Support Fac 58 (2)...B-52D.................1515 - 1523.............Plaid, Sable, Brass
.................................................................................1515 - 1523.............White, Red, Rust
Duc Noi Rail Yard (3)..........B-52D.................1519 - 1523.............Gold, Indigo
.................................................................................1519 - 1523..............Peach, Yellow
VN 266 SAM Site (4).........B-52D..................1515............................Hazel
VN 158 SAM Site (5)..........B-52D..................1515............................Pinto

An additional change in tactics was introduced.

This was the simultaneous bombing of a target by two separate bomber streams. At Duc Noi Gold and Indigo cells would approach from the south, while Hazel (empty having dropped its bombs earlier on VN 266), Peach and Yellow would approach from the west, Gold and Peach would arrive at the target at the same time. Using the fact that a bomb dropped from 36,000 feet from an aircraft traveling 450 knots will continue forward, as it drops, about 5 miles before ground impact, two bomber streams could release bombs and make an immediate 90 degree turn away from each other and still maintain 5 or 6 seven miles separation, the two streams were further fragged* at different altitudes, to increase safety. Similarly, Plaid and White cells were to bomb SAM support Facility 58 simultaneously, except Plaid’s stream would continue in a straight line over the target while White would turn through about 100 degrees to a course slightly divergent from Plaid’s course.

There was a slight variation used in the attack on Lang Dang, Snow cell would approach Lang Dang from the south east, bomb the target and make a wide turn to the south and exit on a track parallel to the approach track, Smoke cell would approach the target on a reciprocal course to Snow, bomb, and exit directly on Snow’s approach track. A ten minute gap between the departure of Bronze cell and the arrival of Smoke cell ensured the two streams did not become entangled.

Navy support was slightly heavier, they flew 14 A-6, 6 A-7 and 2 F-4 sorties that night while USAF SAM suppression support was scaled back, with 7 SAM flights sorties, the escort/CAP and chaff sorties were 28 and 23 respectively.

Fourteen F-111 sorties were launched against 6 SAM sites, airfields in the Hanoi area, Bac Giang rail yard, Thai Nguyen electrical power station and Viet Tri. The F-111 missions were timed to commence about two hours prior to the B-52 attacks, and finish about 3 hours after the last B-52 attack. A further 44 A-7 and F-4 visual/LORAN bombing sorties were sent out in the early afternoon, some damage was observed in these strikes.

The only loss of the day was a US Navy RA-5C (Flint River 603), shot down by a MiG-21, on a post-strike reconnaissance mission. The pilot, CDR Alfred Agnew ejected and was captured, his Radar Attack Navigator (RAN), LT Michael Haifly is still listed as missing.

*Fragmentary order- An abbreviated form of an operation order usually issued on a day-to-day basis that eliminates the need for restating information contained in the basic operation order.
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Lysander, disregard my pm as this post is back available for me again. Don't know what happened to it but it was gone before. Great post and I really learned a lot form it. Thanks.
The End- Day Eleven

The weather during the entire twelve day period from the 18 through the 28th had been marginal at best, and the daylight attacks on SAM sites and SAM storage facilities had not inflicted the damage desired by higher command. With most of the primary targets destroyed and fewer remaining targets to hit, the B-52 were bombing more of the SAM support and missile storage facilities. The night’s targets were:

Target........................................................Aircraft............TOT (Zulu)............Assigned Cells

Phuc Yen SAM Storage Facility..........B-52D................1620 - 1626..........Aqua, Walnut, Wine
....................................................................................................1620 - 1624..........Red, Rainbow, Green
....................................................................................................1620 - 1626..........Grape, Maple, Chestnut
Trai Ca SAM Storage Facility.............B-52D................1636 - 1644..........Opal, Beige, Ivory, Topaz, Gray
Lang Dang Rail Yard................................B-52G................1620 - 1634..........Paint, Black, Lemon
.......................................................................B-52D................1634 - 1638..........Chrome, Cinnamon, Cherry

The attack on Lang Dang was almost a carbon copy of the previous night, except the ten minute window was eliminated and Lemon and Chrome would have the same TOT plastering the rail yard with eighteen minutes of uninterrupted bombing.

The attack on Trai Ca was a fairly simple affair, as the stream would come in from the northwest, drop their bombs, make a slight shift to the north to avoid the heavy downtown traffic, and exit on the same heading out over the Gulf.

The attack on Phuc Yen was the most complicated mission to date, and the one that required the most skilled crews. Three bomber streams, coming from three different directions, at three different altitudes, would all over-fly the target, and put all their bombs on target at the same time. Red cell would lead their stream in from the west; fly straight over Phuc Yen, then 30 miles after release turn to the northwest and exit around the SAM coverage area. Aqua would fly in from the Gulf of Tonkin, on a straight line course that would take over the target and then over Laos and then Thailand, Walnut cell would make a diversionary dogleg to the south before rejoining the stream over the target. Grape would come in down Thud Ridge with Maple cell doglegging to the north, then over the target, Grape stream would turn on the reciprocal course of Aqua stream, and egress directly over their ingress route.

The maneuver required precision in the timing of the bomb release as it required the higher group’s bombs to be underneath the lower groups by the time their paths crossed.

Five F-111A sorties were sent to attack Kep (1540Z), Hoa Lac (1622Z) and Yen Bai (1543Z) air fields, and two separated attacks on SAM sites thirty minutes before the B-52 strikes.

Supports was in the form of 12 SAM, 33 CAP/escort and 25 chaff sorties. The Navy provided 9 A-6, 3 A-7 and 2 F-4s sorties.

Wine 03 had a refuel receptacle problem and could not take on fuel and had to drop out and return to Andersen, Wine 01 and 02 moved forward and joined formation with Walnut cell, forming a five ship cell without difficulty. Other than Wine 03's abort, the mission went as planned, with no losses or damage for the second night.

At 2343 local (1643Z) Gray 03 released bombs over Trai Ca and headed from the Gulf of Tonkin, this was the last time US bombers would venture north of the 20 parallel to bomb North Vietnam.
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For those interested in how Aqua, Red and Grape bomber streams managed not to drop bombs on each other, this how it was planned:

[Red, Rainbow and Green are coming out of the page, but the three cells are spaced apart similar to the other two. Not to scale, obviously.]

^^Figure 1. Aqua, Grape and Red cells all flying at different attitudes separated by about 3000 to 5000 feet, reach the bomb release point.

^^Figure 2. The second group of cells, Walnut, Maple and Rainbow, about two to three minutes behind the lead cells, reach the release point. By this time, the first cell's bombs have fallen below the altitude of all the bomber streams.

^^Figure 3. Wine, Chestnut and Green cells, also separated by about two to three minutes, release their bombs.

^^Figure 4. Aqua, Grape and Red cells' bombs impact as Grape and Red cells fly over Wine, Chestnut and Green cell's bombs.

^^Figure 5. All the cells released their bombs and have over-flown the target and can now exit the target area.

As you can see this took very precise timing on the pilots and navigators, arriving early or late to the release point could mean a collision with a higher bomber stream's bomb load, or for the top level stream, dumping your bomb load on someone.
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Linebacker II accomplished its primary political goal of bringing the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table a Paris, and on 27 January 1973, a peace treaty was signed that would end US involvement in Vietnam. This peace treaty would also secure the release of US PoWs held in North Vietnam, which had been the sticking point, as the NV had not wanted to discuss the PoW issue in conjunction with US withdrawal, but to hold them as a bargaining chip for additional concessions, after a US withdrawal was secured. As to the out come of the conflict in the greater sense, that had been decided much earlier, when the decision was made in favor of “Vietnamization” back in 1969, and neither Linebacker I nor Linebacker II had no impact on that.

The North Vietnamese expended over 1200 SA-2 Guideline missiles during the campaign, nearly their entire stockpile. From the 28th onwards the number of SAM launches dropped noticeably. All of the targets identified for bombing were destroyed. Since most of the targets identified for bombing were removed from high civilian concentration, directly caused collateral damage was minimum. Most damage outside the target zones was caused by SAMs that went ballistic after failing to lock-on to aircraft, falling SAM debris, or downed aircraft crashing.

[A common misconception is that a B-52 bomb drop pattern is always a mile long. This is not the case. The B-52, like all bombers and fighter-bombers can either ripple or salvo their bombs. When using ripple, each bomb is dropped at 1/2 to 3/4 second intervals, this is done to increase the bomb pattern on the ground. In a salvo drop, all the bombs are released at the same time*. This makes for a very compact cloud of bombs.]

SAC as, by some, been criticized by some for not reacting quickly to the combat losses of the B-52 during Linebacker II, but examination of the facts shows this not to be entirely the case. The first days losses while heavy, in both aircraft and crews, three lost and four damaged, were considered “acceptable”, and the second day there were no losses, in B-52s or other aircraft, so it appeared the current tactics were sufficient to minimize the risks. By the time Wave I on Day 3 got plastered, the decisions to minimize further risks were made, and made very quickly; the vulnerable G models were recalled before Wave II crossed the abort line. One must also consider that the long duration of the missions and the pace of operations did not allow for a complete debrief of the returning crews before the next days launch, which induced a lag between what happened and implementing corrective measures. The vulnerability of the G models is an example of this lag.

Further, the tactics used in the last phase of the campaign (Day 8 as after) could not have been performed in the early stages of the campaign, the experience in handling large formations of not very maneuverable bombers, at night (Arc Light was primarily daylight bombing) gained in the first few days allowed for the refinements used later on. It is only through hindsight that the first three days seem badly managed.

A second charge against SAC was the planning of the missions was to far removed for the theater (the first three days were planned entirely from SAC HQ in Omaha), one, this ignores the political reality existent at the time. Concern over collateral damage was paramount. As the B-52s proved they could hit their assigned targets with sufficient accuracy to minimize collateral damage, more and more of the detail planning was transferred to ARC Light Center at Andersen.

Were there things done wrong? Of course there were, no combat action in history has ever been flawless. An interesting assessment of the entire operation by the Soviet officer commanding the technical advisory team was made public after 1991. Two of important things he noted were:

1) Pre-combat checks of ECM equipment. Procedure was that approximately 30 to 40 minutes prior to arrival in the combat zone, all ECM equipment was turned on and tested, then shut down until the combat zone was reached. This created a massive bloom of radar energy, easily picked up by NVA radar. While the ECM activity was too far away for NVA gunners to target, it did alert them that a strike was inbound, about 30 to 40 minutes out. It also alerted them to the frequencies that were going to be jammed, now they could, if possible switch to alternate frequencies.

2) The infamous “Post-Target Turn” (PTT). The only practical way to deliver a nuclear bomb is to drop it and sharply turn away from the target to put as much distance between the resulting nuclear explosion and the aircraft. SAC practiced this method of delivery to the exclusion of all others, even though conventional bombs, having far less explosive force, do not require a turn-away maneuver. The major problem is that the ECM antenna on the B-52 are all on the belly and cover a 35 to 40 degree cone downwards. High banking turns direct the majority of the energy off to one side, weakening the ECM coverage.

Many crew warned of both of these practices as detrimental before the start of the operation, the fist was never addressed, the second was eliminated during the course of the operation..

One of the most alarming things that came out of this campaign was the relative weakness of the G model compared to the D, as the G model was still one of the primary nuclear deterrent bombers. Twenty-four B-52s were hit by SAM missiles, of those 10 managed to fly back to a friendly base (one crashed while attempting to land), of that ten, only one was a G model. The explanation for this is in what was done when they improved the F to the G. The G model was designed to be lighter and have better range, in order to accomplish both, a wet wing was introduced. Instead of fuel bladders in the wings to hold the fuel, the wing box was sealed and fuel was stored by the wing skin and wing spars. The hydrodynamic force of a SAM explosion transmitted through the fuel in the wings to the wing structure caused more extensive structural damage causing wing failure.

A total of 2679 combat sorties were flown during the 12 day period from 18 to 29 December 1972.

Twenty-six aircraft were lost in combat, 9 B-52Ds, 6 B-52Gs, 3 F-4s (2 USAF, 1 Navy), 2 F-111As 2 A-6s (Navy), 2 A-7s (Navy), 1 RA-5C (Navy), and 1 HH-53. An additional aircraft, an EB-66, was lost due to engine failure.

Eight B-52 were damaged in combat, with four repaired in time to be available for tasking during the operation, two were repaired and available by the end of January 1973. The remaining two required three and six months of repair work, but eventually flew home.

* The internal weapons bay for the B-52 had three stations, forward, middle and aft, each station held 6 to 28 bombs, depending on the bomb size and whether it was a Big Belly. During a ripple drop, the aft station would release bombs first at half second intervals, then when the aft station was empty, the middle station would start releasing bombs. The wing stations (if fitted) would release bombs at one second intervals, during a ripple drop. When salvoed, all three internal stations and the wings stations would begin releasing bombs simultaneously, all bombs would be clear of the aircraft in about two to three seconds.

At an airspeed of about 450 knots, a ripple release, taking about 10 to 12 seconds, would string out the bomb impacts over about a mile and a half, in contrast, a salvo could keep the impacts inside 500 yards.
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