In response to the North Vietnamese “Easter Offensive” into South Vietnam in 1972, President Nixon suspended peace talks on May 8 and ordered OPERATION LINEBACKER, the renewed bombings of North Vietnam and the aerial mining of its harbors and rivers. When North Vietnam seemed ready to talk peace in October, Nixon directed yet another bombing halt. North Vietnam then balked for two months over cease-fire provisions. So, Nixon eliminated the sanctuaries and ordered the heaviest bombing of the entire war against Hanoi and Haiphong, OPERATION LINEBACKER II.
Beginning on Dec. 18, the USAF pounded military and transportation targets with B-52s and tactical fighters. After 11 days of intense bombing, the North Vietnamese finally agreed to return to the peace table in Paris. Consequently, the US restricted its air attacks on North Vietnam to the area south of the 20th parallel.
On Jan. 15, 1973, the US announced an end to all mining, bombing and other offensive operations against North Vietnam. A peace agreement, initialed on Jan. 23 and officially signed on Jan. 27, took effect on Jan. 28. The communists agreed to a cease-fire and to peaceful reconciliation and reunification with South Vietnam, and the agreement brought an end to US combat operations over North Vietnam.
From Dec. 18 to Dec. 29, 1972, Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) launched 729 sorties against 34 targets in North Vietnam as part of Operation Linebacker II. Andersen became the home to over 15,000 Airmen, 153 B-52 bombers and 20 support aircraft during the highest peak of the Vietnam War.
The bombing campaign was a success because, in its wake, the North Vietnamese released 591 American prisoners of war and returned to the negotiation table, where the Paris Peace Accords were signed less than a month after the operation. The mission to bring “peace through strength” was never more prevailing than during Operation Linebacker II.
Nevertheless, seventy-five Airmen died supporting the operation, 33 of whom died in the 15 downed B-52 Stratofortress bombers – the primary bomber flown during Operation Linebacker II.
How were North Vietnamese able to shoot down 15 B-52 bombers, something nobody else has done?
John Chesire, former US Navy pilot who flew 197 combat missions during the Vietnam War, explains on Quora. ‘Here are the salient points:
‘While the Soviet SAMs, AAA, and Russian advisors had a lot to do with shooting down 15 B-52s and damaging several more, there were some guilty ones on the US side of the war that also help to cause B-52s to get shot down:
‘Thankfully after a few tragic nights with many B-52 losses and men, there was a near mutiny at the Officer’s club in Guam of the B-52 crews. The crews demanded that the strike tactics be modified to give them a better chance of survival. Similar pressure was made at the B-52 bases in Thailand. Their voices were finally heard and heeded. The experienced operational commanders then took over the planning and tactics making many changes that made significant impact in their survival rate the following days.’
Top Image: Jack Fellows illustration; Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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