Cold War Era

US Navy F-4 pilot who provided MiG CAP support for B-52s during Operation Linebacker II explains why BUFF Crews were scared of flying over Hanoi

Operation Linebacker II

In 1972, Operation Linebacker broke the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive and convinced Hanoi to negotiate for peace. Unlike Rolling Thunder, US Air Force and Navy commanders chose the targets and tactics without geographic restrictions. When peace talks halted in December, Operation Linebacker II focused bombing efforts on the capital city of Hanoi and the main port at Haiphong.

Beginning on Dec. 18, the USAF pounded military and transportation targets with B-52s and tactical fighters.

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.

BUFF Crews were scared of flying B-52s over Hanoi during Operation Linebacker II

Were B-52 crews scared of bombing Hanoi?

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John Chesire, US Navy F-4 Phantom II pilot who flew 197 combat missions during the Vietnam War, recalls on Quora;

‘Although I was not a B-52 pilot, I am certain they [the B-52 pilots] were very “apprehensive” about the Operation Linebacker II B-52 ‘Christmas Raids’ over Hanoi. I know I was scared about flying Mig CAP support in my F-4 for them.

‘Hanoi had the most formidable air defense system at the time outside of Moscow. I had flown a few daylight missions in and around Hanoi and we always were lucky to not get shot down. Our carrier was extended for this upcoming operation and not going home as scheduled.’

He continues;

‘I remember watching our evening movie in the aircraft carrier ready room when one of our guys came in from a briefing in the Intelligence Center. In very dramatic fashion he whispered to a few of us, “They’re looking for some volunteers to fly at night over Hanoi for some massive B-52 raid. You may want to hide for a while.” Sitting next to my RIO I said that there is no way we would volunteer for that mission! (F-4s never flew at night. Going over Hanoi in the daytime was bad enough but at night with the whole North air defense alerted would be extremely dangerous.)

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MiG CAP for one of the night B-52 raids

‘A night or two later on the third and worst night of the raids I was scheduled to provide MiG CAP for one of the night B-52 raids. Yes, I was indeed scared. Fortunately, I learned in the briefing that my Cap station would be over the water near Haiphong and mostly out of harm’s way and especially well away from Hanoi.

‘For me I had experience for many months of flying over the North where the threat was formidable but the B-52 crews had not flown there. Heretofore they had flown in the less lethal areas of over the South and Laos or Cambodia. This would be all new to them and I am sure they were scared, and rightly so. It was the most dangerous mission of the war for them.’

Chesire concludes;

‘Look at the tension in the faces of these B-52 crew-members as they sat in Guam listening to their flight briefing. I know exactly the serious concern they were feeling at that very time. Not all of them would return that night.’

B-52s crews are briefed prior to departing Andersen Air Base, Guam, for missions in Operation Linebacker II in Dec. 1972.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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