Operation Linebacker II

Operation Linebacker II operations were initiated on 18 December 1972 and were directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to continue until further notice. The primary objective of the bombing operation would be to force the North Vietnamese government to enter into purposeful negotiations concerning a cease-fire agreement. The operation employed air power to its maximum capabilities in an attempt to destroy all major target complexes such as radio stations, railroads, power plants, and airfields located in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas. Unlike previous bombing campaigns, Linebacker II provided the Air Force and U.S. Naval forces with specific objectives and removed many of the restrictions that had previously caused frustration within the Pentagon.

During these operations, Air Force and Navy tactical aircraft and B-52s commenced an around-the-clock bombardment of the North Vietnamese heartland. The B-52s struck Hanoi and Haiphong during hours of darkness with F-111s and Navy tactical aircraft providing diversionary/suppression strikes on airfields and surface-to-air missile sites. Daylight operations were primarily carried out by A-7s and F-4s bombing visually or with long-range navigation (LORAN) techniques, depending upon the weather over the targets. In addition, escort aircraft such as the Air Force EB-66s and Navy EA-6s broadcast electronic jamming signals to confuse the radar-controlled defenses of the North. The Strategic Air Command also provided KC-135s to support the in-flight refueling requirements of the various aircraft participating in Linebacker II operations.

Linebacker II Total Night USAF Sorties
Day/Date B-52s SEAD CAP/Escort Chaff Total
1: Dec 18 129 17 63 22 231
2: Dec 19 93 19 61 24 197
3: Dec 20 99 18 55 26 198
4: Dec 21 30 13 23 9 75
5: Dec 22 30 15 27 15 87
6: Dec 23 30 13 12 3 58
7: Dec 24 30 16 22 16 84
8: Dec 26 120 18 33 25 129
9: Dec 27 60 23 32 23 118
10: Dec 28 60 7 28 23 118
11: Dec 29 60 11 33 25 129
Total 741 170 390 209 1,510

Of 741 planned B-52 sorties, 12 were aborted. The Air Force
SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) mission was
carried out by F-105, F-4C, and F-4E fighters. CAP (combat air
patrol), escort, and chaff dispersal were carried out by numerous types.

In addition, US Navy and US Marine aircraft flew a total of 277
night support sorties in A-6, A-7, and F-4 aircraft.

Andersen Air Force Base in Guam had been the site of the most massive buildup of air power in history as part of Operation Bullet Shot, conducted between February and May 1972. More than 15,000 people and more than 150 B-52s lined all available space on the flightline. During Operation Linebacker II in December 1972, bombers stationed at Andersen flew 729 sorties in 11 days. When Operation Arc Light began during the mid-1960s. B-52's from Guam, Thailand, and Okinawa would each take off at approximately the same time and rendezvous at roughly the same points using essentially the same tactics night after night. Flying at an altitude of 39,000 to 41,000 feet, the bombers would head directly to the target areas. During the early days of Linebacker II, many B-52's were lost on the flights over North Vietnam due to the repeated use of the same tactics. When the bombers changed the day-to-day tactics, the number of lost aircraft went down significantly.

Navy tactical air attack sorties under Linebacker II were centered in the coastal areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. There were 505 Navy sorties in this area during Linebacker II. The following carriers participated in Linebacker II operations: Enterprise, Saratoga, Oriskany, America and Ranger. Aircraft of the Seventh Fleet performed the most extensive aerial mining operation in history, blockading the enemy's main avenues of supply. The reseeding of the mine fields was resumed and concentrated strikes were carried out against surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery sites, enemy army barracks, petroleum storage areas, Haiphong Naval and shipyard areas, and railroad and truck stations.

Between 18 and 22 December the Navy conducted 119 Linebacker II strikes in North Vietnam. The attack effort was concentrated in the Haiphong area. Strikes were conducted against surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery installations, railroads and highways Thanh Hoa Army barracks, the Haiphong Naval Base, petroleum centers and other military related targets.

Until the cease-fire ending US combat operations in Vietnam took effect on 28 January 1973, USS America and the other carriers ranged off the coast of Vietnam, conducting strike operations in support of troops and targeting strategic targets throughout North Vietnam.

On 25 December 1972 a Christmas Day bombing/tactical air attack recess went into effect during which none of the US air services flew sorties. Heavy raids around Hanoi, which resumed the day after the Christmas bombing halt, were eased as NVN showed indications of returning to the conference table.

The impact of the bombing was obvious in the severe damage to the North Vietnamese logistic and war-support capability. By 29 December 1972, the 700 nighttime sorties flown by B-52s and 650 daytime strikes by fighter and attack aircraft persuaded the North Vietnamese government to return to the conference table. Linebacker II formally ended on 27 January 1973.

Bad weather was the main limiting factor on the number of tactical air strikes flown during Linebacker II.

The United States paid a price for the accomplishments of Linebacker II. During bombing raids, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy aircraft encountered intense enemy defensive actions that resulted in the loss of twenty-six aircraft in the twelve-day period.

On the first day of Linebacker II, the crew aboard a B-52G would tragically became the first casualty of the operation. The bomber and crew aboard Charcoal-01 launched from Andersen with the first wave of Linebacker II, headed toward their targets in Vietnam. Within seconds of their objective, the B-52 was hit by a surface-to-air missile. The pilot, Col. Donald L. Rissi, and gunner, Master Sgt. Walt Ferguson, were killed. Three other crew members -- Maj. Dick Johnson, radar navigator; Capt. Bob Certain, navigator; and, Capt. Dick Simpson, electronic warfare officer, -- survived the attack, but were taken prisoners of war. The officers were released from captivity in 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming, the return of U.S. service members held as POWs. The status of Lt. Robert J. Thomas, copilot, was unknown at the time of the incident. Officials listed the lieutenant as "missing in action, shot down over North Vietnam, 18 December 1972." Thomas' remains were identified and returned to his family in 1978.

Overall Air Force losses included fifteen B-52s, two F-4s, two F-111s, and one HH-53 search and rescue helicopter. Navy losses included two A-7s, two A-6s, one RA-5, and one F-4. Seventeen of these losses were attributed to SA-2 missiles, three to daytime MiG attacks, three to antiaircraft artillery, and three to unknown causes.

In 1997 crews from the US Army Central Identification Lab, Hawaii, and Joint Task Force-Full Accounting excavated the last B-52 crash site from Linebacker II operations in Vietnam. The recovery team began work at the site in November 1997 and expected to completed the process in March 1998.

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