The State Department sends secret cables to U.S. ambassadors in nine friendly nations advising of forthcoming bombing operations over North Vietnam, and instructs them to inform their host governments “in strictest confidence” and to report reactions. President Lyndon Johnson wanted these governments to be aware of what he was planning to do in the upcoming bombing campaign.
Johnson made the controversial decision to undertake the sustained bombing of North Vietnam because of the deteriorating military conditions in South Vietnam. Earlier in the month, he had ordered Operation Flaming Dart in response to communist attacks on U.S. installations in South Vietnam. It was hoped that these retaliatory raids would cause the North Vietnamese to cease support of Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam, but they did not have the desired effect. Out of frustration, Johnson turned to a more extensive use of airpower.
Called Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign was designed to interdict North Vietnamese transportation routes in the southern part of North Vietnam and thereby slow infiltration of personnel and supplies into South Vietnam. The first Rolling Thunder mission took place on March 2, 1965, when 100 U.S. Air Force and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) planes struck an ammunition dump 100 miles southeast of Hanoi. The operation would continue, with occasional suspensions, until President Johnson, under increasing domestic political pressure, halted it on October 31, 1968.