Year
1972

Nixon orders the initiation of Operation Linebacker II

The Nixon administration announces that the bombing and mining of North Vietnam will resume and continue until a “settlement” is reached.

On December 13, North Vietnamese negotiators walked out of secret talks with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. President Richard Nixon issued an ultimatum to Hanoi to send its representatives back to the conference table within 72 hours “or else.” The North Vietnamese rejected Nixon’s demand and the president ordered Operation Linebacker II, a full-scale air campaign against the Hanoi area. White House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler said that the bombing would end only if all U.S. prisoners of war were released and an internationally recognized cease-fire were in force.

Linebacker II was the most concentrated air offensive of the war, and was conducted by U.S. aircraft, including B-52s, Air Force fighter-bombers flying from bases in Thailand, and Navy and Marine fighter-bombers flying from carriers in the South China Sea. During the 11 days of the attack, 700 B-52 sorties and more than 1,000 fighter-bomber sorties were flown. These planes dropped roughly 20,000 tons of bombs, mostly over the densely populated area between Hanoi and Haiphong.

The North Vietnamese fired more than 1,000 surface-to-air missiles at the attacking aircraft and also used their MiG fighter-interceptor squadrons, eight of which were shot down. In a throwback to past aerial combat, Staff Sgt. Samuel O. Turner, the tail gunner on a Boeing B-52D bomber, downed a trailing MiG-21 with a blast from his .50 calibre machine guns over Hanoi. Six days later, airman, first class Albert E. Moore, also a B-52 gunner, shot down a second MiG-21 after a strike on the Thai Nguyen railyard. These were the only aerial gunner kills of the war. Twenty-six U.S. aircraft were lost, including 15 B-52s. Three aircraft were brought down by MiGs; the rest, including the B-52s, were downed by surface-to-air missiles.

American antiwar activists dubbed Linebacker II the “Christmas bombing,” and charged that it involved “carpet bombing”–deliberately targeting civilian areas with intensive bombing that “carpeted” a city with bombs. The campaign was focused on specific military targets and was not intended to be “carpet bombing,” but it did result in the deaths of 1,318 civilians in Hanoi.

The Linebacker II bombing was deemed a success because in its wake, the North Vietnamese returned to the negotiating table, where the Paris Peace Accords were signed less than a month later.

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