'Operation LINEBACKER I and II': Stephen Emerson. Pen and Sword Books

'Operation LINEBACKER I and II': Stephen Emerson. Pen and Sword Books

Operation LINEBACKER was a series of Strategic Bombing raids carried out by the USA during the Vietnam War in 1972.

To the occasional observer, one of the most potent images of that conflict will always be the massive amounts of Airpower the USA was able to draw on, with B-52s emptying their huge payloads (in some cases 30 tonnes of bombs), onto the country below.

The fact is though, that LINEBACKER was the first real attempt to conduct strategic bombing on North Vietnam, and in particular Hanoi itself. ROLLING THUNDER had largely consisted of tactical strikes by smaller craft such as F-4 Phantoms and the workhorse F-105 Thunderchief (nicknamed the ‘Thud’ and later removed from combat due to high losses). Lt John McCain USN, was flying a Skyhawk when downed over Hanoi in October 1967.

Operation ARC LIGHT raids, designed to interdict the flow of material and personnel along the Ho Chi Minh trail did use B-52s. Whilst a 3-ship launch could clear an area of 1.5 miles long by 0.5. miles wide, these actions were concentrated in the area of Vietnam known as the Panhandle, as ground support efforts rather than true strategic bombing.

LINEBACKER was different. From 1968, Nixon had taken the the politically expedient routes of downsizing American boots on the ground from the South, and promoting the policy of Vietnamisation, where the Southern Vietnamese forces would take a progressively greater role in the conflict. The North saw their chance.

On 30th March 1972, 40,000 well trained and kitted troops swarmed into South Vietnam, from both across the DMZ and camps in supposedly neutral Cambodia and Laos. LINEBACKER I was therefore an attempt to degrade the logistical under to this offensive.

Technology had moved on since the days of ROLLING THUNDER, which was executed with Weapons Systems that would have been familiar to the pilots of WW2, Paveway Laser Guided Bombs and other Opto-Electronic Systems, had made the dropping of munitions a much more precise art. Strategic targets that had stood for years were taken down in a matter of hours (such as the critically important Paul Doumer Bridge over the Red River, linking Hanoi to the port of Haiphong).

However, North Vietnam was now bristling with Soviet-made Anti-Aircraft Guns, and more importantly, SA-2 Missiles, which were being used with increased confidence and competence. Flying a 9 hour round trip from Guam, or from Thailand, B-52s started to feature amongst the casualty figures, including on one occasion, 6 in a night coming to Earth. Attack Doctrine was somewhat repetitive and inflexible, and the losses led exhausted and exasperated crews to near-mutiny.

With the failure of the Easter Offensive, the North Vietnamese returned to the negotiating table in Paris, where talks moved in intransigent circles and then stalled. In December 1972, Nixon’s desire for ‘Peace with Honour’ (and with an eye on forthcoming elections), resulted in LINEBACKER II, and for the first time the full force of American Strategic bombing was unleashed on the North American Capitol over the festive season.

This book tells the story of these raids and is a great addition to the Pen and Sword range. At just over 100 pages it can be completed in short order (in my case a Sunday pm). The style is light and technically savvy, with many illustrations, photos and maps.

Having just returned from a study trip to Vietnam, I was somewhat pleased to receive this volume, as it fleshed out the knowledge I had acquired in somewhat greater detail.