The 11-Day War
B-52s run a nocturnal gantlet of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), in Jack Fellows’ painting "High Road to Hanoi.”

The 11-Day War

By Robert O. Harder
4/26/2017 • Mag: Aviation History Featured

“It was a near-run thing,” said the Duke of Wellington, after narrowly defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. The same could just as easily be said of Operation Linebacker II, what B-52 aircrews came to call the “11-Day War.” If not for the bravery and resilience of those American airmen, the operation might have ended in disaster.

Linebacker I had been mounted in response to the earlier 1972 Easter Offensive, the North Vietnamese Army’s sudden invasion of South Vietnam, a campaign that failed largely because of massive B-52 bombing. It had been hoped the war could then be concluded through diplomacy, but by mid-December it was clear the enemy was stalling at the negotiating table. Forty years ago this month, President Richard M. Nixon’s patience ran out and he issued this order to the Joint Chiefs: “You are to commence at approximately 1200 Zulu, 18 December 1972, a three-day maximum effort, repeat maximum effort, of B-52/Tacair strikes in the Hanoi/Haiphong areas. Object is maximum destruction of selected targets….Be prepared to extend operations past three days, if directed.”

The president’s directive apparently came as a surprise to Strategic Air Command, which seemingly had no contingency plan compatible with Linebacker II’s objectives. SAC was forced to fall back on its eight-year-old Operation Arc Light tac­tics (interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, coupled with close ground support). Tactical Arc Light operations, however, had little in common with the strategic bombing objectives of Linebacker II. Worse, after eight years of Arc Light opera­tions in relatively benign threat environments, SAC HQ had become complacent about the dangers in Route Pack Six, the section of the combat theater encompassing Hanoi and Haiphong. This last circumstance led to a rude awakening when America’s B-52 Strato­for­tress bombers proved shockingly vulnerable to the Soviet-built SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile (SAM) defense system.

The enormity of SAC’s planning errors was first exposed during the Day One (December 18-19) briefing at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. The BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F—er) aircrews, still half-believing Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s “peace is at hand” rhetoric of several weeks earlier, sat in stunned silence as the briefing officers flashed the primary target on the screen: Hanoi. Adam’s apples bobbed even faster when it was announced that “press-on rules” were in effect: “All bombers will press on, despite SAMS, MiGs or flak, if there is a reasonable chance to strike the target and recover at an allied base.”

There was worse news—the attack tactics themselves. All bombers were to depart from the same initial point (IP), make the same bomb run in single-file formation, fly exactly the same airspeeds, operate in exactly the same altitude blocks and maintain exactly the same spacing between each of the three-ship cells (one minute) and between each aircraft within the cells (15 seconds).

A B-52 copilot who flew Linebacker II sorties from Andersen, then-Captain Don Craig, wrote me that “We knew there were big planning flaws, starting with the long lines of bombers coming in the same route…and it was straight down Thud Ridge, for God’s sake….It looked very much like ducks in a shooting gallery.” B-52 radar navigator Captain Wilton Strickland, operating from the other B-52 base, at U-Tapao airfield in Thailand, concurred: “[The spacing] gave enemy air de­fenses plenty of time to track and fire on each aircraft as it came within range….Long before we entered the target area, they knew our precise altitude, spacing and approach route….”

Another concern was the bomb run no-evasion order issued by an Andersen wing commander (apparently on his own authority, on penalty of court-martial), despite previous evidence that if the B-52 was brought back straight and level prior to release, accuracy was not degraded. After aircrews repeatedly ignored the order on Days One and Two, without affecting bombing results, it was quietly rescinded.

A fully loaded "BUFF" takes off from Andersen Air Base, Guam, which had 53 B-52Ds and 99 B-52Gs on station when Linebacker II started. (USAF Photo)
A fully loaded "BUFF" takes off from Andersen Air Base, Guam, which had 53 B-52Ds and 99 B-52Gs on station when Linebacker II started. (USAF Photo)

Most egregious, SAC planners mandated a “combat break” to the right after bomb release (post-target turn, or PTT), a nuclear-release procedure carried over into Arc Light (where it had been just as pointless; the PTT was designed solely for better survivability against a nuclear blast). During Arc Light, the PTT had rendered no harm. Over heavily defended Hanoi, however, it turned lethal. Not only were criti­cal electronic countermeasures degraded, the 120-knot-plus jet stream tailwind that B-52s enjoyed on the bomb run became a 120-knot-plus headwind after the turn, resulting in a combined groundspeed reduction of nearly 250 knots.

Later, during the Day Two pre-mission briefing, a disgusted Captain Strickland, who was destined to fly six of the 11 Linebacker missions, could no longer keep silent: “Who is planning such stupid tactics,” he asked the briefers, “and why?” Their response: “The planning is being done at Omaha’s SAC HQ, and the common routes, altitudes and trail formations are used for ease of planning.”

“Well,” Strickland shot back, “the enemy is using your plan, along with the after-release turn and our slow withdrawal, for ease of tracking and shootdown!”

U-Tapao’s 17th Air Division commander, Brig. Gen. Glenn Sulli­van, who was present during Strickland’s comments, was thinking along similar lines. Sullivan and his wing commanders had been carefully listening to aircrew feedback, though their requests for tactics changes had so far fallen on deaf ears. Sullivan was most upset about the PTT; after the battle he wrote a friend, “The post-target turn was the murder point.”

Nevertheless, good tactics or bad, the 300 BUFF in-theater aircrews still had to fly the missions in the 206 Stratofortresses available (Andersen had 53 B-52Ds and 99 B-52Gs on station; U-Tapao had 54 B-52Ds). On Day One, 129 B-52s launched from Andersen and U-Tapao in three massive waves spaced at four-hour intervals. Shortly after dark, the first wave (33 B-52Ds and 15 B-52Gs) arrived at their Laotian IP and wheeled southeast toward seven Hanoi targets—setting the stage for the biggest air battle since World War II. Although the BUFFs were the attack’s centerpiece, more than 100 additional U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine recon, radar jammer and fighter-bomber aircraft flew in support of the heavies or delivered their own assigned blows.

Twenty-one U-Tapao B-52Ds kicked things off, attacking Hanoi’s airfields. At least one MiG rose up in challenge, the enemy pilot taking up the customary “six” position behind a BUFF designated Brown Three. Tail gunner Staff Sgt. Sam Turner shot the MiG-21 down, the first ever air-to-air kill by a B-52. Shortly thereafter, Lilac Three was struck by a SAM while attacking the Kinh No complex. Although badly damaged, the bomber managed to limp back to U-Tapao. Charcoal One, a B-52G attacking the Yen Vien rail yards, was not as fortunate. Two SAMs struck from behind, and the bomber disintegrated. Three crewmen were killed in action; three became prisoners of war.

The second wave attacked around midnight. Peach Two entered the PTT and, slowed to a near-crawl by the 120-knot headwind, took a SAM hit in its left wing. The bomber made it back into Thailand, where all seven crew members bailed out and were rescued.

Rose One, a U-Tapao B-52D, led the third wave of 51 BUFFs in at 5 a.m. Bracketed by missiles, its jammers overwhelmed, the plane was hammered twice. One SAM blew a hole in the fuselage big enough for the navigator-bombardiers to see the external bomb racks. Moments later the cockpit was afire. Four crewmen were captured, with two KIA.

Day One ended with three Stratoforts shot down and two seriously damaged. Publicly, SAC put on a brave face; privately, its chieftains were aghast. They had completely underestimated the SAM threat. Worse, nothing could immediately be done about it—because of the long distances involved in operating from Guam, it had been necessary to order the Day Two bombers launched even before all the Day One aircraft returned.

A prepacked "clip" of 500-pound bombs awaits loading on a B-52. (USAF Photo)
A prepacked "clip" of 500-pound bombs awaits loading on a B-52. (USAF Photo)

On Day Two, 93 BUFFs attacked the same targets, using the same Day One tactics. Ivory One, piloted by Major John Dalton, led six B-52Ds against Radio Hanoi. While rolling into the PTT, his aircraft was struck by a missile, seemingly stopping the bomber in its tracks. “You could feel the concussion,” he told writer Marshall Michel, “then you heard it. I never realized you could hear them explode like that…you get static electricity raising the hair on your arms….” Dalton was in big trouble—his no. 5 engine had flamed out, then no. 6 caught fire. Both tip tanks were hit and spewing fuel, plus he was dealing with severe electrical and flight system problems. For 45 nerve-wracking minutes the crew staggered toward the Marine Corps base at Nam Phong, Thailand. Just before touchdown, Dalton lost most of his rudder control. Pulling the last rabbit out of his hat, he planted that giant BUFF on a narrow runway, saving the aircraft and crew. Major Dalton was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

Meanwhile, Strickland and his crew in Copper Two were pressing on against Radio Hanoi. Thirty seconds from release, Strickland’s electronic warfare officer (EWO) called, “SAM uplink!” A missile had them wired. Then the copilot yelled, “Visual SAM at 2 o’clock, I have the airplane!” and threw the big bomber into a steep right turn. There was a bright flash, a muffled explosion and the aircraft lurched, as if driving over a speed bump. EWO again: “SAM uplink, 9 o’clock!” The pilot responded: “Visual SAM to left, I have the airplane!” A hard steep left turn followed. Bright flash, another lurch. Some­how Strickland kept his crosshairs on Hanoi’s Paul Doumer Bridge, the offset aiming point. “Pilot, roll it out,” he ordered. “Center the PDI [pilot’s deflection indicator]!” The nav read the To Go (TG) meter, announcing, “10 seconds!” Strickland opened the bomb bay doors. The EWO cried out, “Two SAM uplinks, 12 o’clock!” Strickland responded, “Pilot, hold it straight and level!” The two missiles continued to home in on Copper Two. After what seemed an eternity, the TG ran down to zero. “Bombs away,” Strick­land shouted, “and turn! Let’s get the hell out of here!” Another hard, shuddering right turn; the two SAMs just missed them. For their actions, all six crewmen re­ceived the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Americans were lucky on Day Two: Only two B-52s were damaged and none lost. Breathing easier, SAC gave the go-ahead for Day Three, December 20-21, once again ordering up the same tactics as Days One and Two. But the inevitable bill had finally arrived; the Americans were about to face their darkest hour.

Salvos of Soviet built SAMs were launched with a zeal that depleted supplies to the point that by the end of Linebacker II, the North Vietnamese had few left. (USAF Photo)
Salvos of Soviet built SAMs were launched with a zeal that depleted supplies to the point that by the end of Linebacker II, the North Vietnamese had few left. (USAF Photo)

Ninety-nine B-52s struck on Day Three. Enemy SAM batteries, having at last figured out how to destroy the hated “Fatted Calves,” waited eagerly for the first wave to appear. As if on cue, the three bombers in Quilt cell arrived over the Yen Vien complex in their B-52Gs. (While the Arc Light B-52Ds had been refitted with the most up-to-date ECM jammers to counter Hanoi’s highly sophisticated air defense system, there had not been time to do the same with the U.S.-based Gs when they were rushed into the war during the 1972 Easter Offensive.) A missile promptly nailed Quilt Three during its PTT. Four crewmen became POWs, and another two were KIA.

Shortly thereafter, during yet another harried post-release turn, Brass cell became separated. The enemy seized on the cell’s abrupt loss of groundspeed, its prominent radar return in the steep turn and collapse of mutual support radar jamming. Two SAMs slammed into Brass Two; miraculously, the entire crew successfully bailed out over the Marine base at Nam Phong. Orange Three also became isolated in its PTT and was nailed by two missiles. The aircraft fluttered out of control, exploded halfway to the ground and crashed spectacularly near Hanoi. Four crewmen perished and two became POWs—the last of the first wave casualties.

At roughly this point, a curious incident occurred. R.J. Smith, a grizzled electronic warfare officer credited with 506 Arc Light/Linebacker combat missions (possibly the record), took matters into his own hands. Configuring his countermeasures equipment just so, he hacked into the North Vietnamese ground control intercept network, whipped out his “lucky” whistle and let fly with a blast over Guard frequency—followed by an angry shout: “Time out!” Perhaps Smith’s unorthodox actions did confuse the enemy; there was an obedient pause in the SAM launches, and his crew successfully completed their bomb run. One thing was certain: EWO stock shot up to all time highs!

By that time, 27 second wave bombers were well on their way inbound, 12 of which were B-52Gs. While six of those Gs had some updated jamming equipment, the other six didn’t. With the hot Hanoi kitchen burning up the G-model birds, SAC pulled the plug by recalling the six unmodified Gs. The remaining six Gs and 15 Ds in the second wave unloaded on their targets and escaped without losses.

Four hours later, wave three attacked Hanoi’s Gia Lam rail yards. A SAM slammed into Straw Two, wounding the pilot and navigator. The tough B-52D managed to reach Laos, and five of its crew survived, but the radar nav was lost. Olive One was later hit over Kinh No repair complex during its post-release turn. Five of the seven crewmen were KIA; two became POWs. Minutes later, Tan Three took two SAMs, disintegrating so rapidly only the gunner survived. Brick Two, at the tail end of wave three, was in its PTT when a missile ripped into it. The D shook the hit off and got home, but that was the final straw: B-52 aircrews wanted nothing more to do with SAC’s deadly post-release turns.

Out of Day Three’s 99 bombers, four Gs and two Ds had been shot down, with another D seriously damaged—7 percent attrition, a completely unsustainable rate. The battle, indeed the war itself, suddenly hung in the balance. Great consternation gripped the leadership of both SAC at Omaha and the Eighth Air Force at Andersen. Fearing this indecision had created a leadership vacuum, U-Tapao’s General Sullivan made a risky decision. Without consulting his immediate superiors, he sent an urgent message directly to SAC commander in chief General J.C. Meyer in Omaha (copying Ander­sen), specifying the necessary changes: Vary the inbound routes and altitudes, eliminate the PTT and use a straight-ahead “feet-wet” exit out to the Gulf of Tonkin. Although angry at being bypassed, his Eighth Air Force commanders sent a “we agree” message to Meyer, who quickly or­dered the changes. (Sullivan must have understood he’d fallen on his sword; despite his leading role in winning the war’s decisive battle, he was denied a second star and retired two years later.)

But how to implement those changes without creating an even bigger disaster? The size and scope of Linebacker II had given it an almost un­changeable mo­mentum—even as Meyer made his decision, it was already bus time for Andersen’s Day Four crews.

Desperately short of options, SAC held back all Andersen bombers on Days Four and Five, buying time for essential analysis and planning. On Days Four through Seven, only 60 of the better-equipped B-52Ds were launched against North Vietnam (the more vulnerable Gs would never again be used over Hanoi).

Despite launching a much higher percentage of D models, BUFFs were still going down. On Day Four, while attacking Bac Mai airfield, Blue One was bracketed by a six-SAM salvo. With his aircraft burning fiercely but nearing “bombs away,” pilot John Yuill reluctantly hit the red abandon light. That intuitive decision proved providential; roughly a minute after the last crewman had bailed out, the aircraft exploded. Although several of the captured crew were wounded, all survived the war.

Day Five was a repeat of Day Four—though the attack shifted away from the crack Hanoi SAM batteries. U-Tapao sent up 30 B-52Ds against the less heavi­ly defended but still lucrative targets at Haiphong Harbor—primarily railroad infrastructure and petroleum facilities. Only 43 SAMs came up, thanks to the element of surprise and excellent suppression work by 65 Navy, Marine and Air Force fighter/jammer aircraft. For the first time since the operation began, not a single B-52 received battle damage.

On Day Six, 30 bombers launched, 12 Ds from Andersen and 18 Ds from U-Tapao. The targets were three SAM sites and Haiphong’s Lang Dang rail yards. Again, the objectives were successfully struck, with no losses or aircraft damaged. SAC was finally getting its act together.

On Day Seven, 30 Ds launched against Hanoi, bombing the Thai Nguyen and Kep railroad yards. No aircraft were lost, though one was struck by flak, the only occasion  enemy AAA scored a hit. MiGs en­gaged Black and Ruby cells; one bo­gey got careless behind Ruby Three and was shot down by Airman 1st Class Albert Moore, the second and final confirmed MiG kill by a B-52 tail gunner. As the last of the Day Seven bombers landed, the obligatory Christmas pause got underway.

SAC used that 36-hour reprieve to develop a comprehensive new battle plan. Day Eight, December 26, was to be the decisive engagement. That night 120 B-52s struck Hanoi and Haiphong in a simultaneous attack involving seven waves bombing 10 targets, with bombers crisscrossing at different altitudes and axes of attack. American ECM capability, long a chronic deficiency, had been significantly enhanced via greater knowledge of enemy frequencies and techniques. Most dramatically, all 8,000 bombs were released during a single 15-minute timeframe.

Nevertheless, the North Vietnamese fought back hard. Shortly be­fore bombs away, a missile struck Ebony Two, killing the pilot, though the copilot and radar nav held everything together through the bomb drop. Then another SAM struck. With unmistakable finality, Ebony Two flipped on its back and turned supernova, lighting up the sky for 100 miles in every direction. Thousands of gallons of burning JP-4 hung in the sky as if suspended, while shattered remnants of the great ship slowly fluttered to earth like dead leaves. Two crewmen were KIA; four became POWs.

Minutes later, Ash One’s jamming came up short and it took a missile. The crew made a valiant attempt to land their crippled B-52D at U-Tapao, but lost the struggle when an attempted go-around resulted in a departure stall. Only the gunner and a wounded copilot survived the ensuing crash. Nearly three decades later that same copilot, Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and retired Lt. Col. Robert Hymel, was killed when hi­jacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

SAC made Day Nine a repeat of Eight, albeit a scaled-back version. Due to maintenance issues, Andersen and U-T could raise only 30 bombers each—but halving the force didn’t have as great an impact as might be presumed: SAC was already running out of targets.

December 27 was the final day of SAMs coming in salvos, though the BUFFs were not out of the woods yet. Cobalt One was releasing bombs on its Trung Quang target when it took a direct hit that killed the navigator and the EWO. The remaining four crewmen would be captured.

Soon after that Captain John Mize in Ash Two, whose aircraft had already been hit by enemy fire on two previous sorties, was struck by a missile, the detonation wounding everyone on board. Despite Mize’s wounds and severely damaged aircraft, he somehow manhandled the doomed bomber into Laos, electing to stay with it until his entire crew had successfully bailed out before ejecting. For his heroism, Mize was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Day Ten arrived, and only a few SAMs came up; no B-52s were lost or damaged. Everyone took pleasure hearing the last of the airborne commander’s exit roll call:

“Orange cell, out with three.”

“Quilt, out with three.”

“Violet, out with three.”

On Day Eleven, December 29, 60 B-52s attacked Hanoi’s storage facilities and what was left of the Lang Dang rail yards—in all probability the last massed heavy bomber strike the world will ever see. While the raid was in progress, the North Vietnamese signaled the White House that they were ready to return to the Paris peace table. Before the last B-52 landed, Operation Linebacker II stood down.

On the way to targets in North Vietnam, a B-52 takes on a load of fuel from a KC-135 tanker. (USAF Photo)
On the way to targets in North Vietnam, a B-52 takes on a load of fuel from a KC-135 tanker. (USAF Photo)

President Nixon’s 11-Day War had paid off. As is so often the case with armed conflict, the battle may have turned on circumstances no one could possibly have foreseen. North Vietnam made the crucial mistake of gathering all its eggs in one basket; the final defense of its homeland had been left primarily to a limited supply of Soviet SAMs. In the heat of battle, the North Vietnamese then compounded that error by succumbing to zeal and expending missiles wholesale, often in salvoes of six or eight against a single target. As a result, they literally ran out of ammunition. In a final irony, a chilling argument can be made that SAC’s poor tactics—in essence using the B-52s as “missile bait”—had actually worked to the Ameri­cans’ advantage.

The Paris Peace Accords were signed in January 1973. By April all 591 of America’s known POWs were released. That August, with the Paris agree­ments seemingly being honored by Hanoi, the B-52s flew their last combat mission, and Operation Arc Light was terminated. For the Americans, the Vietnam War was finally over.

Robert O. Harder flew 145 combat missions in Vietnam as a B-52D navi­gator-bombardier. For further reading, see his book Flying From the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-Bombardiers of Vietnam; The 11 Days of Christ­mas, by Marshall Michel; and Boeing B-52, by Walter J. Boyne. An online cockpit audiotape offers a ringside seat to the December 26 raid. Go to YouTube and search “B-52 Over Hanoi” for five separate links.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Aviation History magazine. For more great articles subscribe today!

50 Responses to The 11-Day War

  1. Phillip A. Newsom, Major USAF Ret says:

    On 23 Jan 73, my crew E-07 (Dyess AFB), Brass 3 out of U-Tapao dropped the last bombs in Viet Nam from a B-52. Release time 23:00:52Z. A cell from Guam was scheduled to drop 1 hour after us but they aborted. We had a Stars and Stripes reporter on board with us who wrote an article about the mission for the S&S. I also have an audio tape of that mission. The next day we started bombing Laos.

    The crew members were

    Capt Don Becker, Pilot
    Capt Jim Bower, Co-Pilot
    Capt Don Emmons, R-N
    Capt Phil Newsom, Nav
    Maj Helmuth “Bud” Loescher, EWO
    MSgt Dick Thompson, Gunner
    “Bob” ?, Stars and Stripes Reporter

  2. Perry Baycroft says:

    Thank you for the great article. I was copilot on Ivory 1, second night of the raids John Dalton saved our lives that night; that bird was badly damaged. I can still hear the explosion of that SAM going off.

  3. Ron Buzbee says:

    I don’t mean to stir things up because all of these men were/are heroes….. But, everytime I read ANY article about LINEBACKER II there is no mention of the F-111/A that also participated in the bombings of Hanoi and Hyphong……. Out of our first 4 sorties, only 3 came home. The F-111/A pilots also deserve a large part of the History of Linebacker 2.
    I was a weapons specialist that came over from Nellis AFB and the first 462X0 off the C-130 that brought us there…. We had several losses……..
    Please , if you are writing a history of Lindbacker 2, don’t forget about the F-111/A………… we were there too…..

    • Wilton Strickland says:

      I flew 6 of the LB II missions, and I thank you for the very kind words, Ron, but I’m no hero; the heroes, more than 58,000 of them, have their names etched into that black granite wall in Washington, DC. Members of their families are also heroes who still suffer from the perpetual absence of their loved ones who have never returned. Thousands of children have grown up never knowing their fathers and grandfathers, and thousands of children and grandchildren of the victims have never been born and never will be. Many families have waited for 40 years and more not knowing the fates of their lost loved-ones, and many will never know. The suffering continues.

    • Paul Novak says:

      I am a former B-52 navigator/radar navigator who flew several B-52 missions over Hanoi. I have written many magazine articles and am currently writing an anthology of stories of Vietnam air combat.
      I would like very much to include the story of the FB11 as part of Linebacker II. Who has the info., stories, photos etc that I could contact.
      It would give me pleasure to give you guys due credit.
      Please let me know ASAP. I’m writing the book now and it will be published on Amazon.
      Paul Novak

  4. Robert O. Harder says:

    Hi Ron Buzbee,
    I couldn’t agree with you more; the F-111s have gotten short shrift from the history books re: Vietnam, and especially as regards their contribution during LB2. I did, in a sidebar titled “Linebacker II Losses” in the magazine itself (not shown here online), report the loss of “two Air Force F-111A fighter-bombers.” I also made the same reference in my “Black Hole” book. Hopefully a writer will seize on this important omission to the air war record and record your bird’s full contribution!
    Best, Bob Harder

  5. William D. Fritz says:

    I was the EWO on Ruby 1; the second cell on night 3. To my recollection, we were one of the few cells that did not loose an aircraft that night. We were the Wave lead on the way home and it was grim reporting to everyone from the Wing to the WH.

    I was fortunate enough to receive a by name to SAC HQ in the spring of ’73 and heard a lot of things that are never mentioned in any of the articles including General Allen and the SAC DOVS who were testing any and everything they could to find a solution. But first, yes, the F-111’s did play an important part as did the Navy and USAF TAC during the daylight harassment of the north. Not much mention of them or the Wild Weasels who are heard frequently on my mission tape and are included in the video I have done of that night.

    No mention of the fact that our target and time, for the Guam based crews, was forwarded to us in the clear on HF. Was promised but not ready in time before takeoff. Hmmmm.

    No mention of the T-XXXX new guy radar that was reported from the prior days recon, but whose purpose was unknown. It took one scan to know what it was: Range only to get our altitude using the Fansong magnetron and it became a “Multi threat run” to any EWO.

    Lots has not been said, and one of them was the stupid “open the doors at 60 seconds…” which created a spike in our RCS that could have been seen in China. We let the computer open our doors that night and did a 50 degree bank turn, and there was a missile waiting for us where we would have been had we done a 45 degree turn.

    Mostly, however, was the grim determination of our fellow crew members who did their jobs and just kept going. No complaints! Kinda like the 8th AF B-17 crews in WW II.

    I am exceptionally proud to be among those many great airmen.

    Bill Fritz

  6. Wilton Strickland says:

    I thought opening the doors at 60 secods was stupid, too, Bill, for the same reason you stated – reflectring much more of the enemy’s radar energy off the doors, bay full of iron bombs, etc., back to his receiver. That’s exactly why I opened mine at 5 to 10 seconds to go – didn’t ask anybody, didn’t tell anybody beforehand; didn’t want anybody telling me I couldn’t or shouldn’t – I just knew it was the right thing to do to help get us home safely. Pulling back on airspeed immediately after release and in the post target turn was another stupid thing, among many others. Turning off the target into a 100+ knot headwind was stupid enough, why add to the exposure by pulling off on airspeed and give ’em even more time to shoot us?

  7. […] more on Operation Linebacker II, see “The 11-Day War,” by Robert O. Harder, from Aviation History magazine, on our partner site, […]

  8. […]      On the newsstands now is Aviation History magazine.  The January 2013 issue (for sale now) has an excellent article about Linebacker II written by Robert Harder author of “Flying From the Black Hole” listed on the links page of our website. It is a very nice synopsis of Linebacker II. The hard copy is best, and back issues will be available for purchase, but there is a link to the story. […]

  9. tony tepedino says:

    flew with a dyess crew doing six fm utapao including every one of the stupid first three days. after six tours and 250+ missions, went pcs to utapao while still bombing in ’73. once there, as a young captain, challenged a new colonel in fm sac hq re the stupid planning they had done that cost us the first nine aircraft (i was still really pissed at the time and wasn’t too respectful of rank). he told me sac and the white house were looking for at least 5% losses to prove to the north viets that we were determined to finish the war no matter what the costs. i was told meyers himself drew the lines on the chart for the first three days and was chagrined that losses were at about 2%. we were the warriors sent to die as symbols of national intent and purpose. you probably won’t find this in any book or written notes.

    our crew was one of 20 scrambled to meet meyers when he came to utapao shortly after the shooting stopped. he was really, really pissed at sully (gen sullivan) for not requiring us to fly straight and level fm ip to target…no evasive action allowed upon pain of court martial. meyers told us we could not evade a sam. that generated a full throated chorus of boos fm all crewmembers present. this after a 1st lt copilot jumped up and told meyers he was full of s..t. never seen a four star called out or booed by troops before or since. meyers fired sully in the hallway off the briefing room immediately after the meeting.

    during meeting meyers asked if anybody knew why the b52 cells at 35 thousand received the most damage. a/c fm dyess stood and told him the viets weren’t stupid and we had spent the last six years coming in at a base of 35 thousand. meyers just nodded his head. a/c was shot down within two days…with a 35 thousand base.

    let’s not forget the guys being hit at vinh and other locals in the north after the 11 day war concluded.

    was lucky to finally come back with 307 missions. thanks for the history. wrote up my personal for my kids and parents. i’ll add this to their info. take care. happy year of the snake.

  10. Swordsman 508 says:

    Let me tag onto what Buzbee says about the missions flown during that Dec. ’72 period.

    5 aircraft carriers, Ranger, America, Enterprise, Saratoga, and Oriskany flew over 500 sorties against SAM/AAA sites, airfields, POL storage, and other significant targets. I vividly recall waiting to recover onboard Ranger on a number of nights after flying low-level night attacks preceding the target times of the Buffs. Watching the SAM victims light up the sky as their cells/waves trooped in on the same run-in each night was especially sobering. While I have nothing but the highest regards for those unfortunate crews, I can’t help but think that no more than 1 in 10 of the Naval Aviators flying those nights would have complied with the suicidal orders emanating from SAC headquarters.

    The 40th anniversary of that campaign has offered an opportunity for the old SAC fliers to widely create their own version of the real value of LB II, while many of us saw it as nothing more than a continuation (albeit intensification) of a war that had gone on way too long.



  12. Wilton Strickland says:

    As I wrote in my book, “In The BUFF,” self-published in 2003, I realized the significance of the LBII missions while departing the Hanoi area very late on the night of 29 Dec 72, a mission that was in great contrast to my five previous missions into the area. It was as quiet as a training mission back in the States; not a single SAM nor round of AAA was fired at my aircraft. I had seen photos of the complete destruction in the areas struck by B-52’s since the 18th and did not think there was another target left in North Vietnam worthy of a B-52 strike. I knew that, for eleven days/nights, we had finally fought the war the way many of us thought it should have been many years before – strategically, overwhelmingly and decisively. B-52’s and many other USAF and Navy/Marine aircraft had conducted the most intense bombing campaign ever against the most heavily-defended complex in history. I was confident that it was finally over, and that it had been won as we departed Hanoi for the last time. I was elated by the victory, but I was deeply saddened by thoughts of the more than 58,000 Americans and many thousands of Vietnamese who had been sacrificed needlessly.
    The campaign completely destroyed North Vietnam’s ability and will to wage war (at least, temporarily). It would be two years before the North Vietnamese could mount another significant offensive. By the end of the campaign, North Vietnamese officials were anxious to sign an agreement, something they had been unwilling to do for years while our government was uncommitted to achieving any sort of victory.
    During the following two years, however, after US forces had withdrawn, Congress gave away what had been won. By withholding support for the South Vietnamese and by not allowing The President to commit the B-52’s again, Congress, in effect, told the North Vietnamese that they could take whatever they wanted without interference from the United States. These actions by Congress made the already tragic sacrifices of too many even more tragic.
    The tragedy of the Vietnam War is exceeded by only slavery and the Civil War as this nation’s greatest tragedy. Not only were too many fine, young Americans sacrificed needlessly, sent into harm’s way by a government with no commitment to a resolution, but the conflict divided the country like nothing else since the Civil War.
    By its lack of a commitment to any plan for a resolution; by its gradual escalation, which gave the enemy time to adjust; by its on again-off again bombing policies, which gave the enemy time to recover and rearm; and by its ridiculous restrictions on engaging the enemy on the ground and in the air, which gave the enemy sanctuary, the government effectively played at war.
    By far the vast majority of Americans who went to Southeast Asia during the nearly sixteen years of our involvement fought valiantly and heroically, many giving their lives, others spending years as POW’s, but the most significant and decisive time was those eleven days in December 1972, when The President finally allowed the military to commit overwhelming power to accomplish a clear objective – destroy North Vietnam’s ability and will to wage war.

    • Richard Anton "Tony" Held says:

      Hear, hear, Mr. Strickland!

      I wish we had launched “Linebacker III” at North Vietnam when it invaded South Vietnam in 1975. Damn Congress, it hamstrings everything when you least need it too.

  13. Bill Evans says:

    My hat is off to the BUFF-drivers, This was like watching a B-17 type WWII movie, except it was all “for real”. I flew F-8E’s off of the BON HOMME RICHARD in 1964 & 1965. We certainly had our losses, but, what the BUFF-guys had to do was remarkable — and I thank all of the folks who had to do all of that LINEBACKER stuff. God Bless Them All!!!

    • Bob Fritz says:

      Is this the Wild Bill Evans who adopted me to work with VFP-63 on Roosevelt in the summer of 1970?

  14. Howard Butcher says:

    The Ellsworth Linebacker II guys and wives had a great reunion in Sep 2012 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. they have B-52G 59-2584 at the museum which flew at least 2 LB II sorties (day 1 wave 1 and day 3 wave ? and possibly on 26 Dec. I was the Ells E-10 nav. and day 3 wave 3 was like something out of WWII going to Berlin…..also flew the 26th , the largest B-52 single raid (10 targets/7waves) …M Michell’s book pinned the rose on those (individuals) that cost lives on Days 1-3…We (aircrews) all knew the tactics were flawed. The AF official history of Linebacker II and the monograph series book that is at the Air University should be recinded and rewritten along the lines of \The Eleven days of Christmas\..

  15. C stanley says:

    I was at the Namphong Marine base for the B52 recovery in 72 but
    never knew the story. I remember the B52 crew was pretty happy
    to have their boots on Marine territory.


    • Wilton Strickland says:

      CS, I was the RN on one of the other five BUFF’s on the mission to Radio Hanoi on the night of 19 Dec with John Dalton’s crew and overheard some of John’s saga as it unfolded on the radio interspersed onto our own \problems\ cited in the above article. We were all mighty glad that John and his crew made it safely into Namphong. Two or three days later, John’s crew flew the aircraft back to U-Tapao, and, while passing on a crew bus for another mission to Hanoi, I saw it sitting in a hanger with what appeared to be small patches of duct tape all over it. I thouht, \What a fantastic use for duct tape!\ I wonder, though, was it really duct tape that I saw patching those holes or new pieces of aluminum that appeared from a distance to be duct tape? Thank you, Namphong Marines, for being such good hosts and taking such good care of Dalton, his crew and the airplane.

  16. DeWitt White says:

    The first three days of the Linebacker mission looked very much like the plans Arclight crews studied, in early 1966, for attacking Phuc Yen Airfield. The mission was to be a reprisal raid in the event downed American Airmen were executed by the North Vietnamese.

    Thirty B-52’s would launch out of Anderson, overfly Haiphong/Hanoi to strike Phuc Yen, all at the same altitude, airspeed, track and at one mile separation with evasive maneuvers from the IP inbound being disallowed.

    Concensus at the time was this was a suicide mission.

    It sounds like the flawed plans of 1966 were rescued from the dust bin of history to be restored as the plan du jour in 1972.

    It doesn’t appear as though a great deal of brain power went into laying out Linebacker.

  17. Wilton Strickland says:

    I dropped 108 Mk 82’s onto Phuc Yen the night of 18 Dec 72 just as Red Crown called, Mig 21 on final at Phuc Yen. ‘Been wondering for more than 40 hyears now how that landing went.

  18. Swordsman 508 says:

    re: >>Been wondering for more than 40 hyears now how that landing went.<<

    I am guessing he hopped out of his airplane and got himself a nice cold beer…

    • Wilton Strickland says:

      Possible but doubtful.

      • Swordsman 508 says:

        Well, from my pov on the 26th, none of that stick hit the E-W runway at Phuc Yen. No worries – this thread is full of self-applied back pats.

        It’s incredible just how good we were 40 years ago…

  19. Felix Moran says:

    Hi Phil,
    Any chance you are still in contact with Don Becker. He and I went to UPT together.
    Felix Moran

  20. Phil Newsom says:

    Felix, I do have contact with Don. I will have him contact you.

  21. Don Becker says:

    This Don, Trey.

  22. Perry Baycroft says:

    CS & Wilton Strickland: I didn’t see your posting until now, 2013-12-30

    I was copilot on Ivory 1. The Marines treated us very well, thank you guys. We were parked on the runway and the Marines had a priority launch coming up about day break and they had received permission to burn and bulldoze ’52. So John and I got back in it, and the nav & Radar Nav loaded cartridges into 2 & 8 and we did an EWO start and taxied the plane off the runway. We went to bed about 4 am and at day break we saw the plane on the hammer head where we parked it with a Marine emblem painted on the nose. The Marines had already put their mark on it in just a couple of hours.

    Three days later when we went back to get it, the plane was cleared for a one time flight, not to exceed 10,000 ft and to retract and extend the landing gear and flaps once. And yes it was aluminum duck tape. I counted 76 shrapnel holes but was told it had over 100 holes. When we landed to pick it up the WC told us to get it out of there by 10:00 am because Bob Hope and the USO tour was inbound and they didn’t want the press to see the plane. We didn’t get off the ground until about noon, so I don’t know if Bob Hope was delayed or if they got an eye full.

    We only flew the 1st, 2nd and 4th nights of the raids, before they sent us home. I always felt like we should have flown more…. but was glad to go home for R&R.
    Perry Baycroft

  23. Wilton Strickland says:

    Thank you for the confirmation on the fantastic use of duct tape, Perry! I’ve thought for 41 years now that it would’ve made a great ad for duct tape. ‘Hope you, John and rest of the crew are still doing well.
    I was flying the LB II missions as a sub RN with Westover crew S-04; flew my sixth LB II misson night of 29 Dec and left next day for Guam, where I re-joined rest of my Kincheloe crew and flew a BUFF to Boeing Plant at Wichita, KS, 41 years ago today.

  24. Joe Esposito says:

    I was on duty during the 11 days of bombing. I was an enlisted man(E-4) serving under the 307SW SSO(Special Security Office). at U-Tapao We worked out of 4 trailers guarded by the security police next to the headquarters building. We tracked the Sam missile sites on a daily basis from the photos retrieved from our SR71 reconnaissance aircraft.
    Every evening the commanders were briefed by our commanding officer before the flights took off from U-Tapao. As soon as the B52’s departed we intercepted radio communications from the Thai communist that surrounded the base warning Hanoi that the bombers were departing and their ETA of 2 hours were broadcast for all of Hanoi to hear.
    The brave pilots and crew members were sitting ducks during this operation and all other operations out of U-Tapao.
    For all the death and destruction from this mission and all other operations pertaining to Vietnam and the loss of over 60 thousand men is mind blowing. The leaders of this country are still allowing young men and woman to die for causes that are not well defined.
    The memories of my four years in the Air Force will always make me proud to have served with some of the bravest men this country has ever raised. God Bless America.

  25. Andy Anderson says:

    WOW!!, I ve waited since January 23 1973 to read the details of the 11 day war. As a BUFF Crew Chief(E-4), our hands were full. We prayed as those young braved crews headed 30 buffs up to the runway, open up all eight(8) J-57s-with 1200 gal of water flowing for a full 2.5 minutes, and rattled down that runway at .30 sec MITOs. Our hearts rose with them as they vectored to left and right, making room for their fellow crewman who was on their way behind them, and in many cases, before their wheel were tucked in. We new that after day one, we would not greet some of those brave soles whome we briefed on the bus as they prepared for the bomb run over hanoi. More sadden was waking up on day 8 and being told Ash One had made it back home, so riddle with damadge that one of our Tankers litterally ferried him to the runway-oom in receptacal, only to fail a go around. Thanks so much for this Artical. Ret. MSGT W. Anderson

  26. Felix Moran says:


    That’s me, WSU ’66 and AFROTC PAS ’91-’94.


  27. Jeff Fowler says:

    During Linebacker II I was taking my Air Force physical and watching the nightly news on the bombing of Hanoi with high interest. The nightly commitments and sacrifices of these SAC crews was one for the books. Even one air loss was one too many. All that North Vietnam communist propaganda garbage how the U.S. lost the campaign and it was our Dien Bien Phu is even more garbage. Matter of fact if we had “total commitment” of SAC we could of wiped Hanoi off the map, along with Haiphong too. Wish too one of those bombs would of dropped on Hanoi Jane’s head. Every December I think of the lost crews and what happened back in 1972. A fellow SAC veteran from 1973-77 and proud of it.

    Sgt. Jeff Fowler

  28. Lyndon says:

    As usual, enjoy your excellent articles.

    I might have missed it in the morass of statistics, but what were the total casualties for U.S.A. marines, navy, air force in the Vietnam War.

    For navy, I mean ships and for U.S.A.F. I mean planes.

    Thanks a million


  29. John Beier says:

    I enjoyed your article. I also flew those nights. I flew four of those nights as a gunner on a G model out of Guam.

  30. robert waldbillig says:

    This has been some great reading wow! Anyone know a Robert Waldbillig at Taklhi,he told me if a F111 was lost they may not know why because they flew single..

  31. SANTOS OZUNA says:


  32. Philip Edgar Beigbeder says:

    I have agent orange from USAF Columbus Ms Bomb storage facility, thanx

  33. Frank says:

    Here’s a virtual look inside a B-52D that flew in Vietnam. It was involved in a crash that damaged the aircraft beyond repair but left the crew compartment forward of the bomb bay intact. The forward section was used as a high-fidelity training mockup. It is seen here during refurbishment and restoration for display in a museum.

  34. Duane says:

    It’s hard to excuse the stupidity of SAC issuing tactical orders to bomber crews, overruling theater commanders.

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