Operation Linebacker II

Operation Linebacker II
Part of the Vietnam War
B-52 Stratofortress on bomb run
Date18–29 December 1972
ResultSee § Aftermath
Flag of the United States.svg United StatesFlag of Vietnam.svg North Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
John Dale Ryan[citation needed]
John W. Vogt, Jr.[citation needed]
John C. Meyer[1]
Phung The Tai[citation needed]
Le Van Tri[citation needed]
207 B-52s[citation needed]
2,000 tactical aircraft[citation needed]
14 SA-2 batteries[2]
(266 SA-2 missiles were fired during the operation[3])
100+ aircraft[1] (inculding 31 MiG-21s and 16 MiG-17s fighters[4])
AA gun units
Casualties and losses

US claim:
12 tactical aircraft shot down
16 B-52s shot down
4 B-52s suffered heavy damage
5 B-52s suffered medium damage
43 killed in action
49 taken prisoner[5]

PAVN claim:
81 aircraft shot down
(including 34 B-52s and 4 F-111s;[6] this includes two B-52s shot down by MiG-21 fighters[7])
1,624 civilians killed
Military casualties are unknown[8]
U.S. claim: 6 MiG-21s shot down (including 2 MiG-21s shot down by B-52 tail gunners)[1]
PAVN claim: 3 MiG-21s shot down[9]

Operation Linebacker II was a US Seventh Air Force and US Navy Task Force 77 aerial bombing campaign, conducted against targets in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) during the final period of US involvement in the Vietnam War. The operation was conducted from 18 to 29 December 1972, leading to several informal names such as "The December Raids" and "The Christmas Bombings".[10] Unlike the Operation Rolling Thunder and Operation Linebacker interdiction operations, Linebacker II was to be a "maximum effort" bombing campaign to "destroy major target complexes in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas, which could only be accomplished by B-52s".[11][12] It saw the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the US Air Force since the end of World War II. Linebacker II was a modified extension of the Operation Linebacker bombings conducted from May to October, when the emphasis of the new campaign shifted to attacks by B-52s rather than smaller tactical fighter aircraft.


"Peace is at hand"

On 8 October 1972, U.S. National Security Advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese Politburo member Le Duc Tho met in Paris to discuss new proposals by both nations, hoping to reach mutually agreeable terms for a peace settlement for the decade-old Vietnam War. Tho presented a new North Vietnamese plan which included proposals for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of American forces, and an exchange of prisoners of war. All three Vietnamese combatant governments—North Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRG)—would remain intact, as would their separate armies. Hanoi no longer demanded that South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu be removed from office, the U.S. did not have to cease its aid to the southern government, and both Washington and Hanoi could continue to resupply their allies or forces on a parity basis. No new North Vietnamese forces were to be infiltrated from the north, and the U.S. agreed to extend post-war reconstruction assistance to North Vietnam.[citation needed]

The new terms on the table also included the establishment of a National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord, a loosely defined administrative structure which was to work toward general and local elections within South Vietnam. Political power would be shared by three groups: the Saigon government, the PRG, and a "third force" group to be mutually agreed upon by the other two parties. Since it was to work by consensus, nothing could be accomplished by the new council without the agreement of President Thieu.[13][14]

When the two sides convened again on 17 October, there were two main areas of disagreement: the periodic replacement of South Vietnam's American weaponry and the release of political prisoners held by the Saigon government.[15] The North Vietnamese had made significant modifications to their past negotiating position and were hurrying to get the agreement signed before November, believing that President Richard Nixon would be more willing to make concessions before, rather than after, the upcoming presidential election.[16] Although there were still some issues to be finalized, Kissinger was generally satisfied with the new terms and so notified Nixon, who gave his approval to the settlement.[17] The finalized agreement was to be signed in Hanoi on 31 October.[citation needed]

Kissinger then flew on to Saigon on the 18th to discuss the terms with Thieu. The South Vietnamese president was not happy with either the new agreement or with Kissinger, who he felt had betrayed him.[18] Although Kissinger knew Thieu's negotiating position, he had not informed him of the changes made in Paris nor had his approval been sought. Kissinger "had negotiated on behalf of the South Vietnamese government provisions that he, Thieu, had already rejected".[18] Thieu completely castigated the agreement and proposed 129 textual changes to the document. He went further, demanding that the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Vietnams be recognized as a true international border and not as a "provisional military demarcation line" (as had been stipulated in the Geneva Accords) and that South Vietnam be recognized as a sovereign state. The supreme irony, in the words of Stanley Karnow, had now arrived: "having fought a war to defend South Vietnam's independence, the United States was now denying its legitimacy."[19]

Thieu then went one step further on 26 October, and publicly released an altered version of the text that made the South Vietnamese provisions look even worse than they actually were.[20] The North Vietnamese leadership, believing that they had been hoodwinked by Kissinger, responded by broadcasting portions of the agreement that gave the impression that the agreement conformed to Washington and Saigon's objectives.[21][22] Kissinger, hoping to both reassure the Communists of America's sincerity, and convince Thieu of the administration's dedication to a compromise, held a televised press conference at the White House during which he announced "[w]e believe that peace is at hand."[23]

On 20 November, the South Vietnamese revisions, and 44 additional changes demanded by Nixon, were presented to the North Vietnamese delegation by Kissinger.[23][24] These new demands included: that the DMZ be accepted as a true international boundary; that a token withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops take place; that the North Vietnamese guarantee an Indochina-wide cease fire; and that a strong international peace-keeping force (the ICCS) be created for supervising and enforcing the cease-fire.[24]

Once the North Vietnamese read the new demands, they began to retract their own concessions and wanted to bargain anew, leading Kissinger to proclaim that they were "stalling".[25] The talks, scheduled to last ten days, ended on 13 December, with both parties agreeing to resume negotiations.[25] Teams of experts from each side met to discuss technicalities and protocols on 14 December, during which time the North Vietnamese representatives submitted a Vietnamese-language text of the protocol on prisoners containing several important changes that Hanoi had failed to gain in the main negotiating sessions. At a subsequent meeting of experts on 16 December, the North Vietnamese side "stone-walled from beginning to end". The talks broke down that day, and the Hanoi negotiators refused to set a date for the resumption of negotiations.[26]