Linebacker II (Michael H. Labeau)

n December 1972—40 years ago this month—the US executed Linebacker II, the largest B-52 bombing campaign of all time. The period from Dec. 18 to Dec. 29 saw the huge USAF bombers mount shattering strikes on North Vietnamese railways, airfields, surface-to-air missile storage sites, petroleum dumps, and other infrastructure targets around Hanoi.

B-52 crews flew 729 nighttime sorties. Their Air Force and Navy fighter escorts provided another 769 sorties for suppression of air defenses, combat air patrol against MiGs, escort, and chaff dispensing.

By the time the Linebacker II campaign was finished, North Vietnam was “on its knees,” in the words of National Security Advisor Henry A. Kissinger. It was ready and willing to sign a peace agreement that included the return of American prisoners of war.

The price was high. Communist defenses downed 15 B-52s, containing 92 bomber crew members. According to airpower historian Walter J. Boyne, eight of these airmen were killed in action or later died of their wounds. Twenty-five were missing in action. Thirty-three became prisoners of war. Only 26 were recovered alive before capture.

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