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The Eleven Days of Christmas: America's Last Vietnam Battle Hardcover – December 25, 2001
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From Library Journal
The American B-52 bombing campaign (popularly known as the "Chrismas Bombing") of 1972 remains one of the most debated topics of this highly controversial conflict. Begun by Richard Nixon over the protest of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, the bombing was opposed by a large majority of Congress and by the antiwar movement. Despite unforseen losses, the B-52 bombing was instrumental in forcing the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table. While emotional and ill-informed opinions from both Left and Right dominate discussions of American air strategy in Vietnam, Michel (a retired F-4 pilot and author of Clashes: Air Combat Over North Vietnam, 1965-72) offers a cogent and superbly researched scholarly examination that is remarkably free of bias. Drawing from both Vietnamese and American primary and secondary sources, Michel has also utilized a substantial number of dramatic first-person accounts of participants from both sides. His day-by-day analysis of the strategy and tactics of the U.S. bomber squadrons and their North Vietnamese opponents will capture and hold the attention of readers. The author's critique of U.S. Air Force leadership is certain to attract the notice of scholars. A first-rate contribution; essential for academic collections. John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loudonville, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Details about the Vietnam War's last official battle prove gripping reading. It is difficult, however, to separate the battle, which was basically an air conflict, from the politics at the Nixon administration. There may be too much military lingo in the narrative to suit some readers, but an understanding of the role of the air force in the Vietnam War is important to fully understanding why the conflict's last battle accomplished little. "Linebacker II," as the operation was termed, was a victory of sorts for the U.S., but the war was already lost, and the Paris Peace Talks would soon result in a signed agreement. In retrospect, the last battle seems now an ironic end to what many deem a fruitless endeavor in the first place. Marlene Chamberlain
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
Items I found interesting, of note:
-- After the Pentagon argued for years that it need to go "all the way" to take the war to Hanoi, when President Nixon asked for an all out air campaign on North Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff voted in secret against the campaign, the SecDef opposed it, as did Strategic Air Command (SAC).
-- The first three nights of the campaign were planned (if that is the appropriate word) at the HQ of SAC in Nebraska, primarily by officers who had never been in the skys of North Vietnam. This was despite the fact that the USAF had been flying missions "downtown" since 1965. The advice and feed back of the B-52 crews in Guam and Thailand was ignored, as were inputs from the 7th Air Force in Saigon. Michel explains the former as a result of the top down decision making culture at SAC instigated by General Curtis LeMay. He explains the later as SAC arrogance that they had anything to learn from Tactical Air Command (TAC)
-- Despite being the primary strategic weapons for penetrated Soviet air space in the event of a US-USSR nuclear war, SAC had never flown the B-52 against captured SA-2 surface-to-air missile radars. The SA-2 was one of the primary elements of the Soviet Air Defense network, and the back bone of the NVA air defense. But SAC had never tested the radar signature of the B-52 with its bomb-bay doors open or in different flight profiles.
-- Between the first and third night of raids, the technical and tactical staff of the Vietnamese air defense forces effectively out thought,out innovated the tactics of the SAC planners and the USAF. On night 3 the NVA downed or severely damaged 6 B-52s over Hanoi.
-- The officer who ultimately challenged SAC's tactics, and who was most responsible for the change in tactics beginning on night 4, General Sullivan -- who commanded the B-52 wing flying out of Thailand -- was passed over soon after for promotion by SAC and asked retire.
-- The commander of the three engaged B-52 wings who showed the most tactical inflexibility and flew missions on only 3 of the raids north was one of only two officers awarded the Air Force Cross (the highest USAF award for valor) during the campaign. In contrast, the other recipient successfully recovered heavily damaged B-52s twice and on a third missions flew his crippled aircraft across the Thai border, enabling all his crew to successfully bailout prior to it crashing. The wing commander with the Air Force Cross was promoted to General, served much longer in SAC than General Sullivan, and later wrote the "SACimized," official whitewash USAF version of the campaign.
Impressive. Highly encourage any serious amateur or professional historian of air combat, the Vietnam war, or combat decision making to pick it up.
Though not without its losses (15 of the 26 aircraft lost were B-52s) the results were such that by the end of Linebacker II (which paused on Christmas Day) the USAF had effectively run out of major targets.
In the light of so many good overall reviews, I will just focus briefly on the actual bombing ops. It is both disturbing and intriguing to discover the reasons for those losses. While some of the downings were almost 'chance' hits, where the Enemy had fired volleys of SAM-2s ballistically i.e. unguided (due to the ECW assets being employed), many occurred due to precision hits.
Where this was the case, it was sometimes due to 'burnthrough', where the Enemy ground radar signal nullified or overwhelmed the ECM cell being generated by the BUFFs. This sometimes occurred due to onboard E/F generator failures (all too common), due to an aircraft straying outside the cell during a maneuver, or in the case of the B-52Gs, simply not having enough ECM power to cope with the signal strength from the SAM site radar emmitters.
Six B-52Gs were shot down while making high banking turns at the end of the bombing run, which created an acquirable radar cross section (the plane's ECM was no longer pointing straight downwards, opening up a chink in the electronic armor). After this, the Gs were re-assigned to ARC Light Missions (standard B-52 bombing support missions). Ironically, the older D models had more powerful ECM capabilities. The defense package that they carried included all manner of ECW countermeasures plus onboard chaff dispensers.
The external chaff dispensing was also problematic as the high winds were causing the chaff (foil strips) to disperse prematurely and provide too narrow a corridor for the following bombers. Additonal chaffing aircraft (who also flew forward CAP) were allocated and altitude adjustments were made to compensate.
At least two MIG 21s were shot down by tail gunners, with their radar directed .50 cal quad packs, as the MIGs were believed to be spotting altitudes and attack vectors for the ground radars. Not too hard when you could see a sea of upper rotating (anti-collision) beacons ahead of you.
While the B-52 losses were heavy, the success rate of the SAM-2 in terms of aircraft downed per number of missiles fired was extremely low - perhaps 3 or 4% at the most. The Enemy had basically used up their entire supply of SAM-2s by the end of the campaign, and the last two missions were flown without any losses whatsoever.
A great campaign, carried out with tremendous courage and skill by hundreds of B-52 and bomber support crews, (the tankers, the fighter escort, the EW jammer aircraft etc.)and one that actually achieved something in short order. The final Peace accord was signed just a few weeks later.