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Book Review
Linebacker II
Operation Linebacker II 1972 The B-52s are sent to Hanoi
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

    I flew these missions. I was a young captain flying F-4s...I knew some of the B-52 crews, and over the next few years in Officers' Club bars met many others, and over drinks I slowly learned the real story of how badly SAC had planned the missions and why it happened.
Thus begins the introduction to this title by the author. While thousands of TacAir sorties made up Linebacker II, the night B-52 attacks specifically ended the Vietnam War for America. The author considers this book complete in that it includes first-hand interviews with North Vietnamese missile crews, something his previous book about Linebacker II lacked. This book was written with their help and presents the story of America's most sophisticated bomber's battle against the surface-to-air missile designed to shoot it down.

Modelers will find many informative and inspirational images and stories to whet their hobby appetite.

Operation Linebacker II 1972, The B-52s are sent to Hanoi from Osprey Publishing LTD is the sixth title of their series Air Campaign. Authored by Marshall Michel III and illustrated by artist Jim Laurier, the book takes a concise deep look at the campaign in 96 pages. It is catalogued with Osprey's Short code ACM, and as ISBN 9781472827608. Air Campaign books feature expert analysis, maps and diagrams, birds-eye views, and battlescene artwork.

This book focuses entirely on the B-52 raids - how they ended our war by scaring the North Vietnamese back to sign the peace treaty, and how Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters almost lost the war for us.

Osprey writes of this book:
    After the failed April 1972 invasion of South Vietnam and the heavy US tactical bombing raids in the Hanoi area, the North Vietnamese agreed to return to the Paris peace talks, yet very quickly these negotiations stalled.

    In an attempt to end the war quickly and 'persuade' the North Vietnamese to return to the negotiating table, President Nixon ordered the Air Force to send the US' ultimate conventional weapon, the B-52 bomber, against their capital, Hanoi. Bristling with the latest Soviet air defence missiles, it was the most heavily defended target in Vietnam. Taking place in late December, this campaign was soon dubbed the ‘Christmas Bombings'.

    Using specially commissioned artwork and maps, ex-USAF fighter colonel Marshall Michel describes Linebacker II, the climax of the air war over Vietnam, and history's only example of how America's best Cold War bombers performed against contemporary Soviet air defences.

Operation Linebacker II 1972, The B-52s are sent to Hanoi is told through nine chapters and sections:
    Attackers' Capabilities
    Defenders' Capabilities
    Campaign Objectives
    The Campaign
    Analysis and Conclusion
    Further Reading

Colonel Michel writes with a style that presents the complexity of the campaign with amazing clarity. It is especially impressive considering much of the technical and tactical surface-to-air missile (SAM) story came through translators. Also impressive is the author's recounts of top USAF leadership (and lack thereof) during the campaign. This includes the two B-52 generals, one of whom was unwilling to stand up for his crews against Strategic Air Command (SAC) staff, and the other who did - and probably saved not only hundreds of B-52 crewmen, but perhaps the campaign. The actions of both men came at a personal cost after the war. Interestingly, both the Commander of SAC, and the Commander of Eighth Air Force, were two top fighter aces against Germany in World War II.

The section Chronology begins in 1971 and notes the key events leading through Linebacker II.

Attackers' Capabilities through 11 pages acquaints the reader with US air power and ordnance:
    F-4 Phantom II
    F-105G Wild Weasel
    EF-4C Wild Weasel
    US Navy aircraft
    Jamming equipment and Chaff
    AGM-45 Shrike
    Navigation/bombing systems
    Radar control
(It is significant that the B-52D and G are described separately.)

Defenders' Capabilities is a very interesting nine-pages of Vietnamese-crewed Soviet air defense systems. Obviously, individual manuals were thicker than this book and yet the author presents a good blend of historical, technical and tactical information about:
    Command and control
    Surface-to-air missiles
    SA-2 system
      Sites and firing characteristics
      Assembly and maintenance
    Antiaircraft artillery
    Countering the Americans/B-52s
"Countering the Americans" includes some of the more interesting information in this book. It discusses and displays parts of "The Red Book," the October 1972 manual How to Shoot Down a B-52 presented at the famous "October conference" of NVA missile crews. The book complied data gleaned from tracking and attacking B-52s along the DMZ since 1967.

Campaign Objectives examines the peace talks that began in May 1968, "Vietnamization" of 1971, and the Communist bad faith exploitation of it in their 1972 "Easter Offensive." President Nixon's dilemma, ending the war without sacrificing our POWs and still supporting the Republic of South Vietnam, in the face of growing anti-war public sentiment and a hostile Congress ready to prematurely pull the funding plug, was the genesis of Linebacker II. He knew that only B-52s could make the impression he needed and yet SAC did not want to be involved. Indeed, Nixon was appalled that conflicting commands, logistics, and red tape were strangling the campaign before it started.

The Campaign details the 11-day campaign through 48 pages. Flawed tactics and planning, unrealistic orders and threats against the B-52 crews, poor coordination with support units, weak in-theater leadership and intransigence at SAC almost lost the campaign in the first four nights.

Despite their effectiveness, the North Vietnamese did not have an easy time of it:
    The B-52s' signals were drowned in a jumbled mass of fake signals from the B-52s themselves, the signals of escort planes, as well as the signals of EB-66 planes flying outside the formation and other signals. F-4s were spreading decoy signals over a wide corridor.

    All the radar screens were buried in a jamming curtain of bright, white fog. The screen of the guidance officer and other tracking operators showed many dark green stripes slanted together, changing at abnormal speeds, one strobe overriding and mixing with another, strobes joining and splitting away.

The North Vietnamese were clever and developed tactics to partially counter SAC jamming. Against the premier USAF bomber the North Vietnamese inflicted losses that jellied the spine of some USAF commanders and lead to an event never achieved by Nazi, Japanese, Chinese or North Korean air defenses - an American strategic bombing mission ordered to abort due to losses.

North Vietnam received aid and comfort from American media who spotlighted damage to a hospital from errant bombs from a heavily damaged B-52, and other events. But the Communists did not have it all their own way and took a pummeling. SAC technology was forcing them to use SAMs faster than they could replenish them and support aircraft vexed the SAM operators.

The book examines how a selfless base commander took a major risk and finally got through to SAC, allowing for a change in tactics that eventually negated the Communist defenses, and resulted in the victory Linebacker II sought.

Analysis and Conclusion examines losses, the resulting end of America's war, and the views of Linebacker II through both American and North Vietnamese eyes. It also includes two pages contemplating What if...? Coming from a career combat pilot who was there, this portion challenges some long held beliefs about the American air war over Vietnam.

The book also touches upon the morale factor of the B-52 crews, and the arrival of America's secret weapon - Bob Hope. His show "saved a lot of guys after days of heavy losses."

What makes modelers what to build a model of something? For me it is a 50/50 split of 'that looks cool' and wanting a representation of some thing I read about. This book gives me both.

Photographs, Artwork, Graphics
The book is well illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs. It contains not only common images of B-52s and other aircraft, and SAMs, but also exotic equipment like the M129E leaflet bomb/MJU-1/B chaff bomb, North Vietnam's "Red Book" and contents, "Big Belly" B-52D 500lb bomb loading "clips," and NVA SAM equipment. Included are radar screen shots of USAF jamming. The only color photos of NVA equipment are post-war museum displays but they are a good resource for accurate colors. Also included are poignant images of flaming B-52 debris raining down.

Artist Jim Laurier created original color artwork for this book.
    1. Laying chaff: 497th TFS F-4s laying chaff across the night sky, afterburners blazing against the drag of ALE-38 chaff dispensers and M-129 chaff bombs, with SAM launches below an undercast.

    2. The first B-52 shoot-down: Charcoal 01 is hit, as seen from the missile site of 93rd Battalion, 261st Regiment, while launching more SAMs. The narrative includes a detailed description of the composition of the SAM battery and supporting equipment.

    3. Tan 03 is hit over Kinh No: dramatic two-page view of Tan 03 hit.

Graphics include detailed to complex color illustrations:
    A. Location of B-52 Hits and Losses: 11 air defense assets ringing Hanoi and the number of B-52s lost to each. Accompanied by three paragraphs of commentary.

    B. The Cell Formation, Bomb Run, and the Post-Target Turn: two views of B-52 tactics, extensively narrated.

    C. Linebacker II Mission Composition: aircraft and operating altitudes, narrated with 4 paragraphs.

    D. Night Three, December 20, 1972: two-page birds-eye view centered on Hanoi, keyed with 19 events; a dozen USAF units; 11 NVA Missile Battalions; color-coded USAF altitude ribbons.

    E. Overwhelming force, Night Eight, December 26, 1972: two-page birds-eye view centered on Hanoi, keyed with 9 events; 6 B-52 units with cell names and supporting units; Other supporting units; 15 NVA Missile Battalions; color-coded USAF altitude ribbons.
    i. Linebacker II Bases and Routes: the complexity of 'moving parts' from eight air bases required to run a B-52 mission.

    ii. Ingress and Egress Routes Over Hanoi: Nights 1-3; Night 8; keyed with cells and times on target.

Each of those pieces of artwork provide visual clarity to the complexity of high-speed high-altitude heavy jet bomber warfare.

My first non-anecdotal introduction to Operation Linebacker II was 40 years ago when I read about it in USAF’s Air University Review. That treatise was nowhere as comprehensive as this book as it did not explore the SAM forces, and no doubt was not able to discuss SAC B-52 electronic warfare, and ignored SAC HQ failings. Thus Operation Linebacker II 1972, The B-52s are sent to Hanoi is another great read from Osprey Publishing LTD. It has explored and explained many aspects of the Linebacker II B-52/SAM duel that I have had lingering questions about. The book is well written with exciting visual support. The first-hand accounts and North Vietnamese technical subjects are priceless. This title is complimented by the more technical Osprey Duel book B-52 vs SA-2 “Guideline” SAM, which you can access via the related link in the Summary box, below.

This is an essential book for students of the Vietnam air war, B-52s, and the SA-2 SAM. I can’t think of anything meaningful to criticize and believe that this book will be fascinating to historians and inspirational to modelers. I highly recommend it.

Please remember to mention to Osprey that you saw this book here -on AEROSCALE.
Highs: First-hand accounts including participation of North Vietnamese missile crews. Excellent technical explanations and an excellent gallery of photographs and artwork.
Lows: De minimis.
Verdict: An extensive political and combat history woven together with excellent sources by a combat participant. An essential book for students of the Vietnam air war, B-52s, and the SA-2 SAM.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ACM 6, IBSN 9781472827609
  Related Link: B-52 vs SA-2 “Guideline” SAM
  PUBLISHED: Apr 09, 2019
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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