Week of March 5
Operation ROLLING THUNDER Begins:
On March 2, 1965, U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft commenced the bombing of military, industrial, and infrastructure targets in North Vietnam. Called Operation ROLLING THUNDER, it evolved into one of the longest air campaigns in the history of warfare. It lasted—with some brief pauses—until October 1968, though President Lyndon B. Johnson restricted the bombing in March 1968 to encourage peace negotiations.
When it began, ROLLING THUNDER was largely intended to impede North Vietnam’s support for the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam by striking the North’s small industrial base. When that failed, however, the focus of the bombing shifted toward simply cutting off the flow of troops, arms, ammunition, and other military supplies from North to South Vietnam.
ROLLING THUNDER bombings destroyed much of North Vietnam’s limited infrastructure and industry. Though targets were always restricted, the bombing exacted a severe toll on the North’s population as well. North Vietnam offset virtually all of its material losses, however, with military aid from the Soviet Union and China. The United States lost nearly 1,000 aircraft in the campaign. While ROLLING THUNDER certainly weakened and complicated Communist combat operations, it failed to achieve its major objectives.1
1John Schlight, A War Too Long: The USAF in Southeast Asia, 1961–1975 (Wash, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1996), 45–53; Jacob Van Staaveren, Gradual Failure: The Air War Over North Vietnam, 1965–1966 (Wash, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2002), 4, 79; Carl Berger, ed., The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, 1961–1973 (Wash, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1977), 74, 79, 82–83, 88–89; Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The United States Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966–1973 (Wash, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2000), 26–27, 41, 94, 133, 138–41, 149–50, 286, 227; George C. Herring, America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 (fourth edition, McGraw-Hill, New York and other cities: 2002) 173–79 (see p. 179 for aircraft loss number); Spencer C. Tucker, ed., Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 989–94.