Week of October 22
On October 23, 1972, after five months of intensive bombing, President Richard M. Nixon ordered an end to the air campaign over North Vietnam known as Operation LINEBACKER, as a peace agreement between North Vietnam and the United States appeared imminent.
LINEBACKER bombings began in May 1972. The White House intended the campaign as an attempt to stall to the Communist “Easter Offensive” of 1972 and as a way to compel the Hanoi government to negotiate a peace agreement that the United States would find acceptable.
U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots flying F-4 Phantoms, F-105 Thunderchiefs, and B-52 Stratofortresses conducted the bulk of LINEBACKER’s raids. Their targets included roads, bridges, military installations, power plants, warehouses, and petroleum storage facilities throughout North Vietnam, with the exception of targets within the so-called Hà Nội-Hải Phòng “donut.” The goal was to interdict and destroy North Vietnamese military supplies and logistics in order to halt the ongoing offensive in South Vietnam. By mid-October, U.S. aircraft had dropped over 150,000 tons of bombs on North Vietnam, and LINEBACKER was the first sustained, widespread bombing of the North since the end of ROLLING THUNDER in 1968. It was also the first major air campaign to make broad use of laser-guided and electro-optically-guided munitions. This made LINEBACKER missions qualitatively different from those of ROLLING THUNDER years earlier, because many targets could be destroyed with a single raid and a few bombs, rather than with repeated attacks with numerous aircraft and unguided “iron” bombs.
By October 23, Nixon ordered an end to LINEBACKER, believing that a cease-fire agreement was near at hand. Three days later, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger held a press conference to announce that, while negotiations were still ongoing, “we believe that peace is at hand.” However, talks once again stalled and broke down in December, and U.S. participation in the war continued until the end of January 1973, when the Paris Peace Accords were signed by the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government.1
1Wayne Thompson, To Hanoi and Back: The United States Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966–1973 (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2000), vii, 219–54; John Schlight, A War Too Long: The USAF in Southeast Asia, 1961–1975 (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1996), 92–94, 96; Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 659–60, 877–88, 1034 (for “150,000” see p. 660). Unknown Author, The Air Force in the Vietnam War (Arlington, VA: Aerospace Education Foundation, 2004), 14. Graham A. Cosmas, United States Army in Vietnam: MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Withdrawal, 1968–1973 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 2006), 393–94.