Vietnam War Commemoration Commission

Week of June 18

On June 18, 1965, the first ARC LIGHT Mission was flown by 30 U.S Air Force B-52 Bombers. It was flown against Việt Cộng targets near Bến Cát north of Sài Gòn. ARC LIGHT missions were distinguished from other missions by their need for a high degree of accuracy to hit well defined targets in support of the ground war. Using strategic bombers in a Close Air Support role required the use of special measures to avoid dropping massive amounts of ordnance on friendly troops. One method for this was by giving control of the bombing run and release signals to a ground radar tracking station called “Combat Skyspot”. With these methods, it was possible for each B-52 to release 30 tons of bombs onto enemy troops from altitudes so high that they could not be seen or heard prior to detonation.

An early example of the effectiveness of ARC LIGHT missions is found in Operation HAWTHORN, June 2 – 20, 1966. U.S. and South Vietnamese Army troops in III Corps pursued North Vietnamese forces that had attacked Đăk Tô. On June 13 they pinned them down in a remote entrenched base area. Riot gas was dropped to make the bunkers and trenches untenable followed by an ARC LIGHT strike by 36 B-52s. The shock of the attack left the stunned North Vietnamese unable to resist a follow up landing of infantry from helicopters. The 24th North Vietnamese Regiment suffered more than 50 percent losses.1

1John Schlight, A War Too Long: The USAF in Southeast Asia, 1961–1975 (Wash DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1996), pp. 30–31; John Schlight, The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia: The War in South Vietnam: The Years of the Offensive, 1965–1968 (Air Force History and Museums Program, 1999). Ronald B. Frankum, Jr., Historical Dictionary of the Vietnam War (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, 2011), pp. 55–56. Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO, 2011), pp. 59–61. John M. Carland, United States Army in Vietnam: Combat Operations: Stemming the Tide, May 1965 to October 1966 (Wash DC: Center of Military History, 2000), pp. 276–88.

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