Operation Linebacker II – The Christmas Bombing


During Operation Linebacker II, 741 B-52 sorties had been dispatched to bomb North Vietnam, 12 of them were aborted. Additionally, 769 sorties were flown by the Air Forces and 505 by the Navy and Marine in support of the B-52s bombers. A total of 20,237 tons of bombs was dropped on North Vietnam, mainly on Hanoi and Haiphong9. In return, North Vietnamese forces fired more than 1,000 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). However, they only downed twenty-seven U.S. aircrafts, fifteen of which were B-52s10.

During 11 days, minus the Christmas Day break, the bombing raids had significantly damaged North Vietnam’s infrastructure. About 1,600 North Vietnamese targets were struck including military complexes, railroad yard, storage sites, military airfields and SAM sites. According to the Air Force estimate, 500 rail interdictions had taken place and about 380 pieces of rolling stocks were destroyed. Logistical inputs into North Vietnam dropped down from 160,000 tons per month to 30,000 tons per month11. After the raids, Hanoi criticized that the U.S. had bombed schools, hospitals, residential areas and claimed that 1,624 civilians had been killed12.

On 26 December, under the weight of the bombing, Hanoi signaled it wished to resume peace negotiations. Three days later, the bombing raids were ceased. On 9 January 1973, the peace talks were resumed in Paris to discuss again the term offered in October. Eventually, the agreement was signed by the leaders of the delegations on 27 January with little changes from the previous version.


From a military standpoint, Operation Linebacker II was a successful campaign. During the 11 days of heavy bombings, most of the desired targets were destroyed. The war-making capability of North Vietnam was broken down. The efficiency of U.S. air power was justified by the tremendous devastation of North Vietnam and its comparatively small loss in the operations. On the political front, Linebacker II forced North Vietnam return to the negotiating table with a different attitude which eventually led to the treaty’s signature. The United States was now able to bring their prisoners of war home as well as assure South Vietnam of its commitment for their independence and at the same time withdraw its troops from the harsh battlefield of Vietnam under extensive public pressure.


1.       Lipsman S., Weiss S., et al. (1985), “The False Peace”, Boston: Boston Publishing Company, p. 10.

2.       Lipsman and Weiss, p. 13.

3.       “October 1972: Peace is at hand”, Retrieved April 3, 2014 from

http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/exhibits/decbomb/chapter-ii.html, para.9.

4.       Garcia F., “Bush and Nixon: The Shame of America”, p.63.

5.       Trong Q. P. (2002), “An Analysis of Linebacker II Air Campaign: The Exceptional Application of US Air Coercion Strategy”, p.19-20.

6.       Trong, p.4.

7.       Trong, p.17-18.

8.       Drenkowski D. and Grau L. W., “Patterns and Predictability: The Soviet evaluation of Operation Linebacker II”, p.1-2.

9.       Tilford E. H. (1991), “Setup: what the Air Force did in Vietnam and why”, p. 263.

10.   Col. Ungureanu B. D. R., “Linebacker II, Victorious Air Operation in a Lost War”, p.173.

11.   McCarthy, James R. and Allison G. B. (1979), “Linebacker II: A View from the Rock”, p.171.

12.   Pribbenow (2002), “Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam”, p.319.

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