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23 October: The U.S. ended all tactical air sorties into NVN above the 20th parallel and brought to a close Linebacker I operations. This gesture of good will in terminating the bombing in Squallphoto1NVN above the 20th parallel was designed to help promote the peace negotiations being held in Paris. During May through October the Navy flew a total of 23,652 tactical air attack sorties into NVN. U.S. tactical air sorties during Linebacker I operations helped to stem the flow of supplies into NVN, thereby, limiting the operating capabilities of North Vietnam’s invading army. The carriers involved in Linebacker I operations were Enterprise, Constellation, Coral Sea, Hancock, Kitty Hawk, Midway, Saratoga, Oriskany and America.

It began over six months ago, on a late-April morning with Operation Pocket Money – launching from the flightdeck of USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), three A-6A Intruders of VMA-224 and six A-7Es (VA-22 and VA-94) headed for Haiphong harbor with a load of Mk 52-2 mines.  In response to what the west was calling the “Easter Offensive” by the North Vietnamese army, a concentrated air offensive against the north – the first since 1968, began with the seeding of mines in the critical ports and harbors of North Vietnam.  Overland, the USAF Seventh Air Force and the Navy’s 7172a6vma224Task Force 77 would send thousands of sorties feet dry in the quest of achieving the four objectives of LINEBACKER:

  • Isolate North Vietnam from its outside sources of supply by destroying railroad bridges and rolling stock in and around Hanoi and northeastward toward the Chinese frontier;
  • Target primary storage areas and marshalling yards;
  • Destroy storage and transshipment points; and finally,
  • Eliminate (or at least damage) the north’s air defense system

For the Navy, this meant that no less than nine of its carriers with their embarked airwings would be committed to the fight.  Beginning on 10 May, LINEBACKER demonstrated a new level of commitment of air power — 120 sorties by the USAF and 224 by the Navy on the first day.  It was also the day that saw the heaviest air-to-air engagements of the war, finishing with 11 MiGs shot down to the loss of 2 USAF F-4s in aerial engagements and 2 Navy aircraft to the heavy AAA and SAM action inland (over 100 SAMs fired alone that day).  The offensive marked the first engagements since the Navy began intense post-graduate type dogfight training at its new fighter weapons school (‘TOPGUN’), and the effect was immediate.  Navy fighters quickly built a 6:1 kill:loss ratio over the North Vietnamese MiGs (before it had hovered around 1:1) and Randy Cunningham and Willie Driscoll became the war’s first US aces when they downed three MiGs that day before being hit by an SA-2 and bailing out over water.  In the meantime, the USAF, lacking similar training, remained close to the 1:1 ratio (in fact, during one 12-day period in late May/early June, the USAF lost 7 aircraft to MiGs without shooting any down).  By August, however, with improved AEW and increased aircrew training and experience, the ratio climbed to an eventual 4:1.  The new air offensive also saw the employment of TV- and laser -guided bombs for the first time.  From April to the end of June, the number of sorties flown throughout the SEA theater climbed to 27,745 and included everything from A-7s to B-52s.  The impact was soon felt by the North Vietnamese army which, in its official history, noted that almost 70% of supplies bound for forward deployed units were destroyed enroute.

b-52-linebacker-iiBy fall, it was apparent to the North Vietnamese leadership that the campaign was deeply affecting not only the offensive in the South, but even at77a7va94 home with critical imports down by 30-50% and daily bombing of transportation and other critical infrastructure. Returning to negotiations with the US, the diplomatic impasse, and offensive broken, President Nixon ordered the suspension of bombing above the 20th parallel to commence 23 October 1972, bringing the first LINEBACKER to a close.  The US had lost 134 aircraft to combat or operational losses over the course of 39,420 sorties.  Navy losses numbered 43 (1 MiG, 2 induced, 13 SAM, 27 AAA) while Air Force’s totaled 51 (22 to MiGs, 5 induced losse s, 20 to AAA, 4 to SAMs).

Air Force General Robert N. Ginsburgh, in tallying the effect of LINEBACKER compared to earlier efforts, noted that LINEBACKER had “a greater impact in its first four months of operation than ROLLING THUNDER had in three and one-half years.”

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors

1 Comment

  1. I was born on October 23rd,1972 to my parents and to think I was born on such a historic day which signifies the end of tactical air sorties over North Vietnam (above the 20th parallel). My father served in the United States Navy and he is still alive and so is my mother. So as I read, the peace negotiations were underway in Paris, France at the time. From around 1963 to October 23rd, 1972 over 23,600 air sorties were flown over North Vietnam and I would just love to tell my nephews about this one day that I was born on the day that the wars peace progress had reached this point on the day I was born. Sincerely Mr. Kevin M. Kettell

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