Operation Rolling Thunder Facts

Operation Rolling Thunder Facts
As the American government increased its involvement in Vietnam by sending more advisors and then ground troops to support the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN), North Vietnam responded by increasing its military support to communist Viet Cong (VC) forces in South Vietnam and by carrying out periodic raids with the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The United States decided to respond to the situation by falling back on one aspect of its military that North Vietnam couldn't really challenge - air superiority. Operation Rolling Thunder was the codename for the American campaign of intensive aerial bombing of North Vietnam from 1965 to 1968 that was carried out by the United States Air Force and Navy, with support from South Vietnam. The objectives were to destroy supply routes from the north into VC territory in the south, to hamper North Vietnam's industrial base, and to dampen the morale of the NVA and the people of North Vietnam. Although Operation Rolling Thunder did cause a lot of damage, it was ultimately unsuccessful for a number of reasons. North Vietnam was far less industrialized than the Americans thought and the bombings only seemed to strengthen the resolve of the NVA and North Vietnamese government. The North Vietnamese were also aided by state-of-the-art anti-aircraft weapons given to them by the Soviets and Chinese. Finally, due to the restraints of the Cold War, the American military was somewhat overextended, which meant that it was limited in the number of bombers it could dedicate to the mission.
Interesting Operation Rolling Thunder Facts:
Despite the heavy bombing campaign, President Lyndon Johnson walked a tightrope regarding escalation. He believed that any ground invasion of the north would not only cost thousands of more American lives, but also that the Chinese or Soviets might enter the conflict. It was also feared that increased bombing even without ground troops could draw the larger communist nation into the fray.
The campaign was initially only supposed to last for two months.
Most of the Air Force bombers were launched from bases in Thailand.
Navy bombers were launched from aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin. The combined fleet of carriers was known as Task Force 77.
Late American Senator John McCain flew a Navy bomber in Operation Rolling Thunder beginning in 1965. He was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and spent more than four years as POW until he was released in March 1973.
As the Vietnam war dragged on, the intensive bombing campaign became unpopular, giving impetus to street protests and leading to Senate hearing in 1967.
The North Vietnamese had between 1,500 and 5,000 anti-aircraft guns during the campaign and were augmented by several dozen Soviet MiG-17 and later MiG-21 fighters. The North Vietnamese were able to consistently keep around 100 fighters in operation.
Besides the standard anti-aircraft flak guns, the North Vietnamese were also equipped with Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs).
The United States lost 3,374 aircraft during the campaign.
President Johnson halted the campaign under the idea that North Vietnamese were coming to the negotiating table. The North was not bombed again until three years later after Nixon was in the White House.

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