Osprey's Operation Linebacker 1972


Marshall L Michel III


Osprey Publishing


$24.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 96 pages, Air Campaign #8
ISBN: 978-1-4728-2753-1

Recently, Osprey has released a number of books on the air campaign during the Vietnam War (or American War if you live in Vietnam). Earlier books were on the B-52 vs SAM and on Linebacker II, the B-52 campaign against North Vietnam. This book steps back about a year to the Linebacker I campaign. The peace talks in Paris had stalemated and it seemed like nothing would bring North Vietnam to the table. There was a reason for this in that North Vietnam was planning an all-out assault against the south. This was a standard army mass movement with tanks and the whole deal.

The North had been building up supplies and troops along the DMZ as well as in neighboring Laos, planning a multiple prong attack in hopes of overwhelming the defenders. The time seemed particularly ripe as US involvement had dwindled to its lowest point in years. This was all part of Nixon's 'Vietnamization' of the war where the US would return to simply being advisors and not involved in ground combat.

So the North invaded. As expected, they made pretty good headway initially. The US was not ready for the South to fall and all they could offer right away was air power. Fortunately, this helped to slow and then stem the advance as more and more units were called from the US and Far East to fill the bases with strike aircraft. Additional aircraft carriers were also called in and B-52s started deploying to Guam and to bases in Thailand.

Now the best way to stop an army is to cut off its supplies. This meant air strikes at key targets in North Vietnam. In the past, USAF air strikes had not been very accurate and since many prime targets were in the middle of populated areas, they were generally not attacked. That was then. In 1972 precision guided munitions (Smart Bombs) had been developed. These were accurate to within a few feet and were used with great success to destroy power plants, train depots, warehouses and such with minimal if any civilian casualties. They were also able to bring down bridges in a single strike that years prior were left unscathed by multiple attempts.

During the lull in air combat since 1968/69, the Navy had taken great pains to teach its combat pilots how to get the best of their planes in air to air combat. This was due to 'Top Gun' and the results of that training showed. The Air Force did not and that lack meant that the MiGs got the best of USAF strike forces, shooting down a considerable number of F-4s and support aircraft. It also did not help that the USAF had poor ground control and often sent in unwieldy strike formations where the majority of aircraft were support types (chaff, ECM, recce). 1972 was very much a wake-up call for the Air Force and led them to emulate the Navy with their aggressor squadrons. Despite all this, the North was stopped and returned to the bargaining table. Three years later the North simply walked into the country and had it totally overrun in a few weeks.

In all, this is a fascinating look into the war as it was in 1972. We get the sort of insight into how leadership reacted to the situation that time provides the historian. It was the first truly modern use of precision munitions, something we take for granted today. For all the crews and those developing the systems, it was a learning experience and it worked very well. So much so that the USAF points to this campaign every time it gets the chance. As usual in the series we have a background to the situation and a look at how the attackers and defenders were ready for the campaign. This is followed by the campaign itself and followed up by an analysis of the outcome. Thanks to Adam Tooby's great illustrations and a super choice of period photos, Osprey has again provided a fascinating look at the campaign. A great read and something I can quite easily recommend to you.

March 2019

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