At that time, US President Nixon strongly declared that Hanoi would be a ‘dead area’, but the Northern people and military, with their undaunted spirit, comprehensive power and Vietnamese military arts, created a resplendent victory in Hanoi’s airspace, known as the “Hanoi - Dien Bien Phu in the Air” victory.

In 1972, as our people and armed forces made continuous gains in the South battlefields, especially in Quang Tri, the Central Highlands and Eastern-South Vietnam, which endangered the US strategy of placing the burden of the conflict on the Southern Vietnamese puppet regime and thereby, from the perspective of the American imperialists, putting the war in danger of complete bankruptcy.

Vietnamese anti-aircraft soldiers mapping out combat readiness plan

To save the situation, the US hastened to implement a policy of returning US military forces to the war. In doing so, the US sent reinforcements to support the Saigon military in South Vietnam and increased its naval and air attacks on North Vietnam, which can be  considered as a second destructive front against North Vietnam.

The US second front, which, in fact started from April 1972, was fiercer, on a larger scale and with the use of more warships and aircraft. Especially, the US used its strategic bomber, the B-52, originally designed to carry large nuclear bombs, to launch air-strikes on our important targets and communication routes in Quang Binh, Nghe An, Thanh Hoa and Hai Phong.

Meanwhile, at the 19th round of negotiations in Paris from October 8-10, 1972, the US side accepted the draft Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam. On the schedule, this draft agreement would be initiated on October 22, 1972 in Hanoi, and officially signed on October 31, 1972 in Paris. Under the draft agreement, the US would have withdrawn all troops from Vietnam by March 1973. But it was merely a political ploy of then US President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger prior to the US presidential election in November 1972. In fact, they made use of the draft agreement to draw supports from US voters, who were tired of the US costly and inhumane war in Vietnam. The two politicians even declared in public “Peace is at hand,” “US sons are about to return home” while urging “Vote for President Nixon.”

After being re-elected as US President,  Nixon made a 180 degree change, dragging out the schedule to sign the draft agreement and asking for many amendments to the draft agreement. At the same time, he ordered the Pentagon to secretly and quickly prepare a plan for a large-scale strategic air strike on Hanoi, Hai Phong and some other localities in North Vietnam.

On December 14, US President Nixon had a closed-door meeting with Kissinger and some other senior governmental officials to study the situation of the war in Vietnam and plan to escalate the war. They then decided to block the North Vietnam seaport of Hai Phong, conduct reconnaissance and intelligence on the entire area of North Vietnam, and adopted Operation Linebacker II with the use of B-52s to bombard Hanoi, Hai Phong and some other neighborhoods, starting from December 18, 1972.

In fact, US President Nixon in his memoir wrote that, on December 14, 1972, he ordered the US Navy to continue dropping torpedoes and laying mines around North Vietnam seaports, and ordered the US Air Force to use B-52s to bomb Hanoi and Hai Phong. And, as the world now knows, the order came into effect after 3 days.

On December 17, the US Navy used aircraft to drop torpedoes and mines into the waters off Hai Phong seaport, and shot targets on the surface. At 2pm, December 18, the Vietnamese Government received a diplomatic note, which was a US ultimatum, demanding the North Vietnam side to resume negotiations in Paris at any time in any conditions after December 26, 1972.

In doing so, the US Administration played a trick on the Vietnamese Government, making the Vietnamese Government and people believe there was a real opportunity for peace. The US side also believed that the Vietnamese Government could not sustain the continued US air strikes on Hanoi and would accept all conditions the US would give at the Paris peace negotiations after the B-52s had bombed Hanoi for several days.

At 7.40pm, on December 18, 1972, the first B-52s dropped bombs onto Hanoi, starting a large-scale US air strike on North Vietnam named “Operation Linebacker II” over the following 12 days.

According to appraisals of the hawkish US politicians and military officers, Operation Linebacker II would force North Vietnam to resume the negotiations in Paris and accept any amendments made by the US to the draft agreement although the US side had earlier agreed in principle on the contents of the draft agreement when the two sides had a private meeting on October 8, 1972 at an office of the French Communist Party.

First, the two sides also agreed that the US would stop bombing on Vietnam’s soil and laying mines and torpedoes in Vietnam’s waters on October 18, 1972. Second, the US side and Vietnamese side initiated the peace agreement on October 20 in Hanoi. Third, the four participating parties would officially sign the peace agreement on October 26 in Paris. Fourth, peace would be restored across Vietnam on October 27. Finally, the US military would complete the withdrawal of its force from Vietnam by March 1973.

However, the US side then requested the Vietnamese Government to postpone the schedule a few days (to stop dropping bombs and torpedoes on October 21, to officially sign the peace agreement on October 30 and to end the war on October 31). The Vietnamese side, to show its goodwill, accepted the US proposal. A week later on October 20, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong received a letter from US President Nixon, in which Nixon reconfirmed that the agreement had been almost completed, and was convinced that the US side would sign the agreement as scheduled.

Nevertheless, the US side did nothing and kept silent until the US presidential election in November 1972 finished. After being re-elected as US President, Nixon started to rock the peace talk process by asking the Vietnamese side to amend 69 points to the draft agreement that the two sides had agreed in principle. More irrationally, they required the withdrawal of all Northern forces from the South and demanded the establishment of a separate country of South Vietnam. When the Vietnamese side did not accept their claims, they accused the Vietnamese Government of lacking goodwill.

At a meeting between the two sides on November 24, Kissinger intimated and threatened that the US President would order to cease negotiations and renew military operations that would cause unpredictable consequences if the Vietnamese side did not accept the US demands. On December 6, Kissinger again threatened that the war would be much more intensive if the negotiations broke off. He went on to say, at that time, the war would change its nature and the US would not discuss the draft agreement. On December 7, Nixon made a phone call to Kissinger, saying that the US would bombard North Vietnam but there would be no prior notice to the public. In fact, the US side sought to halt the negotiation process and change the draft agreement so the draft Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam was ultimately in tatters.

Another undeniable fact is that the Nixon Administration had already planned Operation Linebacker II with the aim of destroying North Vietnam’s economic and defense capabilities, constraining material and spiritual supports to the South from the North and reducing the position and power of the Vietnamese revolutionary forces. Nixon wanted to use B-52s to bomb Hanoi and Hai Phong, anticipating that North Vietnam would capitulate under the destructive power of B-52s.

Additionally, the US wanted to use a large number of these strategic bombers to threaten the then fledgling anti-war movements which were appearing all around the world. Although some international friends felt and expressed concerned for Vietnam when the US decided to bomb North Vietnam with B-52s, the world now remembers how many of the B-52s were shot down, and how the US large-scale air strike “Operation Linebacker II” was completely and soundly defeated in Hanoi’s airspace.  

Translated by Thu Nguyen