Three B-52 downed in first night

The Air Defense and Air Force Command’s directive stated that the situation was urgent and all units must be in combat readiness with enough missile supply at the highest technical requirements. Moreover, communication must be ensured. Accordingly, soldiers and people in North Vietnam were shifted to combat readiness mode and determined to defeat the U.S. strategic air raid operation.

At 18.50 of December 18, the whole command was at the highest combat readiness level. At 19.10, a radar company detected B-52 jamming signal and five minutes later another radar company detected B-52s and reported to the Command Center. B-52s were confirmed to be in the space of North Vietnam. At 19.25, the Air Force ordered its fighters to take off to attack the enemy tactical aircraft. At the same time, observation posts in Tam Dao and Viet Tri gave alerts about F-111s attacking airbases of Noi Bai and Kep. The Hanoi Capital Command immediately issued warning all over the city.

Photo for illustration 

From 19.25 to 20.18, many groups of B-53s continuously bombed the areas of Noi Bai, Dong Anh, Yen Vien, and Gia Lam. At 19.44, the first missile of Battalion 78 under Missile Regiment 257 was launched, signaling the start of the 12-day battle to defend Hanoi. By 20.13, B-52s continued their bombardments. Battalions 57, 59, and 94 of Missile Regiment 261 were ordered to bring down a group of enemy planes coming from Tam Dao to attack stockpiles in Dong Anh. A B-52 was shot down by Battalion 59, falling to Chuom paddy field in Phu Lo commune, S Son district, just 10 km away from the unit.

Shooting down this first Stratofortress was significantly important both in thought and combat mood, making the Politburo, the General Command, and all officers and soldiers feel confident because the previous nine battles at battalion level were not successful.

Throughout the night of December 18 to the morning of the next day, the U.S. flew 90 B-52 sorties, conducted three attacks on Hanoi. The intervals of these three attacks were filled with eight F-111 sorties and 127 sorties of other kinds of bombers raiding the inner and outskirts of Hanoi. In the first night, the U.S. aircraft released about 6,600 bombs at 135 sites in Hanoi. Among them, 85 residential areas were bombed, causing the death of 300 people. In this very night, our soldiers and people fought bravely, shooting down six aircraft, including two B-52s on the spot.

The decisive battle

From December 19 to 24, our soldiers and people continued to win as B-52s were shot down every night. Due to heavy losses, the U.S. used the Christmas Eve as a pretext to halt their campaign, gain confidence, and determine new tactics.

From 13.00 to the evening of December 26, the enemy continued to launch 56 sorties of bombers of different types to attack missile sites in strength as well as Dong Anh Transformer Station.

From 22.05 to 23.20, the enemy launched 105 B-52 sorties with 110 tactical supporting sorties to attack continuously, violently, and synchronously Hanoi, Hai Phong, and Thai Nguyen. This was the biggest and key raid during the campaign.

The fight during December 26 evening lasted for more than an hour and the air defense forces in Hanoi, Hai Phong, and Thai Nguyen shot down eight B-52s and 10 other tactical planes. Importantly, a B-52 was shot down in this night by 100mm anti-air gun without radar support.

This was the key and decisive battle during the first nine days fighting, with the biggest number of B-52 was shot down.

This victory broke the will of the White House, the Pentagon, and the U.S. pilots.

Mig-21s B-52s

After 10 days of fighting, it was the time fighter pilots proved their talents. At 22.20 of December 27, Pham Tuan flew a Mig-21 from Yen Bai Airbase breaking the F-4 protective circle to approach B-52s at a close distance and shot down one B-52. This was the first B-52 was shot down by a Vietnamese fighter in this campaign. Also during the day and night of December 27, soldiers and people in North Vietnam shot down 14 enemy aircraft, including five B-52s, five F-4s, two A-7s, one A-6, and one HH-53 helicopter.

On the evening of December 28 evening, the enemy launched 60 B-52 sorties to attack Dong Anh, Da Phuc, Duong Bridge, Yen Vien, and Gia Lam. Following Pham Tuan’s victory, Pilot Vu Xuan Thieu was ordered to take off from Cam Thuy Airbase in Thanh Hoa, circling to the rear of the enemy’s B-52 formation and approached them over Son La province’s space, and shot down one B-52. On this day, our soldiers and people shot down three U.S. aircraft, including two B-52s and one RA-5C.

The unimaginable loss of the U.S. Air Force

Due to heavy losses over 11 consecutive days, on December 29, B-52s just attacked some localities on the outskirts of Hanoi. However, one B-52 and one F-4 were shot down. This battle marked the end of the U.S. campaign.

Only within 12 days and nights, the U.S. used 663 B-52 sorties and 3,920 other tactical sorties to attack Hanoi, Hai Phong and other areas in North Vietnam with over 100,000 tons of bombs. The U.S. Air Force devastated many towns and villages, destroyed 5,480 buildings, including nearly 100 factories, schools, hospitals, and railway stations; killed 2,368 civilians and injured 1,355 others.

Despite these losses, our soldiers and people defeated the unprecedented strategic airpower operation, and making the Victory of Hanoi – Dien Bien Phu in the Air. During this campaign, 81 enemy aircraft, including 34 B-52s were shot down. The U.S. also suffered another heavy loss – its pilots. Only over 10 days, the U.S. lost hundreds of pilots, including many experienced officers.

Normally, in big air raids, the casualty and damage of the offensive side is about one to two per cent. However, in this campaign, the number of the B-52 only was accounted for 17.6 per cent.

Due to continuous losses over 12 days and nights attacking North Vietnam, at 07.00 of December 12, 1972, President Nixon had to order a cease to the bombing from the 20th parallel up and accepted to return to the Paris negotiation table. And, on January 27, 1973, the Paris Agreement to end the war and restore peace in Vietnam was signed.

Translated by Nam Long