Rolling Thunder Vietnam

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Rolling Thunder Vietnam

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Wings Over Vietnam The Missions - Rolling Thunder

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The Rolling Thunder campaign, the longest sustained aerial bombingcampaign in history, was a microcosm of the problems the United States faced in the war as a whole. American air power doctrine was based on the concept of strategic bombardment, a concept based on two fundamental assumptions. The first assumption was that any American war would be waged to destroy the enemy's ability to wage modernwarfare. The second assumed that any enemy the UnitedStates might engage would be a modern industrialized state. In Vietnam, neither assumption held true. The American objective, when engaging the North Vietnamese, was to persuade the North Vietnamese to desist in their support ofthe war in South Vietnam.

Within the first few months, the mission shifted focus to the interdiction of the flow of North Vietnamese supplies and reinforcements to the South; a tactical mission. This shift coincided with the deployment of ground combat forces to South Vietnam in the summer of In , the U. Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that North Vietnam, a small nation with an industrial base only beginning to recover from its war with the French, would be reluctant to risk its own economic stability for the sake of the insurgency in the south.

Civilian leaders in the Johnson Administration agreed with this assessment, although geopolitical concerns led them to disagree over the scope of the air campaign. The military men advocated a course of action calculated to destroy North Vietnamese will and capacity to continue its support for the insurgency in the south. A list of targets including bridges, railway yards, shipping docks, army barracks and supply depots was drawn up. President Johnson withheld approval. The President and his civilian advisers feared that an air campaign over North Vietnam might cause the Chinese to send tens of thousands of troops across the border, as they had done in in Korea.

Initially, U. Air Force attacks were mounted from bases in South Vietnam. Aircraft refueled over Laos before continuing on to their targets in North Vietnam. Navy airstrikes were launched from aircraft carriers cruising off North Vietnam, with the majority of their targets situated in coastal regions. When the first Rolling Thunder airstrikes were flown in early March , no one thought that the bombing would last for more than a few months, and no one believed that North Vietnam could endure the bombing for more than half a year.

Initially the bombing was limited to targets below the 19th parallel, north of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone but far south of the Chinese border. Missions were severely limited by a requirement for approval from Washington for every target, on the timing of every attack and for the types of aircraft and ordnance to be used. The bombing campaign was rolled out in accordance with a doctrine of "gradualism", designed to ensure that China would have an opportunity to warn the Americans if a limit to their tolerance was being approached.

The campaign began with airstrikes targeting lines of communications just above the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. Attacks slowly crept northward towards the North Vietnamese major cities of Hanoi and Haiphong, continuing to hit lines of communication while adding petroleum, oil, and lubricants, electrical power stations and some industrial targets. It was hoped that these attacks would eliminate Hanoi's capacity to wage war.

Bridges and ferries were destroyed, to degrade North Vietnamese ability to distribute supplies received from China and the Soviet Union. It was started in an effort to demoralise the North Vietnamese people and to undermine the capacity of the government in North Vietnam to govern. Operation Rolling Thunder failed on both accounts. Operation Rolling Thunder was given government approval and officially started on February 24 th though the first attack did not occur until March 2 nd when US and VNAF planes attacked an ammunition base at Xom Bang. The bombing campaign lasted until October , despite the fact that it was meant to have been no more than an eight-week campaign. The execution of the operation was blurred from the start.

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