50 Years Later: Remembering Operation Linebacker II

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shelby Thurman
  • Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs

December 18th commemorated the 50th anniversary of the start of the largest operation of heavy bomber strikes launched by the United States Air Force since World War II. Operation Linebacker II was intended to bring an end to the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The ceremony at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, on Dec. 19, 2022, was held to commemorate the sacrifice and dedication of the crews who flew and maintained the B-52 Stratofortress fleet, and the US Navy partners during Operation Linebacker II over North Vietnam in 1972.

With the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War pushing into its eighth year, the aircrews selected for this mission understood the gravity of the situation. Pictures from the first mission brief for the operation depict their grave expressions.

“That picture truly encapsulates the stress and anxiety that those aircrew members were feeling when they revealed the target,” said Air Force Global Strike Command senior historian Shawn Bohannon. “That is when it dawned on them that they would be going into the absolute heart of one of the most defended environments in the world." 

On the night of Dec. 18, 1972, 87 B-52s and their crews who launched from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Over the next 11 days, 730 sorties were conducted. The crews, in conjunction with US Navy carrier-based tactical aircraft, focused their attacks on the command and control operations at the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi and on the war-sustaining complexes in the port city of Haiphong.

As an immediate result of the 11 days of heavy bombing- the treatment of the 591 American prisoners of war who were being held by the North Vietnamese was drastically improved.

The North Vietnamese were also willing to return to Paris for peace talks upon the conclusion of the operation. The cease-fire agreement was signed on January 27, 1973, where it immediately went into effect. All POWs were released that same day, following the signing of the agreement.

“That air campaign was successful in that there was a conclusion to war,” said Bohannon. “But it was born on the backs of the extraordinarily brave crew members who had to face those kinds of threats night after night.

Overall, during the bombing raids, US Air Force and US Navy aircraft encountered intense enemy defensive actions that resulted in the loss of 26 aircraft. Even 50 years later and the events of the war over, the sacrifice of those killed or lost will not be forgotten.

Airmen at 8th Air Force commemorated the anniversary of the historical raid during a ceremony at Barksdale AFB, 19 Dec. 2022, paying respect for the lives lost.

"Operation Linebacker II is an important part of Eighth Air Force and our nation's history," said Maj. Gen. Andrew Gebara, 8th Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center commander. "The magnitude and selflessness of Airmen who served on those missions 50 years ago is a testament to the will of each warrior that fought for freedom, and they deserve to be honored and remembered. We will continue to carry on their legacy and continue to defend our country in their name. Their commitment and sacrifice helped pave the way for the world's greatest Air Force."

While the brave aircrew members from the past may no longer be in the ranks of the Air Force, the B-52 Stratofortress continues to serve to this day.

“There is a famous quote that goes something like, ‘Join the Air Force and fly the aircraft your grandfather flew,’” said Bohannon. “Generations of aircrew have flown those B-52s and gone on to retire multiple times over. The B-52 is an eternal testament to such a great product that Boeing built. We went from flying them World War II-style in Linebacker II and will continue to fly on missions yet to be conceived of.”