Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Wrecked Bomber of Huu Tiep Lake

On the night of December 27, 1972, a US bomber B-52 was knocked out of the sky during a bombing raid on Hanoi, Vietnam. A part of the wreckage came crashing down into a small lake in a crowded residential neighborhood, where it still lies today as a sort of war trophy of Vietnam’s victory over the dreaded B-52s. The twisted metal of the destroyed bomber rests half submerged on the algae-green waters. Next to the lake is an inscription applauding the “outstanding feat of arm” that brought down the bomber of the “US imperialist.”

Originally built to carry nuclear bombs during the Cold War period, the B-52 Stratofortress has been the backbone of the US strategic bomber force since the 1950s. A veteran of the US Air Force, the B-52s have taken part in countless wars and have dropped millions of tons of ordnance all across the world.
The B-52, that resides in Huu Tiep Lake (now nicknamed B-52 Lake), was part of the “Christmas Bombing” campaigns, officially known as Operation Linebacker II, designed to destroy major military installations in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas. The massive air offensive against North Vietnam was ordered by president Nixon, as a retaliatory action, after talks between the North Vietnamese and Americans fell apart.

For eleven days, beginning December 18, 1972, over seven hundred American B-52 sorties flew over Hanoi and Haiphong dropping roughly 20,000 tons of bombs, mostly over densely populated areas, killing over 1,600 civilians.

The North Vietnamese had with them sophisticated Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles or SAMs, plenty of anti-aircraft artillery, and a number of Soviet MiG-21 fighter jets. Over a thousand of SAMs were fired at the enemy aircraft successfully bringing down fifteen American bombers. A total of 31 B-52s were lost by during the war. The high number of casualties has been attributed to some poor and predictable bombing tactics set up by Air Force commanders.

Although the cost of bringing down these bombers was quite high and left the North Vietnamese forces depleted in missile stocks, Hanoi’s populace takes pride in the fact that so many of these large aircrafts never returned home.

Nevertheless, Operation Linebacker II was deemed a success, because it forced the North Vietnamese to return to the negotiating table. A few weeks later, the Paris Peace Treaty was signed and the Vietnam War came to a close.

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