Strategic Air Command

History of the Strategic Air Command

History of Linebacker II - Vietnam
Provided by Terry Horstead

This is the complete text of emails received from Terry.  Information is in raw form, not edited.

First Email
Note: For the U-Tapao Vet's  I added 3 more addresses so a reposting of the first page posted on the Dec 15 is also Included - and Thanks to Jim Lollar [Tan 03-Foxtroxt]  for is review and editing. TLH)

Prelude to History, Dec 15,1972

     On the 17th of December, after a 48 hour advance warning was sent to the operational headquarters, controlling SAC and PACAF combat units in Southeast Asia, The Following Orders were transmitted at the direction of President Richard
M. Nixon, by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to CINCSAC, CINCPAC, CINCPACAF, and the Strategic Air Command (8th Air Force) and Pacific Air Forces  (13th Air Force) Units at Andersen, Kadena, Clark, CCK, U-Tapao, & other Western
Pacific bases:


     Leading up to this point. On October 23, 1972, Henry Kissinger, following intense negotiations with the North Vietnamese, announced "We Believe Peace is at Hand, We Believe an Agreement is in Sight". During these intense negotiations in
Paris during the fall of 1972 about the withdrawal of US Forces from Vietnam, there was a stumbling block noted by President Thieu, who was reluctant to accept any agreement failing to address the withdrawal of the North Vietnamese
from South Viet Nam. During this time the North Vietnamese had rebuilt the air defenses in the Hanoi - Hiaphong areas. In early December, the North Vietnamese were starting to reject most of the concessions they had agreed to in October.
The White House was fearful of congressional and public condemnation about renewal of the bombing of North Vietnam following the North Vietnamese walk-out of the Paris peace talks on the 13th of December; however, during the Congressional Holiday Recess, President Nixon ordered an intensive renewal of the bombing campaign with "MAX EFFORT" to be concentrated above the 20th parallel. With these new orders from the Commander-in-Chief, we were no longer pawns in the Tactical World of South East Asia and were now allowed to perform the job that we were
trained to do... Strategic Aerial Combat. 

Non-SAC - US Forces in Southeast Asia in DEC 1972 consisted of:

Aircraft     Quantity 


 Special Missions

F-111   48 Takhli RTAFB, Thailand  
F-4        99 Udorn RTAFB, Thailand  
RF-4  18   Reconnaissance
F-4C        6 Korat RTAFB, Thailand    Iron Hand / Wild
F-4E       24   Iron
Hand / Wild Weasel      
F-105G   23   Electronic Warfare and  Jammers 
EB-66     17     
A-7D  72    
HC-130     Air Rescue and Recovery
EC-121      Reconnaissance  &  Airborne GCI
F-4D  111    Ubon RTAFB, Thailand
F-4  27  Nam Phong, Thailand  (US Marines)
HH-53        Nakhon Phanom AB, Thailand   

SAC Western Pacific / Thailand based Aircraft

Aircraft    Quantity   Base    Special Missions / Units
B-52D     54 RTNAF U-Tapao, Thailand 307th Strategic Wing)
KC-135A    53 (Appox) RTNAF U-Tapao, Thailand Strategic Wing - Provisional
  10 Takhli RTAFB, Thailand   SW-P 310 /  AREFS-P 4101
B-52D  53 Andersen AFB, Guam    (43rd Strategic Wing)
B-52G      99 Andersen AFB, Guam     (Strategic Wing - Provisional 72)
KC-135A  59* (Appox) Kadena
AB, Okinawa 
(376th Strategic Wing)
KC-135A    7 Kadena AB, Okinawa  Combat Lightning
(Radio Relay)
KC-135Q       5/6/12** Kadena
AB, Okinawa   
Giant Bear TTF (SR-71) 6 Kadena AB, Okinawa  Support
RC-135M          (376th SW / 82nd Strat Recon Sq)
Reconnaissance - ELINT          
KC-135A   25 Clark AB, Philippines    (376th SW /  AREFS-P 4102)
SR-71A      4 Kadena AB, Okinawa  Reconnaissance -
Post Strike
U-2 /  DC-130     2 / 2 RTNAFU-Tapao, Thailand  Reconnaissance - Pre /Post
*Includes the Strip Alert / Emergency Air Refueling Assets at/on Andersen AFB & NAS Agana - Guam IAP (Including Aircraft  Diverted to Guam as "Christmas Help" (unofficial description) on Dec 16th, 1972)   
** KC-135Q's Assigned 5 PCS to the 376th / 909th AREFS at Kadena, 6 TDY from the 456th BW at Beale
AFB, California, 12 Partial Q's from the 306th BW / 306th AREFS at McCoy AFB, Florida (some McCoy
Partial Q's (Excess of Giant Bear requirements) flew as Arc Light / Linebacker Operations, as well as being a Giant Bear Backup when required.
*** B-52D 55-110 was lost to hostile fire in November during Linebacker I operations, the aircraft although hit by a SAM near Vinh. NVN, was able to get the crew back to Thailand before the crew bailed out

    Later, on the night of 18 Dec 1972, a 97th BW crew (Lt Col Don Rissi and crew from the 340th BS) driving B52G 58-0201 - call sign: Charcoal 01 was the first B-52 loss to hostile fire during Linebacker II operations *** when it was hit by
two Surface to Air Missiles (SAM-@'s) over Yen Vien Rail Yards This was the crew that was scheduled to be riding a KC -135 east to Blythville, but the replacement crew was late getting to Guam due heavy snows at Loring. (Col Rissi, & Gunner Walter Fergerson were KIA Lt Robert J. Thomas was MIA (The father of the late Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker Derrick Thomas) was listed for Years as MIA. The remaining three members were able to bail out, were captured by the NVA but were later returned to active duty from the POW camps. Other B52's were shot down, more crewmembers were lost, and some were returned: but we, in the proud tradition of the Strategic Air Command, extend our heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all who were part of the SAC Team Effort, including PACAF & other commands' support units. You deserve, and
hopefully, receive the respect of our countrymen for your dedication and devotion to duty. I am proud to part of the effort that allowed an American Officer in Hanoi to comment, "Pack your bags, Boys we are going home".

     I would like to thank several former US Air Force members (Flight Crew and Support Crews alike) supporting Linebacker II missions, for help in writing this history.   It was first posted in Dec 2000 on the U-Tapao Alumni Association but the last several days went unfinished as I had a computer crash.  

Terry L Horstead
TSgt          USAF (Retired)
TDY from the 99th BW at Westover

(SSgt Terry Horstead was on the morning of 16 Dec 1972, TDY to the 305th OMS at Grissom AFB, Indiana from Westover AFB, Massachusetts (just having completed a 214 Day TDY trip to Kadena, CCK, U-Tapao, and Andersen (KC-135A Strip Alert)-(Extension Auth by SECDEF due to Deployment Bases having manpower shortages at the 179 Day rotation mark of the Bullets hot deployments) was flying a 305 AREFW (99th BW TDY Acft) KC-135A 60-0361 south for a RC-135 refueling just north of Cuba, when we were told to contact SAC on the radio and were diverted to March AFB, California and deployed to Guam
International Airport / NAS Brewer Field, for duty as an emergency air refueling tanker (as needed) for the Linebacker II missions, returning to Grissom during the first week of January 1973.)

2nd Email from Terry
Day 2 (Dec 19/20, 1972)
Order of Battle:

Wave 1: Targeted to bomb the Kinh No Complex with the following aircraft:
0 B52D's from the 307th SW, U-Tapao RTAFB, Thailand
12 B52D's from the 43rd SW, Andersen AB, Guam
9 B52G' from the SW (P), 72 Andersen AB, Guam  

Wave 2: Targeted to bomb the Bac Giang Trans-Shipment Center & Warehouse Complex  with the following aircraft:
15 B52D's from the 307th SW, U-Tapao RTAFB, Thailand
0 B52D' from the 43rd SW, Andersen AB, Guam
21 B52G' from  SW (P), 72 Andersen AB, Guam  

Wave 3: Targeted to bomb the Yen Vien Complex
(9 B-52D's) & the Thai Nguyen Termal  Power Plant 31 miles North-west of Hanoi (27 B-52's):
15 B52D's from the 307th SW, U-Tapao RTAFB, Thailand
15 B52D's from the 43rd SW, Andersen AB, Guam
6 B52G' from SW (P), 72, Andersen AB, Guam

     Wave 1 had approx. 60 SAM's fired at it with no hits.   Wave 2 had approx. 58 SAM's launched and Hazel 03
(B-52G 58-0254) with degraded ECM was hit approximately 13 miles inbound to the target, but was still capable of delivering the bombs on the target with recovery at U-Tapao. Hazel 03 was the only G-model to be hit and not go down. ThreeCells behind Hazel Cell was Ivory 01 (B-52D 56-0692) flown by Maj. John C. Dalton from the 99th BW, Westover AFB, MA, was hit by the SAM Site designated as VN-549 SAM. VN-549 over the next week, was the torn in the side of the Linebacker fleet by becoming the most lethal site in North Viet Nam. Ivory 01 was in the PTT and broadside to VN549 when it was hit causing extensive damage and loss of No 5, 6, & 7 engines. The crew was lead aircraft of the 1st cell on the 1st night, was hit on the second night and made a successful landing on the US Marine Base at Nam Phong Thailand. Later picked up by the Klong Hopper (a 314th TAW C-130 Detached to U-Tapao), and returned to U-Tapao and back in the schedule for night number four. Wave 3 hit the targets with no Acft hit, NVN fired over 180 SAM's on Night 2. Wave 1 had
approx. 60 SAM's fired at it with no hits.

Terry L Horstead 
TSgt          USAF (Retired)
TDY from the 99th BW at Westover
2nd Email from Terry
Day 3
TAC-AIR kept up the pressure with 20 A-7's at Yen Bai Airfield (MIG 17 & 21's) and 54 F-4's hitting radar & communication facilities with BDA missions being flown by RF4C's, U-2's & SR-71's

    The stage was set for disaster on Day 3 because SAC Planners decided to fly Day 3 with the same tactics as on Day 1 & 2.   Wave 1 consisted of 15 B52D's from the 307th  SW at U-Tapao, 6 B52D's from the 43rd  SW, and 12 B52G' from
SW(P) 72 at Andersen, Targeting the Hanoi Railroad Repair Facility (6 B-52D's) and Yen Vien Rail Yard and the adjacent Ai Mo Warehouse area, with 33 F-111's striking Airbases, RADCOM facilities, and Bac Giang Thermal Power Plant.  Wave 2 consisted of  9 B52D's from the 43rd  SW and 18 B52G's from SW(P) 72 at Andersen, Targeting the Hanoi Rail
Yards. U-Tapao was not tasked to support Wave 2.  Wave 3 consisted of 18 B52D's from the 307th SW at U-Tapao, 9 B52D's from the 43rd SW at Andersen, and 12 B52G's from SW(P) 72 at Andersen, targeting the Hanoi Rail Yards.
     The first target was bombed with only 4 SAM's  being fired with no hit's. Even though the 6 D's were within range of 11 SAM Site's, the worst was to come for the remaining 27 aircraft.
     Quilt cell was inbound when Quilt 01 & 03 both lost 2 jammer / transmitter's prior to the IP. Quilt 03, (B52G 57-6496) flown by Capt Terry Gelonick (744th  BS, 456th Bomb Wing  at Beale AFB, Ca), was hit during the Post Target Turn (PTT) with a TOT of 2209L (Hanoi) flying between 35,000 & 37,000  feet. About 15 seconds prior to "Bombs Away", a SAM flew past the left wing with the proximity fuse failing to detonate the missile but close enough for the motor exhaust to light up the cockpit. Just after dropping the bombs, as the doors were closing and starting into the 60 degree PTT, the aircraft was hit. Co-pilot 1st Lt. William Arcuri noticed loss of fuel in the left wing (Fuel Indication was working / Electrical was working) and loss of pressurization due to four 6 inch holes in the structure back by the Gunner's station. EWO Capt Craig Paul was hit and badly bleeding,  and Gunner SSgt Roy Madden had a shattered leg that had to be amputated after being released as a POW. As the aircraft started to lose
altitude and flight control further complicated due to the loss hydraulics in the tail section, Capt Gelonick order the crew to bail out of the aircraft. EWO Capt Craig Paul and R/N Warren Spencer were both Killed in Action, and the remaining crew members were returned in March of 1973.
     Four Cells behind Quilt was Brass Cell with a Phase VI ECM Modified Aircraft (Brass 03) and two unmodified G's. Brass 02 (B52G 57-6481) was Hit with 2 SAM's, one under the wing and one under the fuselage. The crew, commanded by Capt John Ellinger (42nd  BW, 69th BS at Loring AFB, Maine), was able to nurse the stricken aircraft out of North Viet Nam, across Laos and over the Mekong River near NKP.  As the aircraft dropped thru 9,500 feet, Capt Ellinger order the crew to bail out. The only injuries were twisted knees (EWO) and rope burns when the pilot landed in trees and became tangled in the chute cords, and the R/N had a dislocated shoulder. The crew, after being flown back to Guam, was returned to Loring. 
     Three Cells back was Orange Cell. Orange 03 (B52D 56-622) was commanded by Major John Stuart, (S-01 Crew) a Standboard Pilot from the 99th  BW from Westover AFB. As Orange 01 & 02 was starting their PTT's, Orange 03 was hit during bomb release, entered a flat spin and crashed near the Target. Four crewmembers were MIA with only Copilot 1st Lt. Paul Granger and Navigator Capt Thomas Klomann surviving to become POW's.
     As the 2nd Wave approached the targets, HQ SAC staff decided the G's did not have of the ECM suite modifications needed to protect themselves from the SAM II's and recalled the B-52G's. However, the remaining 6 B-52D's attacked the target with NO losses.
     Next coming into harms way was Guam launched Straw 02, a (B52D 56-669), at 34,000 feet, flown by Capt. Deverl Johnson and his crew from the 306th  BW, 367th  BS at McCoy AFB, at Orlando, Fla. Hit while in the PTT, 2 seconds after bomb release, by a missile believed fired by VN-549, everything in the airplane went black, with No 7 & 8 engines on fire, Pitot Static (Airspeed and Altitude) were the only instruments working, (I assume the Standby Compass also worked for heading info). Capt Johnson was trying to get the airplane out of NVN and headed towards the hazards of Laos. They didn't take prisoners in Laos. The airplane looked like swiss cheese and with the loss of the electrical power, the crew was unable to control the fuel valves, causing a major fuel imbalance about 30 minutes after getting hit, and at that point, Capt. Johnson ordered a bailout as the aircraft had dropped to about 15,000 ft. The crew was down in Laos, and was picked up by an HH-53, with the only injury
was to the R/N, who was hit in the explosion and was not known to have left the airplane. (In 1981 a US spy Satellite picked up what looked like "52"  stamped in the grass in the impact area. It is possible the R/N did make it out of the airplane and was missed by the rescue forces). Unfortunately, Wave 3 consisted of too many G-models and could not be recalled as was done with Wave 2. General John Myers, after weighing all facts, issued the final order to Press On.
     Next in trouble was Olive 1, ( B-52G 58-0198) flown by Lt Col James Nagahiro & crew from the 325th BS of the 92nd Bomb Wing at Fairchild, with Lt Col Keith Heggen (DAMC-Deputy Airborne Mission Commander-TDY from the 97th BW at Blythville AFB), struck the Kinh No Complex, and was hit in the PTT by a SAM missile. Only three of the seven-man crew was able to egress from 58-0198.  Lt Col. Nagaharo, the Nav Capt Lynn Beens, and the DAMC Lt Col. Heggen were the only three known to have left the airplane; however, Col. Heggen died of wounds while being held at the Hanoi Hilton. The remaining crewmembers were listed as MIA. 
     Two Cells back was Tan 03, (B52G 58-0169) flown by Capt. Randall  Craddock and his 340th BS crew from the 97th  BW at Blythville AFB, Arkansas. After Bomb Nav failure, the ship became separated (about 6 Miles) from the rest of the cell and lost mutual protection of the combined ECM Suites, thus becoming easy pray to NVN SAM II's.  The only survivor was the Gunner, SSgt James Lollar, who was able to eject just as the aircraft disintegrated. The remaining 5 crew members were listed as MIA.
     A little later, Aqua 03, flown by Capt Chris Quill, was the last G to go-"Downtown" in the Hanoi high threat area.  The last cell to cross the target was Brick Cell. Brick O2, a B52D, assigned to strike the Hanoi Petroleum Products Storage Area, was hit by a SAM II leaving numerous holes in the right wing, but was able to recover back at U-Tapao*. (Was this 55-116?) And as a Legend in his own Time...... On this night Capt J.R. Smith flew his 500th combat mission. While on the bomb run with SAM's flying all over town, EWO Capt Smith reached for a whistle he carried on all flights. After successfully hacking into the NVN GCI network, he blew the whistle and called a "Time Out". The stunned SAM II forces did not launch a missile for the next 90 seconds, thus allowing his crew to complete the bomb run and get thru the PTT.
     Results of Day 3: Over 200 SAM's fired at the Strike Force resulting in the loss of 4 G's and 2 D's with a third D Damaged - All lost G's were unmodified ECM (Short tailed) aircraft, all 4 aircraft lost and 1 damaged aircraft were hit in the post target turn.

Terry L Horstead
TDY from the 99th BW at Westover

Author's Note: * B52D 55-116 in offical documenation recovered at Da Nang, SVN, however SSgt Horstead during a U-Tapao recovery of Giant Scale (SR-71) Support Mission from Kadena had a chance to look over 55-116 parked on the wash rack  next to the 6th Aerial Port freight building.
Day 4
Tac air kept up the pressure with 20 A-7's at Yen Bai Airfield (MIG 17 & 21's) and 54 F-4's hit radar & communication facilities, BDA flown by RF4C's, U-2's & SR-71's. TACAIR was only harassed by AAA, as it looked like the SAM's were being saved for the B-52's at night.

Order of Battle:
Wave 1: 30 B-52D's  from the 307th SW at U-Tapao were to target the MIG Bases at QUANG TE (6-B52D's), BAC MAI (12-B52D's), and the VAN DIEN SUPPLY DEPOT (12-B52D's).  Wave 2: Not Tasked   Wave 3: Not Tasked

     Change of Tactics: After the debockle of the Day 3 with the mounting B52 Losses SAC Planners went back to work to change the tactics used by the Linebacker II strike forces for future sorties.  The new battle plan now called to keep the B52G aircraft out of the Hanoi High threat area, returned to flying 30 Arc Light sorties over South Viet Nam. This change from a cyclic schedule (standard 3 ship cells) to a compression schedule, back and forth to cyclic schedule played havoc on maintenance. The change also allowed for newly arrived replacement crews to fly a sortie or two in the south before heading north to the high threat areas.
      At the same time an EB-66 from the 42nd TEWS at Takhli, intercepted and evaluated a major modification of the NVN SAM-2 Radar capability using I-Band freq.'s in place the previously used E-Band freq's. Detected earlier by Combat Apple RC-135's, now seen again and pinpointed to precise SAM Sites (VN-549 also referred to as Killer 549). The I-Band system is also a possible cause of the loss of B52D 55-110 flying near the Vinh Airfield in the lower panhandle of NVN, on November 22,1972. The RC's had detected the I-Band signals and the EB-66's had been looking for it since August. The NVN appeared to have tried it and shelved the modification until needed. Use of the modified systems would explain a lack of active Fan Song signals from the SAM sites. Further degradation of the ECM protections envelope for the cells was caused by orders for all aircraft to fly the same route into and out of the bomb run, then turn as soon as practicable after bomb release. All aircraft now would remain together and turn at the same time, while also including a variation of ingress and egress routes to the targets. This coupled with newer overlay routes for the chaff bombers now allowed for options in egressing the target areas. The U-Tapao missions with B52D's allowed for a standard 108 500 pound bombs loaded on each B52D and did not require KC-135A tanker support to complete the missions.
Day Four - Tac Air A7's and F-4s hit the rail yards at Giap Nhi, Trung Quan and Duc Noi as well as the Hanoi Thermal Power Plant, Railroad Station & Radio Hanoi.
Night Four: CINCPAC requested CINCSAC to continue raids in two waves instead of three, for the next four days. SAC responded with a Single Wave attack force for Day 4and 5, and Andersen based aircraft rejoined the effort in a single wave attack on day 6. This permitted the increase of Tacair Escort Packages and to further increase the number of escorts per wave. Routes were also modified to decrease the total time that strike aircraft were exposed to SAM's from approx 40
minutes to 15 minutes. The Modified SAM Sites had to be countered with AGM-78 Missiles (Not the most reliable system and the 388th only had 15 in Stock, This caused an immediate MAC resupply mission arriving on Christmas Day with AGM-78's and AGM-45-A6 Missiles and additional missiles arriving on the 27th from Nellis AFB) 
     The Time Over Target (TOT) was also reduced from 4 minutes to 90 to 120 seconds between cells, and orders were issued directing all bombers were to exit the target area "FEET WET" into the gulf rather than the over land route. Again 30 to 33 F-111's were to attack the 5 most major airfields, Bac Giang & Kep Rail centers, Viet Tri Transshipment Center and the Hanoi Port. Initial TOT was 0333L. Scarlet 01 having lost it's Bomb Nav system was dropping back to change places
with Scarlet 02. Scarlet 03 (B52D 55-061) became separated by several miles from the cell and had appox 15 SAM's fired at it. Scarlet 03 was hit approx 60 seconds prior to the bomb release point. Capt Pete Giroux and his crew from the
22nd BW, 2nd BS crew were still inbound to the target when Gunner MSgt Louis La Banc called for Flares and
started firing his four 50's Cal. in the back of the aircraft. Calling " Bandits on Scarlet 03",  MSgt La Banc fired and killed the MIG, however the other acft did not receive the call as two missiles passed under the B52 and there was no confirmation of the MIG Kill and was not credited. After being hit by several missiles and one passing the tail but failing to explode, Capt Giroux checked with the crew and the gunner reported Engines 5 & 6 were on fire with flames reaching back past the tail. The decision was made to try to go "FEET WET", and the crew started to proceed to the Gulf. The pilots shutdown the No 5 and 6 engines, and a little later, as the acft started to fall of to the right, the A/C ordered the crew to bail out. The A/C: Capt Giroux, EWO: Capt Peter Camerota, and Gunner: MSgt Louis La Blanc became POW's. The
Copilot Capt. Thomas Waring Bennett, who was alive after the SAM hit, and the Nav and Radar Nav are MIA's. The Gunner reported that just as he stepped out of the hole left by the jettisoned gun turret, the right wing burned thru and folded over the top of the airplane.
    Two Cells back was Blue 01 (B52D 55-050) with Lt Col. John Yuill Commanding, from the 7th BW at Carswell AFB, Texas. The Cell had at least 10 SAM's fired between the IP & the target and was hit twice, the first, above and left, and the second, below and right. The SAM explosions shattered the windshields, resulting in a rapid decompression, electrical failure, and the wings were on fire.As the fire progressed, Lt Col Yuill ordered the crew to bail out.. All 6 crewmembers became POWS.After B52 Crews reported that modified missile fire control signals were coming over the UHF, Intelligence made the decision to obtain the AGM45-A6 missiles to counter the threat. Escorts: Bucket 01 an F-4 got a MIG, chasing it until it ran out of fuel.

Terry L Horstead
TDY from the 99th BW at Westover