Airpower in Vietnam: A Strategic Bombing Analysis

by Abigail Pfeiffer on September 15, 2011

The Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) was the frontrunner in American air power theory and doctrine. While many people contributed thoughts and ideas, perhaps the most prominent of American air power theorists was William “Billy” Mitchell.  His theories on strategic bombing, air superiority, and attack aviation formed the basis of ACTS doctrine. Their doctrine heavily impacted the use of air power in WWII, however, this essay will address the influence of ACTS doctrine on the aerial war in Vietnam from 1965-1973.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that post-Vietnam military theorists and historians have grappled with is how the United States, with a technologically superior military, and specifically air force dominance, could have failed to reach their objectives in a country with far inferior military capabilities. Even more puzzling is the fact that the United States dropped eight million tons of bombs in Southeast Asia, which was twice the amount dropped in World War II by all the belligerent nations combined.[1] With this massive amount of air power, how could the United States have lost? Could it be that a strategic bombing campaign and advanced technology does not in fact guarantee victory? This essay will address the effect the Air Corps Tactical School strategic bombing doctrine had on the formulation of American air power theory and specifically the effect this doctrine had on the airpower strategy of the Vietnam War, forty five years after the creation of ACTS.

ACTS was created in 1920 under the name of the Air Service Field Officers School (ACTS), which became the Air Service Tactical School in 1922, and finally became the Air Corps Tactical School in 1926.[2] Arguably one of the most influential air power theorists on ACTS doctrine was William Mitchell whose ideas about strategic bombing can be seen applied to the air war in Vietnam. However, before Mitchell there was Lieutenant Colonel Edgar S. Gorrell, who during WWI was a member of the U.S. Air Service in France.

In 1917 during the stalemate on the Western Front, Gorrell understood the importance of a new strategy. Since German artillery was pounding Allied positions, he naturally looked at suppressing artillery in the development of a new strategy.  The artillery shells were produced in a small number of factories, whose locations were known, and Gorrell hypothesized that by destroying these factories shell production would decrease or halt. Instead of attempting to seize every German artillery piece on the Western Front, and face the loss of life that would inevitably bring, the factories could be destroyed and the goal of ceasing artillery shell production could be achieved quickly and with less casualties. Gorrell’s thoughts on destroying the artillery factories could be applied to any industry that affects a war effort. Gorrell’s idea sounded great in theory but he was also very vague as to which targets would produce the best results. In an industrialized society there are hundreds, if not thousands, of sites that could be considered important to industry and a war effort.

When Billy Mitchell began contributing to the advancement of an air doctrine, he expanded on Gorrell’s ideas and

William "Billy" Mitchell

advocated the striking of enemy’s canals, harbors, bridges, food centers, railways, and manufacturing centers.[3] Mitchell, like Gorrell, was also very general about what made the best targets out of the plethora of targets that could be attacked. Despite this vagueness, the Air Corps Tactical School still developed a doctrine of strategic bombing that would dominate the air strategy in the United States for nearly half a century. When WWII began, the official doctrine that the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces used was still rather general about what constituted decisive targets and only presented broad categories. For example, the United States Army Field Manual 1-5 entitled “Employment of Aviation of the Army,” specified “important objectives may be found in the vital centers in the enemy’s line of communication and important establishments in the economic system of the hostile country.” The manual suggests targeting areas such as railroad communications, bridges, tunnels, power plants, oil refineries and “other similar objectives.”

Certainly more specifics were needed, but with aerial warfare in its infancy it was near impossible for the air leaders to look back at history to see what has been successful and what has failed in combat situations, a luxury that the ground and naval forces had.[4] As Meilinger noted, when the Allies headed into World War II “air leaders had an inherent belief in the importance of achieving results through effects-based operations. They also had a rudimentary understanding of how such efforts needed to be measured and evaluated. They did not, however, have the analytical tools at hand to conduct that measurement and evaluation.”[5]

The subsequent ACTS air doctrine leaned heavily on gaining air superiority and strategic bombing, specifically targeting an enemy’s war making potential, the most important of which were transportation, steel, iron ore, and electrical power facilities.[6] An important side effect of strategic bombing that ACTS advocated was the breaking of the national will. This part of their theory stemmed from the belief that attacking economic vital centers would “disrupt its social fabric and lead to a collapse of morale.”[7] Billy Mitchell felt that attacking vital centers that produced armaments and equipment necessary in modern war, a practice that could and did produce civilian casualties, as neither illegal nor immoral.

In fact, when compared with the trench warfare of WWI that produced millions of casualties, he felt that airpower offered a quicker and more human way of waging modern war.[8] The idea of targeting vital centers and breaking the national will would be seen in the United States air strategy of the Vietnam War forty five years later. At the time the Air Corps Tactical School was created, airplanes and airpower were still in their infancy; however, the leading theorists at ACTS understood that to “make strategic airpower a reality”[9] the development of a bomber was necessary. An early problem with creating bombers and larger airplanes was inefficiency of speed of larger aircraft. One had to sacrifice either size or speed when designing aircraft. The development of the Martin B-10 and the Boeing B-9 provided an aerodynamic efficiency that was increased with size, which opened the door for the development of larger and quicker bombers.

In addition to the focus put on strategic bombing and attack aviation, the Air Corps Tactical School pushed for the creation of a separate air arm. While Billy Mitchell had a large influence over ACTS doctrine, many other people left their mark on American air power. One of these men was Lt. Benny Foulois who advocated for a separate air arm and in October of 191, he told the House Committee of Military Affairs:

The General Staff of the Army is the policymaking body of the Army and, either through lack of vision, lack of practical knowledge, or deliberate intention to subordinate the Air Service need to the needs of the other combat arms, has utterly failed to appreciate the full military value of this new military weapon and, in my opinion, has utterly failed to accord it its just place in our military family.[10]

Billy Mitchell, despite the personal contention between himself and Foulois, also advocated for the creation of a separate air arm, on the basis that this separation was necessary for the success of strategic bombing campaigns. In his view, the Army and Navy were “too traditional and surface oriented.”[11] Certainly they were surface oriented as the vast history of warfare had been dominated exclusively by surface warfare, as the aircraft had only been a reality for the previous 15 years, just a tiny fraction in the timeline that is the history of war. Although Billy Mitchell strongly supported the idea of an independent air arm, and despite his negative views of the Navy, he understood that airpower would take its place alongside the ground and naval forces, but not replace them.

Attack aviation developed by ACTS, part of the strategic bombing theory, also called tactical air power after World War II, was dominated by three principles. First, establishing air dominance, and if possible, air supremacy, over the enemy air force was viewed as the most important impact that an air force could make for the success of their ground forces. Second in priority is isolating the battlefield by attacking enemy forces that lay outside of the effective artillery range, what is today referred to as “battlefield interdiction.”[12] It is important to note that ground forces need to have control of the tactical initiative for air interdiction to be successful.[13]And finally, close air support, which involves attacks directly against the enemy soldiers on the battlefield.[14] The legacy of the air doctrine developed at the Air Corps Tactical School, especially regarding attack aviation and strategic bombing certainly had an effect on the development of air strategy during the Vietnam War, and this is especially notable when analyzing Operation Rolling Thunder, and the Linebacker Operations, and the factors that deemed one a failure and one a success.

American intervention in Vietnam officially began in 1964 with the Gulf of Tonkin incident in early August, which provided President Johnson with the opportunity to obtain a Congressional resolution that “would demonstrate the American government’s firm resolve to oppose Communist aggression in Southeast Asia.”[15] The United States government was clear in their supporting role of the South Vietnam government against a takeover by communist North Vietnam. Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor visited Vietnam in 1964 and analyzed the South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Khanh, which had taken power in a January 30th coup. McNamara’s analysis and conclusions of that trip were deemed National Security Action Memorandum 288 in which McNamara noted that the United States sought “an independent non-Communist South Vietnam [which] must be free…to accept outside assistance as required to maintain its security.”[16]

This memorandum demonstrated the Johnson administration’s fear of the spread of Communism to Southeast Asia in addition to the fear of American loss of prestige worldwide. The United States fear of Communism, specifically the Soviet Union and Chinese intervention in North Vietnam, was a major consideration throughout the duration of the war and led to the limited application of military power.  In his book The Limits of Airpower: The American Bombing of North Vietnam, Mark Clodfelter wrote in regards to the fear of Soviet or Chinese intervention: “Preventing Chinese of Soviet intervention-and hence World War III-became a goal equal in importance to that of establishing South Vietnamese independence.”[17] Determining a military strategy that could achieve the objective of South Vietnamese independence yet at the same time not creating a situation that would involve the Soviets or Chinese was a complicated task.

From the beginning of the official United States involvement, the use of air power was important in the overall military strategy, beginning with Operation Rolling Thunder in early 1965 until it was halted in March of 1968. The fear of Soviet and Chinese intervention certainly had an effect on the Operation and what areas were targeted and which ones were left alone. Because of this concern the Operation was designed as one of gradual escalation and remained limited to attacks south of Hanoi and Haiphong.  This operation is generally considered a failure as it did not achieve its objective of persuading the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi that the price of continuing aggression against South Vietnam was considerably higher than discontinuing military involvement.[18]

The foundation of the strategy of Rolling Thunder was that “if air strikes could destroy enough supplies to impede the flow of men and weapons coming south, [they] could help save American and South Vietnamese lives.”[19] But what was the basis of the strategy for Rolling Thunder? What were the specific objectives? Who called the shots on what vital centers were targeted?

The official description of Operation Rolling Thunder was “a program of measured and limited air action…against selected targets in the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam],”[20] which would target North Vietnamese highways and railroads south of the 20th parallel.[21] Here we see an application of the air doctrine created by ACTS, at least in a limited capacity, in the sense of the highways and railroads being transportation centers that would in theory disrupt the North Vietnamese war making ability. However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not agree with the limited bombing aims spelled out by the Johnson administration. Instead they felt the “limited bombing effort promised to do little to weaken either the Viet Cong or Hanoi’s ability to support it.”[22]

In fact, in an assessment a year after the conclusion of the bombing campaign, a panel of scientists commissioned by McNamara came to the conclusion that Operation Rolling Thunder actually improved North Vietnam’s war making capacity by forcing them to create more supply networks and removing choke points. The first line of their report

MiG-15

about the effectiveness of the bombing campaign was that Rolling Thunder had “no measurable effect on Hanoi’s ability to mount and support military operations in the south.”[23] A factor that contributed to the failure of the campaign was the effectiveness of the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft artillery. In 1964 the North Vietnamese air defenses included 1,400 AAA guns, 22 acquisition radars, and 4 fire control radars. Early 1965 saw an increase of 22 acquisition radars to 31, 9 fire control radars, and 30 MiG-15 and MiG17 fighters. In addition, by mid-1965 it was observed that the North Vietnamese had acquired an SA-2 surface to air missile (SAM).

It is important to note that a large part of the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft artillery build up was due to Soviet military assistance. After this initial acquisition of the SA-2 SAM, the amount of SA-2 sights increased in North Vietnam and “enemy AAA grew to be more lethal than anything ever encountered by allied aircrews over Germany in World War II.”[24] It is estimated that by the beginning of 1967 the North Vietnamese had 7,000-10,000 AAA guns and more than 200 confirmed SA-2 sites, and by August of 1967 they had launched at least 3,500 SAMs which were responsible for destroying 80 United States aircraft.[25]

The North Vietnamese use of SAMs were actually not very effective directly against American fighters, but where they were effective was by forcing American fighters to altitudes of 3,000 feet in an area that a later Air Force study referred to as “the heaviest AAA environment in all of warfare.”[26] In fact, eighty percent of American aircraft were shot down in this low altitude area. Indeed, as Benjamin Lambeth noted in his book The Transformation of American Air Power: “The lethal blend of AAA, radar-guided SAMs, and MiGs in creating an envelope of overlapping fire from near-ground level to the higher-altitude regime above 25,000 feet made operation in the skies over North Vietnam an enterprise in which no altitude was safe.”[27]

When ACTS was developing their air war doctrine, it was at a time when aircraft were in their infancy and advanced anti-aircraft weapons were not the focus of the air war doctrine. It is hard to analyze the effectiveness of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft artillery from the context of ACTS doctrine when AAA weapons were not being used until the 1930’s.  Would their strategic bombing theory been different had they had to consider advance surface to air missiles and the changes that caused in altitudes?  Certainly the ACTS theorists would have had to take into consideration the use of anti-aircraft weapons when developing a strategic bombing theory.

A component of Rolling Thunder where it is clear the leaders in Vietnam apparently did not learn a lesson from history was “the belief that when an enemy population was subjected to intensive and sustained bombing, its moral would deteriorate.”[28] Indeed, this part of ACTS doctrine was proved wrong in WWII, as civilian populations showed more resiliency than the military theorists and soldiers assumed.[29] Another problem with interwar airpower theorists and early ACTS doctrine is what can be perceived as their over enthusiasm. But who could blame them? Many of them truly believed they discovered a decisive way to end wars and felt this new weapon would revolutionize warfare like never before. By looking at the past, we see these same enthusiastic feelings in regards to other great innovations in war, such as the invention of gunpowder or the creation of automatic machine guns.

There were more factors that contributed to the failure of Operation Rolling Thunder than just the North Vietnamese use of anti-aircraft artillery. For example, when the North Vietnamese SAM sights were being constructed the United States military wanted to destroy them before they could be built up to operational capacity. However, Johnson and McNamara refused to authorize those attacks out of fear of the possible presence of Soviet Union and Chinese advisors in those areas.  The Air Force was restricted throughout all of Operation Rolling Thunder to only attack SAM sites that were firing on them or if they were directly threatening American aircraft.[30]

If they had truly followed the strategic bombing doctrine developed at ACTS then they would have authorized more attacks on SAM sites. From the beginning of the use of aircraft in WWI to the Vietnam War was only forty years, but in that forty years was the development of ACTS doctrine, WWII, and post war planning which stressed attacking enemy’s economic centers to destroy their capability to fight, and, according to Clodfelter: “Most air chiefs equated economic viability with industrial prowess, assuming that the destruction of production centers and their means of distribution would guarantee the loss of war-fighting capacity.”[31] The first problem here is relying on any type of guarantees when it comes to war. Second, since industry was an integral part of American society, air leaders “assumed that any opponent would place a high premium on preserving what they perceived not only as necessary components for modern war but also as fundamental features of twentieth-century social order.”[32]

Indeed, military leaders were frustrated with what they considered to be the misapplication of airpower, enforced on them by civilian superiors, who would not allow military leaders to utilize bombers on targets they felt would be more effective.[33] This growing frustration was felt by General John P. McConnell who was quoted in regards to Rolling Thunder: “I can’t tell you how I feel….I’m so sick of it…I have never been so goddam frustrated by it all…I’m so sick of it…”[34]

Throughout Rolling Thunder the Air Force tried to get clearance to attack sites that they felt would cripple the North Vietnamese supply network. A good example is the Haiphong harbor, which could have disrupted an estimated 85 percent of North Vietnam’s military imports. Attacking the harbor would have been in line with the ACTS doctrine of strategic bombing, but the Johnson administration disapproved of these types of attacks in an attempt to show Hanoi the extent of United States restraint.[35] The restrictions placed on the Air Force by Washington made American airmen feel as if they were fighting a war “with one hand tied behind their back.”[36]

Another large air campaign of the Vietnam War, Operation Linebacker was implemented in May 1972, after increased activity by the North Vietnamese forces in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).[37] The goals of this Operation were similar to Rolling Thunder, in the sense of destroying North Vietnamese war making potential, but there was an increase in interdiction efforts in the North Hanoi-Haiphong area and many of their targets had been previously considered off limits in earlier air campaigns.[38]

What made Linebacker more successful than Rolling Thunder?  In other words, what factors made it possible for Linebacker to achieve its objective when Rolling Thunder did not? Was it the differences in White House administrations? Was it a different application of strategic bombing? Since the purpose of Linebacker was to destroy North Vietnam’s capacity to wage war against South Vietnam, this broad objective would seem to be partly influenced by the strategic bombing theory. To achieve this goal, the operation was split into three basic parts: destroy any war resources in North Vietnam, restrict North Vietnamese assistance from outside sources, and to interrupt lines of communications that would hamper the movements of men and supplies into South Vietnam and Laos.[39] When Linebacker did commence, it was “not one of gradual escalation similar to Rolling Thunder, but was immediate and punishing. The cumulative impact was crushing.”[40]

The initial strike consisted of 32 F-4s from Thai bases attacking the Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi by dropping 29 laser and electro-optically guided smart bombs, and attacking the Yen Vien Railroad Yard by dropping 84 conventional bombs, causing serious damage to both targets. In addition to the aircraft that dropped the actual bombs, there were also 58 aircraft in supporting roles that performed reconnaissance duties, SAM suppression, escorting, and electronic countermeasures.[41] The attacks against the war making abilities of the North Vietnamese entailed strikes against vehicle repair sites, storage areas, war-making industries, port facilities, SAM sites, airfields, truck parks, military camps and headquarters, and assembly areas.[42] These strikes on North Vietnamese vital centers would have made Billy Mitchell proud to see a major component of his strategic bombing theory being applied decades after ACTS was created. In addition, harbors were mined which created difficulties for Chinese and Soviet ships, effectively interrupting their unloading procedures.[43]

After six months of bombing North Vietnam, President Nixon halted Operation Linebacker on October 22 and continued the Paris Peace talks, but resumed bombing again in December when it was clear that peace negotiations were not working. After a 72 hour ultimatum, with no response, Nixon ordered the start of Operation Linebacker II on December 18, 1972 in an effort to “impose force majeure and brutally coerce Hanoi to the negotiating table to agree to a permanent end to the war.”[44] The campaign lasted eleven days, from December 8-19, and during those eleven days 700 B-52 sorties attacked the Hanoi-Haiphong military-industrial center.  The campaign focused on high altitude radar bombing at night by B-52s with waves of attacks at four to five intervals.  In support of the B-52 attacks, enemy airfields and SAM sites were attacked, while F-105 Wild Weasels provided SAM suppression support and F-4s providing MiG cover to B-52s.

At the same time, a Navy radar picket ship was stationed 25 miles off the coast Haiphong to communicate MiG threats to the air forces and to guide Air Force and Navy fighters toward any airborne MiGs. Additionally there were C-130 and HH-53 helicopters available to provide support for any downed airman. As Benjamin Lambeth noted: “The operation was the first integrated air offensive of the entire war that sought to achieve the shock effect that later was the hallmark of opening night in Desert Storm.”[45] The second Linebacker Operation took eleven days and they reached their objective of forcing the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. The overwhelming air power all but crushed the North Vietnamese ability to resist. There was extensive damage to their railroad system, but as Philip Meilinger noted in his article “A History of Effects Based Air Operations,” traffic had already been moved roads due to earlier air strikes.[46]

There were several key differences between Rolling Thunder and the Linebacker Operations. First, during Linebacker more flexibility and decision making was given to the Seventh Air Force Commander, General John W. Voight Jr., than was during Rolling Thunder.  Second, in the four years between the end of Rolling Thunder to the beginning of Linebacker, the accuracy of laser guided bombs increased enough to allow strikes on previously unapproved targets, with a limit to civilian casualties.  Also, there was more freedom for the military with more relaxed rules of engagement.[47]

However, even with the success of Linebacker II forcing the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table, the United States did not see success in regards to the main overall objective of preventing a Communist takeover of South Vietnam. How could that be, with the success of Linebacker II and the application of strategic bombing principles laid out at the Air Corps Tactical School? This demonstrates that employing a strategic bombing campaign does not guarantee victory. Another thing to consider is when Billy Mitchell and ACTS were developing an air war doctrine, it was in preparation for a conventional war against similar enemies the United States had already had experience fighting in WWI. Essentially the strategic bombing theory had its merits when fighting a conventional war against a conventional enemy, but a new strategy is necessary when fighting a limited war against an enemy fighting an unlimited guerrilla war.

So, in the end, did the Air Corp Tactical School’s strategic bombing theory have an effect on the air war in Vietnam? By examining Operations Rolling Thunder and Linebacker I and II it is clear that certain tenants of the strategic bombing theory made their way into those campaigns, notably by the bombing of targets deemed necessary to the war making ability of North Vietnam. Specifically, the Linebacker operations have been considered by the Air Force to be a classic example of the successful application of a strategic air campaign. Certainly Operation Linebacker II “achieved air superiority and maximum concentration and integration of all available air power assets, and it struck at the heart of the enemy’s economic and industrial infrastructure and will to resist,”[48] where Operation Rolling Thunder did not.

However, the strategic bombing theory did not take into account a guerrilla war or the fact that the United States policy makers did not fully understand the culture and determination of their enemy. When comparing Rolling Thunder versus Linebacker, especially Linebacker II, it is clear the restrictions put on Rolling Thunder seriously hampered the effectiveness of operation. Although, one must remember that when ACTS was creating the first American air doctrine, there were no inklings of an atomic bomb, nuclear war, or deterrence theories. Holding back on targets to keep the Soviet Union and China from entering the war was Johnson’s application of deterrence. Could Rolling Thunder, or the whole Vietnam War, had a different outcome if there had never been the knowledge of the nuclear bomb?

Considering the fear of the Johnson administration of provoking and involving the Soviets and Chinese, likely due to the threat of nuclear war, it is a fair bet to say he would have loosened the restrictions had there been no paranoia of nuclear weapons. One thing is clear: every war is different, with complex social and political factors contributing, so it is impossible to create a theory or doctrine that can apply to every single war in the future. Certainly the strategic bombing theory created by the Air Corps Tactical School had many valid points that were utilized in WWII and the Vietnam War, but as each were completely different wars; a different strategy was needed for each.


[1] Benjamin S. Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2000), 13.

[2] William C. Sherman, Air Warfare (Alabama: Maxwell Air Force Base: 2002), xiv.

[3] Phillip S. Meilinger, “A History of Effects-Based Air Operations,” The Journal of Military History 71, no. 1 (January 2007): 141.

[4] Meilinger, “The History of Effects-Based Air Operations,” 142.

[5] Meilinger, “The History of Effects-Based Air Operations,” 144.

[6] Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Airpower: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (New York: Macmillian, Inc., 1989), 2.

[7] Clodfelter, The Limits of Airpower: The American Bombing of North Vietnam, 2.

[8] Phillip S. Meilinger, “U.S. Air Force Leaders: A Biographical Tour,” The Journal of Military History 62, no. 4 (Oct., 1998): 836.

[9] Thomas H. Greer, The Development of Air Doctrine in the Army Air Arm, 1917-1941 (Washington D.C.: Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, 1985), 45.

[10] John F. Shiner, Makers of the United States Air Force, ed. John L. Frisbee (Washington D.C.: Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, 1987), 20.

[11] Meilinger, “U.S. Air Force Leaders: A Biographical Tour,” 836.

[12] David McIsaac, Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 638.

[13] McIsaac, Makers of Modern Strategy, 643.

[14] McIsaac, Makers of Modern Strategy, 638.

[15] Clodfelter, The Limits of Airpower, 49.

[16] Clodfelter, The Limits of Airpower, 40-41.

[17] Clodfelter, The Limits of Airpower, 43.

[18] Melden E. Smith Jr., “The Strategic Bombing Debate: The Second World War and Vietnam,” Journal of Contemporary History 12, no. 1 (Jan., 1977): 176.

[19] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 16.

[20] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 17.

[21] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 17.

[22] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 17.

[23] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 20.

[24] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 17.

[25] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 17.

[26] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 18.

[27] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 18.

[28] Smith, “The Strategic Bombing Debate: The Second World War and Vietnam,” 185-186.

[29] Lawrence Freedman, Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 736.

[30] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 19.

[31] Clodfelter, The Limits of American Air Power, 125.

[32] Clodfelter, The Limits of American Air Power, 126.

[33] Smith, “The Strategic Bombing Debate,” 178.

[34] Smith, “The Strategic Bombing Debate,” 178.

[35] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 19.

[36] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 19.

[37] Major Paul Burbage et al., The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, 1964-1972, ed. Major A.J.C. Lavelle, (Alabama, Maxwell Air Force Base, 1976), 147.

[38] Colonel Delbert Corum et al., The Tale of Two Bridges, ed. Major A.J.C. Lavelle, (Alabama, Maxwell Air Force Base, 1976), 85.

[39] Burbage et al., The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, 1964-1972, 149.

[40] Burbage et al., The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, 1964-1972, 150.

[41] Clodfelter, The Limits of Airpower, 158-159.

[42] Burbage et al., The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, 1964-1972, 150.

[43] Burbage et al., The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, 1964-1972, 150.

[44] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 28.

[45] Lambeth, The Transformation of American Air Power, 28.

[46] Meilinger, “A History of Effects-Based Air Operations,” 23.

[47] Burbage et al., The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, 1964-1972, 149-150.

[48] Raymond W. Leonard, “Learning from History: Linebacker II and the U.S.  Air Force Doctrine,” Journal of Military History, 58, no. 2, (Apr., 1994): 268.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

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LoboSolo March 27, 2015 at 3:00 pm

–However, even with the success of Linebacker II forcing the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table, the United States did not see success in regards to the main overall objective of preventing a Communist takeover of South Vietnam. How could that be, with the success of Linebacker II and the application of strategic bombing principles laid out at the Air Corps Tactical School?–

Good writ until the endsay. Strategic bombing didn’t stop the takeover of SVN simply for that it wasn’t noted in the 1975 to help stop invasion of SVN by NVN. Notwithstanding the pledges made by Nixon and the begging by South Vietnam for American bombers to help stem the outright invasion by the North, Congress tied Ford’s hands and Ford wouldn’t order the bombing to begin anew to help the beleager’d ARVN. True enuff that SVN made a string of terrible strategic and tactical decisions but the open concentration of NVA forces would hav been prime targets for American bombers had they be loos’d on them.

The Viet Cong were no longer a true factor in the war after Tet. It was the NVA that invaded and overran SVN while America stood idly by.

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