Monday, December 27, 2021, 10:05 (GMT+7)
December 1972 Air Defence Campaign, a landmark of the Vietnamese people’s art of air defence warfare

In December 1972, under the leadership of the Party, the Northern military and people defeated the US Operation Linebacker II, making the “Dien Bien Phu in the air” victory, compelling the US to sign the Paris Peace Accords and withdraw its troops from Viet Nam. The victory was resulted from many factors, especially the Vietnam people’s art of air defence warfare in Ho Chi Minh era.

With the unexpected result of the US Operation Linebacker I, to find an honourable exit, on October 22nd, 1972, US President Richard Nixon reluctantly declared to halt their bombing operations from the 20th parallel northward. Behind this decision, there were Nixon’s political intrigues before the presidential election as well as the US’s conspiracies in the war in Viet Nam. Accordingly, if the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (now the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam) did not accept the US terms and conditions for ending the war and restoring peace in Viet Nam, they would bomb back the North with a larger scale. To adopt this scheme, the US Air Force specifically planned to attack strategic targets in the North with destructive power. After the four-side talks in Paris were deadlocked as our government and the US could not come to an agreement on a number of key points, President Nixon sent an ultimatum to the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam and asked the North Viet Nam to “seriously” come back to the negotiation within 72 hours to avoid a massive bombing. Receiving no agreement from us, Nixon ordered to use B-52 aircraft to attack Hanoi, Hai Phong and some neighbouring cities on the night of December 18th, 1972.

For our side, from the very early days, President Ho Chi Minh once predicted that sooner or later, the US imperialists would carry out the B-52 strike on Hanoi and only accept to lose the war as long as the strike failed. Being imbued with his advice, basing on actively researching and assessing the situation correctly, and understanding the US imperialists’ plot, the Party Central Committee, directly the Military Central Commission and the General  Command directed the Air Defence - Air Force service (the Service) together with the Northern military and people to do the preparation work in all aspects with the focus placed on combat plan development, force and posture preparation, assurance work and fighting methods of the air defence and air force troops. By doing so, after 12 nights and days of resilient, brave, flexible, and creative fighting, the Northern military and people defeated the B-52 strategic air strike of the US Air Force, contributing to changing the situation of the war, forcing the US to sign the Paris Peace Accords to withdraw its troops from our country. That victory has provided many valuable lessons about promoting synergy, especially political-spiritual strength, combining national strength with the strength of the times, researching and forecasting the enemy conspiracies and plots correctly. Additionally, it has also given us lessons on the art of people’s air defence warfare with many unique features, which should be further studied and applied in the cause of national construction and protection.

1. The unique and creative art of directing the Vietnam people’s war on the surface-to-air front

Thoroughly grasping the battlefield situation and the progress of negotiations between us and the US, our Party believed that the US would attack the North again with a fiercer degree and on a larger scale. They were likely to use B-52 aircraft to strike Hanoi and some other big cities. Therefore, right from July 1972, the Party Central Committee, directly the Central Military Commission and the General Command assigned the Service to urgently develop combat plans and compile documents on how to destroy B-52 aircraft as a basis for training soldiers. Due regard was paid to directing Hanoi’s army and people to closely cooperate with local agencies and units in consolidating militia and self-defence units, forming groups to shoot down low-flying aircraft. In particular, General Vo Nguyen Giap directly worked with the Service, commanders of the radar, missile, air force corps and Hanoi Air Defence Division to determine a plan to protect the capital. The General Command directed the entire army to firmly grasp operational rules of the enemy’s air force, especially technical and tactical features of B-52 aircraft. The Intelligence Department, Military Technical Institute, Department of Military Forces, and Signal Corps cooperated with Soviet experts in exploiting, providing information and documents related to B-52 aircraft and solving the problems of radio technical reconnaissance and communication in service of combat.

Implementing the directive of the Central Military Commission and the General Command, the Service quickly completed the plan to fight against the B-52 strategic air strike of the US. The combat preparation was conducted urgently and seriously by the Service. Discussions about how to destroy B-52 aircraft, adjust forces, deploy command posts at all levels, compile documents, research and improve materiel of the old generations were carried out as planned. When the combat plans and document on “How to destroy B-52” were available, the missile, radar, and 100mm anti-aircraft artillery units quickly launched training with the main content of shooting down B-52 aircraft. Along with that, the Air Force troops also actively practiced the plan to destroy B-52 aircraft approaching from five directions to Hanoi, called “The pentagram plan”, with the determination to defeat the enemy’s air attacks. In addition, the plans and document on destroying B-52 aircraft were also widely disseminated to the air defence units stationed in Hanoi, Hai Phong and other localities. In particular, the document “How to destroy B-52 aircraft” was considered as the “red handbook” of the air defence and air force troops because it was drawn from the combat practices of missile regiments in the battlefields of Central, Southern Laos, Binh Tri Thien, etc. That way of combat not only provided anti-interference options and guided how to detect targets on the background of interference, but also showed how to avoid enemy air-to-surface missiles, etc. This was a crucial point for the air defence and air force troops to shoot down “B-52 flying fortresses” with conventional missiles based on the people’s war, making the enemy shocked and terrified. The unique feature of the Party’s art of directing the people’s war on the surface-to-air front was also pointed out when we actively built a solid, continuous, flexible and multi-layered three-category air defence posture with existing weapons and equipment to attack the enemy from different layers and directions. In parallel with that, importance was attached to well performing the work of people’s air defence to minimise damage caused by the US Air Force. With the careful guidance of the Politburo, directly the Central Military Commission and the General Command, the Northern army and people with the air defence and air force troops as the core defeated the B-52 strategic air strike, marking an important turning point in the resistance war against the US. Thereby, it further affirmed the ingenious and creative art of directing the people’s war on the surface-to-air warfare of our Party and beloved Uncle Ho.

2. Unique features of the art of people’s air defence warfare

To confront the US Air Force - the strongest air force in the world at that time, it required us to organise our forces and build air defence posture in a solid and scientific manner. Such posture must promote the synergy between the force in the air and the one on the ground, the inner perimeter and the outer one, the front line and the back line associated with a creative and flexible combat strategy to make the enemy surprised. There was a fact that under the direction of the Central Military Commission, the Service closely cooperated with the forces and people of the North in forming clusters of forces, such as: Hanoi air defence cluster, Hai Phong air defence cluster and the air defence cluster of the Northern 1st Road, Thai Nguyen. These three clusters formed a posture that made it difficult for the US Air Force to break in and escape. In building the posture in the central area of Hanoi - an undestroyable target, we also boldly build the posture of “concentrated incendiary weapons, concentrated fire power” - the Viet Nam’s unique art of air defence warfare in order to destroy as many B-52 aircraft as possible. During the battle, the enemy also attacked the neighbouring areas with the aim of diverting our missiles to the outside so that they could focus on destroying our capital. As planned, we actively and flexibly transformed the posture to carry out both wide-ranging attack and focalised attack. Furthermore, we closely combined regular air defence troops with local air defence and militia, self-defence forces, creating a fire net to surround the enemy. In particular, the fact that we secretly dispatched two battalions of 71 and 72 air defence missiles of Hai Phong air defence cluster to support the defence of Hanoi perimeter made the enemy fall into passive position and fail afterwards. Along with the combat operations of the air defence force, our air force actively practiced shooting down B-52 aircraft both night and day. Meanwhile, we also secretly built field airports on the outer perimeter, using rudimentary means as substitute in case the main ones are attacked by the enemy. Great weight was added to overcoming the limitations of anti-interference techniques by tactical measures, including: turning off and turning on the antenna, changing the transmitter frequency, eliminating interference for MiG-21 aircraft to attack F4 fighters and for missiles to destroy B-52 fortresses.  As a result, in the Campaign, we not only fully protected the key areas, but also shot down many enemy planes, including “B-52 flying fortresses”, forcing the US to unconditionally end the Linebacker II campaign and sit at the negotiating table.

The success of the Air Defence Campaign in December 1972 established one more glorious feat of arms – “Dien Bien Phu in the air” in the history of fighting foreign invaders on the land of thousand years of civilisation: Thang Long - Dong Do - Hanoi. It was also a significant milestone, a symbol of Viet Nam’s iron will, bravery and wisdom, and a victory of the Vietnamese people’s war guideline in the Ho Chi Minh era on the surface-to-air front. The victory of Hanoi - “Dien Bien Phu in the air” is a valuable lesson that needs to be further studied and applied in the cause of national construction and protection.

Col., M.A. TRAN ANH TUAN, National Defence Academy

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