Air superiority over Vietnam

Mrbsct

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
2,659
USA
Question about air power over Vietnam

How was Rolling Thunder such a failure for the US? Could the US won the war if a Linebacker campaign was done earlier?

How did the North maintain an air Force if US could hit their airfields?
 

Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,777
Eastern PA
Rolling Thunder was unsuccessful for two reasons; the N. Vietnamese economy did not have very many heavy industrial sites to destroy with intensive bombing and the N. Vietnamese government was willing to accept casualties well beyond the calculations of American military planners. Also, during the bombing campaign, the Vietnamese became adept at rebuilding destroyed roads and bridges while building a capable anti-aircraft defense system, shooting down more than 900 US aircraft.

The objectives the US were striving for were not considered show stoppers for the North. Sort of like when my wife thinks she is punishing me with the "silent treatment".

I think operation linebacker was effective because at the time the N. Vietnamese were amassing conventional forces with tanks and massed troops, a military situation that did not exist previously.

I'm going to guess that the airfields were well protected by anti-aircraft weapons.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,577
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Air superiority is a winning key when the population of the enemy power stops to support the war effort. Otherwise you have to invade with overwhelming land forces. This happened with Germany in WWII [Germans didn't surrender until the very end ...]. Japan surrendered because of the usage of nukes [if US used nukes in Vietnam the outcome of that war would have been well different].

Anyway in reality in Vietnam the bombardments didn't affect the resistance of the forces of Vietnam as Americans expected; and the people didn't seem ready to surrender at all. You can bomb as you want, but it's useless if they keep on fighting on the ground.

P.S. I work for an Italian corporation with nice relationships with Vietnamese corporations. Meeting them I've realized that they still remember that war with great pride and they underline that they defeated Americans. I personally asked to an old Vietnamese guy "how did you win?". He answered me "not losing". And he was right: Vietnam didn't win ... Vietnam didn't lose.
 
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Dec 2015
370
NYC
Air superiority is a winning key when the population of the enemy power stops to support the war effort. Otherwise you have to invade with overwhelming land forces. This happened with Germany in WWII [Germans didn't surrender until the very end ...]. Japan surrendered because of the usage of nukes [if US used nukes in Vietnam the outcome of that war would have been well different].
Personally, I don't think there would be too much of a difference. Americans were already dropping more bombs on Vietnam than bombs ever dropped during WW2, so one nuclear bomb probably would just be the equivalent of more bombs being dropped, plus radioactivity. Even then, dropping a bomb on Vietnam would just add on to the already hatred of the war back home.

Furthermore, Japan was not prepared for the event of having a bomb dropped on it. Afterwards, the fear of nuclear bomb lead to some countries building bomb shelters, including Vietnam.
 
Dec 2015
370
NYC
I would also say that the terrain is what also made it a failure, since a lot of the bombs just hit empty jungle. The fact that guerrilla warfare was being thoroughly and effectively used through out the course of the war, and Vietcong using the jungles to their advantage to cover their tracks contributed to the failure of the air strikes.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,973
Dispargum
Rolling Thunder made the mistake of gradualism. If they had begun with an overwhelming massive strike, they might possibly have shocked the North Vietnamese into submission. Instead the US started small and slowly escalated the pressure. This allowed the North Vietnamese to build up a tolerance so that when maximum pressure was finally applied the North Vietnamese were ready for it.
 
Dec 2013
381
Arkansas
I'm pretty sure American air was never allowed to attack North Vietnamese aircraft on the ground. IIRC the rules of engagement for the U.S. required that the U.S. only engage aircraft once they were airborne.

Also American rules of engagement in the air required them to visually identify enemy aircraft before engaging which completely negated American advantages in radar and long range missiles.
 
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