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Operation Rolling Thunder

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After a Viet Cong attack in February 1965 on U.S. Army barracks in Pleiku, the United States commenced Operation Rolling Thunder, a restricted but massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Protection of air bases then provided the rationale for introduction of 50,000 U.S. ground combat forces, which were soon increased.

On March 2, 1965 Operation Rolling Thunder commenced, a sustained bombing campaign intended to place increasing pressure on the North Vietnamese leadership to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the war. The idea was to strike targets just above the DMZ and then progressively hit targets further north as the campaign went on.

F-105Ds from the 67th TFS bombed an ammunition depot at Xom Bong, 20 miles north of the DMZ. After a series of TDY deployments to Korat and Tahkli, two large F-105D wings were set up in Thailand--the 355th TFW which moved from McConnell AFB to Tahkli in August 1965 and the 388th TFW which moved to Korat in April of 1966 to replace the temporary 6234th TFW. The 355th and 388th Tactical Fighter Wings based in Thailand used the F-105D to carry the brunt of the air war to North Vietnam.

The majority of missions for Operation Rolling Thunder were carried out by U.S. Air Force planes based in Thailand and by Navy squadrons flying from Yankee Station, the code name for carriers based in the South China Sea. A line just below Vinh, North Vietnam formed the northern boundary above which air attacks were initially forbidden. Most North Vietnamese fighter bases and surface-to-air missiles fell within these restricted areas.

The rules of engagement placed many restrictions on the armed forces. Bombing was prohibited within 25 miles of the Chinese border, within 10 miles of Hanoi and within 4 miles of Haiphong. By placing the capital, Haiphong and surrounding areas off limits the U.S. Air Force was prevented from attacking nearly all military targets crucial to the war effort of the enemy. Additionally, much to the annoyance of Air Force generals, no enemy air bases could be attacked for fear of killing Soviet technicians. During the early part of Rolling Thunder even the deadly surface to air missile sites could not be attacked until they were fully operational firing SA-2 missiles at U.S. planes.

On Dec. 24, 1965, President Johnson declared a bombing halt over North Vietnam to try to persuade Hanoi to discuss a political settlement. It lasted until Jan. 30, 1966. This halt followed one of six days the preceding May. Hanoi responded to neither, but used the time to rebuild its strength, repair previous damage, and send more troops and supplies southward. So, Rolling Thunder began again and U.S. aircrews not only had to attack the new targets, but also those they had already destroyed which had been rebuilt or repaired.

On Sep. 3, 1966, North Vietnam sent up its MiG-21s in force for the first time from five air bases which had not previously been attacked because of U.S. policy. By the end of the year, Rolling Thunder had progressed northward, reaching the Hanoi area.

Rolling Thunder continued from 1965 to 1968. In all, the US flies 304,000 fighter-bomber sorties and 2,380 B-52 sorties over North Vietnam, losing 922 aircraft and dropping 634,000 tons of bombs.
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