Operation Rolling Thunder
- In February 1965 the NLF (National Liberatoin Front) destroyed a US helicopter base and destroyed 10 planes.
- On February 13th President Johnson launched Operation Rolling Thunder, a massive bombing campaign in North Vietnam.
- At first, US bombers attacked identified targets, such as bridges, radar systems and weapons dumps.
- They also targetted sites in Laos and Cambodia along the HO Chi Minh trail.
They US used cluster bombs. These bombs burst in mid-air, spreading 600 'baby bombs' that explode into shrapnel pellets. Later, cluster bombs exploded into fibre-glass fragments, which could not be found in the body by X-Ray.
To some extent bombing was effective:
- It certainly damaged North Vietnam's war effort and it disrupted supply routes.
- It enabled the USA to strike at Communist forces even when it was reducing US ground forces in Vietnam after 1969.
- From 1970 to 1972, intense combing campaigns against Hanoi (North Vietnam's capital) and the port of Haiphong forced the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table.
Heart and Minds
- Johnson always insisted that victory would come only if the USA won the 'heart and minds' of the Vietnamese people - on one occasion he defined it as a policy of 'hope and electricity'.
- The Americans built schools and roads and sewers and provided medical aid.
- However, the Stategic Hamlets program, and unrestained killing by the US forces in Vietnam, undid any good work this might have achieved.
Search and Destroy
- Bombing could not defeat guerilla army. The US commander General Westmoreland developed a policy of search and destroy.
- He established secure and heavily defended US bases in the south of the country and near to the coasts.
- From here, US and South Vietnamese forces launched search and destroy raids with helicopters.
- Small groups of soldiers would go out looking from Vietcong units.
- Essentially, they were bait - they would wander about unitl attacked, whereupon they would call in the air force to napalm the enemy.
- Soldiers had to send back reports of body counts.
- US planes fropped Napalm. This is a petrol jelly that was meant burn and destroy jungles where guerilla might hide.
- However, it also burned through the skin to the bone.
- This resulted in many civilians and soldiers being severly injured during napalm raids.
- The use of napalm became on of the most notorious memories during the Vietnam War and this photo became iconic of US involvement.
- American planes dropped a chemical weapon called Agent Orange.
- This defoliant stripped the leaves of the trees, so NLF soldiers would find it harder to hide.
- The Americans used 82 million litres of Agent Orange to spray thousands of square kilometers of jungle.
- Agent Orange had harmful side effects and led to many birth defects in Vietnam.