Editors’ Note:  In the US, it’s usually referred to as the "Christmas Bombing of North Vietnam." Below is a Vietnamese assessment. Dien Ben Phu, of course, was the decisive Vietnamese victory over French imperialism in 1953. The Vietnamese see the so called Christmas Bombing as "Dien Bien Phu in the air," that is, a comparable defeat for US imperialism.

Fortieth anniversary of Hà Nội – Điện Biên Phủ in the air victory" (Dec. 1972 – Dec . 2012)
Stature and historical lessons of the victory "Hà Nội – Điện Biên Phủ in the air"

Phương Minh Hòa is Lieutenant-General, Doctor, Member of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Central Committee, Commander of the Air Defense and Air Force

The strategic decisive battle "Điện Biên Phủ in the air" over Hà Nội, Hải Phòng and some other northern cities in December 1972 was an event of great stature and important historical lessons during the Vietnamese nation’s anti-US war of resistance.

This historic victory was a vivid manifestation of Vietnam’s revolutionary heroism and reflected pro-activeness, innovation and fearlessness of sacrifices and hardships. With this victory, Vietnam’s military tactics reached their climax in the all people’s warfare for national defense.

Though 40 years have elapsed, the historic victory of the air defense operation in December 1972 still echoes. Military scientists around the world have praised and analyzed the historical lessons and significance of the victory won by Vietnam’s Air Defense and Air Force. They have also reasoned out how Vietnam’s army and people could defeat the strategic air blitz of the US Air Force’s B52 bombers.

During its strategic air blitz dubbed Linebacker  II, the US imperialists deployed enormous military resources, including 193 B52 bombers with 250 flight crews (nearly 50% of the US strategic air force); 2 fleets of 48 advanced swing wing F111A aircraft; 1,077 tactical aircraft out of a total of 3,043 aircraft; and 66 naval ships, 60% of the total number of ships in US Fleet 7.

There were 4,583 aircraft take-offs, 663 B52 bomber take-offs, dropping on Hanoi more than 10,000 tons of bombs, Stratotankers (KC135), command and early warning (E2A, C130E), reconnaissance aircraft (SR71), electronic operations (EC121, EB66, EA3A, EA6B) and other state-of-the-art radar jamming equipment.

With its uniform apparatus and state-of-the art weapons, the US believed that North Vietnam’s reconnaissance radar and SMA2 rocket systems could never reach its aircrafts’ cruising altitude. US President Richard Nixon arrogantly said that for the B52 bombers flying into Hanoi would be a stroll. With 8 engines, dozens of electronic jamming devices, a huge payload of bombs like a mobile storehouse, and a tight strategic combat organization of support forces, the B52 Stratofortress was an "invincible" weapon.

The US military scientists modified and installed the latest high capacity, wide frequency band jamming equipment in their B52 bombers and tactical aircraft. In essence, the enemy waged a broad electronic war, which was considered a life-preserving amulet for the B52 bombers’ operations. The White House hoped that North Vietnam would suffer heavy casualties, panic, and have to resume peace talks in an underdog position.

But the US administration was seriously mistaken. The Vietnamese army and people under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam were ready to fight back and deal a death blow to them. On the very first night, in the first battle and first wave of the operation, 2 B52 Stratofortresses were shot down.

On that first night, in the second wave, another 8 B52 bombers were shot down. During the entire air defense operation, a total of 81 airplanes, including 34 B52 bombers and 5 F111s, were shot down, their pilots killed or captured.

The victory of 12 days and nights constituted a "Điện Biên Phủ in the air" victory, crushing the US B52 strategic air blitz, destroying the myth of the so-called "super" B52 Stratofortresses, and forcing the US to sign the Paris Accord to restore peace in Vietnam.

The air defense campaign of December 1972 admirably fulfilled its strategic mission. This victory opened a glorious page and created a shining milestone in the history of the anti-US war of resistance by the Vietnamese people. The victory was of great stature and provided valuable historical lessons. First, it was a victory of the Vietnamese people’s will to fight and win.

Conducting a B52 strategic air blitz over Hà Nội and Hải Phòng, US President Richard Nixon hoped that the destructive might of the B52 super Stratofortresses would weaken Vietnam economically and militarily, deter the Vietnamese people’s revolutionary will and determination to liberate the south, and force Vietnam to accept US conditions so US troops could withdraw from South Vietnam without losing face.

But in the spirit that "nothing is more precious than independence and freedom", tested throughout the thousands of years of history of national construction and defense, President Hồ Chí Minh’s genius in predicting strategies is obvious. He said: "Hà Nội, Hải Phòng and some other cities and factories might be destroyed, but the Vietnamese people will never yield! Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom. Victory day is coming, our people will rebuild a better and more beautiful country"!(1).

That historical lesson remains totally valid today. The aerial victory in December 1972 was a vivid demonstration of the success of Vietnam’s military doctrine – use righteousness to beat brutality, uphold the overall strength of all the people and forces, combine prevention and fighting and all kinds of weapons, use a small quantity to contest a large quantity, use the rudimentary and the relatively modern to beat the modern, and gain the upper hand in the strategic battle of "Điện Biên Phủ in the air" in December 1972.

The local air defense militia and people braved bombs and bullets showered upon them by the enemy, stayed resilient, fought, and ensured the transportation of weapons and equipment throughout heavy bombing and strafing. They also spent tens of thousands of man-days, meeting the demands for tenseness.

The air defense militia overcame losses and sacrifices to work and fight at the same time, joining the regular air defense force to form a siege net over Hà Nội’s sky. The siege net over Hà Nội in December 1972 still haunts those American pilots who participated in the battle. Second, it was a victory of the Vietnamese people’s ingenuity The December 1972 battle was a confrontation of will and determination and a fierce war of nerve between the Vietnamese people and army and the US imperialist invaders.

Having a flair for the enemy’s military adventure, President Ho Chi Minh, the Poliburo, the Central Military Commission, and the High Command ordered in advance the Air Defense and Air Force, the Party Committee and the administration and people of Hanoi and neighboring provinces to be prepared for a US air attack on Hanoi. At the end of 1967, President Hồ Chí Minh predicted: "Sooner or later, the US imperialists will deploy B52s to demolish Hanoi and will only accept defeat once that plan fails. Every situation should be anticipated, the sooner the better, so as to spare more time for preparations."(2)

In September 1972 the Central Military Commission ordered the General Staff and the Command of the Air Defense and Air Force to promptly finalize plans for countering the B52 bombers to protect Hà Nội. In the face of the Nixon administration’s cunning schemes at the Paris conference, particularly after Nixon’s "century lie", on November 24, 1972, the air combat plan to defend Hà Nội was approved by the Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army.

Undergoing harsh war challenges, confronting modern weapons and the wicked plots of the enemy, the wisdom of Vietnam and of cadres from commanders to radar and artillery soldiers was upheld. They were not only resolute to fight but also managed to win. The reality of war forced them to innovate, study the strengths and weaknesses of technology and the shortcomings of the enemy’s tactics to find a flexible combat method which would be unexpected by the enemy.

Even experienced American combat pilots are still unable to figure out how Vietnamese radar soldiers were able to spot them in such a heavily jammed context or how Vietnamese rockets were able to shoot down B52 bombers. Why were self-directed rockets which followed electro-magnetic waves left out of the battle, while the waves for rocket control were emitted?

They also cannot understand how Vietnamese troops were able to direct MIGs past the close protection of F4 jet fighters to hit their B52 bomber targets, defying the US Air Force’s dense jamming and sophisticated tactics. They still wonder how advanced swing wing F111A aircraft flying under automatic control at a very low altitude at night time were shot down by the militias.

The December 1972 aerial victory marked a remarkable growth of the Air Defense and Air Force and a great contribution to the development of Vietnamese military tactics in general and the tactics of air defense operations in particular.

Third, the victory enriched the patriotic tradition and defense culture of the Vietnamese nation.

The Vietnamese nation has had to fight many wars of resistance against invaders to preserve its independence. In every period of history and through every war, the national defense culture was enriched, creating great strength that enabled the Vietnamese nation to overcome all dangers, defeating armies which were much stronger than ours.

Thousands of years of national construction and defense have nurtured an ardent patriotic tradition and a unique defense culture in the Vietnamese people, imbued with such spirit as "Hundreds of clans serving the army"; "If enemies come to our house, even women fight them"; "Use the weak to beat the strong"; "Use righteousness to beat brutality" and "Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom"…

In the strategic decisive battle "Điện Biên Phủ in the air", the national defense culture was clearly reflected in Vietnam’s wisdom and talent as mentioned above, combined with the national unity tradition in building an all people air defense war strategy. In such a strategy, the postures of rivers and mountains were taken into consideration, while the national traditions of patriotism, compassion and community spirit of ethnic minority groups were fully tapped.

With their victory over B52 bombers in December 1972 the Vietnamese people of the Hồ Chí Minh era made another exploit, deepening their defense culture.

Fourth, it was a victory of great historical significance

The December 1972 aerial victory was, first of all, the follow-up and development of major victories in the early stages of the anti-US war of resistance; a victory of the people’s war against the US imperialists’ air and naval escalation attacks on North Vietnam; a victory of one of two decisive strategic offensives "fight to get the US out," paving the way for our revolution to "fight to topple the puppet regime" and win the war.

Under the wise, strategic leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam; the training and organization of President Hồ Chí Minh; the sharp, close and timely instructions of the High Command, the General Staff, and strategic consulting agencies, the Vietnamese army and people won the "Điện Biên Phủ in the air" battle of 12 days and nights against the most powerful air force in the world. The operation achieved the goal of annihilating the enemy in the air.

The Vietnamese people defeated all combat schemes and all steps of escalating the war. As a result, this victory together with the victory of the 1972 spring strategic offensive forced the US imperialists to sign the Paris Accords. This was a glorious victory of the people’s warfare, defeating the US war of destruction over North Vietnam, which reached its peak in scale, high-tech, and war tactics at a decisive time for the US to end its war.

Never before had a war received such strong and coordinated support of the world as the resistance war of the Vietnamese against the American imperialists. Socialist countries and progressive humankind, especially the Soviet Union, China, Laos, Cambodia, and Cuba; communist parties and workers, governments, international organizations, and high-profile individuals, including Americans, who loved justice and respected fairness, constantly supported the just struggle of our people.

The people’s conference of three Indochinese nations, the meeting of Asia-Africa-Latin America Solidarity, the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on American War Crimes in Vietnam, meetings of communist parties and international workers, meetings of foreign ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement, and many non-governmental organizations condemned the US B52 air blitz on Hà Nội, Hải Phòng and other provinces in the north.

Progressive people all over the world considered the struggle of the Vietnamese people as a direct support and contribution to the strength of the national liberation movement. Vietnam, who fought and defeated the US, was a shining example, encouraging progressive humankind and oppressed nations to rise up.

The aerial victory in December 1972 suggested to all future generations priceless lessons about upholding Vietnam’s strength of will, determination, and creativity, and grasping the law of war development to fully tap incorporated resources for victory.

The victory reminds us of the art of understanding the enemy, understanding ourselves, and making the right judgment of our ability to devise proper strategies. It also taught us the art of organization and management of air defense operations based on Vietnam’s military tactics.

Today, when hostile, belligerent forces use the label "anti-terrorism" as a pretext for their global strategies, when the scientific and technological revolution is exploding with smarter military equipment and weapons, when warlike forces and international reactionaries are using scientific discoveries and technological advances to deter less-developed nations, the lessons learned from the December 1972 aerial victory have become more precious.

They help us to study and develop our war tactics and contribute to building a stronger air defense and air force, which will join the whole army and people in safeguarding the socialist fatherland of Vietnam in the new revolutionary period.

January 18, 2013

(1) Hồ Chí Minh: Complete works, Publishing house. National Politics, Hà Nội, 1996, volume 2, p. 108 (2), (3) History of the Communist Party of Vietnam (1954 - 1975), Publishing house. National Politics, Hà Nội, 1995, volume.  2, p. 556, 556 – 557