Listen to This Harrowing Audio of B-52s Bombing Hanoi

Recordings capture the sounds of bombers under attack

Listen to This Harrowing Audio of B-52s Bombing Hanoi Listen to This Harrowing Audio of B-52s Bombing Hanoi

Uncategorized November 17, 2013 0

B-52 bomber over Vietnam. Wikipedia photo Listen to This Harrowing Audio of B-52s Bombing Hanoi Recordings capture the sounds of bombers under attack The... Listen to This Harrowing Audio of B-52s Bombing Hanoi
B-52 bomber over Vietnam. Wikipedia photo

Listen to This Harrowing Audio of B-52s Bombing Hanoi

Recordings capture the sounds of bombers under attack

The day after Christmas, 1972. The night skies over Hanoi pulsate with the roar of U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers and the fiery trails of North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles hurtling toward them.

Operation Linebacker II, from Dec. 18 to 29, 1972, was U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon's desperate attempt to bring North Vietnam to the Paris peace talks and get the U.S. out of the Vietnam War.

His chosen instrument was Strategic Air Command's B-52s, which flew into the teeth of what was probably the densest air defense system in the world at the time, including massed batteries of Soviet-made SAMs.

The raids ultimately did convince Hanoi to return to the peace table. The price was 15 B-52s shot down and 92 crewmen killed or captured. And you can listen to it as it happened.

Sounds of terror

On the night of Dec. 26, 120 B-52s, heavily supported by escort and jamming aircraft, struck Hanoi and Haiphong. In those days, B-52s carried tape recorders to capture communications among the crew and between aircraft—so that no-nonsense SAC could make sure the crews of its nuclear-armed bombers were following proper procedure.

Someone saved the voice recordings of one B-52 with the call sign Lilac 02 and posted them on Youtube. There are five segments; the first one is here. Above is segment four, which has Lilac 02 exiting the Hanoi air defense zone after dropping its bombs.

You must listen to these tapes, because mere description does not begin to convey the tension of a massed bomber raid under attack by volley after volley of SAMs, as the North Vietnamese flung every missile they had at the B-52s.

The crewman with the grandstand view was Lilac 02's gunner, who didn't have to worry so much about MiG interceptors—there were only a couple of ineffective attacks on the Linebacker raids—but instead called out SAM launch after SAM launch to the pilot.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment is when a B-52 is hit by multiple missiles, and the audio recording is filled with the warble-warble-warble of parachute emergency beacons, which sound like a car alarm.

Another tension point is when the gunner sees three SAMs headed toward them. Two detonate harmlessly, but the pilot wants to know where the third one missile is.

What is striking is how cool the crew sounds, not much different than airliners conversing with air traffic control. The pilot of Lilac 02 sounds calm, even though he isn't just worried about SAMs, but also not ramming the other aircraft in his three-ship formation.

That calm is even more amazing given the chaos of a massed bomber raid on a heavily defended target. Voices cut in and out on the radio circuit as other bombers and ground controllers warn of SAM launches, announce course changes or query the status of other aircraft. Half the time, the voices can be barely over the background static.

These recordings are more than an artifact from the Vietnam War. They are audio archaeology, a reminder of a past era that will never return. In the age of smart weapons, when one laser-guided bomb today can do more damage than a whole B-52 bomb load in 1972, we may never see a massed bomber raid again—or at least not one flown by human pilots.

The B-52 raids on Hanoi were closer to the great World War II bomber campaigns than the small, precision air strikes we see today. We don't have audio recordings of World War II bomber raids, but listening to the Hanoi B-52s, one can dimly glimpse what it might have been like to be a B-17 crew over Berlin.

The B-52 crews over North Vietnam that Christmas week were professionals. It showed.

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