Operation Rolling Thunder

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Please read the attached documents on ORT. You need to make notes on the aims of ORT, successes and failures. Your essay is due in for two weeks time.

Edexcel AS History Unit 1 Ideology, Conflict and Retreat: the USA in Asia 1950-1973 by Geoff Stewart

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Operation Rolling Thunder
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Programme of bombing of North Vietnam authorised by Johnson on 13 February 1965 but not begun until 2 March. It was hedged about with restrictions and designed to slowly increase in intensity. This was against the advice of the Air Staff who favoured an all-out initial assault; the evidence from the Second World War indicated that this was likely to be more effective.

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Napalm
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Developed in the Second World War and used ;in Korea it was made from gasoline or kerosene mixed with thickening agents to form a highly inflammable gel, which stuck to objects and the human body and burned with a very hot flame. It was dropped from fighter-bombers in thin-shelled canisters or larger 55 gallon drums. Dropped in this way it could cove r a large area and was often more useful against unseen targets covered with foliage than conventional explosive. It inflicted horrific injuries.

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Defoliates
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A major problem in countering the Viet Cong was the plant cover. In January 1962, the USA began using herbicides to kill trees and plants in an effort to expose communist guerrilla fighters. The commonest herbicide used was Agent Orange, so called because of the colour of the drums containing it. 1967 was the peak year for spraying, with 1.5 million acres treated.

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Operation Steel Tiger
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Programme of bombing begun in April 1965 against targets along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos.

Reluctantly, in late 1964 and early 1965, plans were made for a bombing campaign on North Vietnam to try to halt the rot in the south. Johnson was reluctant to initiate it and sent yet another fact-finding mission under McGeorge Bundy to assess if it was really necessary. While he was in South Vietnam, Viet Cong troops attacked the US air base at Pleiku, killing and wounding US personnel and destroying some aircraft. The result was an immediate retaliation by air power. Bundy on his return urged a sustained campaign of bombing as being the only way to force the DRV to the negotiating table. The result was Operation Rolling thunder, which began on 2 March. This was supplemented by Operation Steel Tiger against the Ho chi Minh Trail in Laos. Over the next three years, more bombs were dropped by the US air force than in all the Second World War. Initially the strategy appeared to enjoy widespread public support, with a Gallup Poll reporting 67 per cent of Americans in favour of the USA’s war in Vietnam.

Popular it might be effective it was not. It has been calculated, based on the number of unexploded bombs, that the USA spent $9.60 to do $1 worth of damage. In fact, because many bombs did not explode, the USA effectively provided the Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army with explosives for booby traps. The Ho chi Minh Trail was not broken, and more and more men and supplies poured down from the North. Napalm and defoliates were used to little effect. Snake bite was probably as big a hazard on the long journey south as the chance of being hit by an American bomb. Within North Vietnam there were few suitable targets in an essentially rural society. Much of the military hardware came from or through China and bombing near the border or Haiphong Harbour was placed off limits as being too provocative to the communist superpowers of China and the Soviet Union....
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