I just checked my log book. I flew 8 sorties off Ranger during Linebacker II, 4 day and 4 night. I can recall that we were assigned Iron-hand missions just off the coast of Haiphong. I know we also mined the harbor, but can’t recall if it was during Linebacker II or a different time. I try to repress those moments of shear terror.
I do recall the light show, both on the ground from the B-52 bomb impact and the explosions of SAMs chasing us and impacting the B-52s. There were so many SAMs being fired that it was hard to tell if they were being shot at us or the B 52s above you. Just recall that when the SAMs exploded, it would light up the entire cockpit. Seemed pretty CLOSE and scared the shit out of me.
The target areas (at least Haiphong) were covered with low clouds. Could not see all the way to Hanoi, but I’m assuming it was also overcast. The airspace above was clear. Every aircraft had their twirlies on. It was astonishing how many aircraft were in one little piece of sky. The B 52s came in at high altitudes, well above us. We were orbiting just off the coast at about 15K. It was eerily quiet. The ECM gear was silent, not even a sniff.
We knew both the target times and targets and as TOT approached all hell broke loose. The ECM came to life. The radios came to life. “Red Crown” came to life with SAM calls and “shotgun” calls from iron hand aircraft. I cannot recall hearing any calls from the B-52 guys. SAMs shooting into the air like Roman Candles. Lots of beepers going off. It was total chaos.
Then the bombs starting hitting the targets. It was 4th of July in December. The cloud cover lit up. When the bombs impacted they had the same effect of the ‘rabbit’ strobe lights you see on a night approach. I thought to myself, it must be terrifying to be on the ground. The light show, the noise and the destruction for miles. It seemed to last no more than 10-15 minutes and then all quiet!
The A-7 guys had 4 shrikes per aircraft and we were launching them trying to keep the enemy radar off line, at least for a few minutes. We were flying in a race track pattern with two iron hand per track on opposite sides. One aircraft always pointing to the target area. Can’t recall who my wingman or leader was. Not important. We were basically on a solo mission. I just recall that it was dark, really dark and I was “yanking and banking”, and pumping chaff as fast as I could especially when the ECM “launch alert” red light would beep and flash, it got my attention. I’m surprised I was able to get two shrikes off the aircraft.
That was just one night….then we had to do it again the next night.
I believe there were four carriers on Yankee Station, but not 100% sure. I do know that we were on a midnight to noon and noon to midnight schedule with the other carriers. Haiphong and Hanoi were being bombed around the clock. Ranger only lost one aircrew. LT. Flip Clark, VA-113, was lost during a daytime mining mission into Haiphong on Christmas eve. Again it was a low overcast day, dreary, with poor visibility. LT. Vic Calise, from VA-25, was 1 min behind Flip on the same run in heading. Vic saw a ‘chute’, jettisoned his load and tried to keep the chute in sight. No luck. We launched a rescap to no avail.
I have a patch that says “SAM II Missile Qual’d Hanoi/Haiphong XMAS Blitz 72-73”…I guess it should have said “Linebacker II”.
We always wondered, who planned this mission…now we know 🙂
I’ll never tell!!!
Impossible that it was 46 years ago today….seems like yesterday. AL
Press On, Captain Al Gorthy, USN(re)
As a POW in Hanoi, Cdr. Everett Alvarez’s account of Linebacker II as written in his book “Chained Eagle.”
Unlike previous raids, there was no interval between the siren and the rumble of the incoming B52’s. Everyone scrambled for cover, knocking into each other and cussing in the darkness. There were mixed emotions of euphoria and panic. Only split seconds after the sirens wailed the bombs struck the city, setting off massive explosions, firestorms and reverberating rumbles of shock waves. “Those aren’t A6’s! they’re B52’s.” “Ya-hoo!” With every pause in the night raid, the lights went on again and we came out from under out mahogany planks smiling and upbeat. The succession of bombers continued through most of the night. Hanoi was burning and we still got to see the glow from our open windows. The sky over the capital rained bombs for eleven straight days, with a pause only for Christmas Day. We learned that multiple targets had been hit, including factories, railroad yards, communication links, warehouses, port facilities.
Finally! It may have come late in the war but at last the U.S. was playing it right. If we had only done this years before the war might have been all over before the end of the previous decade.