"we knew the B-52 could be destroyed just like any other aircraft."
November 25, 2014 2:28 AM   Subscribe

What does it feel like to push a button, launch a surface-to-air missile, and blow a B-52 bomber out of the sky? Ask Nguyen Van Phiet. As a young North Vietnamese military officer, his SA-2 rockets were credited with downing four of the giant Boeing Stratofortresses during U.S. raids on and around Hanoi in December 1972.
David Freed: The Missile Men of North Vietnam.
posted by MartinWisse (24 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pretty cool. It's rare to read stories about the what the other side went through in our media.
posted by Renoroc at 4:32 AM on November 25, 2014


What does it feel like to push a button, launch a surface-to-air missile, and blow a B-52 bomber out of the sky?

Fucking awesome, I'd imagine. Is there a more hellish death-machine that has ever been deployed than the B-52?

If only someone at Hiroshima had had the same gear - or anyone in Laos.
posted by pompomtom at 5:12 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Enola Gay was a B-29. Just saying.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:15 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


And you think an SA-2 wouldn't have stopped it?
posted by pompomtom at 5:19 AM on November 25, 2014


Well now, there's an all-too-familiar phrase:
“The Americans were disturbing our freedom,” he says in Vietnamese as we sip tea
posted by scrowdid at 5:29 AM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


“The Americans were disturbing our freedom,” he says in Vietnamese as we sip tea.

When a foreign power invades your country, murders hundreds of thousands of its citizens, lays waste to its infrastructure, and poisons its land, you can make this statement honestly.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:48 AM on November 25, 2014 [10 favorites]


If only someone at Hiroshima had had the same gear

Because America was disturbing Japan's freedom.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:00 AM on November 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


Five years later, as a young lieutenant, he was sent to the Soviet Union along with about 1,000 of his countrymen for SA-2 training ... The Soviets regularly served them bacon.

God, the irony.
posted by cacofonie at 7:07 AM on November 25, 2014


Is there a more hellish death-machine that has ever been deployed than the B-52?

The AC-130 is up there, for sure.
posted by quadbonus at 7:07 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Because America was disturbing Japan's freedom.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the air raids and fire bombings that proceeded them, killed something on the order of 500,000 to a million Japanese civilians. Japan's government was, from the mid 1930s on, dominated by ultranationalists, with moderate and leftist voices in the country violently suppressed.

No rational person can look at the the butchery of Japanese civilians by the US Air Force as anything less than equivalent to Japan's war crimes in China and elsewhere, especially now that the notion that it was needed to end the war has been disbunked.

Any American calling for the mass murder of civilians as an answer to violence by a totalitarian state is effectively calling for open season on themselves and their community, esp. given our ongoing, indicriminate slaughter of noncombatants in the Mideast and North Africa.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:21 AM on November 25, 2014 [12 favorites]


No rational person can look at the the butchery of Japanese civilians by the US Air Force as anything less than equivalent to Japan's war crimes in China and elsewhere,

The people of Korea would disagree.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:25 AM on November 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I agree. What a terrible analogy.

If we're talking nuclear capabilities, the 52 is your first bet. The sub would be the safe bet. Wow, 17 were lost in combat. 14 due to accidents.
posted by clavdivs at 7:52 AM on November 25, 2014


No rational person....

I was reacting largely to what struck me as an unseemly enthusiasm on the commenter's part, and that coming from someone in Australia, which had a serious concern with how the Japanese war machine was working. I expect the commenter was trying to be provocative.

However bad Hiroshima was - and I do think it, like Dresden, was excessive - it did not come out of nowhere. His comment, however, was without context, and given the nature of the comment, it deserved some. Ugly bit of business, but not 100% black and white.

FWIW, I pretty much think that just about every US military intervention since WWII, most certainly Vietnam and Laos, has been mistaken. Frankly, if we had stayed out of WWI and not tipped the balance there, the entire 20th century would probably have been a whole lot nicer.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:57 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


When a foreign power invades your country, murders hundreds of thousands of its citizens, lays waste to its infrastructure, and poisons its land, you can make this statement honestly.

This... is not how it felt like from the South Vietnamese side. I mean, Nguyen can defend his freedom to hack at my uncles with machetes while they were small children, or to lock my dad up in prison for a decade, but let's not pretend that anybody was on the side of angels here.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:03 AM on November 25, 2014 [12 favorites]


This Japan bombing issue is a huge derail, but I have to say one thing about this:

No rational person can look at the the butchery of Japanese civilians by the US Air Force as anything less than equivalent to Japan's war crimes in China and elsewhere, especially now that the notion that it was needed to end the war has been disbunked.

I assure you that this issue has not been disbunked [sic] and that foreignpolicy.com article in particular is horribly misinformed and factually incorrect on almost every issue. Almost every argument on this subject (and I've heard them all, since this was the hot topic when I was doing my degree in Japanese) is based on hindsight, including facts not known to the Allies at that time. It is a lot of hogwash, and defies the best scholarship on this issue.

If you want to seriously consider this question, I suggest reading the works of John Dower, and in particular his books "War Without Mercy" and "Embracing Defeat." But I also suggest this is not the context to argue over the use of nuclear weapons in WWII.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:13 AM on November 25, 2014 [13 favorites]


If you really do think the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary, then perhaps you should work towards nuclear disarmament, rather than coming on the internet and arguing how it would have been awesome to shoot down the people flying the planes that dropped the bombs.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:56 AM on November 25, 2014


Honestly, in the spirit of the Sherman's March thread, we really need a Vietnam apologist in here to argue that shooting down B-52s was a war crime.
posted by happyroach at 10:06 AM on November 25, 2014


Reading this reminded me of the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot where Israel used remotely piloted surveillance aircraft and loads of electronic countermeasures to defeat Soviet surface-to-air missiles.
In 1991, Ivry met a Czech general who had been serving in Moscow in 1982. He told Ivry that the operation made the Soviets understand that Western technology was superior to theirs, and that in his view, the blow to the Beqaa Valley SAMs was an impetus to Glasnost and Soviet Union's collapse.
SA-2 responsible for the end of the cold war and rise of the drones?
posted by morganw at 10:11 AM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is there a more hellish death-machine that has ever been deployed than the B-52?

Clearly you haven't witnessed an AC-130 gunship in action from the ground. One of these gets angry with you, could ruin your whole day.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:26 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, you will never witness a B-52 in action from the ground. You won't even hear it. Everything around you will just explode.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:24 PM on November 25, 2014


Chef: "what's that..."

Willard: "Arc light"
posted by clavdivs at 2:37 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


TheWhiteSkull: "On the other hand, you will never witness a B-52 in action from the ground. You won't even hear it. Everything around you will just explode."

Yep. I remember reading in some book about the Vietnam War that the B-52s were known as "whispering death."

First example I found online:
Whispering Death - Charles' name for a B-52 strike. He couldn't hear or see them

Nasty things, really, but I have to agree that a pissed off AC-130 would be right up there as well.

This pic and caption always crack me up.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:47 PM on November 25, 2014


I once watched a B52 strike from a few miles away, sitting on some sandbags. The sky was lit like lightning behind clouds--all the flashes were on the horizon--and the rumble came later, seemed to come through the ground. It wasn't really like thunder. I saw another strike from the air, flying in a Huey at about a thousand feet. We were maybe half a mile behind the strike. The B-52s were at 30,000 feet or whatever, and we never ever even saw them, or knew they were in the area until the impact area began to light up and crawl, and the shock waves reached us. The impact area was, I believe, about half a mile wide and maybe three miles long. I don't know why, but it seems that all the bombs hit at the same time. On the ground, the open areas had interlocking craters, and the forest was splintered trees, except that the jungle absorbed the bombs. The smell of the propellant was strong enough to make your eyes water. Inside the tree line, you had to move from one impact to the next to see the damage on the ground, but the upper parts of the trees were shredded. We were supposed to do a damage assessment, but there was nothing to assess. If anything was there before the bombs hit it was gone afterward. Our standard running joke was that we saw nothing but monkeys in the trees, holding their hands over their ears.

I have also seen Spooky in a tight orbit pivoting around some hapless bunker system, and the sound like a huge sewing machine coming from the aircraft. A line of red tracers like a glowing wire, and the ground exploding here and there. We never had the cousin--the C-130--just the stuff on the C-47, some mini-guns sticking out the port windows. It was enough to chill your shit, though.

Three years later I sat in a little room in Northern Japan and listened to Spoon Rests and Fan Songs talking. The Spoon Rests were sector scans, and went blip, blip-blip, blip, blip-blip as they lit up the receivers I was reading (we had several batteries of satellites gathering these signals and sending them to us). When the Fan Songs came alive they screamed at 2200 cps, first from the acquisition troughs, then from the conical as it sent a final message to the missile before it shut down and went ballistic. I could tell when the SAM sent the command string to the missile and knew that it was chasing an American aircraft, but I didn't have any way to know if it hit or missed, only that they were trying. Sometimes it seemed like all the Fan Songs in Hanoi were screaming at the same time. They sometimes told us later how many planes got shot down. We never got any information about the bomb strikes, though, except what we saw on AFRTS, which was pretty much all bullshit. But my job was to record the command strings for the NSA to send the bears, so that they could manipulate the SAMs, sometimes make them turn around and follow the beam back to the Fan Song that sent it out.

I understood what the coming of the B-52's meant to those guys on the ground. I could understand how the Vietnamese in Hanoi would be pleased to see the parachutes of pilots who ejected from aircraft that had been destroyed on a bombing run over their city. I'm surprised that any of the pilots survived their capture long enough to get stuck in those miserable prisons. That they did probably testifies to some streak of humanitarianism possessed by the Vietnamese.

I watch the military history channels from time to time, but I don't have much stomach for it.The US Air Force would like you to think they won the war--any war, but I'm pretty sure it's not that simple.

I believe I can imagine what Nguyen Van Phiet may have felt when he nailed one of those B-52s. It's simple only if you are insane.
posted by mule98J at 7:02 PM on November 25, 2014 [16 favorites]


Wild Weasels.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:11 PM on November 28, 2014


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