'Rolling Thunder' was the graduated bombing of Vietnam on a huge scale.
'In the north, 'Rolling Thunder' showed every sign of fizzling. The bombing was scheduled at irregular intervals. This 'graduated' concept envisaged that after a pause there would be a response, but from the start this took the form of anti-aircraft resistance. The Air Force had reported that North Vietnamese defences were stronger than imagined, though it could not concieve just how strong they would prove. Though Rolling Thunder was essentially written off very early as an effective solution, the bombing continued for 8 years.' US planes struck at North Vietnam 350,000 times. In North and South Vietnam the US dropped close to 8 million tons of bombs - quadruple the tonnage used throughout WWII. The US estimated its aircraft losses at about 1,000 over the North, 3,750 overall, plus 5,000 helicopters. More than 8,000 American airmen were killed.
The CIA assessed that the bombing had 'hardened' Hanoi's resolve, and now Secretary of Defense McNamara who had promoted the bombing strategy was backing Field Commander William Westmoreland in saying it was not enough : America must enter the ground war.
Westmoreland argued from the concept stages that phased bombing 'just wouldn't work'. As he explains, 'Once the North Vietnamese realised what was taking place they dissipated the targets, and instead, for instance, of having their petroleum concentrated in one place, they moved it in little packages around the country.....'
'ON THE GROUND' EFFECTS OF ROLLING THUNDER
'On the map the distance was 250 miles, once a journey of only four or five hours. But travel time was logged at four days. The awesome craters along the 'highway' interlocked almost end to end, negotiable only by jeep. There was just a very rough route stiched from broken down rock, thousands of loose planks and nerve-wracking bamboo platforms bridging the craters and canals. Wrecked vehicles and twisted rail lines littered the entire route, with rusted metal rising in grotesque shapes from the adjacent rice-lands'
'Simply stated, urban civilization had been erased in a region containing one-third or about six million of the North's population. Whatever the French had built in 80 years of occupation, and whatever the North had achieved in fifteen years of independence, had been wiped out.'
'The journey showed that five cities had been leveled, each formerly with populations of 10-30,000. The North's third largest city, Nam Dinh - popultion 90,000 - was largely destroyed but at least recognisable. Another eighteen destroyed centres were classifyed as towns, but though the place names checked on the map, it was now impossible to know what these collections of overgrown debris had once been like. Traffic still passed through, peasants still marketed their produce along the highway, but there remained only ghost towns from the nightmare of Rolling Thunder'.
'Across the whole landscape, journeying far from the highway, not a single habitable brick edifice could be seen: the schools, hospitals, and administrative buildings that had certianly once existed were now, like the factories, just so many heaps of rubble'.
'At Ha Tinh, provincial capital on the 18th parallel 250 miles from Hanoi, the local major without a city produced files citing that between 1965 and 1968 this province of 800,000 people had been bombed 25,529 times. This would equal one airstrike every ninety minutes for some 1,500 days'
All taken from 'VIETNAM: The Ten Thousand Day War' by MICHAEL MACLEAR.