Providing Escort for B-52 Bombers Over Hanoi and Haiphong
The next big role for the Wild Weasels came after December 13, 1972, when the North Vietnamese government broke off all negotiations to end the war. President Richard Nixon ordered an all-out bombing campaign against the North, that came to be known as Operation Linebacker II. During the campaign, Weasels were assigned perhaps the most high-stakes mission of the war. They escorted the U.S. military’s largest bomber, the slow moving B-52 Stratofortress, to the most heavily defended targets in North Vietnam: Hanoi and the port of Haiphong.
Once there, Soviet SA-2 "Guideline" surface-to-air missile deployments proved to be too dense for even the Wild Weasels to penetrate. On December 20, North Vietnamese air defense operators fired at least 220 SAMs at a flight of B-52s. Six B-52s were struck and went down in flames. Within two days, five more were downed, killing some 120 crewmen.
Losses Motivate a Change in Tactics
During subsequent raids, both the B-52s and their Wild Weasel escorts changed tactics. The B-52s began employing electronic counter measures to jam SAM radars, while the Weasels paired up with F-4 Phantoms in hunter-killer team formations. Twice as many SAM sites were destroyed or suppressed and no more B-52s were lost, through the Christmas bombing halt. On December 26, President Nixon ordered the largest bombing raid of the entire war.
The change in tactics seemed to work. North Vietnamese missiles that were launched tended to miss their targets, apparently because fearful SAM operators immediately turned off their radars, to avoid attracting Wild Weasels.
Weasel aircraft and B-52 bombers employed their new tactics during three smaller raids on Hanoi. Two more bombers were lost, but SAM operators were reportedly still firing salvos at the force without the aid of radar.
On December 29, President NIxon ordered a bombing halt above the 20th parallel. Four days later, the North Vietnamese government returned to the Paris Peace Talks and resumed negotiations in earnest. In the end, the Weasel’s suppression of the SAM sites played a role in the bombing campaign’s success.