UPDATED: The Watery Grave Of A B-52 Shot Down Over Hanoi, During The Vietnam War.
Above Photo: B-52 wreckage in a Lake in Hanoi.
UPDATE NOTE: I’ve updated this article with further information, supplied by David Martin, a relative of 1st Lieutenant Ben Fryer, the navigator of this plane who was killed when it was shot down. I’ve added these new comments at the end.
We spent the morning trying to find what’s locally called ’B-52 Lake’ in Hanoi.
More formally called Huu Tiep Lake, we eventually found it down a narrow, winding lane full of magnolia coloured stucco houses and hundreds of years-old temples in a quiet suburban thoroughfare in Hanoi-
Knocked out of the sky during a US bombing raid on Hanoi on 27 December 1972, part of the wreckage fell into the lake, where it still lies today.
That date immediately told me the plane had been part of Operation Linebacker II, conducted between 18–29 December 1972, which was a “maximum effort” bombing campaign to destroy major industrial, military, air, road and rail transport targets in Hanoi and nearby Haiphong port.
As well as for the resulting civilian deaths and injuries in Hanoi, this bombing campaign was notable for heavy losses of B-52s over North Vietnam, caused by Russian-supplied SAM missile air defences the North Vietnamese used, which caused consternation all the way up to the White House.
Linebacker II involved the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the US since the end of the Second World War, in an effort to force the North Vietnamese to negotiate over POWs being held in Vietnam and Laos.
Whilst the North Vietnamese did eventually return POWs it held in Hanoi, none held in Laos were ever handed over, and their likely fate is something I explore in my novel BACK.
All that seemed a world away, as we stood contemplating this lonely wreckage in a green-coloured lake in suburban Hanoi this morning.
If anyone has any information on the plane, the crew or its mission that night, I’d be grateful to receive it.
I recently received an interesting email from David Martin, a relative of 1st Lieutenant Ben Fryer, who was the navigator of this plane when it was shot down. His comments are below:
The plane in Huu Tiep Lake is that of my uncle, 1st Lt Ben Fryer, who was killed when the SAM hit the right side of the plane where he was sitting (he was the navigator). The plane designation was Cobalt 01 B-52D, tail number 0605, and part of Operation Linebacker II, AKA Christmas Bombing.
Their target was the Trung Quan Rail-yard, which they were one minute away from dropping their ordnance on when his plane was struck by an SA-2 Surface to Air Missile (SAM) on the right side between the forward wheel well and the bottom of the right wing.
All crew members received injuries from the SAM explosion, and all power and control of the B-52 was lost at that time. The wing fuel tank was on fire, so Capt. Frank Lewis gave the abandon ship order.
The Pilot, Capt. Frank Lewis, Co-Pilot, Capt. Samuel Cusimano, and Electronic Warfare Officer, Maj. Allen Johnson, all were heard ejecting from the plane by Radar Navigator, Maj. James Condon, who then tried to arouse Bennie, so he could eject, but Bennie was slumped forward on the nav table and bleeding profusely. Maj. Condon had no choice but to eject himself from the plane leaving Bennie behind presumed dead (an unconscious person cannot eject from a B-52 without being ripped apart).
The rear Gunner, MSgt. James Gough, could not hear the abandon ship order as the coms were out, so he was the last to leave the plane alive. He jumped through the burning debris of the engines and wings and was severely injured.
Capt. Lewis, Capt. Cusimano, Maj. Condon and MSgt. Gough were all captured shortly after and held prisoner at Hanoi Hilton.
Bennie’s remains were not returned to us until 1977. Another member of the crew was also KIA but likely not until after he was captured. His remains were returned in 1986 with no explanation. The remainder of the crew were captured, held in Hanoi Hilton, tortured, but returned alive in Feb 1973.
A portion of the plane landed less than 500 m from Ho Chi Minh’s wooden house (a kind of shrine to the Vietnamese), and one of the engines landed in the zoo on the grounds of the Presidential Palace. There are also parts of the plane on display at the B-52 museum in Hanoi.
My Uncle’s remains were actually the first to be negotiated and returned by the North Vietnamese in 1977, so Bennie was “The First of the Last,” which is the working title of a book I I’m working on.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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