US Air Strikes on bridges during the Vietnam War.
The shadow of a US plane as it flies over a bombed bridge during the Vietnam War. (© Getty)
I’ve featured articles on a couple of ruined bridges in Laos, bombed by US planes during the Vietnam War, and recently I came across a few wartime photos that bring home the devastation and fury of similar air strikes on bridges in North Vietnam.
B-52s were often used for early bridge bombings, but they flew very high and they lacked the precision bombing required for taking out small targets like bridges, unless they got lucky.
The Air Force had some luck using adapted Daisy Cutter bombs, which, in this case, were 750lb bombs dropped by F-4 jets flying as low as 100 feet over their targets. These bombs had the power to bring down large spans.
They were more effective than B-52 strikes because faster fighter planes like the F-4 Phantom could get closer and drop munitions in a more accurate way.
The next photograph shows the bombing of the Hai Duong bridge, in North Vietnam in May 1972.
The plane shown in the above photo, the A-7E Corsair, proved itself to be a reliable light attack aircraft during the war.
As the war progressed and a new generation of smarter bombs was developed, US planes were able to precision-bomb some of the toughest bridge targets in Vietnam, which they had been unable to destroy previously.
The mile-long Paul Doumer Bridge (now called Long Bien Bridge) spanned the Red River in Hanoi. It was French-built, and carried a road and a railway. It was heavily defended and extremely well built, and the US had not been able to significantly put it out of action in spite of many ‘dumb bomb’ sorties flown against it, and a number of direct hits.
That all changed in May 1972 when the bridge was put out of action for a year when it was hit with laser guided bombs carried by four F-4 Phantom aircraft. The bridge defenders didn’t think four planes could possibly comprise the main attack force for the bridge, but the planes dived low, dropped their eight bombs, all of which scored direct hits and the bridge was put out of action for a year.
The bridge at Thanh Hoa, which crossed the Song Ma river, was called the ‘Dragon’s Jaw’, and linked Hanoi to China. It had also proved impossible to destroy using ‘dumb’ bombs.
Over a thousand sorties had been flown against it, nearly 100 US planes had been lost to anti-aircraft fire and SAM-2 missiles protecting the bridge, yet it still stood. The US had even tried floating massive bombs on the Song Ma river, timed to go off when sensors worked out when the bombs were under the bridge, but this had also proved unsuccessful.
Eventually, in April and May 1972 smart bombs were dropped on the bridge by F-4 Phantoms flying out of Ubon Ratchathani Air Base in Thailand, armed with laser guided weapons and new infra-red aiming devices.
No aircraft were lost in the attacks.
Years later, certainly in Laos, this is usually all that remains of (much smaller) bridges after air strikes took them down:
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
And for POWs left behind in Laos:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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