Code name for the overwhelming aerial raids of B-52 Stratofortresses against enemy positions in Southeast Asia, the first B-52 Arc Light raid took place on June 18, 1965, on a suspected Vietcong base north of Saigon. Elements of the 2nd and 320th Bombardment Wings, of the Strategic Air Command, had deployed from the United States to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam. Shortly after this strike, the results of which were inconclusive, many Americans began to question the advisability of “swatting flies with sledgehammers.” Such criticism became increasingly common during the eight years of Arc Light operations.
The B-52s assigned to the Arc Light mission were involved in several types of operations; air interdiction, strategic bombing, and raids on such important targets as Hanoi and Haiphong were only a few such episodes. For example, in November 1965, B-52s directly supported American ground forces for the first time, and were used frequently for that purpose. Perhaps the most important such action involved support of incursions into Cambodia and Laos in 1970 and 1971, operations designed to check flows of North Vietnamese personnel and goods from safe havens on South Vietnam’s border into the country.
Between June 18, 1965, and August 18, 1973, the effective dates of Arc Light operations, the Strategic Air Command scheduled 126,663 combat sorties for B-52s, of which 126,615 were actually launched. Of this total, 125,479 sorties essentially reached their target areas and 124,532 successfully released their bombs on target. Twenty-seven percent of the missions were flown in Laos, 12 percent in Cambodia, and 6 percent in North Vietnam. The remainder attacked targets in South Vietnam. These missions expended more than 3.5 million tons of conventional ordnance. Overall, the Air Force lost thirty-one B-52s during Arc Light operations, eighteen from hostile fire over North Vietnam and thirteen from other operational causes.