Saturation bombing, or carpet bombing refers to an extensive and systematic bombing
intended to devastate a large target. One example of this during the Vietnam War was Operation Rolling Thunder.
Operation Rolling Thunder was the code name for the non-stop, but often interrupted bombing raids in North
Vietnam conducted by the United States armed forces during the Vietnam War. Its purpose was to destroy the will of the North
Vietnamese to fight, to destroy industrial bases and air defenses (SAMs), and to stop the flow of men and supplies down the
Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Beginning in 1965, Rolling Thunder was a sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam. In the February
of 1965, Viet Cong guerrillas attacked an American air base at Pleiku, South Vietnam. President Johnson immediately ordered
retaliatory bombing raids against military installations in North Vietnam. Early missions were against the south of the DRV,
where the bulk of ground forces and supply dumps were located. Large-scale air strikes were launched on depots, bases and
supply targets, but the majority of operations were “armed reconnaissance” missions in which small formations
of aircraft patrolled highways and railroads and rivers, attacking targets of opportunity.
After two years of bombardment the Vietnamese were well equipped to handle US raids, having dispersed their
supplies and developed the means to repair and rebuild the supply network after the raids had passed. Their strategy was longsighted.
They did not have to defeat the Americans, merely absorb the punishment and outlast them.
By 1968 McNamara had become convinced that airpower could not win the war. In spite of the air campaign the
Tet New Year holiday saw Hanoi and the NLF mount an offensive in the south. The Tet Offensive was a military disaster for
the North and their NLF allies, but it still broke the will of the American leadership. Hoping that Hanoi would enter into
peace talks, President Johnson offered a bombing halt. The communists, licking their wounds after Tet, agreed to talks and
the Rolling Thunder campaign came to an end.