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OPERATION NIAGARA: A Waterfall of Bombs at Khe Sanh

"From the beginning until the 60th day [the 60th day of the siege at Khe Sanh] B-52 bombers continually dropped their bombs in this area with ever growing intensity and at any moment of the day. If someone came to visit this place, he might say that this was a storm of bombs and ammunition which eradicated all living creatures and vegetation whatsoever, even those located in caves or in deep underground shelters."
- Entry in an enemy notebook captured at Khe Sanh

In the first months of 1968, the enemy attempted to capture a strategically located U.S. Marine combat base and its supporting outposts at Khe Sanh in northern South Vietnam. Reminded of how the communists had defeated the French forces at Diem Bien Phu in 1954, the world watched the siege unfold. However, air power applied by the U.S. Air Force helped the Marines successfully break the siege.

Cargo aircraft supplied the Marines with 160,000 artillery and mortar rounds they fired during the siege and also removed the wounded. The aerial bombing campaign was named OPERATION NIAGARA because of the "waterfall" of bombs that would fall on the communist forces. Together, USAF, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine aircraft provided effective close air support that kept the communists from successfully assaulting the main camp. Meanwhile, B-52s flying ARC LIGHT missions provided carefully controlled close air support that destroyed enemy positions and large numbers of communist soldiers. Altogether, the 98,721 tons of bombs dropped in OPERATION NIAGARA weighed more than the 93,000-ton aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

Using B-52s for close air support at Khe Sanh was considered a radical move. During the battle, Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded U.S. military operations in the Southeast Asia War, personally decided what targets they struck. Later, while talking to the B-52 crews at Andersen AFB on Guam, Westmoreland said what broke the communists' backs "was basically the fire of the B-52s." 

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Find Out More
Other Resources
Air Power and the Fight for Khe Sanh (Provided by AFHSO)
Case Studies in the Development of Close Air Support (Provided by AFHSO)
Tactics and Techniques of Close Air Support Operations, 1961-1973 (Provided by AFHSO)
Project CHECO Report, Khe Sanh (Provided by PACAF)
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