HomeVisitMuseum ExhibitsFact SheetsDisplay

Hitting Sanctuaries: Cambodia

USAF helicopters inserted special operations teams into Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF helicopters inserted special operations teams into Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF special operations helicopters often flew missions to Cambodia from bases in Laos. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF special operations helicopters often flew missions to Cambodia from bases in Laos. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gunner’s view from a special operations helicopter. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gunner’s view from a special operations helicopter. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The 1969 B-52 offensive in Cambodia was code-named OPERATION MENU. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The 1969 B-52 offensive in Cambodia was code-named OPERATION MENU. (U.S. Air Force photo)

President Nixon explains operations in Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

President Nixon explains operations in Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF C-123 supporting ground operations in Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF C-123 supporting ground operations in Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Supplies captured in the effort to eliminate sanctuaries. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Supplies captured in the effort to eliminate sanctuaries. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF forward air controllers identified ground targets in Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF forward air controllers identified ground targets in Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF A-37 light attack aircraft provided close air support. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF A-37 light attack aircraft provided close air support. (U.S. Air Force photo)

AC-119G “Shadow” gunners prepare for a mission. These gunships supported troops in ground combat, attacked enemy supply lines and provided convoy escort. (U.S. Air Force photo)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 10 of 10

AC-119G “Shadow” gunners prepare for a mission. These gunships supported troops in ground combat, attacked enemy supply lines and provided convoy escort. (U.S. Air Force photo)

During the 1960s, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong enjoyed sanctuaries in Cambodia, crossing the border for attacks into South Vietnam and then fleeing back across the border to safety. Moreover, the North Vietnamese, with permission of the "neutral" Cambodian government, used Cambodian ports and roads to supply large amounts of materiel for the communist war effort in South Vietnam.

Through the 1960s, military experts (including ex-President Dwight Eisenhower) called for large-scale offensives against the enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia. But, for political reasons, the U.S. only conducted covert operations and limited bombing against supply lines just inside the Cambodian border.

In 1969, when the enemy launched another nationwide offensive in South Vietnam, President Richard Nixon ordered a secret B-52 bombing offensive against the Cambodian sanctuaries. During the next 13 months, USAF B-52s flew more than 4,000 sorties against enemy supply lines and bases in Cambodia (one sortie equals one mission by one aircraft).

By April 1970, communist troops had seized large areas of the country, and a newly formed anti-communist Cambodian government called for assistance. USAF and South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) aircraft bombed targets in Cambodia, and U.S. and South Vietnamese troops raided across the border to strike at the enemy's sanctuaries.

In 1971 the communists cut the road that led from the major seaport of Kompong Som to the capital Phnom Penh. USAF and U.S. Army aircraft provided aerial escort to river supply convoys, and continued massive aerial support to Cambodian Army ground operations, which nevertheless suffered repeated setbacks. By 1972, the war in Cambodia turned into a stalemate, but U.S. airpower -- including B-52s -- continued to hammer at the enemy.

When local Khmer Rouge communist insurgents threatened Phnom Penh in 1973, the Cambodian government urgently called upon the U.S. for help. The USAF conducted a massive bombing campaign on the outskirts of the capital. Public pressure, however, forced Congress to stop funding these bombings and other military operations in Southeast Asia, and USAF combat strike missions in Cambodia ended in mid-August 1973.

Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. In the following months, Pol Pot's new communist government executed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians.

Click here to return to the Southeast Asia War Gallery.

 

Find Out More
Line
Related Fact Sheets
Boeing B-52D Stratofortress
Line
Note: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the National Museum of the USAF, the U.S. Air Force, or the Department of Defense, of the external website, or the information, products or services contained therein.

Featured Links

Plan Your Visit
E-newsletter Sign-up
Explore Museum Exhibits
Browse Photos
Visit Press Room
Become a Volunteer
Air Force Museum Foundation