1 November 1968 – President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration suspends all American bombing of North Vietnam; Operation Rolling Thunder is suspended.
“On 13 February 1968, a new plan was approved and given the name Rolling Thunder, merging targets and priorities from the lists produced by the Bundys and the JCS. This campaign was not aimed at specific actions on the part of the North Vietnamese but was intended as a larger response to the growing hostilities as a whole. Although some within the administration believed that the campaign would be costly and that it might not work, they reasoned that it was “an acceptable risk, especially when considered against the alternative of introducing American combat troops.”[e] Rolling Thunder called for an eight-week air campaign consistent with the restrictions imposed by Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. If the insurgency continued “with DRV support, strikes against the DRV would be extended with intensified efforts against targets north of the 19th parallel.”
It was believed that selective pressure, controlled by Washington, combined with diplomatic overtures, would prevail and compel Hanoi to end its aggression. The military was still not satisfied, since, for the time being, the bombing campaign was to be limited to targets below the 19th parallel, each of which would have to be cleared individually by the President and McNamara.[f]
The first mission of the new operation was launched on 2 March against an ammunition storage area near Xom Bang. On the same day, 19 RVNAF A-1 Skyraiders struck the Quang Khe Naval Base. The Americans were shocked when six of their aircraft were shot down during the mission. Five of the downed crewmen were rescued, but it was a portent of things to come.
As part of a large attack on the Thanh Hóa Bridge on 3 April, the VPAF first appeared as two flights of four Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17s launched from Noi Bai airbase and shot down an F-8 Crusader,[i] while losing just one of their own aircraft, written off when it landed on a river bed after running short of fuel. A repeat the next day resulted in a classic dogfight with F-100 Super Sabres and F-105s fighting with more MiG-17s. In total, the USAF lost eleven aircraft to air and ground forces, while the VPAF lost three of their fighters.