Book Review
B-52 vs SAM
B-52 Stratofortress VS SA-2 “Guideline” SAM Vietnam 1972-73
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

B-52 Stratofortress VS SA-2 “Guideline” SAM Vietnam 1972-73 from Osprey Publishing LTD is a new book in their series Duel. It is the 89th title in the series and catalogued as ISBN 9781472823625 and as Duel 89 by Osprey. It is available in softcover, PDF, and ePUB formats. Author Peter Davies reveals this modern “wizard war” through 80 pages of detailed text, an excellent gallery of photographs, and an outstanding gallery of original artwork by artists Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector. This book is also an excellent companion for the more comprehensive Osprey Air Campaigns series book Linebacker II, the B-52s Go To Hanoi, authored by a Linebacker II pilot participant.

Modelers can glean substantial inspiration and detail from this book. Do we build models because we read about the subjects, or do we read about them to learn about the model we built? Regardless, there are at least two 1/72 SA-2 “Guideline” models to compliment several 1/72 B-52 models, at least one 1/48 SAM-2 (a resin kit) and B-52, and at least one 1/35 SA-2 available. What scale do you model?

This subject is very interesting to me as Linebacker II and Bullet Shot occurred when I was becoming aware of news, and I subsequently met a couple participants while in the USAF. This book clarifies, confirms, and resolves legends and rumors about the employment of B-52s against targets heavily defended by SAM-2 in December, 1972. It also shed light on the damning accusations that blundering intransigence at SAC headquarters led to most of the B-52 losses. Osprey introduces the book thusly:
    Ever since its introduction in the late 1950s, the B-52 Stratofortress has been the United States' primary heavy bomber and a powerful symbol of its immense military might. Its powerful electronic countermeasures equipment (ECM) was thought to make the B-52 immune to ground-to-air missile attack, but in Vietnam, and later conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm in 1991, it came up against the Soviet-designed SA-2 SAM which used heavy salvoes of missiles to bring down the bombers.

    The losses of several of its most feared, powerful and supposedly invincible bombers per night to a torrent of Soviet missiles during the closing stages of the Vietnam War was sobering to Americans, but the B-52s' crushing attacks virtually eliminated North Vietnam's defences and forced a peace settlement. This fascinating book analyses the roles of the SA-2 operators and the B-52 Electronic Warfare Officers (EWOs) using specially commissioned artwork as well as first-hand accounts, and traces the cat-and-mouse tactics that each side employed.

B-52 Stratofortress VS SA-2 “Guideline” SAM is told through nine chapters in 80 pages:
    Design and Development
    Technical Specifications
    The Strategic Situation
    The Combatants
    Statistics and Analysis
    Further Reading

A great deal of information is presented through this book. Missiles fired per B-52 kill, B-52 jammers and EW equipment, NV and USAF tactics, operation of the SAM-2/S-75. Decades of questions have been answered or at least clarified. First-hand accounts are presented by US and Vietnamese participants. Officially, Vietnam considers former SAM crews and their activities as a state secret and yet many participated in this book. While most of the quotes are fascinating, some are pedestrian such as:
    The B-52G had better air-conditioning and the cabin was more comfortable at high altitudes and low power settings.
Combat related quotes include:
    As we turned over the IP the EWO detected the first SAM lock-on. Suddenly, the gunner broke in on the interphone to report that he had two SAMs, low, heading right for us. The EWO confirmed that they were tracking towards us. The co-pilot then reported four missiles coming our way on the right side. Added to the pyrotechnics were Shrike missiles, which would give us momentary concern until we identified them – it was nice to watch something bright streaking the other way.

Accounts from North Vietnamese missile crews are particularly interesting, i.e., one’s account of how a missile operator next to him was killed by shrapnel from an anti-radar missile.

The first several pages lay the groundwork of the B-52 and SA-2 stories before delving further in Design and Development and Technical Specifications. The B-52 (“BUFF” – ‘Big Ugly Fat’…you get it) was an incredible aircraft that may be in operational service a century after its first flight. SAM-2, or S-75 Dvina as the Soviets knew it, was designed to defend against B-52-like bombers that Stalin saw as the main threat to the USSR. Fourteen pages present the designs, developments, and improvements to the systems. The B-52 Electronic Warfare systems are described as are the many radars, control systems, and logistics used to position and fight the SAM-2. Both systems receive concise overviews of their components.

Next, The Strategic Situation presents through 11 pages the war situation leading to Linebacker II, the campaign objectives, and the combatants. B-52 bases are discussed as well as the organization and deployment of SA-2 units. The legendary Wild Weasel anti-SAM fighters supporting the B-52s are covered as their support was critical and yet the coordination between Weasels and BUFFs was hampered by separate radio frequencies. Between jamming and Weasel attacks the North Vietnamese SAM crews had to develop tricks to compensate. They learned to track and attack B-52s without turning on their “Fan Song” Almaz RSNA-75 fire-control radar by passively tracking active B-52 jamming, i.e., track-on-jam. The chapter also recounts the growing SAM threat against B-52 operating over southern North Vietnam and the developing MiG threat.

The Combatants examines the training and performance of the crews. B-52 Electronic Warfare Officers (EWO) receive most of the American attention. “Fan Song” operators receive half of the chapter attention. Other SAM-2 equipment is explained as well.

Now for the part we’ve been waiting for, Combat. Eighteen pages reconstruct the 10 days of Linebacker and the loss of 15 B-52s. The author imparts a lot of detail such as the “SAC break turn” and mindboggling restrictions imposed upon the Buff crews by a SAC headquarters separated from the ‘pointy end’ by half of the globe. It is amazing to me that the commander of SAC and 7th Air Force were both famous World War Two fighter aces. Yet, rigid unyielding tactics were demanded and those were exacerbated by late or ever-changing orders. Regardless, B-52 crews pressed on into the most heavily defended airspace outside of Moscow. One night North Vietnamese missile crews achieved what no German, Italian, Japanese, or Korean defenses ever did – force the abort of an U.S. Air Force bombing mission. Fortunately, the combat theater crews finally managed to convince SAC to allow different tactics and losses decreased sharply.

The book wraps up with nine pages of Statistics and Analysis and Aftermath. Those chapters explore the campaign and the various factors that influenced it. SAMs fired, B-52 losses, tactics, command and control, and other characteristics of the multi-night battle are discussed. The book concludes with post-Linebacker developments for offensive and defensive air war fighting, and a salute to the B-52.

One other issue the author comments upon is the anti-war U.S. news reporting and their aid and comfort to North Vietnamese through inaccurate reporting of the air campaign and furthering of North Vietnamese propaganda.

Photographs, Artwork, Graphics
Vietnam was widely archived with color film and this book is full of photos in black-and-white, and color. Several photos are from recent visits to (formerly) North Vietnam. I suspect that a couple photos came from SAM troops. Modelers will especially find this gallery of photos useful.

Photos of interest to modelers are of chipping and flaking of paint from “Buff.” Both color and B/W photos show what control panels in B-52s looked like. Other photos show that for whatever reason and despite high operating tempos, B-52s, B-66s, and Wild Weasels did not necessarily weather as harshly as many modelers depict. Modelers and dioramaists interested in the colors used on SAM equipment and vivid colors of Vietnam have great color photos to scrutinize.

Artwork by artists Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector is as follows:
    1. ”Cobalt 01 and SAM detonation: two-page action scene of B-52D 56-0605, 7th BW, 43rd SW (P) receiving a fatal near-miss on the night of December 27/28.
    2. ”Fan Song Crew in action in their SNR-75 PV van intercepting a B-52 wave.
    3. B-52D Cockpit: keyed to 70 items
    4. Almaz RSN-75V2 “Fan Song F”
    5. SA-2 Cutway keyed to 16 components
    6. B-52G Cutaway keyed to 22 components
    7. SA-2 “Guideline”, the missile on a ZiL-151 tractor and PRB-11B transloading lorry
    8. B-52D 3-view
    a. Linebacker II B-52 cell formation
    b. Overhead of a B-52 raid from IP through PTT and egress with defenders and supporting friendlies, keyed to SAM sites, MiG bases, SEAD escorts and MiGCAP
    c. B-52 raid with escorts overhead view keyed with six flights: chaff blanket deployers, Weasels, MIGCAP, orbiting support jammers
    d. SAM-2 site planform keyed to seven components
    e. Map of Linebacker II attack routes, MiG bases, SAM battalions, support aircraft, keyed to 20 participants
    f. Map of USAF bomber, tanker, tactical aircraft, an Command and Control centers: 13 units
    g. Table: S-75MK Dvina (SA-2) System Specifications: the missile and support equipment
    h. Table: B-52D/G Specifications

Graphics impart information concisely or not easily illustrated. The artwork shows aspects of the subjects that photos fail to, and capture scenes not available as photographs. The text is well supported visually.
My first non-anecdotal introduction to Operation Linebacker II was 40 years ago this autumn when I read about it in USAF’s Air University Review. That treatise was nowhere as comprehensive as this book as it did not explore the SAM forces, and no doubt was not able to discuss USAF B-52 electronic warfare. Thus B-52 Stratofortress VS SA-2 “Guideline” SAM Vietnam 1972-73 is another great read from Osprey Publishing LTD. It has explained and explored many aspects of the B-52/SAM duel that I have had lingering questions about. The book is well written with exciting visual support. The first-hand accounts are priceless.

I can’t think of anything meaningful to criticize and believe that this book will be fascinating to historians and inspirational to modelers. I highly recommend it.

Please remember to mention to Osprey that you saw this book here -on AEROSCALE.
Highs: Well written with exciting visual support. The first-hand accounts are priceless.
Lows: De minimis.
Verdict: This book will be fascinating to historians and inspirational to modelers.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: Duel 89 ISBN 97814
  PUBLISHED: Jan 07, 2019

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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