The site of a B-52 wreck in Huu Tiep Lake, central Hanoi, is one that some tourists find overrated – just rubble in a dirty pond inside the capital’s residential streets. But the crashed plane tells of the biggest ever bombing campaign of US B-52 aircraft – and President Nixon’s last attempt against the Viet Cong before the Americans withdrew from Vietnam. It’s almost a bizarre a parting gift from the United States, still stuck there forty years after its forces left North Vietnam for good.
This B-52, now sticking out of the lake’s green water, was shot down during the “Christmas bombings” of December 1972. The peace talks seemed to be failing – as it turned out, just a few short weeks later in January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed and the US withdrew from Vietnam. This last large-scale campaign, real name “Operation Linebacker II”, was launched with 129 B-52s looming over Hanoi on its first night, 18 December. By the operation’s conclusion on 29 December, over 20,000 tonnes of explosives had rained down on Hanoi and its surrounding areas.
So this B-52 wreck tells the story of a sad end to a tragic war. At least 1,600 Vietnamese civilians were killed during the offensive; check out the BBC’s interview with Ha Mi, a then 10-year-old sheltering from the bombs raining over Hanoi.
Next to the wreckage, there’s a small information sign (pictured right) which describes the plane as a B52G, shot down at 23.05 on 27 December 1972.
However, much of the internet describes the wreckage to be that of a B-52D, called “Rose 1”, shot down during the night of 18/19 December, the first night of the campaign. Of its six crew members, four became POWs, while two are still MIA (presumed killed).
While I’m inclined to think the area’s residents would have noticed if the plaque’s date was wrong – assuming some remember the bombing and the plane’s crash itself – I’m not certain which plane the wreckage is from. If anyone knows more about which plane is in the lake, let me know.
Getting there: off the beaten track
Part of the magic of visiting this crashed plane in what’s often called “B-52 Lake” is that to get there, you have to venture through tiny, winding streets, feeling like you are very lost in Hanoi’s suburbs – especially if you are coming from Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, which is nearby, and I’d strongly suggest combining the two. For me it was the most “off the beaten track” experience I had whilst in Vietnam’s buzzing capital.
Not to mention that, being in the middle of a lake, this outing is free.
The Google Maps image below shows “Hồ B52” (aka B-52 Lake) near the Mausoleum. It’s a bit tricky to find, but a great way to wander around Hanoi!
There’s also a nearby B-52 Victory Museum, which contains other weaponry and military items, but sadly I didn’t have enough time in Hanoi to visit.
Sources & further detail: BBC News; The Christmas Bombing of Hanoi, Aviation Safety Network Wikibase, Andersen Air Force Base, Operation Linebacker II. For further reading try Stephen Ambrose, ‘The Christmas Bombing’ in Robert Cowley ed. The Cold War, 2005; or Jon Lake, B-52 Stratofortress Unites in Combat, 1955-73, 2004.