8. B-52 losses were heavier during the 1972 Christmas bombings
Operation Linebacker II was the official name of the bombing campaign of December, 1972, often referred to as the Christmas bombings. Designed to intensify pressure on the North Vietnamese to conduct serious peace negotiations, Operation Linebacker II included 729 bomber sorties over a period of twelve days. They dropped over 15,000 tons of bombs on targets in North Vietnam, including Hanoi, Haiphong, Van Dien, and other targets. Initially, Strategic Air Command opposed the massive raids. By then, nearly half of their total inventory of B-52 bombers were committed to Southeast Asia, and replacing lost aircraft was out of the question. The production line for the bombers had been shut down for several years. Also placed at risk were the highly trained aircrews, which the Air Force had prepared for entirely different missions.
In the end, their concerns proved justified. Improvements in North Vietnamese air defenses led to the outright loss in combat of 15 bombers. Another five were so heavily damaged they could only be stripped for reusable parts. Another crashed and exploded while landing in Thailand. An additional five suffered damages which required extensive repairs. In total, 31 B-52 bombers were lost during the Vietnam War, in which it conducted operations for which it had never been intended by its designers. Both during and following the war many B-52s were retired from service, having reached the end of their structural lifetimes. But the experience of combat in Vietnam revealed the B-52 to have uses which, with upgrades, extended its capability as a conventional bomber. Though it remained a part of the nuclear triad, it also became a tactical weapon in the post-Vietnam Air Force.