American Aircraft Soviet Union Equipment

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Introduction While escorting three B-52s on April 2, 1972 United States Air Force EB-66 navigator Lt. Col. Iceal “Gene” Hambleton (call sign Bat 21) and crew were shot down by a volley of surface to air missiles (SAM). By this time in the war, the North Vietnamese had become proficient at downing American aircraft using Soviet Union equipment. As the only survivor of the EB-66 crew, Hambleton parachuted to relative safety behind North Vietnamese lines. Due to his rank and prior held positions, Hambleton had Top Secret information on Strategic Air Command operations and was an expert in surface to air missile countermeasures. Having this information made Hambleton a high value target for the North Vietnamese. Due to the large scale American operation to retrieve just one pilot, the North Vietnamese suspected whatever was in the jungle behind their lines must be of high value and tried just as hard to prevent the American’s from retrieving what was theirs. Hambleton’s rescue became what would be the “largest, longest, and most complex search and rescue operation during the Vietnam War.”1

History
President Richard Nixon’s policy on the war in Vietnam by the spring of 1972 had lead to a large draw down in American combat forces. During this draw down, the North Vietnamese Army was preparing for their largest attack of the war. On March 30, 1972, the Nguyen Hue Offensive was launched to take “full advantage of the bad weather typical during monsoon season, offering low

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