238. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Moorer) and the Commander, Strategic Air Command (Meyer)1

1110—Secure Telecon/Outgoing—Gen Meyer, USAF

CJCS—What I called you about you got my message on the Standdown?

[Page 870]

SAC—I just got through reading it a few minutes ago.

CJCS—I am not very sanguine about this thing since I’ve been through it two or three times. I explained this across the river2 over and over but what they did, apparently, is put down some “pretty hard conditions” to these guys about resuming the discussions which, incidentally, they won’t publicize that they’ll happen until tomorrow and are not saying anything really but they are willing to go back to “square one”. One main reason I think is probably they have run out of missiles—or at least are feeling the pinch all right.

SAC—Sure must be.

CJCS—I just think we’re stopping a little too soon but there is a lot of pressure on the President. You see where Saxbe3 says he is not going to vote with him again and where Dean Sayre4 from the Cathedral is going to be marching on the White House—a lot of silly things like that.

SAC—The President has got his problems.

CJCS—I wrote a message which Laird hasn’t seen yet.

SAC—I observed that in the last paragraph.

CJCS—There are a lot of people in this building who don’t know and one of your boys called the JRC about the SR–71s and the JRC doesn’t know and mainly because I haven’t told them yet since we’ve got 12 hours and we are trying to keep the lid on this so when they call their opposites back here in the Pentagon they may not know about it. Until a couple of hours ago there were only three people in the building that knew about it and that was why I just went up and told Ryan.

SAC—I understand what you are getting at and I’ll do what I can.

CJCS—I know you can’t possibly succeed in keeping the lid tightly on this thing.

SAC—You have to tell the guys out there so we don’t get going on the next mission for one thing.

CJCS—Exactly, so you are planning tomorrow for south of 20°?

SAC—We are going to go to 90 sorties tomorrow and they will be South of 20° down in SVN or wherever MACV wants them and, by Tuesday,5 we’ll be operating on the old scheme of 105 a day except that I am keeping the planning going on next week instead of being Day I it’ll be E+Day I instead of necessarily, Tuesday.

CJCS—Excellent. I got this written up this time in approximate terms of about 12–15 cells6 and in talking about up there South of 20° [Page 871] when I said 36–45 I was really talking about 12–15 cells and I told HAK because he was talking about 40 and I said they’d never go up there with 40 unless a couple had to abort because they always go in multiples of 3 to give them the flexibility to do it one way one time and the next a little different so that is why I put 12–15 cells and that is what I was trying to do in my message.

SAC—Is there any special pressure to get that number in below 20° but North of one because we got a problem in finding targets in that area.

CJCS—Use your judgment, that’s all right. That is just kind of a planning factor initially I think you’ll have enough targets to go on it but I don’t know how long it will last.

SAC—Go up there anyway?

CJCS—Put a few up there but depends. We don’t want you dunking weapons up there. If you want targets and they should be legitimate saying you can’t find them and we’ll cut back for that target and that’ll stand up all right in that kind of planning factor so you will just have to use your own judgment as to the validity of the target against “lucrative” targets. Obviously no point in going up there I think I can make that stick all right the same way the tacair is going to be days when the weather is so bad that they can’t go at all so I tried to put them at 140–160 or something like that we just hope this thing works out after your boys did such a terrific job. I told HAK that we can’t be getting everybody up for this kind of operation which requires guts, drive, etc., and then fall off and just peak up again and told him that is no way to do business. But they seem to be fairly confident that these guys really are anxious to talk for the first time. Really gotten to have some reason for needing too.

SAC—Plenty of reason I think.

CJCS—I am going to send you a message which (and you might want to put your boys on this right now.) … What I’d like is to have a little wrap-up from your point of view in terms of weight of effort, targets, countermeasures, tactics,7 the point is Laird and I are going to testify on this thing on 8 January I was going to get whatever you send me to take to Jack8 so that in case he has to testify so we’ll all be on the same wave length when we go over before Congress or before the press or what have you. Nothing too technical, just a little wrap-up of what happened during the last ten days. You are really the Rock of Gibraltar. But I’ll be fair to say that I think we got their attention this time. The [Page 872] whole point is what I call “saturation effect” they are just overwhelmed and it is too much for them to contend with.

SAC—In any interdiction campaign there are two factors that make it work and that is consumption on the battlefield and if there ain’t any consumption it’s really pretty hard to interdict the rail line or “stop” the flow of supplies. It is different there in France when the Germans had to get their forces to the coast fast. If they were going to stop the invasion and interdiction stopped them from moving but if they had five years to do it like we have given the NVN they could have done it too so there is no question about the fact that there are two characteristics of any air campaign and that is the pressure day, after day, after day, after day, after day, with no let up and usually it goes and the thing doesn’t look too bad and then it comes unglued overnight.

CJCS—Exactly that is what happened here.

SAC—In World War II when we were after the POL of the Germans it was much harder than we thought and people kept on saying you might as well knock it off because you’d never get all of it but “Spots”9 stayed after it and, all of a sudden, overnight they couldn’t get their airplanes off the ground and they just ran out of fuel but it took a long time.

CJCS—It’ll take these guys five years to put everything together again.

SAC—Shit, we’ll go over there and help them and do it for them, Tom!

CJCS—All the “do-gooders,” but I wouldn’t repair a single road sign if it was left up to me. Anyway that is what they are going to do in effect we are where we were on 23 October and they have agreed not to bring up all these superfluous things and get on with the serious business and come to a “rapid decision”. We had given them kind of conditions under which we would take and so I think the pressure on Nixon we had no choice and probably couldn’t say the NVN wanted to negotiate but the Americans wouldn’t. It’s a hard way to live.

SAC—An alternative would have been to go ahead with the negotiations but keep the bombing going until they signed the paper but it would have been tough for him to do.10

[Page 873]

CJCS—I told HAK this is the third time I’ve been through this and we should just keep on bombing until they signed. But, I didn’t sell that.

SAC—We’ll see. So as I went through this first message I said to myself here is where we go again and this is where I came in.

CJCS—I told him too I came in three times, HAK, we’ll see. I was just talking to Ryan about this and I think that the Country has just about taken all they can in this albatross and maybe they can come up with some honorable and satisfactory arrangement. It will be a long time before these characters will really get rolling with a major effort down south now what they have been doing is fighting us with manpower and they are really going to have to consume a lot of it up north now. We’ll see. I wanted you to know I did try to heavily emphasize the points we all know so well about the bombing until they signed instead of bombing until they agreed to talk.

SAC—You didn’t have to tell me that, I knew you did. An interesting thing but I was going to send you it after the New Year’s Stand-down but it is not going to be quite as good a story but I have a graph which your guys could put together too on the SAM firings and it covers all three categories in numbers of SAMs fired by aircrew observation which is a big number and the numbers reported by COMINT and the numbers they estimated based on the analysis of the whole thing and the difference between those numbers are not so important although it is quite a difference but what you get on the graph on the first day you get a great big horrendous number; the second day like about half and the third a little less and then it falls off to almost nothing for a few days and then we have the Christmas Stand-down and then the thing looks just like it did in the beginning—a little less but all it tells me is that it gives them 24–48 hours to hit us again, and get ready.

CJCS—I’ll make my boys do that, that’s a good idea.

SAC—I’ll send you a copy but it was not long enough of a story is the trouble but it would have been after the New Year’s Stand-down then you’d have some repetition so it doesn’t mean anything except to you and I who believe it anyway and it doesn’t sell too well with others.

CJCS—I might be able to use it, send it to me, thank you so much for a terrific job.

SAC—It’s the guys that do it are those aircrews and everything else we could go to hell if they had a perfect in every way but to stay in there and in their seats flying through all that flak …

CJCS—You’re absolutely right, a helluva job.

SAC—There is no way we can do enough for those fellows.

CJCS—Absolutely, you’re right.

[Page 874]

SAC—You don’t have a hand to give them what they deserve.

CJCS—You just can’t pay them. I have my fingers crossed but I am not too sanguine about a “riproaring” agreement is just what we want. On the other hand this is the way the ball bounces.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman, Moorer Diary, July 1970–July 1974. Top Secret. Moorer was in Washington; Meyer was presumably at SAC headquarters in Nebraska.
  2. That is, the White House.
  3. Senator William B. Saxbe (R–OH).
  4. Francis R. Sayre, Dean of the National Cathedral in Washington.
  5. January 2, 1973.
  6. Each cell consisted of three B–52s.
  7. Message 8155 from Moorer to Meyer, December 29, 1949Z. A copy was sent to General John D. Ryan, Air Force Chief of Staff. (National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman, Records of Thomas Moorer, Box 71, Linebacker II Messages, December 1972)
  8. General Ryan.
  9. General Carl A. Spaatz.
  10. Meyer and his staff planned a 7-day B–52 air campaign against North Vietnam and to support ARVN operations in South Vietnam to take place after the stand-down for New Year’s Eve and Day. The scale would be similar to the Christmas Bombing. Out of 650 planned sorties, 500 would take place over North Vietnam, the rest over South Vietnam or North Vietnam just north of the DMZ. See message 94547 from Meyer to Moorer, December 29, 0310Z. (National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman, Records of Thomas Moorer, Box 71, Linebacker II Messages, December 1972)