Review Corner: “The Eleven Days of Christmas”

2 Oct

The Eleven Days of Christmas. Marshall L. Michel III. Encounter Books, San Francisco, California. 2002. ISBN 10893554-27-9. Photographs. Maps. Appendix. Glossary. Reference Notes. Bibliographical Notes. Partial Bibliography. Index. Pp. viii. 325. $16.95.

 Reviewed By Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun

            The Eleven Days of Christmas by Marshall L. Michel III is an excellent book that comprehensively analyzes the plights and triumphs of Operation Linebacker II (1972). The author, Col Michel, who flew 321 combat missions in F-4s and RF-4s (1970-1973), is an expert on America’s air war in Vietnam.

            Michel’s thesis is to enlarge beyond the general idea of Operation Linebacker II by examining the complexity of politics and military strategies that influenced the air campaign. This book touches on the dogged North Vietnamese (NVA) defenders against America’s overwhelming firepower. It also clarifies the importance of a well balance air force in order to achieve complete victory.

            The book begins with the rivalry in the United States Air Force (USAF) between fighter command and General Curtis LeMay’s Strategic Air Command (SAC). Michel’s book analyzes the inefficiency of air campaign strategies when politics intermingled in military affairs. Michel points out orders were orders when President Nixon commanded SAC to executed Operation Linebacker II despite the numerous tactical and technical obstacles (Chaps 1-3).

             Michel’s book stated that no B-52s was lost prior to Linebacker II and SAC believed that Hanoi would capitulate at the sight of an air armada of bombers. But instead of being overwhelmed, NVA surface-to-air missiles (SAM) crews initially shattered the B-52 force. For eleven nail-biting days the air battle swung back and forth, from mounting B-52s losses to NVA defenders running low on missiles seemed to draw an inconclusive victory for both sides (Chaps 4-13). Michel cited the failure of SAC in executing an effective battle plan or improvising during combat missions, but credited an underrated enemy in its determination in inflicting psychological and physical damage. Linebacker II may seem as a failure but it brought Hanoi to sign a peace agreement and proved the viability of air power (Chapter 14).

            Although this book includes primary research along with interviews and the author’s own air combat experiences it does not have a complete bibliography section. It contains a partial bibliography and bibliographical note section to demonstrate where Michel obtained his sources. This book contains cited materials in a reference notes section. In order to give the reader a visual comprehension of the intensity and disparity of Linebacker II the book contains maps and vintage images of the aviation, people, and collateral damage. The glossary section gives the readers a wealth of definitions on acronyms contained in this book. Michel’s book contains an index along with a comprehensive appendix section that discusses and analyzes the losses of B-52s to the number of SAM fired to myth busting Linebacker II ‘Urban Legends’ and listing the order of battle by both forces.

            The strength of this book it is an easy read plus its non bias portrayal of American and NVA perspective from an academic standpoint. Michel successfully conveys his thesis by shedding some light on a controversial air battle that ended the Vietnam war. I strongly recommend Michel’s The Eleven Days of Christmas for military historians and aviation enthusiast.

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