Operation FLAMING DART
Operation FLAMING DART encompassed two retaliatory raids on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), which preceded and were not a part of the broader Operation ROLLING THUNDER program began. Certainly, some of the in-process planning for ROLLING THUNDER was used in FLAMING DART, but the FLAMING DART operations were ad hoc.
FLAMING DART I was a response to a February 8, 1965 attack on the U.S. air base at Pleiku, while the triggering event for FLAMING DART II was a February 10 attack on a U.S. barracks at Qui Nhon. The first attack was not officially publicized although it was reported. Rather than explaining it as a direct reprisal, however, the second attack was described as response to a long list of Communist attacks. While he had decided to approve ROLLING THUNDER, Johnson had also not wanted to publicize a continuing campaign until Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, who was visiting Hanoi, departed. Both attacks were made by U.S. Navy aircraft operating from aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. The actual military effectiveness was not great; a total of 267 sorties had been directed against 491 buildings, but only 47 buildings were destroyed and another 22 damaged. This produced a memorandum from Secretary of Defense McNamara to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Our primary objective, of course, was to communicate our political resolve.… Future communications of resolve, however, will carry a hollow ring unless we accomplish more military damage than we have to date.
Several factors went into the lack of success. There were local issues such as bad weather, but more endemic was that the aircrews' training had emphasized the delivery of nuclear weapons, with a 750 foot circular error probability (CEP). A 750 foot CEP is not an issue with a nuclear weapon, but it is far too inaccurate for reliable delivery of high-explosive bombs against individual buildings.
Operation ROLLING THUNDER was approved two days later, on February 13; the overemphasis on nuclear attack was to limit success there for quite some time.