Amid the tight, winding and colourful streets in an unassuming residential neighbourhood of Hanoi, lies a small lake nestled among the cafes, homes, stores and terraces. The crooked buildings seem to crowd around this tiny break in the skyline of the sprawling city. The lake itself is not particularly remarkable – The lake’s borders have been adjusted by human hands many times over the years – On one side it is hemmed in by a grubby white balustrade-style wall. On the other, a low brick boundary topped with a rusting iron fence stands between the lakes’ iridescent green waters and the city streets.
The lakes name is Huu Tiep lake. Or more colloquially, this lake is known as ‘Hồ B52’. This translates literally as ‘B-52 Lake’. For it is not the crowded buildings or the quiet Hanoi neighborhood, or the algae in the water of this shallow lake that is remarkable. It is the fact that protruding from the lakes the brackish green waters lies the twisted wreckage of an enormous American jet.
It is a bizarre thing to see the twisted metal fuselage and perished rubber tyres, all mangled into a perverse shape poking out of an otherwise unremarkable city lake, in a quiet Hanoi square. It is quite a striking thing to see a slice of real history nestled where it came to rest and left for all to see.
The plane’s wreckage belongs to an American B-52 Stratofortress Bomber. The plane was brought down in former North Vietnam in 1972. The Bomber was taking part in a US mission named Operation Linebacker during the Vietnam war. The American air assault on North Vietnam was first begun in 1964. The heavy bombing was continued until 1968, and resumed in 1972 by US President Richard Nixon, trying to pressure North Vietnam’s communist government to the negotiating table. Hanoi was pounded relentlessly during these years, and the stricken B-52 bomber is evidence that it was not a one-sided war.
Only a part of the lower fuselage of the B-52 protrudes above the algae-green water line. Other parts of the plane rained down on Hanoi in different areas – The bomber was hit by a Soviet-supplied surface to air missile and launcher (SAM) and broke up in midair, the various parts of the plane scattering over Hanoi.
When in this place, it is easy to close your eyes and imagine what it may have been like that evening over 40 years ago. The air raid sirens went off as the bombing began. The people of this neighbourhood in Hanoi took what shelter they could, and prepared to weather another all-to familiar night of American ordnance. Then out of the sky, this streak of flaming wreckage plummeted right into their lake, spewing flaming jet fuel and scattering shrapnel and twisted metal all over the streets.
The six-man crew of the plane scattered over Hanoi – The navigator was killed instantly, but the rest of the airmen managed to eject and were captured by North Vietnamese forces, and held as POWs until the end of the war. One of the men was killed in prison, the remaining four actually managed to weather their captivity and return to the US after the war had ended.
The North Vietnamese were jubilant about their marksmanship. Bringing down a US B-52 Stratofortress is no easy feat. A marker sign marker is telling of the attitude of the government, and an indication of why the plane is still lying in the lake to this day – As sort of a war trophy. The sign reads:
“AT 23.05 ON DECEMBER 27TH 1972, THE BATTALION No 72 – AIR DEFENCE MISSILE REGIMENT No 285 SHOT DOWN ON THE SPOT A B52 OF THE US IMPERIALIST VIOLATING HANOI AIRSPACE. A PART OF THE WRECKAGE FELL INTO HUU TIEP LAKE”.
American losses during the Vietnam War were costly indeed. Between 1964-1973, the USover than 3,000 jets and planes were brought down over Vietnam, as well as 4,000 helicopters. The B-52 of Huu Tiep lake is thus by no means the only American air wreckage that remains in Vietnam, but it may well be the most visually shocking, given its twisted fuselage and stricken landing gear pointing out of the still waters towards the sky. If nothings else, the shocking sight of the torn-apart bomber in Huu Tiep lake is a reminder that, despite all of the US’s air power – The best and most advanced bombers, jets, and military helicopters the world’s superpower could muster, none of them were able to achieve victory in Vietnam. That truly is a lesson from the history books, lying now at peace in the waters of a suburban Lake in Hanoi.