Johnson’s bombing campaign was not ineffective because of its limited scope. The widespread destruction of Northern Vietnamese ammunition depots and power plants demonstrates this.
It was ineffective at disrupting weapon supplies for two reasons. Firstly, the communists could import Chinese and Soviet-made AK47 rifles across their northern border. Even with their ammunition depots destroyed, a steady stream of weapons and bullets entered the country through China uninterrupted.
No amount of bombing could stop the communists’ international allies resupplying depleted ammunition stocks.
Johnson’s bombing was also ineffective against Vietnamese supply routes because the leadership in Washington were clueless about how these routes operated. Around the planning table in Washington, the military advisers believed the Ho Chi Minh trail was a single, well-travelled route south that communists used to transport weapons and goods.
This was not the case. The Ho Chi Minh trail was an extensive network of jungle paths. As soon as one bridge or path was destroyed in a US bombing raid, the supplies were simply diverted onto another path. This style of logistical support is almost impossible to destroy from aerial attacks alone.
Makeshift bridges were erected overnight, and the flow of weapons, ammunition, and explosives continued unhindered. In 1965, the head of the communist army, General Giap, signed an agreement with the Chinese government that saw the Chinese army send some of their best engineering units to help repair bridges, roads, and railways.
Similarly, the Northern Vietnamese government’s headquarters were not one single established facility. They were a constantly moving, mobile unit of individuals, who carried out their meetings in tunnels within the jungle. This made the leadership like ghosts. Immune to the falling American bombs.