North Vietnam Propaganda Stamps

Fifty years ago the Vietnam War was intensifying as the United States began a bombing campaign over North Vietnam called Operation Rolling Thunder which was intended to either force the N. Vietnamese to the negotiating table or bomb them ‘back into the Stone Age’.

The N. Vietnamese defended themselves as best they could and managed to shoot down many American fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, mostly by anti-aircraft fire, surface to air missiles and small arms fire.

To shore up morale in the face of devastating US raids, North Vietnam began issuing a series of postage stamps boasting of their successes in shooting down American aircraft.

This first stamp, issued in 1965, claimed 500 US Aircraft Shot Down Over North Vietnam.

This first stamp, issued in 1965, claimed 500 US Aircraft Shot Down Over North Vietnam.

In 1966, another stamp was issued claiming 1000 shot down (I am missing this stamp from my collection).

By October 1966 the total had risen to 1500 according to this stamp.

By 14 October 1966 the total had risen to 1500 according to this stamp.

By June 1967 (just 229 days later) the total had risen to 2000 according to the N. Vietnamese (i.e over two aircraft shot down per day)

By 5 June 1967 (just 229 days later) the total had risen to 2000 according to the N. Vietnamese (i.e over two aircraft shot down per day)

The artwork for this stamp was taken from this famous ‘Guerilla Girl’ photo showing Capt. Bill Robinson being taken into captivity by a diminutive female soldier.

Although it was claimed that the girl captured the US airman single handed, this was a staged photo and she was one of a large party who captured him.

Although it was claimed that the girl captured the US airman single handed, this was a staged photo and she was one of a large party who captured him.

Bill Robinson had the misfortune to become the longest held enlisted prisoner of war in American history from the shooting down of his helicopter on 20 September 1965 until his release on 12 February 1973. He spent his 7 1/2 years captivity in various prisons including the notorious Hanoi Hilton which I visited and blogged about some years ago. He was horribly mistreated – as he says in his biography* “We were all treated equally, we all got the hell beaten out of us”.

Later in 1967, the 2500th US aircraft to be shot down over North Vietnam was commemorated with these stamps.

Later in 1967, the 2500th US aircraft to be shot down over North Vietnam was commemorated with these stamps.

By 1968, the North Vietnamese were claiming 3,000 US Aircraft shot down.

By 1968, the North Vietnamese were claiming 3,000 US Aircraft shot down.

This stamp dated April 1972 brings the total up to 3500 and portrays a US airman in captivity.

This stamp dated April 1972 brings the total up to 3500 and portrays a US airman in captivity.

Later in 1972, North Vietnam releases these stamps, increasing the total of kills to 4,000.

Later in 1972, North Vietnam releases these stamps, increasing the total of kills to 4,000.

The final set of stamps was brought out in 1973, marking the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War.

This 1973 stamp, one of a set of 4 called 'Victory Over US Airforce' claims a grand total of 4181 US Aircraft shot down  over North Vietnam .

This 1973 stamp, one of a set of 4 called ‘Victory Over US Airforce’ claims a grand total of 4181 US Aircraft shot down over North Vietnam .

These were propaganda stamps and you would assume that North Vietnamese claims must have been greatly exaggerated. How many US aircraft were actually lost? Having trawled the internet it is quite difficult to find a definitive number that everyone agrees on. The number 2257 is mentioned often but it depends on whether you include helicopters, losses due to accidents, losses over Cambodia and Laos and other variables. A declassified US Airforce report (should be a reliable source) puts USAF (i.e. not including Navy, Army, Marines) combat losses of fixed wing aircraft at over 1600.  According to the Oxford Companion to American Military History, 8588 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters were lost. Whatever the true figure, it was a lot!

Norman Morrison Stamp

This is another North Vietnam propaganda stamp, portraying Norman Morrison, a 31 year old American Quaker activist who burnt himself to death on 2 November 1965 in front of the Pentagon to protest American involvement in the Vietnam War.

Norman Morrison

Norman Morrison

A sad, but ultimately futile, gesture. Will anyone remember his 50th anniversary? Maybe in Vietnam they will.

*The Longest Rescue: The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A Robinson by Glenn Robins

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One Response to North Vietnam Propaganda Stamps

  1. Interesting. Speaking to the Vietnamese during my time in Hanoi I was really struck by the current absence of animosity or rancour towards the Americans. Perhaps they were being polite, as is their manner, thinking I was an American or deemed at least to be allied. Universally they all recounted the hard hard times endured growing up as children during the “American” war.

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