30 November 1979

Pink Floyd’s rock opera, The Wall is released.

The Wall

The Wall
An image of a plain white brick wall.
Studio album by
Released30 November 1979 (1979-11-30)
RecordedDecember 1978 – November 1979
Pink Floyd chronology
The Wall
A Collection of Great Dance Songs
Singles from The Wall
  1. "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2"
    Released: 23 November 1979
  2. "Run Like Hell"
    Released: 17 April 1980
  3. "Comfortably Numb"
    Released: 23 June 1980

The Wall is the eleventh studio album by English rock band Pink Floyd, released 30 November 1979 on Harvest and Columbia Records. It is a rock opera that explores Pink, a jaded rockstar whose eventual self-imposed isolation from society is symbolized by a wall. The album was a commercial success, topping the US charts for 15 weeks, and reaching number three in the UK. It initially received mixed reviews from critics, many of whom found it overblown and pretentious, but later came to be considered one of the greatest albums of all time.

Bassist Roger Waters conceived The Wall during Pink Floyd's 1977 In The Flesh tour, modeling the character of Pink after himself and former bandmate Syd Barrett. Recording spanned from December 1978 to November 1979. Producer Bob Ezrin helped to refine the concept and bridge tensions during recording, as the band were struggling with personal and financial issues at the time. The Wall is the last album to feature Pink Floyd as a quartet; keyboardist Richard Wright was fired by Waters during production, but stayed on as a salaried musician. Three singles were issued from the album: "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" (the band's only US number-one single), "Run Like Hell", and "Comfortably Numb". From 1980 to 1981, Pink Floyd performed the full album on a tour that featured elaborate theatrical effects.

The Wall was adapted into a 1982 feature film of the same name and remains one of the best-known concept albums.[4]. The album has sold more than 24 million copies, is the second best-selling in the band's catalog, and is one of the best-selling of all time. Some of the outtakes from the recording sessions were later used on the group's next album, The Final Cut (1983). In 2000 it was voted number 30 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.[5] In 2003, Rolling Stone listed The Wall at number 87 on its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". From 2010 to 2013, Waters staged a new Wall live tour that became the highest-grossing tour by a solo musician.


Pink Floyd's In the Flesh Tour was their first playing in large stadiums. Bassist and songwriter Roger Waters recalled: "I disliked it intensely because it became a social event rather than a more controlled and ordinary relationship between musicians and an audience ... The front sixty rows seemed to be screaming and shouting and rocking and swaying and not really listening to anything. And those further back could see bugger-all anyway."[6] Some audience members set off firecrackers, leading Waters to stop playing and scold them. In July 1977, on the final date at the Montreal Olympic Stadium, a group of noisy and excited fans near the stage irritated Waters so much that he spat at one of them.[7] Guitarist David Gilmour refused to perform a final encore and sat at the soundboard,[8] leaving the band, with backup guitarist Snowy White, to improvise a slow, sad 12-bar blues, which Waters announced to the audience as "some music to go home to".[9][10] That night, Waters spoke with music producer Bob Ezrin and Ezrin's psychiatrist friend about the alienation he was experiencing. He articulated his desire to isolate himself by constructing a wall across the stage between the performers and the audience.[11] He said, "I kept saying to people on that tour, 'I'm not really enjoying this ... there is something very wrong with this.'"[12]

While Gilmour and Wright were in France recording solo albums, and drummer Nick Mason was busy producing Steve Hillage's Green, Waters began to write material.[13] The spitting incident became the starting point for a new concept, which explored the protagonist's self-imposed isolation after years of traumatic interactions with authority figures and the loss of his father as a child. The Wall would study the performer's psychological separation from the audience, using a physical structure as a metaphorical and theatrical device.[10]

In July 1978, Pink Floyd reconvened at Britannia Row Studios, where Waters presented two new ideas for concept albums. The first was a 90-minute demo with the working title Bricks in the Wall.[14] The second was about a man's dreams across one night, and dealt with marriage, sex, and the pros and cons of monogamy and family life versus promiscuity.[15] The band chose the first option. The second option eventually became Waters's first solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.[14]

By September, Pink Floyd was experiencing financial difficulties and urgently needed to produce an album to make money.[16] Financial planners Norton Warburg Group (NWG) had invested £1.3–3.3 million, up to £18.6 million in contemporary value,[17] of the group's money in high-risk venture capital to reduce their tax liabilities. The strategy failed when many of the businesses NWG invested in lost money, leaving the band facing tax rates potentially as high as 83 percent. "We made Dark Side and it looked as if we'd cracked it," recalled Waters. "Then suddenly these bastards had stolen it all. It looked as if we might be faced with huge tax bills for the money that had been lost. Eighty-three per cent was a lot of money in those days and we didn't have it."[18] Pink Floyd terminated their relationship with NWG, demanding the return of uninvested funds.[19][nb 1] "By force of necessity, I had to become closely involved in the business side," remarked Gilmour, "because no one around us has shown themselves sufficiently capable or honest to cope with it, and I saw with Norton Warburg that the shit was heading inexorably towards the fan. They weren't the first crooks we stupidly allied ourselves with. Ever since then, there's not a penny that I haven't signed for. I sign every cheque and examine everything."[18]

To help manage the project's 26 tracks, Waters decided to bring in a producer and collaborator,[14] feeling he needed "a collaborator who was musically and intellectually in a similar place to where I was."[20] At the suggestion of Waters's then-girlfriend Lady Carolyne Christie, who had worked as the secretary to producer and musician Bob Ezrin, the band hired him on.[16] Ezrin had worked with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Kiss, and Peter Gabriel.[21] From the start, Waters made it clear who was in charge, telling him: "You can write anything you want. Just don't expect any credit."[22]

Ezrin and Gilmour reviewed Waters's concept, discarding what they thought was not good enough. Waters and Ezrin worked mostly on the story, improving the concept.[23] Ezrin presented a 40-page script to the rest of the band, with positive results. He recalled: "The next day at the studio, we had a table read, like you would with a play, but with the whole of the band, and their eyes all twinkled, because then they could see the album."[20] Ezrin broadened the storyline, distancing it from the autobiographical work Waters had written, and instead basing it on a composite character named Pink.[24] Engineer Nick Griffiths later said: "Ezrin was very good in The Wall, because he did manage to pull the whole thing together. He's a very forceful guy. There was a lot of argument about how it should sound between Roger and Dave, and he bridged the gap between them."[25] Waters wrote most of the album, with Gilmour co-writing "Comfortably Numb", "Run Like Hell", and "Young Lust",[26] and Ezrin co-writing "The Trial".[23]

Concept and storyline

The Wall is a rock opera[27] that explores abandonment and isolation, symbolized by a wall. The songs create an approximate storyline of events in the life of the protagonist, Pink, a character based on Syd Barrett[28] as well as Roger Waters,[29] whose father was killed during WWII. Pink's father also dies in a war, which is where Pink starts to build a metaphorical wall around himself. The album includes several references to former band member Syd Barrett, including "Nobody Home", which hints at his condition during Pink Floyd's abortive US tour of 1967, with lyrics such as "wild, staring eyes", "the obligatory Hendrix perm" and "elastic bands keeping my shoes on". "Comfortably Numb" was inspired by Waters' injection with a muscle relaxant to combat the effects of hepatitis during the In the Flesh Tour, while in Philadelphia.[30]

Plot summary

Pink is a rock star, one of the many reasons which have left him depressed. Pink imagines a crowd of fans entering one of his concerts, and we begin a flashback on his life, and it is revealed that his father was killed defending the Anzio bridgehead during World War II, in Pink's infancy ("In the Flesh?"). Pink's mother raises him alone ("The Thin Ice"), and with the death of his father, Pink starts to build a metaphorical wall around himself ("Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1").

Growing older, Pink is tormented at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers ("The Happiest Days of Our Lives"), and of these traumas become metaphorical "bricks in the wall" ("Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2"). As an adult now, Pink remembers his oppressive and overprotective mother ("Mother") and his upbringing during the Blitz ("Goodbye Blue Sky"). Pink soon marries, is about to complete his "wall" ("Empty Spaces"). While touring in America, he turns to a willing groupie ("Young Lust"). After learning of his wife's infidelity, he brings the groupie back to his hotel room, only to trash it in a violent fit of rage, terrifying the groupie out of the room ("One of My Turns"). Pink, depressed, thinks about his wife, and feels trapped in his room ("Don't Leave Me Now"), and dismisses every traumatic experience he has ever had as a "brick" in the metaphorical wall ("Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3"), Pink's wall is now finished, completing his total isolation from human contact ("Goodbye Cruel World").

Immediately after the wall's completion, Pink questions his decisions, ("Hey You"), and locks himself in his hotel room ("Is There Anybody Out There?"). Beginning to feel depressed, Pink turns to his possessions for comfort ("Nobody Home"), and yearns for the idea of reconnecting with his personal roots ("Vera"), Pink's mind flashes back to World War II, with the people demanding that the soldiers return home ("Bring the Boys Back Home"). Returning to the present, Pink's manager and roadies have busted into his hotel room, where they find him drugged and unresponsive. A paramedic injects him with drugs to enable him to perform ("Comfortably Numb").

This results in a hallucinatory on-stage performance ("The Show Must Go On") where he believes that he is a fascist dictator, and that his concert is a Neo-Nazi rally, at which he sets brownshirt-like men on fans he considers unworthy ("In the Flesh"). He proceeds to attack ethnic minorities ("Run Like Hell"), and then holds a rally in suburban London, symbolizing his descent into insanity ("Waiting for the Worms"). Pink's hallucination then ceases, and he begs for everything to stop ("Stop"). Showing human emotion, he is tormented with guilt and places himself on trial ("The Trial"), his inner judge ordering him to "tear down the wall", opening Pink to the outside world ("Outside the Wall"). The album turns full circle with its closing words "Isn't this where ...", the first words of the phrase that begins the album, "... we came in?", with a continuation of the melody of the last song hinting at the cyclical nature of Waters' theme.[31]



The album was recorded in several locations. In France, Super Bear Studios was used between January and July 1979, with Waters recording his vocals at the nearby Studio Miraval. Michael Kamen supervised the orchestral arrangements at CBS Studios in New York, in September.[32] Over the next two months the band used Cherokee Studios, Producers Workshop and The Village Recorder in Los Angeles. A plan to work with the Beach Boys at the Sundance Productions studio in Los Angeles was cancelled.[33][34]

James Guthrie, recommended by previous Floyd collaborator Alan Parsons, arrived early in the production process.[35] He replaced engineer Brian Humphries, emotionally drained by his five years with the band.[36] Guthrie was hired as a co-producer, but was initially unaware of Ezrin's role: "I saw myself as a hot young producer ... When we arrived, I think we both felt we'd been booked to do the same job."[37] The early sessions at Britannia Row were emotionally charged, as Ezrin, Guthrie and Waters each had strong ideas about the direction the album would take. Relations within the band were at a low ebb, and Ezrin's role expanded to that of an intermediary between Waters and the rest of the band.[38] As Britannia Row was initially regarded as inadequate for The Wall the band upgraded much of its equipment,[39] and by March another set of demos were complete. However, their former relationship with NWG placed them at risk of bankruptcy, and they were advised to leave the UK by no later than 6 April 1979, for a minimum of one year. As non-residents they would pay no UK taxes during that time, and within a month all four members and their families had left. Waters moved to Switzerland, Mason to France, and Gilmour and Wright to the Greek Islands. Some equipment from Britannia Row was relocated in Super Bear Studios near Nice.[25][40] Gilmour and Wright were each familiar with the studio and enjoyed its atmosphere, having recorded solo albums there. While Wright and Mason lived at the studio, Waters and Gilmour stayed in nearby houses. Mason later moved into Waters's villa near Vence, while Ezrin stayed in Nice.[41]

The rest of the band's children were young enough to stay with them in France but mine were older and had to go to school. I was missing my children terribly.

Richard Wright[42]

Ezrin's poor punctuality caused problems with the tight schedule dictated by Waters.[43] Mason found the producer's behaviour "erratic", but used his elaborate and unlikely excuses for his lateness as ammunition for "tongue-in-cheek resentment".[41] Ezrin's share of the royalties was less than the rest of the band and he viewed Waters as a bully, especially when Waters mocked him by having badges made that read NOPE (No Points Ezrin), alluding to his lesser share.[43] Ezrin later said he had marital problems and was not "in the best shape emotionally".[43]

More problems became apparent when Waters's relationship with Wright broke down. The band were rarely in the studio together. Ezrin and Guthrie spliced Mason's previously recorded drum tracks together, and Guthrie also worked with Waters and Gilmour during the day, returning at night to record Wright's contributions. Wright, worried about the effect that the introduction of Ezrin would have on the band's internal relationships, was keen to have a producer's credit on the album (their albums up to that point had always stated "Produced by Pink Floyd").[44] Waters agreed to a trial period with Wright producing, after which he was to be given a producer's credit, but after a few weeks he and Ezrin expressed dissatisfaction with the keyboardist's methods. A confrontation with Ezrin led to Wright working only at nights. Gilmour also expressed his annoyance, complaining that Wright's lack of input was "driving us all mad",[45] and Ezrin later reflected: "it sometimes felt that Roger was setting him up to fail. Rick gets performance anxiety. You have to leave him alone to freeform, to create ..."[45] Wright had his own problems, a failing marriage and the onset of depression, exacerbated by his non-residency. The band's holidays were booked for August, after which they were to reconvene at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, but Columbia offered the band a better deal in exchange for a Christmas release of the album. Waters therefore increased the band's workload accordingly, booking time at the nearby Studio Miraval.[46] He also suggested recording in Los Angeles ten days earlier than agreed, and hiring another keyboardist to work alongside Wright, whose keyboard parts had not yet been recorded. Wright, however, refused to cut short his family holiday in Rhodes.[47]

Accounts of Wright's subsequent departure from the band differ. In his autobiography, Inside Out, Mason says that Waters called O'Rourke, who was travelling to the US on the QE2, and told him to have Wright out of the band by the time Waters arrived in LA to mix the album.[48] In another version recorded by a later historian of the band, Waters called O'Rourke and asked him to tell Wright about the new recording arrangements, to which Wright allegedly responded: "Tell Roger to fuck off ..."[42] Wright disagreed with this recollection, stating that the band had agreed to record only through the spring and early summer, and that he had no idea they were so far behind schedule. Mason later wrote that Waters was "stunned and furious",[46] and felt that Wright was not doing enough to help complete the album.[46] Gilmour was on holiday in Dublin when he learnt of Waters's ultimatum, and tried to calm the situation. He later spoke with Wright and gave him his support, but reminded him about his minimal contribution to the album.[49] Waters, however, insisted that Wright leave, or he would refuse to release The Wall. Several days later, worried about their financial situation, and the failing interpersonal relationships within the band, Wright quit. News of his departure was kept from the music press.[50] Although his name did not appear anywhere on the original album,[51][52] he was employed as a session musician on the band's subsequent The Wall tour.[53]

By August 1979 the running order was largely complete. Wright completed his duties at Cherokee Studios aided by session musicians Peter Wood and Fred Mandel, and Jeff Porcaro played drums in Mason's stead on "Mother".[52] His duties complete, Mason left the final mix to Waters, Gilmour, Ezrin and Guthrie, and travelled to New York to record his début solo album, Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports.[54] In advance of its release, technical constraints led to some changes being made to the running order and content of The Wall, with "What Shall We Do Now?" being replaced by the similar but shorter "Empty Spaces", and "Hey You" being moved from its original place at the end of side three, to the beginning. With the November 1979 deadline approaching, the band left the now-incorrect inner sleeves of the album unchanged.[55]


Mason's early drum sessions were performed in an open space on the top floor of Britannia Row Studios. The 16-track recordings from these sessions were mixed down and copied onto a 24-track master, as guide tracks for the rest of the band to play to. This gave the engineers greater flexibility,[nb 2] but also improved the audio quality of the final mix as the original 16-track drum recordings were finally synced to the 24-track master, and the duplicated guide tracks removed.[57] Ezrin later related the band's alarm at this method of working – they apparently viewed the erasure of material from the 24-track master as "witchcraft".[38]

While at Super Bear studios Waters agreed to Ezrin's suggestion that several tracks, including "Nobody Home", "The Trial" and "Comfortably Numb", should have an orchestral accompaniment. Michael Kamen, who had previously worked with David Bowie, was booked to oversee these arrangements, which were performed by musicians from the New York Philharmonic and New York Symphony Orchestras, and a choir from the New York City Opera.[58] Their sessions were recorded at CBS Studios in New York, although Pink Floyd were not present. Kamen eventually met the band once recording was complete.[59]

I think things like 'Comfortably Numb' were the last embers of mine and Roger's ability to work collaboratively together.

David Gilmour[60]

"Comfortably Numb" has its origins in Gilmour's debut solo album, and was the source of much argument between Waters and Gilmour.[25] Ezrin claimed that the song initially started life as "Roger's record, about Roger, for Roger", although he thought that it needed further work. Waters changed the key of the verse of the song and added more lyrics for the chorus with Gilmour adding some extra bars for the line "I have become Comfortably Numb", but his "stripped-down and harder" recording was not to Gilmour's liking. Gilmour preferred Ezrin's "grander Technicolor, orchestral version", although Ezrin preferred Waters's version. Following a full-scale argument in a North Hollywood restaurant, the two compromised; the song's body eventually included the orchestral arrangement, with Gilmour's second and final guitar solo standing alone.[60]

Sound design

Ezrin and Waters oversaw the capture of the sound effects used on the album. Waters recorded the phone call used on the original demo for "Young Lust", but neglected to inform its recipient, Mason, who assumed it was a prank call and angrily hung up.[61] A real telephone operator was also an unwitting participant.[62] The call references Waters' viewpoint of his bitter 1975 divorce from first wife Judy.[63] Waters also recorded ambient sounds along Hollywood Boulevard by hanging a microphone from a studio window. Engineer Phil Taylor recorded some of the screeching tyre noises on "Run Like Hell" from a studio car park, and a television set being destroyed was used on "One of My Turns". At Britannia Row Studios, Nick Griffiths recorded the smashing of crockery for the same song.[64] Television broadcasts were used, and one actor, recognising his voice, accepted a financial settlement from the group in lieu of legal action against them.[65]

The maniacal schoolmaster was voiced by Waters, and actress Trudy Young supplied the groupie's voice.[64] Backing vocals were performed by a range of artists, although a planned appearance by the Beach Boys on "The Show Must Go On" and "Waiting for the Worms" was cancelled by Waters, who instead settled for Beach Boy Bruce Johnston and Toni Tennille.[66]

Ezrin's suggestion to release "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" as a single with a disco-style beat did not initially find favour with Gilmour, although Mason and Waters were more enthusiastic. Waters was opposed to the idea of releasing a single at all, but became receptive once he listened to Ezrin and Guthrie's mix of the song. With two identical verses the song was felt to be lacking, and so a copy was sent to Griffiths in London with a request to find children to perform several versions of the lyrics.[58] Griffiths contacted Alun Renshaw, head of music at the nearby Islington Green school, who was enthusiastic about the idea, saying: "I wanted to make music relevant to the kids – not just sitting around listening to Tchaikovsky. I thought the lyrics were great – "We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control ..." I just thought it would be a wonderful experience for the kids."[67]

Griffiths first recorded small groups of pupils and then invited more, telling them to affect a Cockney accent and shout rather than sing. He multitracked the voices, making the groups sound larger, before sending his recordings back to Los Angeles. The result delighted Waters, and the song was released as a single, becoming a Christmas number one.[68] There was some controversy when the British press reported that the children had not been paid for their efforts; they were eventually given copies of the album, and the school received a £1,000 donation (£4,000 in contemporary value[17]).[69]

Artwork and packaging

The album's cover art is one of Pink Floyd's most minimal – a white brick wall and no text. Waters had a falling out with Hipgnosis designer Storm Thorgerson a few years earlier when Thorgerson had included the cover of Animals in his book Walk Away Renee. The Wall is therefore the first album cover of the band since The Piper at the Gates of Dawn not to be created by the design group.[70] Issues of the album would include the lettering of the artist name and album title by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, either as a sticker on sleeve wrapping or printed onto the cover itself, in either black or red. Scarfe, who had previously created animations for the band's "In the Flesh" tour, also created the LP's inside sleeve art and labels of both vinyl records of the album, showing the eponymous wall in various stages of construction, accompanied by characters from the story. The drawings would be translated into dolls for The Wall Tour, as well as into Scarfe's animated segments for the film based on the album.[71][72]

Release and reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[73]
Christgau's Record GuideB–[74]
The Daily Telegraph3/5 stars[75]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[76]
The Great Rock Discography9/10[76]
MusicHound Rock5/5 stars[77]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide3/5 stars[78]
Smash Hits8/10[79]

When the completed album was played for an assembled group of executives at Columbia's headquarters in California, several were reportedly unimpressed by what they heard.[81] Matters had not been helped when Columbia Records offered Waters smaller publishing rights on the grounds that The Wall was a double album, a position he did not accept. When one executive offered to settle the dispute with a coin toss, Waters asked why he should gamble on something he owned. He eventually prevailed.[54] The record company's concerns were alleviated when "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2" reached number one in the UK, US, Norway, Portugal, West Germany and South Africa.[81] It was certified platinum in the UK in December 1979, and platinum in the US three months later.[82]

The Wall was released in the UK and in the US on 30 November 1979.[nb 3] Coinciding with its release, Waters was interviewed by veteran DJ Tommy Vance, who played the album in its entirety on BBC Radio 1.[70] Critical opinion of its content was mixed,[83] ranging from The Village Voice critic Robert Christgau's "a dumb tribulations-of-a-rock-star epic" backed by "kitschy minimal maximalism with sound effects and speech fragments" which he later recalled had "three worthwhile songs",[84][85] and Rolling Stone writer Kurt Loder's "a stunning synthesis of Waters's by now familiar thematic obsessions",[86] to Melody Maker's "I'm not sure whether it's brilliant or terrible, but I find it utterly compelling."[87] Nevertheless, the album topped the Billboard charts for 15 weeks,[88] selling over a million copies in its first two months of sales[83] and in 1999 was certified 23x platinum.[nb 4][89] It remains one of the best-selling albums of all time in the US,[82][89] between 1979 and 1990 selling over 19 million copies worldwide.[90] The Wall is Pink Floyd's second best selling album after 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon. Engineer James Guthrie's efforts were rewarded in 1980 with a Grammy award for Best Engineered Recording (non-classical).[91] According to Acclaimed Music, The Wall is the 145th most ranked record on critics' all-time lists.[92] Rolling Stone placed it at number 87 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003,[93] maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list.[94]


A 1994 digitally remastered CD version manufactured in China omits "Young Lust", but retains a composition credit for Waters/Gilmour in the booklet.[95] The album was reissued in three versions as part of the Why Pink Floyd...? campaign, which featured a massive restoration of the band's catalogue with remasterings by producer James Guthrie: in 2011, a "Discovery" edition, featuring the remastered version with no extras; and in 2012, both the "Experience" edition, which adds a bonus disc of unreleased material and other supplementary items, and the "Immersion" version, a seven-disc collection that also adds video materials.[96][97] The album was reissued under the Pink Floyd Records label on 26 August 2016 along with The Division Bell.


A concert stage in front of a wall with 2 levels. Five men stand on a balcony, including Roger Waters, who is saluting with his arm. On the lower level is a drum kit and a man playing guitar.
Waters (in spotlight), dressed in military attire, performing at The Wall – Live in Berlin, 1990

The Wall Tour opened at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on 7 February 1980. As the band played, a 40-foot (12 m) wall of cardboard bricks was gradually built between them and the audience. Several characters were realised as giant inflatables, including a pig, replete with a crossed hammers logo.[98] Scarfe was employed to produce a series of animations to be projected onto the wall.[98] At his London studio, he employed a team of 40 animators to create nightmarish visions of the future, including a dove of peace, a schoolmaster, and Pink's mother.[99]

For "Comfortably Numb", while Waters sang his opening verse, Gilmour waited in darkness at the top of the wall, standing on a flight case on casters, held steady by a technician, both precariously balanced atop a hydraulic platform. On cue, bright blue and white lights would suddenly illuminate him.[100] At the end of the concert, the wall collapsed, revealing the band.[101] Along with the songs on the album, the tour featured an instrumental medley, "The Last Few Bricks", played before "Goodbye Cruel World" to allow the construction crew to complete the wall.[102]

During the tour, band relationships dropped to an all-time low; four Winnebagos were parked in a circle, with the doors facing away from the centre. Waters used his own vehicle to arrive at the venue, and stayed in separate hotels from the rest of the band. Wright, returning to perform his duties as a salaried musician, was the only member of the band to profit from the tour, which lost about £400,000.[53]


A film adaptation, Pink Floyd – The Wall, was released in July 1982.[38] It was written by Waters and directed by Alan Parker, with Bob Geldof as Pink. It used Scarfe's animation alongside actors, with little conventional dialogue.[103] A modified soundtrack was created for some of the film's songs.[104]

In 1990, Waters and producer Tony Hollingsworth created The Wall – Live in Berlin, staged for charity at a site once occupied by part of the Berlin Wall.[105] Beginning in 2010[106] and with dates lasting into 2013, Waters performed the album worldwide on his tour, The Wall Live.[107] This had a much wider wall, updated higher quality projected content and leading-edge projection technology. Gilmour and Mason played at one show in London at The O2 Arena.[108] A film of the live concert, Roger Waters: The Wall, was released in 2015.[109] In 2000, Pink Floyd released Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980–81, which contains portions of various live shows from the Wall Tour.[110]

In 2016, Waters adapted The Wall into an opera, Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera with contemporary classical composer Julien Bilodeau. It premiered at Opéra de Montréal in March 2017, and was produced by Cincinnati Opera in July 2018.[111] It is orchestrated for a score of eight soloists, 48 chorus members, and a standard 70-piece operatic orchestra.[112]

In 2018, a tribute album The Wall [Redux] was released, with individual artists covering the entire album. This included Melvins' version of "In The Flesh?",[113] Pallbearer covering "Run Like Hell", former Screaming Trees' singer Mark Lanegan covering "Nobody Home" and Church of the Cosmic Skull reworking "The Trial".[114][115]

Track listing

All tracks written by Roger Waters, except where noted.

Side one/Disc one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."In the Flesh?"Waters3:16
2."The Thin Ice"Waters, Gilmour2:27
3."Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1"Waters3:11
4."The Happiest Days of Our Lives"Waters1:46
5."Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2"Waters, Gilmour3:59
6."Mother"Waters, Gilmour5:32
Total length:20:11
Side two/Disc one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Goodbye Blue Sky"Gilmour2:45
2."Empty Spaces"Waters2:10
3."Young Lust" (writers: Waters, Gilmour)Gilmour3:25
4."One of My Turns"Waters3:41
5."Don't Leave Me Now"Waters4:08
6."Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3"Waters1:18
7."Goodbye Cruel World"Waters1:16
Total length:18:43
Side three/Disc two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Hey You"Gilmour, Waters4:40
2."Is There Anybody Out There?"Waters, Gilmour2:44
3."Nobody Home"Waters3:26
5."Bring the Boys Back Home"Waters1:21
6."Comfortably Numb" (writers: Gilmour, Waters)Gilmour, Waters6:23
Total length:20:09
Side four/Disc two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."The Show Must Go On"Gilmour1:36
2."In the Flesh"Waters4:15
3."Run Like Hell" (writers: Waters, Gilmour)Waters, Gilmour4:20
4."Waiting for the Worms"Waters, Gilmour4:04
6."The Trial" (writers: Waters, Ezrin)Waters5:13
7."Outside the Wall"Waters1:41
Total length:21:39


Pink Floyd[116]

Additional musicians

  • Bruce Johnston – backing vocals[118]
  • Toni Tennille – backing vocals on "The Show Must Go On" and "Waiting For The Worms"
  • Joe Chemay – backing vocals
  • Jon Joyce – backing vocals
  • Stan Farber – backing vocals
  • Jim Haas – backing vocals
  • Bob Ezrin – piano, Hammond organ, synthesizer, reed organ, backing vocals
  • James Guthrie – percussion, synthesizer, sound effects
  • Jeff Porcaro – drums on "Mother"
  • Children of Islington Green School – vocals on "Another Brick in the Wall Part II"
  • Joe Porcaro[119] – snare drums on "Bring the Boys Back Home"
  • Lee Ritenour – rhythm guitar on "One of My Turns", additional acoustic guitar on "Comfortably Numb"
  • Joe (Ron) di Blasi – classical guitar on "Is There Anybody Out There?"
  • Fred Mandel – Hammond organ on "In The Flesh?" and "In the Flesh"
  • Bobbye Hall – congas and bongos on "Run Like Hell"
  • Frank Marocco – concertina on "Outside the Wall"
  • Larry Williams – clarinet on "Outside the Wall"
  • Trevor Veitch – mandolin on "Outside the Wall"
  • New York Orchestra – orchestra
  • New York Opera – choral vocals
  • Vicki Brown and Clare Torry (credited simply as "Vicki & Clare") – backing vocals on "The Trial"
  • Harry Waters – child's voice on "Goodbye Blue Sky"
  • Chris Fitzmorris – male telephone voice
  • Trudy Young – voice of the groupie
  • Phil Taylor – sound effects


  • David Gilmour – co-producer
  • Roger Waters – co-producer
  • Bob Ezrin – production, orchestral arrangement, music on "The Trial"
  • Michael Kamen – orchestral arrangement
  • James Guthrie – co-producer, engineer
  • Nick Griffiths – engineer
  • Patrice Quef – engineer
  • Brian Christian – engineer
  • Rick Hart – engineer
  • Doug Sax – mastering
  • John McClure - engineer
  • Phil Taylor – sound equipment
  • Gerald Scarfe – sleeve design
  • Roger Waters – sleeve design
  • Joel Plante – mastering[118]

Charts and certifications


Chart (1979–80) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[120] 1
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[121] 1
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[122] 1
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[123] 1
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[124] 1
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[125] 1
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[126] 1
Spanish Albums (AFE)[127] 1
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[128] 1
UK Albums (OCC)[129] 3
US Billboard 200[130] 1
Chart (1990) Peak
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[131] 19
Chart (2005–06) Peak
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[132] 11
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[133] 85
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[134] 81
Danish Albums (Hitlisten)[135] 19
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[136] 21
Italian Albums (FIMI)[137] 13
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[138] 9
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[139] 29
Chart (2011–12) Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA)[140] 20
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[141] 15
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[142] 44
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[143] 20
Czech Albums (ČNS IFPI)[144] 7
Danish Albums (Hitlisten)[145] 10
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[146] 15
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[147] 17
French Albums (SNEP)[148] 12
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[124] 4
Irish Albums (IRMA)[149] 38
Italian Albums (FIMI)[150] 4
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[151] 14
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[152] 10
Polish Albums (ZPAV)[153] 30
Portuguese Albums (AFP)[154] 10
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[155] 15
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[156] 13
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[157] 8
UK Albums (OCC)[158] 22
US Billboard 200[159] 17


Date Single Chart Position Source
23 November 1979 "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" UK Top 40 1 [nb 5][160]
7 January 1980 "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" US Billboard Pop Singles 1 [nb 6][82]
9 June 1980 "Run Like Hell" US Billboard Pop Singles 53 [nb 7][82]
March 1980 "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" Norway's single chart 1 [161]


Country Certification Sales Last certification date Comment Source(s)
Argentina Platinum 200,000 23 August 1999 [162]
Australia 11× Platinum 770,000 2011 [163]
Brazil Platinum 80,000 [164]
Canada 2× Diamond 2,000,000 31 August 1995 [165]
France Diamond 1,576,100 1991 [166]
Germany 4× Platinum 2,000,000 1994 [167]
Greece 100,000 [168]
Italy 4× Platinum 200,000 2019 sales of Parlophone edition [169]
Italy 1× Platinum 50,000 2016 sales of EMI MKTG edition [170]
New Zealand RMNZ 14× Platinum 210,000 29 January 2011 [171]
Poland Platinum 100,000 29 October 2003 [172][173]
Spain Platinum 100,000 1980 [174]
United Kingdom 2x Platinum 600,000 22 July 2013 [175]
United States RIAA 23× Platinum 11,500,000 29 January 1999 [176]
United States Soundscan   5,381,000 29 August 2008 Since March 1991 – August 2008 [177][178]



  1. ^ Pink Floyd eventually sued NWG for £1 million, accusing them of fraud and negligence. NWG collapsed in 1981. fled to Spain, Norton Warburg Investments (a part of NWG) was renamed to Waterbrook, and many of its holdings were sold at a loss. Andrew Warburg was jailed for three years upon his return to the UK in 1987.[19]
  2. ^ As well as being more flexible, repeated replay of magnetic tape can, over time, reduce the quality of the recorded material.
  3. ^ EMI Harvest SHDW 411 (double album)[82]
  4. ^ As a double album 23x platinum signifies sales of 11.5 million.
  5. ^ EMI Harvest HAR 5194 (7" single)
  6. ^ Columbia 1-11187 (7" single)
  7. ^ Columbia 1-11265 (7" single)


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Further reading

  • Di Perna, Alan (2002), Guitar World Presents Pink Floyd, Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 978-0-634-03286-8
  • Fitch, Vernon (2001), Pink Floyd: The Press Reports 1966–1983, Ontario: Collector's Guide Publishing Inc, ISBN 978-1-896522-72-2
  • Fricke, David (December 2009), "Roger Waters: Welcome to My Nightmare ... Behind The Wall", Mojo, London: Emap Metro, 193: 68–84
  • Hiatt, Brian (September 2010), "Back to The Wall", Rolling Stone, 1114: 50–57
  • MacDonald, Bruno (1997), Pink Floyd: through the eyes of ... the band, its fans, friends, and foes, New York: Da Capo Press, ISBN 978-0-306-80780-0
  • Mabbett, Andy (2010), Pink Floyd The Music and the Mystery, London: Omnibus Press, ISBN 978-1-84938-370-7

External links

28 November 1979

Air New Zealand Flight 901, a DC-10 sightseeing flight over Antarctica, crashes into Mount Erebus, killing all 257 people on board.

Air New Zealand Flight 901

Air New Zealand Flight 901
Air New Zealand Flight 901.jpg
Debris from the DC-10's fuselage photographed in 2004. Most of the wreckage of Flight 901 remains at the accident site.
Date28 November 1979
SummaryControlled flight into terrain
SiteMount Erebus, Antarctica
77°25′30″S 167°27′30″E / 77.42500°S 167.45833°E / -77.42500; 167.45833Coordinates: 77°25′30″S 167°27′30″E / 77.42500°S 167.45833°E / -77.42500; 167.45833
Aircraft typeMcDonnell Douglas DC-10-30
OperatorAir New Zealand
Flight originAuckland International Airport
StopoverChristchurch International Airport
DestinationNonstop sightseeing flight to and from Antarctica

Air New Zealand Flight 901 (TE-901)[nb 1] was a scheduled Air New Zealand Antarctic sightseeing flight that operated between 1977 and 1979. The flight would leave Auckland Airport in the morning and spend a few hours flying over the Antarctic continent, before returning to Auckland in the evening via Christchurch. On 28 November 1979, the fourteenth flight of TE-901, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, registration ZK-NZP, flew into Mount Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew on board.[1][2] The accident became known as the Mount Erebus disaster.

The initial investigation concluded the accident was caused by pilot error, but public outcry led to the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the crash. The commission, presided over by Justice Peter Mahon QC, concluded that the accident was caused by a correction made to the coordinates of the flight path the night before the disaster, coupled with a failure to inform the flight crew of the change, with the result that the aircraft, instead of being directed by computer down McMurdo Sound (as the crew had been led to believe), was instead re-routed to a path toward Mount Erebus. Justice Mahon's report accused Air New Zealand of presenting "an orchestrated litany of lies" and this led to changes in senior management at the airline. The Privy Council later ruled that the finding of a conspiracy was a breach of natural justice and not supported by the evidence.

The accident is New Zealand's deadliest peacetime disaster, as well as the deadliest accident in the history of Air New Zealand.

Flight and aircraft

The flight was designed and marketed as a unique sightseeing experience, carrying an experienced Antarctic guide who pointed out scenic features and landmarks using the aircraft public-address system, while passengers enjoyed a low-flying sweep of McMurdo Sound.[3] The flights left and returned to New Zealand the same day.

ZK-NZP, the aircraft involved in the accident, photographed in 1977

Flight 901 would leave Auckland International Airport at 8:00 am for Antarctica, and arrive back at Christchurch International Airport at 7:00 pm after flying a total of 5,360 miles (8,630 km). The aircraft would make a 45-minute stop at Christchurch for refuelling and crew change, before flying the remaining 464 miles (747 km) to Auckland, arriving at 9:00 pm. Tickets for the November 1979 flights cost NZ$359 per person (NZ$1,279 in December 2016 with transport-related inflation).[4][5]

Dignitaries including Sir Edmund Hillary had acted as guides on previous flights. Hillary was scheduled to act as the guide for the fatal flight of 28 November 1979, but had to cancel owing to other commitments. His long-time friend and climbing companion, Peter Mulgrew, stood in as guide.[6]

The flights usually operated at about 85% of capacity; the empty seats, usually the ones in the centre row, allowed passengers to move more easily about the cabin to look out of the windows.[citation needed]

The aircraft used on the Antarctic flights were Air New Zealand's eight McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 trijets. The aircraft on 28 November was registered ZK-NZP. The 182nd DC-10 to be built, and the fourth DC-10 to be introduced by Air New Zealand, ZK-NZP was handed over to the airline on 12 December 1974 at McDonnell Douglas's Long Beach plant. It was the first Air New Zealand DC-10 to be fitted with General Electric CF6-50C engines as built, and had logged more than 20,700 flight hours prior to the crash.[1][7]


Circumstances surrounding the accident

Captain Jim Collins and co-pilot Greg Cassin had never flown to Antarctica before (while flight engineer Gordon Brooks had flown to Antarctica only once previously), but they were experienced pilots and were considered qualified for the flight. On 9 November 1979, 19 days before departure, the two pilots attended a briefing in which they were given a copy of the previous flight's flight plan.[3]

The flight plan that had been approved in 1977 by the Civil Aviation Division of the New Zealand Department of Transport was along a track directly from Cape Hallett to the McMurdo non-directional beacon (NDB), which, coincidentally, entailed flying almost directly over the 12,448-foot (3,794 m) peak of Mount Erebus. However, because of a typing error in the coordinates when the route was computerised, the printout from Air New Zealand's ground computer system presented at the 9 November briefing corresponded to a southerly flight path down the middle of the wide McMurdo Sound, approximately 27 miles (43 km) to the west of Mount Erebus.[8] The majority of the previous 13 flights had also entered this flight plan's coordinates into their aircraft navigational systems and flown the McMurdo Sound route, unaware that the route flown did not correspond with the approved route.[9]

Captain Leslie Simpson, the pilot of a flight on 14 November and also present at the 9 November briefing,[10] compared the coordinates of the McMurdo TACAN navigation beacon (approximately 5 kilometres [3 mi] east of McMurdo NDB), and the McMurdo waypoint that his flight crew had entered into the INS (Inertial Navigation System), and was surprised to find a large distance between the two. After his flight, Captain Simpson advised Air New Zealand's Navigation section of the difference in positions. For reasons that were disputed, this triggered Air New Zealand's Navigation section to resolve to update the McMurdo waypoint coordinates stored in the ground computer to correspond with the coordinates of the McMurdo TACAN beacon, despite this also not corresponding with the approved route.[8]

The Navigation section changed the McMurdo waypoint co-ordinate stored in the ground computer system at approximately 1:40 am on the morning of the flight. Crucially, the flight crew of Flight 901 was not notified of the change. The flight plan printout given to the crew on the morning of the flight, which was subsequently entered by them into the aircraft's INS, differed from the flight plan presented at the 9 November briefing and from Captain Collins' map mark-ups which he had prepared the night before the fatal flight. The key difference was that the flight plan presented at the briefing corresponded to a track down McMurdo Sound, giving Mount Erebus a wide berth to the east, whereas the flight plan printed on the morning of the flight corresponded to a track that coincided with Mount Erebus, which would result in a collision with Mount Erebus if this leg was flown at an altitude of less than 13,000 feet (4,000 m).[9]

The computer program was altered such that the standard telex forwarded to US Air Traffic Controllers at the United States Antarctic science facility at McMurdo Station displayed the word "McMurdo", rather than the coordinates of latitude and longitude, for the final waypoint. During the subsequent inquiry Justice Mahon concluded that this was a deliberate attempt to conceal from the United States authorities that the flight plan had been changed, and probably because it was known that US Air Traffic Control would lodge an objection to the new flight path.[11]

The flight had earlier paused during the approach to McMurdo Sound to carry out a descent, via a figure-eight manoeuvre, through a gap in the low cloud base (later estimated to be at approximately 2,000 to 3,000 feet (610 to 910 m)) while over water to establish visual contact with surface landmarks and give the passengers a better view.[12] It was established that the flight crew either was unaware of or ignored the approved route's minimum safe altitude (MSA) of 16,000 feet (4,900 m) for the approach to Mount Erebus, and 6,000 feet (1,800 m) in the sector south of Mount Erebus (and then only when the cloud base was at 7,000 feet (2,100 m) or better). Photographs and news stories from previous flights showed that many of these had also been flown at levels substantially below the route's MSA. In addition, pre-flight briefings for previous flights had approved descents to any altitude authorised by the US Air Traffic Controller (ATC) at McMurdo Station. As the US ATC expected Flight 901 to follow the same route as previous flights down McMurdo Sound, and in accordance with the route waypoints previously advised by Air New Zealand to them, the ATC advised Flight 901 that it had a radar that could let them down to 1,500 feet (460 m). However, the radar equipment did not pick up the aircraft, and the crew also experienced difficulty establishing VHF communications. The distance measuring equipment (DME) did not lock onto the McMurdo Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN) for any useful period.[13]

Cockpit voice recorder transcripts from the last minutes of the flight before impact with Mount Erebus indicated that the flight crew believed they were flying over McMurdo Sound, well to the west of Mount Erebus and with the Ross Ice Shelf visible on the horizon, when in reality they were flying directly toward the mountain. Despite most of the crew being engaged in identifying visual landmarks at the time, they never perceived the mountain directly in front of them. Approximately six minutes after completing a descent in Visual Meteorological Conditions, Flight 901 collided with the mountain at an altitude of approximately 1,500 feet (460 m), on the lower slopes of the 12,448-foot (3,794 m) tall mountain. Passenger photographs taken seconds before the collision removed all doubt of a "flying in cloud" theory, showing perfectly clear visibility well beneath the cloud base, with landmarks 13 miles (21 km) to the left and 10 miles (16 km) to the right of the aircraft visible.[14]

Changes to the coordinates and departure

The crew input the coordinates into the plane's computer before they departed at 7:21 am from Auckland International Airport. Unknown to them, the coordinates had been modified earlier that morning to correct the error introduced previously and undetected until then. The crew evidently did not check the destination waypoint against a topographical map (as did Captain Simpson on the flight of 14 November) or they would have noticed the change. Charts for the Antarctic were not available to the pilot for planning purposes, being withheld[why?] until the flight was about to depart. The charts eventually provided, which were carried on the aircraft, were neither comprehensive enough nor large enough in scale to support detailed plotting.[15] Such cross checks (and more crucially, real-time monitoring of the aircraft's actual position over the ground) was neither supported nor required, nor even encouraged, by the Navigation Section of Air New Zealand.[citation needed]

These new coordinates changed the flight plan to track 27 miles (43 km) east of their understanding. The coordinates programmed the plane to overfly Mount Erebus, a 12,448-foot-high (3,794 m) volcano, instead of down McMurdo Sound.[3]

About four hours after a smooth take-off, the flight was 42 miles (68 km) away from McMurdo Station. The radio communications centre there allowed the pilots to descend to 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and to continue "visually." Air safety regulations at the time did not allow flights to descend to lower than 6,000 ft (1,800 m), even in good weather, although Air New Zealand's own travel magazine showed photographs of previous flights clearly operating below 6,000 ft (1,800 m). Collins believed the plane was over open water.[3]

Crash into Mount Erebus

Flight path of Flight 901

Collins told McMurdo Station that he would be dropping to 2,000 feet (610 m), at which point he switched control of the aircraft to the automated computer system. Outside there was a layer of clouds that blended with the white of the snow-covered volcano, forming a sector whiteout – there was no contrast between the two to warn the pilots. The effect deceived everyone on the flight deck, making them believe that the white mountainside was the Ross Ice Shelf, a huge expanse of floating ice derived from the great ice sheets of Antarctica, which was in fact now behind the mountain. As it was little understood, even by experienced polar pilots, Air New Zealand had provided no training for the flight crew on the sector whiteout phenomenon. Consequently, the crew thought they were flying along McMurdo Sound, when they were actually flying over Lewis Bay in front of Mt. Erebus.[3]

At 12:49 pm, the ground proximity warning system (GPWS) began sounding a series of "whoop whoop pull up" alarms, warning that the plane was dangerously close to terrain. The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the following:[nb 2]

  • GPWS: "Whoop whoop. Pull up. Whoop whoop..."
  • F/E: "500 feet"
  • GPWS: "...Pull up."
  • F/E: "400 feet"
  • GPWS: "Whoop, whoop. Pull up. Whoop whoop. Pull up."
  • CA: "Go-around power please."
  • GPWS: "Whoop, whoop. Pull-"
  • CAM: [Sound of impact]

The go-around power was immediately applied, but it was too late.[16][17] There was no time to divert the aircraft, and six seconds later the plane crashed into the side of Mount Erebus and exploded, instantly killing everyone on board. The accident occurred at 12:50 pm at a position of 77°25′30″S 167°27′30″E / 77.42500°S 167.45833°E / -77.42500; 167.45833 (accident site) and an elevation of 1,467 feet (447 m) AMSL.[18]

McMurdo Station attempted to contact the flight after the crash, and informed Air New Zealand headquarters in Auckland that communication with the aircraft had been lost. United States search and rescue personnel were placed on standby.[3]

Nationalities of passengers and crew

Air New Zealand had not lost any passengers to an accident or incident until this event took place.[19] The nationalities of the passengers and crew included:[3][20]

Country Passengers Crew Total
New Zealand 180 20 200
Japan 24 - 24
United States 22 - 22
United Kingdom 6 - 6
Canada 2 - 2
Australia 1 - 1
France 1 - 1
Switzerland 1 - 1
Total 237 20 257

Rescue and recovery

Initial search and discovery

At 2:00 pm the United States Navy released a situation report stating:

Air New Zealand Flight 901 has failed to acknowledge radio transmissions. ... One LC-130 fixed-wing aircraft and two UH-1N rotary wing aircraft are preparing to launch for SAR effort.[21]:1

Data gathered at 3:43 pm was added to the situation report, stating that the visibility was 40 miles (64 km). It also stated that six aircraft had been launched to find the flight.[21]:2

Flight 901 was due to arrive back at Christchurch at 6:05 pm for a stopover including refuelling and a crew change before completing the journey back to Auckland. Around 50 passengers were also supposed to disembark at Christchurch. Airport staff initially told the waiting families that it was usual for the flight to be slightly late but, as time went on, it became clear that something was wrong.[22]

At 9:00 pm, about half an hour after the plane would have run out of fuel, Air New Zealand informed the press that it believed the aircraft to be lost. Rescue teams searched along the assumed flight path but found nothing. At 12:55 am the crew of a United States Navy aircraft discovered unidentified debris along the side of Mount Erebus.[21]:4 No survivors could be seen. At around 9:00 am, twenty hours after the crash, helicopters with search parties managed to land on the side of the mountain. They confirmed that the wreckage was that of Flight 901 and that all 237 passengers and 20 crew members had been killed. The DC-10's altitude at the time of the collision was 1,465 feet (447 m).

The vertical stabiliser section of the plane, with the koru logo clearly visible, was found in the snow.[23] Bodies and fragments of the aircraft were flown back to Auckland for identification.[24] The remains of 44 of the victims were not individually identified. A funeral was held for them on 22 February 1980.

Operation Overdue

The recovery effort of Flight 901 was called "Operation Overdue".

Efforts for recovery were extensive, owing in part to the pressure from Japan, as 24 passengers had been Japanese. The operation lasted until 9 December 1979, with up to 60 recovery workers on site at a time. A team of New Zealand Police officers and a Mountain Face Rescue team were dispatched on a No. 40 Squadron C-130 Hercules aircraft.[citation needed]

The job of individual identification took many weeks, and was largely done by teams of pathologists, dentists, and police. The mortuary team was led by Inspector Jim Morgan, who collated and edited a report on the recovery operation. Record keeping had to be meticulous because of the number and fragmented state of the human remains that had to be identified to the satisfaction of the coroner. The exercise resulted in 83% of the deceased eventually being identified, sometimes from evidence such as a finger capable of yielding a print, or keys in a pocket.[citation needed]

The fact that we all spent about a week camped in polar tents amid the wreckage and dead bodies, maintaining a 24-hour work schedule says it all. We split the men into two shifts (12 hours on and 12 off), and recovered with great effort all the human remains at the site. Many bodies were trapped under tons of fuselage and wings and much physical effort was required to dig them out and extract them.

Initially, there was very little water at the site and we had only one bowl between all of us to wash our hands in before eating. The water was black. In the first days on site we did not wash plates and utensils after eating but handed them on to the next shift because we were unable to wash them. I could not eat my first meal on site because it was a meat stew. Our polar clothing became covered in black human grease (a result of burns on the bodies).

We felt relieved when the first resupply of woollen gloves arrived because ours had become saturated in human grease, however, we needed the finger movement that wool gloves afforded, i.e., writing down the details of what we saw and assigning body and grid numbers to all body parts and labelling them. All bodies and body parts were photographed in situ by U.S. Navy photographers who worked with us. Also, U.S. Navy personnel helped us to lift and pack bodies into body bags which was very exhausting work.

Later, the Skua gulls were eating the bodies in front of us, causing us much mental anguish as well as destroying the chances of identifying the corpses. We tried to shoo them away but to no avail, we then threw flares, also to no avail. Because of this we had to pick up all the bodies/parts that had been bagged and create 11 large piles of human remains around the crash site in order to bury them under snow to keep the birds off. To do this we had to scoop up the top layer of snow over the crash site and bury them, only later to uncover them when the weather cleared and the helos were able to get back on the site. It was immensely exhausting work.

After we had almost completed the mission, we were trapped by bad weather and isolated. At that point, NZPO2 and I allowed the liquor that had survived the crash to be given out and we had a party (macabre, but we had to let off steam).

We ran out of cigarettes, a catastrophe that caused all persons, civilians and Police on site, to hand in their personal supplies so we could dish them out equally and spin out the supply we had. As the weather cleared, the helos were able to get back and we then were able to hook the piles of bodies in cargo nets under the helicopters and they were taken to McMurdo. This was doubly exhausting because we also had to wind down the personnel numbers with each helo load and that left the remaining people with more work to do. It was exhausting uncovering the bodies and loading them and dangerous too as debris from the crash site was whipped up by the helo rotors. Risks were taken by all those involved in this work. The civilians from McDonnell Douglas, MOT and U.S. Navy personnel were first to leave and then the Police and DSIR followed. I am proud of my service and those of my colleagues on Mount Erebus.[25]

— Jim Morgan

In 2006, the New Zealand Special Service Medal (Erebus) was instituted to recognise the service of New Zealanders, and citizens of the United States of America and other countries, who were involved in the body recovery, identification, and crash investigation phases of Operation Overdue. On 5 June 2009 the New Zealand government recognised some of the Americans who assisted in Operation Overdue during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. A total of 40 Americans, mostly Navy personnel, are eligible to receive the medal.[26]

Accident inquiries

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder of Air New Zealand Flight 901, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (2015)

Despite Flight 901 crashing in one of the most isolated parts of the world, evidence from the crash site was extensive. Both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder were in working order and able to be deciphered. Extensive photographic footage from the moments before the crash was available: being a sightseeing flight, most passengers were carrying cameras, from which the majority of the film could be developed.[27][28]

Official accident report

The accident report compiled by New Zealand's chief inspector of air accidents, Ron Chippindale, was released on 12 June 1980. It cited pilot error as the principal cause of the accident and attributed blame to the decision of Collins to descend below the customary minimum altitude level, and to continue at that altitude when the crew was unsure of the plane's position. The customary minimum altitude prohibited descent below 6,000 feet (1,800 m) even under good weather conditions, but a combination of factors led the captain to believe the plane was over the sea (the middle of McMurdo Sound and few small low islands), and previous flight 901 pilots had regularly flown low over the area to give passengers a better view, as evidenced by photographs in Air New Zealand's own travel magazine and by first-hand accounts of personnel based on the ground at NZ's Scott Base.[citation needed]

Mahon Inquiry

In response to public demand, the New Zealand Government announced a further one-man Royal Commission of Inquiry into the accident, to be performed by judge Justice Peter Mahon. This Royal Commission was 'handicapped' in that the deadline was extremely short; originally set for 31 October 1980, it was later extended four times.[29]

Mahon's report, released on 27 April 1981, cleared the crew of blame for the disaster. Mahon said the single, dominant and effective cause of the crash was Air New Zealand's alteration of the flight plan waypoint coordinates in the ground navigation computer without advising the crew. The new flight plan took the aircraft directly over the mountain, rather than along its flank. Due to whiteout conditions, "a malevolent trick of the polar light", the crew were unable to visually identify the mountain in front of them. Furthermore, they may have experienced a rare meteorological phenomenon called sector whiteout, which creates the visual illusion of a flat horizon far in the distance. (It appeared to be a very broad gap between cloud layers allowing a view of the distant Ross Ice Shelf and beyond.) Mahon noted that the flight crew, with many thousands of hours of flight time between them, had considerable experience with the extreme accuracy of the aircraft's inertial navigation system. Mahon also found that the pre-flight briefings for previous flights had approved descents to any altitude authorised by the US Air Traffic Controller (ATC) at McMurdo Station, and that the radio communications centre at McMurdo Station had indeed authorised Collins to descend to 1,500 feet (460 m), below the minimum safe level of 6,000 feet (1,800 m).[citation needed]

In his report, Mahon found that airline executives and senior pilots had engaged in a conspiracy to whitewash the inquiry, accusing them of "an orchestrated litany of lies" by covering up evidence and lying to investigators.[30]:¶377[31] Mahon found that in the original report Chippindale had a poor grasp of the flying involved in jet airline operation, as he (and the New Zealand CAA in general) was typically involved in investigating simple light aircraft crashes. Chippindale's investigation techniques were revealed as lacking in rigour, which allowed errors and avoidable gaps in knowledge to appear in reports. Consequently, Chippindale entirely missed the importance of the flight plan change and the rare meteorological conditions of Antarctica. Had the pilots been informed of the flight plan change, the crash would have been avoided.

Court proceedings

Judicial review

On 20 May 1981, Air New Zealand applied to the High Court of New Zealand for judicial review of Mahon's order that it pay more than half the costs of the Mahon Inquiry, and for judicial review of some of the findings of fact Mahon had made in his report. The application was referred to the Court of Appeal, which unanimously set aside the costs order. However, the Court of Appeal, by majority, declined to go any further, and, in particular, declined to set aside Mahon's finding that members of the management of Air New Zealand had conspired to commit perjury before the Inquiry to cover up the errors of the ground staff.[29]

Privy Council appeal

Mahon then appealed to the Privy Council in London against the Court of Appeal's decision. His findings as to the cause of the accident, namely reprogramming of the aircraft's flight plan by the ground crew who then failed to inform the flight crew, had not been challenged before the Court of Appeal, and so were not challenged before the Privy Council. His conclusion that the crash was the result of the aircrew being misdirected as to their flight path, not due to pilot error, therefore remained.

Regarding the issue of Air New Zealand stating a minimum altitude of 6,000 feet for pilots in the vicinity of McMurdo Base, the Privy Council stated "Their Lordships accept unreservedly that ... the evidence given by several of the executive pilots at the inquiry was false. But, even though false ... it cannot have formed part of a predetermined plan of deception. Those witnesses whom the Judge disbelieved on this issue were, as their Lordships must accept, being untruthful ... they were also being singularly naive. [Q]uite apart from the mass of evidence of flights at low altitudes and the publicity given to them ... it is not conceivable that individual witnesses falsely disclaimed knowledge of low flying on previous Antarctic flights in a concerted attempt to deceive anybody".[32]

But the Law Lords of the Privy Council under the chair of Lord Diplock effectively agreed with some of the views of the minority in the Court of Appeal in concluding that Mahon had acted in breach of natural justice in making his finding of a conspiracy by Air New Zealand management and it was not supported by the evidence. In its judgment, delivered on 20 October 1983, the Privy Council therefore dismissed Mahon's appeal.[33][34] Aviation researcher John King wrote in his book New Zealand Tragedies, Aviation:

They demolished his case (Mahon's case for a cover-up) item by item, including Exhibit 164 which they said could not "be understood by any experienced pilot to be intended for the purposes of navigation" and went even further, saying there was no clear proof on which to base a finding that a plan of deception, led by the company's chief executive, had ever existed.

"Exhibit 164" was a photocopied diagram of McMurdo Sound showing a southbound flight path passing west of Ross Island and a northbound path passing the island on the east. The diagram did not extend sufficiently far south to show where, how, or even if they joined, and left the two paths disconnected. Evidence had been given to the effect that the diagram had been included in the flight crew's briefing documentation.

Legacy of the disaster

The crash of Flight 901 is one of New Zealand's three deadliest disasters – the others being the 1874 Cospatrick sailing ship disaster in which 470[35][36] people died, and the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, which killed 256 people.[37] At the time of the disaster, it was the fourth-deadliest air crash of all time.[38] As of January 2020 (2020-01), the crash remains Air New Zealand's deadliest accident, as well as New Zealand's deadliest peacetime disaster.[39][40]

Flight 901, in conjunction with the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in Chicago six months earlier (25 May), severely hurt the reputation of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Following the Chicago crash, the FAA withdrew the DC-10's type certificate on 6 June, which grounded all U.S.-registered DC-10s and forbade any foreign government which had a bilateral agreement with the United States regarding aircraft certifications from flying their DC-10s, which included Air New Zealand's seven DC-10s.[41] The Air New Zealand DC-10 fleet was grounded until the FAA measures were rescinded five weeks later, on 13 July, after all carriers had completed modifications that responded to issues discovered from the American Airlines Flight 191 incident.[42]

Flight 901 was the third deadliest accident involving a DC-10, following Turkish Airlines Flight 981 and American Airlines Flight 191. The event marked the beginning of the end for Air New Zealand's DC-10 fleet, although there had been talk before the accident of replacing the aircraft; DC-10s were replaced by Boeing 747s from mid-1981, and the last Air New Zealand DC-10 flew in December 1982. The occurrence also spelled the end of commercially operated Antarctic sightseeing flights – Air New Zealand cancelled all its Antarctic flights after Flight 901, and Qantas suspended its Antarctic flights in February 1980, only returning on a limited basis again in 1994.

Almost all of the aircraft's wreckage still lies where it came to rest on the slopes of Mount Erebus, as both its remote location and its weather conditions can hamper any further recovery operations. During the cold periods, the wreckage is buried under a layer of snow and ice. During warm periods, when snow recedes, it is visible from the air.[43]

A television miniseries, Erebus: The Aftermath, focusing on the investigation and the Royal Commission of Inquiry, was broadcast in New Zealand and Australia in 1988.[citation needed]

The phrase "an orchestrated litany of lies" entered New Zealand popular culture for some years.[44][45][46]

Following the incident, all charter flights to Antarctica from New Zealand ceased, and were not resumed until 2013, when a Boeing 747-400 chartered from Qantas set off from Auckland for a sightseeing flight over the continent.[47]

Justice Mahon's report was finally tabled in Parliament by the then Minister of Transport, Maurice Williamson, in 1999.[citation needed]

In the New Zealand Queen's Birthday Honours list in June 2007 Captain Gordon Vette was awarded the ONZM (Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit), recognising his services in assisting Justice Mahon during the Erebus Inquiry. Vette's book, Impact Erebus, provides a commentary of the flight, its crash and the subsequent investigations.[citation needed]

In 2008, Justice Mahon was posthumously awarded the Jim Collins Memorial Award by the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association for exceptional contributions to air safety, "in forever changing the general approach used in transport accidents investigations world wide."[48]

In 2009, Air New Zealand's CEO Rob Fyfe apologised to all those affected who did not receive appropriate support and compassion from the company following the incident, and unveiled a commemorative sculpture at its headquarters.[49][50]

On 28 November 2019, the 40 year anniversary of the disaster, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, along with the national government, issued a formal apology to the families of the victims. Ardern "[expressed] regret on behalf of Air New Zealand for the accident", and "[apologised] on behalf of the airline which 40 years ago failed in its duty of care to its passengers and staff."[51][52]

The registration of the crashed aircraft, ZK-NZP, has not been reissued.


Photograph of the Erebus Memorial at Waikumete Cemetery, Glen Eden, Auckland. January 2014.

A wooden cross was erected on the mountain above Scott Base to commemorate the accident. It was replaced in 1986 with an aluminium cross after the original was eroded by low temperatures, wind, and moisture.[citation needed]

The memorial for the 16 passengers who were unidentifiable and the 28 whose bodies were never found is at Waikumete Cemetery in Glen Eden, Auckland. Beside the memorial is a Japanese cherry tree, planted as a memorial to the 24 Japanese passengers who died on board Flight 901.[53]

A memorial to the crew members of Flight 901 is located adjacent to Auckland Airport, on Tom Pearce Drive at the eastern end of the airport zone.[54]

In January 2010, a 26-kilogram (57 lb) sculpted koru containing letters written by the loved ones of those who died was placed next to the Antarctic cross.[55] It was originally to have been placed at the site by six relatives of the victims on the 30th anniversary of the crash, 28 November 2009, but this was delayed for two months due to bad weather. It was planned for a second koru capsule, mirroring the first capsule, to be placed at Scott Base in 2011.[56]

The book-length poem "Erebus" by American writer Jane Summer (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015) memorialises a close friend who died in the tragedy, and in a feat of 'investigative poetry,’ explores the chain of flawed decisions that caused the crash.[57]

In 2019, it was announced that a national memorial is to be installed in Parnell Rose Gardens, with relative of one of the crash victims stating that it was the right place.[58][59] However local residents criticised the memorial's location, saying that it would "destroy the ambiance of the park".[60]

See also

Similar aircraft incidents



  1. ^ At the time of the crash, Air New Zealand had two IATA codes, TE for international flights (a relic from Air New Zealand's predecessor, Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL)) and NZ for domestic flights (acquired from the merger with the National Airways Corporation in April 1978). Despite being domestic flights from an immigration point-of-view, the Antarctic flights used the TE code for logistical reasons.
  2. ^ GPWS = Ground Proximity Warning System, CA = Captain, FE = Flight Engineer, CAM = Cockpit Area Micophone.


  1. ^ a b Accident description for ZK-NZP at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 24 August 2011.
  2. ^ "DC-10 playbacks awaited". Flight International: 1987. 15 December 1979. Archived from the original on 24 January 2013. At press time no information had been released concerning the flightdata and cockpit-voice recorder of Air New Zealand McDonnell Douglas DC-10 ZK-NZP which crashed on Mount Erebus on 28 November.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Mt Erebus Plane Crash: DC-10 ZK-NZP, Flight 901". Christchurch City Libraries. Archived from the original on 24 January 2013.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "RBNZ – New Zealand Inflation Calculator".
  6. ^ "Erebus disaster". NZ History. 9 June 2009.
  7. ^ Hickson, Ken (1980). Flight 901 to Erebus. Whitcoulls Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7233-0641-2.
  8. ^ a b "Erebus crash site map". New Zealand History online – archived from nzhistory.net.nz. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 14 November 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  9. ^ a b Mahon, Peter (1984). Verdict on Erebus. Collins. ISBN 0-00-636976-6.
  10. ^ "Erebus flight briefing". New Zealand History online. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013.
  11. ^ Royal Commission Report, para 255(e)
  12. ^ "Erebus crash site map – NZhistory.net.nz". Retrieved 2 December 2009.
  13. ^ Chippendale report, para 1.1.5
  14. ^ Royal Commission Report, para 28
  15. ^ "2. Analysis" (PDF). Chippindale Report. p. 29.
  16. ^ "cvr 791128". planecrashinfo.com. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  17. ^ CVR transcript from aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 6 February 2008
  18. ^ Transport Accident Investigation Commission (1980). "AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT REPORT No. 79-139: Air New Zealand McDonnell-Douglas DC10-30 ZK-NZP, Ross Island, Antarctica, 28 November 1979". Wellington, New Zealand: Office of Air Accidents Investigation, Ministry of Transport. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 January 2013.
  19. ^ Robertson, David. Air NZ likely to switch to 747s. The Sydney Morning Herald: 30 November 1979, p. 2.
  20. ^ "Erebus Roll of Remembrance". Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  21. ^ a b c
  22. ^ "Erebus flight overdue = NZHistory.net.nz". Retrieved 1 December 2009.
  23. ^ Tail of Air New Zealand plane at Mt Erebus
  24. ^ Bill Spindler. "Air New Zealand DC-10 crash into Mt. Erebus". Retrieved 11 July 2006.
  25. ^ NZPO1 NZAVA–see Bibliography.
  26. ^ Rejcek, Peter (2 July 2009). "Erebus Medals". The Antarctic Sun. Archived from the original on 7 February 2011. 
  27. ^ "Captain Vette's Research". Retrieved 1 December 2009.
  28. ^ "A dark passage in NZ history – tvnz.co.nz". 23 October 2009. Archived from the original on 21 November 2009. Retrieved 2 December 2009.
  29. ^ a b "The Honourable Peter Thomas Mahon (Appeal No. 12 of 1983) v Air New Zealand Limited and Others (New Zealand) 1983 UKPC 29 (20 October 1983)" (PDF). BAILII. 20 October 1983.
  30. ^ "The Mahon Report". The Erebus Story. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  31. ^ Ministry for Culture and Heritage. "Erebus disaster Page 6 – Finding the cause". New Zealand History. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  32. ^ "The Honourable Peter Thomas Mahon (Appeal No. 12 of 1983) v Air New Zealand Limited and Others (New Zealand) 1983 UKPC 29 (20 October 1983)" (PDF). BAILII. 20 October 1983.
  33. ^ "The Honourable Peter Thomas Mahon (Appeal No. 12 of 1983) v Air New Zealand Limited and Others (New Zealand) 1983 UKPC 29 (20 October 1983)" (PDF). BAILII. 20 October 1983.
  34. ^ "1981, Peter Mahon: A lesson learned". 18 October 1981. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  35. ^ "Fire on the Cospatrick". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  36. ^ John Wilson, The voyage out – Fire on the Cospatrick, from Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Updated 2007-09-21. Accessed 2008-05-20.
  37. ^ "Quake will rank among worst disasters".
  38. ^ Spitzer, Aaron (28 November 1999). "Antarctica's darkest day" (PDF). The Antarctic Sun. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. 
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Further reading

External links

28 March 1979

A coolant leak at the Three Mile Island’s Unit 2 nuclear reactor outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania leads to the core overheating and a partial meltdown.

After the cooling water began to drain out of the broken pressure valve on the morning of March 28, 1979, emergency cooling pumps automatically went into operation. Left alone, these safety devices would have prevented the development of a larger crisis. However, human operators in the control room misread confusing and contradictory readings and shut off the emergency water system. The reactor was also shut down, but residual heat from the fission process was still being released. By early morning, the core had heated to over 4,000 degrees, just 1,000 degrees short of meltdown. In the meltdown scenario, the core melts, and deadly radiation drifts across the countryside, fatally sickening a potentially great number of people.

As the plant operators struggled to understand what had happened, the contaminated water was releasing radioactive gases throughout the plant. The radiation levels, though not immediately life-threatening, were dangerous, and the core cooked further as the contaminated water was contained and precautions were taken to protect the operators. Shortly after 8 a.m., word of the accident leaked to the outside world. The plant’s parent company, Metropolitan Edison, downplayed the crisis and claimed that no radiation had been detected off plant grounds, but the same day inspectors detected slightly increased levels of radiation nearby as a result of the contaminated water leak. Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh considered calling an evacuation.

Finally, at about 8 p.m., plant operators realized they needed to get water moving through the core again and restarted the pumps. The temperature began to drop, and pressure in the reactor was reduced. The reactor had come within less than an hour of a complete meltdown. More than half the core was destroyed or molten, but it had not broken its protective shell, and no radiation was escaping. The crisis was apparently over.

Two days later, however, on March 30, a bubble of highly flammable hydrogen gas was discovered within the reactor building. The bubble of gas was created two days before when exposed core materials reacted with super-heated steam. On March 28, some of this gas had exploded, releasing a small amount of radiation into the atmosphere. At that time, plant operators had not registered the explosion, which sounded like a ventilation door closing. After the radiation leak was discovered on March 30, residents were advised to stay indoors. Experts were uncertain if the hydrogen bubble would create further meltdown or possibly a giant explosion, and as a precaution Governor Thornburgh advised “pregnant women and pre-school age children to leave the area within a five-mile radius of the Three Mile Island facility until further notice.” This led to the panic the governor had hoped to avoid; within days, more than 100,000 people had fled surrounding towns.

On April 1, President Jimmy Carter arrived at Three Mile Island to inspect the plant. Carter, a trained nuclear engineer, had helped dismantle a damaged Canadian nuclear reactor while serving in the U.S. Navy. His visit achieved its aim of calming local residents and the nation. That afternoon, experts agreed that the hydrogen bubble was not in danger of exploding. Slowly, the hydrogen was bled from the system as the reactor cooled.

At the height of the crisis, plant workers were exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation, but no one outside Three Mile Island had their health adversely affected by the accident. Nonetheless, the incident greatly eroded the public’s faith in nuclear power. The unharmed Unit-1 reactor at Three Mile Island, which was shut down during the crisis, did not resume operation until 1985. Cleanup continued on Unit-2 until 1990, but it was too damaged to be rendered usable again. In the four decades since the accident at Three Mile Island, not a single new nuclear power plant has been ordered in the United States.

27 December 1979

The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.

Prague, 23 December 2004 — The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is generally thought to have begun on 24 December 1979, when three Soviet divisions took control of airfields in and around the capital, Kabul.

On 26 December, additional Soviet regiments moved south toward the Afghan border.

Finally, on 27 December, 700 Soviet special troops stormed the presidential palace in Kabul, killing President Hafizullah Amin, who had come to power only three months earlier.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, Amin’s widow, Patmana, recalled the events of that day. She said she became separated from her husband, and that the attackers kept her and children on the second floor of the palace during the night.

She said that when she went upstairs in the morning, she saw the bodies of some of those killed in the assault.

“They kept us on the second floor during the night,” Amin said. “In the morning, I went upstairs. There was a big salon full of martyred bodies. I searched for my husband’s body, but I couldn’t find it.”

Afghan radio announced that Amin had been sentenced to death at a revolutionary trial for “crimes against the state” and that he had been executed.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal, who had been living in exile in Eastern Europe and was seen as more compliant by Moscow, became the new president and secretary-general of the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

Historians believe several reasons were behind the invasion. The Soviet Union, seeking to maintain or expand its influence in Asia, wanted to preserve the Marxist regime that had taken power in Afghanistan in 1978 but which was collapsing due to civil war and anticommunist sentiment in the country.

On 27 December, 700 Soviet special troops stormed the presidential palace in Kabul, killing President Hafizullah Amin.

The Kremlin also wanted to secure its interests in Afghanistan from Iran, which was engulfed in the Islamic Revolution, and also from the West.

The invasion wrecked Soviet relations with the West. In a speech on 4 January 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter called the invasion an “extremely serious threat to peace.”

“Massive Soviet military forces have invaded the small, nonaligned sovereign nation of Afghanistan, which had hitherto not been an occupied satellite of the Soviet Union,” Carter said. “Fifty thousand heavily armed Soviet troops have crossed the border and are now dispersed throughout Afghanistan, attempting to conquer the fiercely independent Muslim people of that country.”

The United States recalled its ambassador from Moscow and together with many other Western countries boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

But that was the least of Moscow’s concerns. A fierce guerrilla war ensued, and Soviet troops found themselves unable to control the countryside or even the smaller cities. Within a few years, the Soviets’ inability to seal Afghanistan’s borders enabled the mujahedin to create a pipeline for weapons and recruits from abroad. The Soviets initially deployed an estimated 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Ultimately, the occupation force was boosted to 100,000 soldiers, but it did not help.

Lieutenant General Aleksandr Mayorov was a senior Soviet military adviser to the Afghan regime in 1980 and 1981 and is the author of the book “The Truth About The Afghan War.” In an interview with RFE/RL, Mayorov said that after the success of the initial invasion, Soviet troops in Afghanistan became desperate.

“Months had passed, the troops had been there, a lot of garrisons, battles were going on, but there was no success,” Mayorov said. “And someone had to take responsibility. And then the Politburo set up a commission of four people. Well, a commission is a commission, but all depended on the success of the war.”

The Afghan resistance was supported for different reasons by the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia, with weapons and fighters channeled through Pakistan. As the war progressed, the rebels improved their organization and tactics and began using imported and captured weapons, including U.S. Stinger antiaircraft missiles.

Mayorov said Soviet troops became increasingly demoralized. Some 22,000 had been killed by the end of the war.

“Every war should have an aim,” Mayorov said. “Both politicians and the military need to be capable of finding a line not allowed to be crossed. Because then [the war] will turn against them. There might be some isolated success stories, but as a whole it leads to failure.”

Kirill Koktysh of the Moscow Institute of International Relations said that, looking from a historical perspective, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the last gasp of the Cold War.

“Essentially, it was the last war and the last event of a bipolar world, when the world was understood as the place where Soviet and American ideologies had to compete,” Koktysh said.

Koktysh said that the war turned out to be destructive for both Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Half of Afghanistan’s agriculture sector was wiped out and 70 percent of its paved roads destroyed. Some 5,000 of the country’s 15,000 villages were destroyed or economically ruined due to damage to roads and wells. Moscow finally withdrew its troops in February 1989, only to see the Soviet Union itself collapse a few years later.

The Soviet withdrawal began a long period of instability in Afghanistan. After Soviet forces left, a number of Afghan factions continued to fight for control of the country. The radical Taliban Islamic militia came to power in 1994. It was ousted by U.S. troops in late 2001 in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks. Those attacks were blamed on the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, who was being sheltered in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The Soviet invasion is also blamed for the rise of Islamic militancy. Foreign fighters who came to fight Soviet troops perceived their eventual withdrawal as their victory. The war created a class of hard-line Islamic fighters, such as bin Laden, ready to fight for what they perceived as the interests of Islam around the world.

3 December 1979

Ruhollah Khomeini becomes the first Supreme Leader of Iran.

Sayyid Ruhollah M?savi Khomeini 24 September 1902 – 3 June 1989, known in the Western world as Ayatollah Khomeini, was an Iranian politician and marja. He was the founder of the Islamic republic of Iran and the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution that saw the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the end of 2,500 years of Persian monarchy. Following the revolution, Khomeini became the country’s Supreme Leader, a position created in the constitution of the Islamic Republic as the highest-ranking political and religious authority of the nation, which he held until his death. He was succeeded by Ali Khamenei on 4 June 1989.

Khomeini was born in 1902 in Khomeyn, in what is now Iran’s Markazi Province. His father was murdered in 1903 when Khomeini was six months old. He began studying the Quran and the Persian language from a young age and was assisted in his religious studies by his relatives, including his mother’s cousin and older brother.

Khomeini was a marja in Twelver Shia Islam, a Mujtahid or faqih and author of more than 40 books, but he is primarily known for his political activities. He spent more than 15 years in exile for his opposition to the last Shah. In his writings and preachings he expanded the theory of welayat-el faqih, the “Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist”, to include theocratic political rule by Islamic jurists. This principle was appended to the new Iranian constitution after being put to a referendum. According to The New York Times, Khomeini called democracy the equivalent of prostitution. Whether Khomeini’s ideas are compatible with democracy and whether he intended the Islamic Republic to be democratic is disputed. He was Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1979 for his international influence, and Khomeini has been described as the “virtual face of Shia Islam in Western popular culture”. In 1982, he survived one military coup attempt. Khomeini was known for his support of the hostage takers during the Iran hostage crisis, his fatwa calling for the murder of British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, and for referring to the United States as the “Great Satan” and Soviet Union as the “Lesser Satan.” Khomeini has been criticized for these acts and for human rights violations of Iranians.

He has also been lauded as a “charismatic leader of immense popularity”, a “champion of Islamic revival” by Shia scholars, who attempted to establish good relations between Sunnis and Shias, and a major innovator in political theory and religious-oriented populist political strategy. Khomeini held the title of Grand Ayatollah and is officially known as Imam Khomeini inside Iran and by his supporters internationally. He is generally referred to as Ayatollah Khomeini by others. In Iran, his gold-domed tomb in Tehr?n’s Behesht-e Zahr?? cemetery has become a shrine for his adherents, and he is legally considered “inviolable”, with Iranians regularly punished for insulting him.

In March 1979, shortly after Ruhollah Khomeini’s return from exile and the overthrow of Iran’s monarchy, a national referendum was held throughout Iran with the question “Islamic Republic, yes or no?”. Although some groups objected to the wording and choice and boycotted the referendum, 98% of those voting voted “yes”. Following this landslide victory, the constitution of Iran of 1906 was declared invalid and a new constitution for an Islamic state was created and ratified by referendum during the first week of December in 1979. According to Francis Fukuyama, the 1979 constitution is a “hybrid” of “theocratic and democratic elements” with much of it based on the ideas Khomeini presented in his work Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist. In the work, Khomeini argued that government must be run in accordance with traditional Islamic sharia, and for this to happen a leading Islamic jurist must provide political “guardianship” over the people. The leading jurist were known as Marja’.

The Constitution stresses the importance of the clergy in government, with Article 4 stating that

“all civil, criminal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political, and all other statutes and regulations be keeping with Islamic measures;…the Islamic legal scholars of the watch council will keep watch over this.”

and the importance of the Supreme Leader. Article 5 states

“during the absence of the removed Twelfth Imam government and leadership of the community in the Islamic Republic of Iran belong to the rightful God fearing… legal scholar who is recognized and acknowledged as the Islamic leader by the majority of the population.”

Article 107 in the constitution mentions Imam Khomeini by name and praises him as the most learned and talented leader for emulation. The responsibilities of the Supreme Leader are vaguely stated in the constitution, thus any ‘violation’ by the Supreme Leader would be dismissed almost immediately. As the rest of the clergy governed affairs on a daily basis, the Supreme Leader is capable of mandating a new decision as per the concept of Vilayat-e Faqih.

21 November 1979

The United States Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, is attacked by a mob and set on fire.

On 21 November 1979, Pakistani people, enraged by a radio report claiming that the United States had bombed the Masjid al-Haram, Islam’s holy site at Mecca, stormed the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, and burned it to the ground. The Grand Mosque had suffered a terrorist attack, but the U.S. was not involved. The U.S. diplomats survived by hiding in a reinforced area, although Marine Security Guard Corporal Steven Crowley, 20, Army Warrant Officer Bryan Ellis, 30, and two Pakistan staff members were killed in the attack.

On 20 November 1979, a Saudi Arabian Islamic zealot group had led a takeover of the Mosque in Mecca. The group’s demands included calling for the cutoff of oil exports to the United States and the expulsion of all foreign civilian and military experts from the Arabian Peninsula. However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini allegedly claimed that Americans were behind the attack on Islam’s holiest place. This claim was repeated in media reports the morning of 21 November.

The event started as a small, peaceful protest against U.S. policies in Cambodia, as well as suspected U.S. involvement surrounding the military coup d’état of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977. The protesters shouted anti-American slogans. At first glance the event seemed to be a small protest outside the embassy’s walls. Later, buses filled with Jamaat-i-Islami supporters began arriving in front of the main gate. Hundreds of people began climbing over the walls and trying to pull the walls down using ropes. According to an American investigation, the protesters opened fire after a bullet fired at the gate’s lock by one rioter ricocheted and struck other protesters. Who actually fired first has not been determined. Twenty-year-old Marine Steve Crowley was struck by a bullet and transported to the embassy’s secure communication vault along with the rest of personnel serving in the embassy. Locked behind steel-reinforced doors the Americans waited for help to come and rescue them from the smoke-filled building.

After nightfall a Marine unit was able to sneak out a back exit from the vault as the front door was too damaged to open. Finding the embassy empty they led the rest of the 140 people from the vault out into the courtyard.

18 June 1979

SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) II is signed by the United States and the Soviet Union.

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union that were aimed at curtailing the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The first agreements, known as SALT I and SALT II, were signed by the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1972 and 1979, respectively, and were intended to restrain the arms race in strategic ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons. First suggested by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, strategic arms limitation talks were agreed on by the two superpowers in the summer of 1968, and full-scale negotiations began in November 1969.

Of the resulting complex of agreements, the most important were the Treaty on Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems and the Interim Agreement and Protocol on Limitation of Strategic Offensive Weapons. Both were signed by President Richard M. Nixon for the United States and Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, for the U.S.S.R. on May 26, 1972, at a summit meeting in Moscow.

The ABM treaty regulated antiballistic missiles that could theoretically be used to destroy incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles launched by the other superpower. The treaty limited each side to only one ABM deployment areae and 100 interceptor missiles. These limitations prevented either party from defending more than a small fraction of its entire territory, and thus kept both sides subject to the deterrent effect of the other’s strategic forces. The ABM treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 3, 1972. The Interim Agreement froze each side’s number of ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles at current levels for five years, pending negotiation of a more detailed SALT II. As an executive agreement, it did not require U.S. Senate ratification, but it was approved by Congress in a joint resolution.

The SALT II negotiations opened late in 1972 and continued for seven years. A basic problem in these negotiations was the asymmetry between the strategic forces of the two countries, the U.S.S.R. having concentrated on missiles with large warheads while the United States had developed smaller missiles of greater accuracy. Questions also arose as to new technologies under development, matters of definition, and methods of verification.

As finally negotiated, the SALT II treaty set limits on the number of strategic launchers i.e., missiles that can be equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, with the object of deferring the time when both sides’ land-based ICBM systems would become vulnerable to attack from such missiles. Limits were put on the number of MIRVed ICBMs, MIRVed SLBMs, heavy bombers, and the total number of strategic launchers. The treaty set an overall limit of about 2,400 of all such weapons systems for each side. The SALT II treaty was signed by President Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev in Vienna on June 18, 1979, and was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification shortly thereafter. But renewed tensions between the superpowers prompted Carter to remove the treaty from Senate consideration in January 1980, after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The United States and the Soviet Union voluntarily observed the arms limits agreed upon in SALT II in subsequent years, however. Meanwhile, the renewed negotiations that opened between the two superpowers in Geneva in 1982 took the name of Strategic Arms Reduction Talks or START.

17 February 1979

The Sino-Vietnamese War starts.

On February 17, 1979, troops from the People’s Republic of China attacked the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in what became known as the Sino-Vietnamese War. Although for many years China and the regime in Hanoi had been allies, “as close as lips and teeth,” this “marriage of convenience” slowly began to fall apart beginning in the 1970s when China was unable to match the Soviet Union in military support to Hanoi.

Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia directly threatened Chinese interests in the region. China could not sit idly by while the Vietnamese had their way in Cambodia. Beijing sent several thinly veiled warnings to Hanoi, but Vietnamese officials responded by agreeing to discuss long-standing “border/ territorial issues” only, refusing to address the presence of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia, which was the main point of contention in the escalating tensions between the two countries.

The invasion of Cambodia and the ouster of the pro-Beijing Pol Pot regime ultimately proved to be the final straw for China, which condemned the invasion of Cambodia and the installation of Heng Samrin as “Vietnamese hegemonism abetted by Soviet social-imperialism.” The growing antipathy between China and Vietnam was further exacerbated by what China saw as persecution of 200,000 ethnic Chinese in Vietnam. There was some truth to this charge; Vietnamese Chinese were stripped of their citizenship and forfeited their rights to own businesses and hold public office. This only added to the rapidly worsening situation. Several Chinese officials were quoted as saying that China was probably going to have to “teach Vietnam a lesson.”

On February 15, 1979, Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping publicly announced China’s intention to strike back at the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. At dawn on the morning of February 17, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army launched a “punitive” expedition against Vietnam, attacking at numerous points along the 480-mile Sino-Vietnamese border after a massive artillery and rocket barrage.

The overall commander of the PLA forces was General Xu Shiyou, a member of the Politburo and a longtime supporter of Deng Xiaoping. Xu’s deputy, General Yang Dezhi, was in tactical control of the operations. Yang also had been the deputy commander of Chinese troops during the Korean War, during which he had developed the tactics of infiltration and envelopment followed by mass attacks. Yang was chosen to take tactical control due to the similarity of the terrain in northern Vietnam to that in Korea.

Once the attack was joined in earnest, Beijing, concerned about Soviet reaction to the invasion, issued statements to deter Soviet intervention, justifying the action by claiming that it was in response to repeated violations of Chinese territory by Vietnamese troops. Furthermore, Beijing announced that Chinese troops would stay in Vietnam only for a short while and that talks should be initiated to resolve the border conflict as soon as possible.

In response to the Chinese attack across the border, the Soviets sent several naval vessels to Vietnamese waters and initiated a Soviet arms lift to Vietnam. The Soviet military attaché in Hanoi threatened that the USSR would “carry out its obligations under the Soviet-Vietnam treaty,” but Moscow made it clear to Beijing that it would not intervene as long as the conflict remained localized along the common border between China and Vietnam.

The Chinese appear to have had several reasons for launching the attack. First, China wanted to punish Vietnam for the invasion of Cambodia and the toppling of the Pol Pot regime. They hoped that their massive attack would force Vietnam to withdraw troops from Cambodia and thereby remove the pressure on Pol Pot’s forces there. Second, the invasion was designed to deter extension of Vietnamese power across the border into China. Whether this threat was real or not was irrelevant; the Chinese made several statements reiterating their claims that there had been Vietnamese incursions into Chinese territory and that China would defend its territory and people from any Vietnamese aggression. Third, China was concerned about increasing Soviet influence and power in Southeast Asia. By attacking Moscow’s key ally in the area, Beijing could cast doubt on the extent of Soviet power in the region and thus avoid a direct threat to China while dealing a blow to Soviet prestige.

The invading force included 11 Chinese armies of regular ground troops and militia from the Kunming, Chengdu, Wuhan, and Guangzhou military regions. It is thought that troops from Fuzhou and Jinan military regions also participated; if this is true, it means that troops from six of China’s 11 military regions were involved in the campaign. Estimates of the total number of Chinese troops committed range from 200,000 to 450,000. The attacking forces included about 200 tanks and massive amounts of supporting artillery.

After the initial broad thrust across the border, the Chinese attack focused on three objectives: Lang Son, Cao Bang and Lao Cai. Arrayed against the attacking Chinese forces were about 15 Vietnamese combat regiments controlled by four regular divisions – a total force of about 50,000 augmented by local militia and border guards. Most estimates put the total number of Vietnamese defenders at around 130,000.

The initial Chinese plan was to forge a shallow penetration all along the front, hoping to draw into battle and destroy the regular Vietnamese divisions, which the Chinese felt would be compelled to react to protect the provincial capitals and important communication centers that were threatened by the advance. This would result in major battles of attrition in which Chinese forces would inflict heavy punishment on the Vietnamese defenders.

The main Chinese attack appeared to be against Lang Son, a provincial capital on the hills overlooking the Red River Delta, which lay only about 150 kilometers from Hanoi. The Chinese began their assault against Lang Son with an artillery barrage. After the barrage lifted, Chinese 55th Army attacked to seize Dong Dang and was to continue the attack toward Lang Son. At the same time, Chinese 43d Army initially focused on the Vietnamese positions in the hills around Chi Ma, and after taking the town was to turn northwest to secure its ultimate objective, Lang Son. For the attack on Lang Son, Chinese 54th Army was in reserve, following 55th Army. The plan called for 43d and 55th armies to link up southwest of Lang Son, effectively isolating Vietnamese 3d Division there, where it could be destroyed or forced to surrender.

The Chinese had hoped to fight “battles of quick decision,” but their attacks were conducted in a slow and deliberate manner, normally involving massive frontal attacks that relied upon the weight of numbers and firepower to defeat the Vietnamese defenders. The Chinese also used tanks, which surprised the Vietnamese given the hilly nature of the terrain in the area, but the tanks proved useful in bunker busting.

Chinese 43d Army achieved some success, but 55th Army’s attack was slowed by stiff resistance that employed spoiling attacks, minefields and heavy artillery to disrupt and disorganize the Chinese advance. The terrain favored the Vietnamese defenders, and they occupied hills from which they could place devastating plunging fire on the attackers. Against this resistance, the Chinese were unable to maintain sufficient operational tempo to overcome the Vietnamese. Ultimately, Chinese 54th Army had to be committed to the fight. The reinforcements made the difference, but even so, the battle for Lang Son was not over until March 5.

On the Cao Bang front, the attack began on February 17 with Chinese 41st and 42d armies attacking on two separate axes of advance toward the town. These forces would be supported by elements of 12th, 20th and 50th armies. The force allocated to this front numbered around 200,000 troops.

Chinese 41st Army was to cross the border and attack Cao Bang from the north, while 42d Army was to attack it from the southeast. As on the Lang Son front, the Chinese advances were slow and deliberate against stiff Vietnamese resistance. Chinese 42d Army made some progress, but the cost was high; in one engagement, the Vietnamese knocked out a number of Chinese tanks. As at Lang Son, the terrain favored the greatly outnumbered Vietnamese defenders, and they made the Chinese pay for every inch they advanced. Eventually, the sheer numbers of Chinese troops prevailed and Cao Bang fell on February 25. Heavy fighting continued on the Cao Bang front for the next five days, but on March 3, Chinese forces from the Cao Bang and Lang Son fronts linked up at Duet Long, on Highway 4, effectively closing the gap between the two Chinese thrusts.

On the Lao Cai front, the Chinese had attacked with elements of three armies, more than 125,000 troops. Chinese 11th Army attacked across the border from the northwest to seize the town of Phong Tho, about 65 kilometers from Lao Cai, to prevent reinforcement from the west. At the same time, 13th and 14th armies attacked south to seize Lao Cai itself. The Vietnamese defenders in this area included six regiments, totaling about 20,000 troops. As on the other fronts, the out numbered Vietnamese troops put up a stiff defense; after five days, the Chinese had advanced only a few kilometers. The Chinese employed human wave attacks to overcome the Vietnamese positions, but the battle continued until March 5 when Lao Cai fell to the attackers.

While the main Chinese thrusts focused on Lao Cai, Cao Bang and Lang Son, several supporting attacks were conducted elsewhere along the China-Vietnam border. Many of these attacks resembled the larger Chinese operations. For example, in Quang Ninh, on the eastern edge of the border, a platoon of Vietnamese held up an attack on Cao Ba Lanh Mountain for five hours, inflicting 360 casualties on the attacking Chinese force that numbered over 2,800 men.

The day after the Chinese captured Lang Son, Beijing declared that the gate to Hanoi was open; that the Vietnamese had been sufficiently chastised; and announced that it was withdrawing its forces. By March 16, all Chinese forces had crossed the border back into China, blowing bridges and railroads and generally laying waste to the Vietnamese countryside along the way.

12 October 1979

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is published.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the first of five books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comedy science fiction “trilogy” by Douglas Adams. The novel is an adaptation of the first four parts of Adams’ radio series of the same name. The novel was first published in London on 12 October 1979. It sold 250,000 copies in the first three months.

The namesake of the novel is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a fictional guide book for hitchhikers written in the form of an encyclopedia.The book begins with council workmen arriving at Arthur Dent’s house. They wish to demolish his house in order to build a bypass.

Arthur’s best friend, Ford Prefect, arrives, warning him of the end of the world. Ford is revealed to be an alien who had come to Earth to research it for the titular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an enormous work providing information about every planet and place in the universe. The two head to a pub, where the locals question Ford’s knowledge of the Apocalypse.

An alien race, known as Vogons, show up to demolish Earth in order to build a bypass for an intergalactic highway. Arthur and Ford manage to get onto the Vogon ship just before Earth is demolished, where they are forced to listen to horrible Vogon poetry as a form of torture. Arthur and Ford are ordered to say how much they like the poetry in order to avoid being thrown out of the airlock, and while Ford finds listening to be painful, Arthur believes it to be genuinely good, since human poetry is apparently even worse.

17 February 1979

The Sino-Vietnamese War starts.

China’s relations with Vietnam began to deteriorate seriously in the mid-1970s. After Vietnam joined the Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Cooperation and signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1978, China branded Vietnam the “Cuba of the East” and called the treaty a military alliance. Incidents along the Sino-Vietnamese border increased in frequency and violence. In December 1978 Vietnam invaded Cambodia, quickly ousted the pro-Beijing Pol Pot regime, and overran the country.

China’s twenty-nine-day incursion into Vietnam in February 1979 was a response to what China considered to be a collection of provocative actions and policies on Hanoi’s part. These included Vietnamese intimacy with the Soviet Union, mistreatment of ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam, hegemonistic “imperial dreams” in Southeast Asia, and spurning of Beijing’s attempt to repatriate Chinese residents of Vietnam to China.

In February 1979 China attacked along virtually the entire Sino-Vietnamese border in a brief, limited campaign that involved ground forces only. The Chinese attack came at dawn on the morning of 17 February 1979, and employed infantry, armor, and artillery. Air power was not employed then or at any time during the war. Within a day, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had advanced some eight kilometers into Vietnam along a broad front. It then slowed and nearly stalled because of heavy Vietnamese resistance and difficulties within the Chinese supply system. On February 21, the advance resumed against Cao Bang in the far north and against the all-important regional hub of Lang Son. Chinese troops entered Cao Bang on February 27, but the city was not secured completely until March 2. Lang Son fell two days later. On March 5, the Chinese, saying Vietnam had been sufficiently chastised, announced that the campaign was over. Beijing declared its “lesson” finished and the PLA withdrawal was completed on March 16.In 1986 China deployed twenty-five to twenty-eight divisions and Vietnam thirty-two divisions along their common border.