Perplexing Maneuvers at Pleime-Chupong-Iadrang You Might Be Attempted to Question

1. Why did ARVN II Corps Command refuse General Kinnard’s offer to have 1st Air Cavalry rescue Pleime camp?
2. Why did the ARVN Armored Relief Column delay its advance to liberate Pleime camp?
3. Why was Pleime camp reinforced only with two Special Forces companies while the attacking enemy forces were one regiment strong?
4. Why did ARVN II Corps Command retain the control of Pleime camp while extending the TOC of 1st Air Cavalry Division?
5. Why was the All the Way operation conducted by 1st Air Cavalry Brigade a mere “walk in the park” exercise?
6. Why was 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade ordered to switch the operational direction from west to east?
7. Why was 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade ordered to revert back to Chu Pong?
8. Why one battalion instead of one company size was inserted at LZ X-Ray?
9. Why was “Area Lime” chosen as the insertion site for 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion?
10. Why did LTC Hal Moore pile on the lead helicopter along with his general staff into LZ X-Ray while his reconnaissance company closed in last into LZ X-Ray?
11. Why it took almost 5 hours to insert 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion?
12. Why did General Knowles request only one additional battalion?
13. Why the NVA did not use anti-aircraft guns and mortars at LZ X-Ray?
14. Why did 2/5 Air Calvary Battalion close in LZ X-Ray by land instead of by air?
15. Why were B-52 airstrikes called in?
16. Why was 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion helilifted out on November 16?
17. Why were 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions pulled out by land on November 17?
18. Why were the American side’s casualties so high?

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1. Why did ARVN II Corps Command refuse General Kinnard’s offer to have 1st Air Cavalry rescue Pleime camp?

Although II Corps Command only requested the help of Ingram Task Force comprising one infantry battalion and one artillery battalion,

To meet all contingencies, II Corps Command requested US Task Force Alpha (Major General Stanley R. Larsen, HQS Nha Trang) to temporarily assume the security of the Pleiku Airfield and Pleiku city and at 1300 hours, Task Force Ingram composed of one infantry battalion and one battery belonging to the 1st US air Cavalry Division came as scheduled. (Why Pleime, chapter IV)

General Kinnard wanted to use one Air Cavalry Brigade and rush in directly to Pleime camp site and rescue it.

Within a matter of hours the estimate of the situation at Plei Me was revised and the divisional commitment expanded to a brigade task force. The concept then developed to provide limited offensive operations, utilizing air assault techniques to provide artillery fire support for the ARVN Armored Task Force moving to relieve the Plei Me Camp as well as support for the camp itself; and to provide infantry security for artillery positions, while still maintaining a reserve reaction force of not less than one battalion for the defense of Pleiku. (Pleiku Campaign, page 16)

II Corps Command had to tampered General Kinnard’s enthusiasm in denying him to carry out his desire because it had other plan than to destroy the attacking NVA 33rd Regiment at that point in time. II Corps Command just wanted to repulse that regiment – and 32nd Regiment - back to Chupong where it would be annihilated together with 32nd and 66th Regiments at the same time by B-52 airstrike.

The Chu Pong base was known to exist well prior to the Pleime attack and J2 MACV had taken this area under study in September 1965 as a possible B-52 target. (Intelligence Aspects of Pleime-Chupong Campaign, page 6)

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2. Why did the ARVN Armored Relief Column delay its advance to liberate Pleime camp?

The ARVN Armored Relief Task Force was formed immediately on the next day of the attack of Pleime camp, on October 20, but it then lingered around Phu My instead of advancing toward Pleime camp.

General Kinnard thought the Armored Relief Task Force was scared to meet an ambush site.

To try to get the column moving on the 24th the 1st Brigade placed an artillery liaison party with the armored column, thus guaranteeing US artillery fire support for the task force. However, the task force commander elected to remain in that position for the night while sending back to Pleiku for additional supplies. The artillery liaison party came into the task force on one of the incoming medical evacuation choppers late on the afternoon of the 24th. (Pleiku Campaign, page 21)

The true reason for the delay, though, was maneuver to counter the mobile ambush tactic used by the enemy

In the morning 21 October, the Luật Task Force moved on, along the Phu My-Pleime axis but to simply conduct aggressive patrols within a 10 km radius! The order had been expressly given by II Corps Command to the T.F. Commander, Lt Col. Luat, to simulate the imminent approach of a relief column to the Pleime camp while in reality, he had to wait for more adequate and sufficient attachments which would be moved by air from Kontum and Binh Dinh to Pleiku, as soon as the weather conditions allowed the air movements.

Convinced that the first part of their plan - to ambush the relief column - was about to take place, the VC Field Front ordered the 32nd Regiment to leave its assembly area.

It would be interesting to mention that large-scale ambushes by the VC have been in recent past conducted within the frame of the tactics of the war of movement. They no longer exist as static waylays. (Why Pleime, chapter IV)

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3. Why was Pleime camp reinforced only with two Special Forces companies while the attacking enemy forces were one regiment strong?

Pleime camp was defended by approximately 450 men.

a. Plei Me is a USASF advised CIDG camp, located approximately fifty kilometers south of Pleiku. Prior to 19 October 1965 the camp was in the secure phase of the CIDG program, Phase III, and had not encountered any Viet Cong activity that indicated a major attack was pending.

b. The friendly situation prior to the attack was as follows: A combat patrol consisting of 85 CIDG and two USASF were on a sweep and clear mission fifteen kilometers north west of the camp. In addition to this operation the camp had five local security ambush patrols in the near vicinity of the camp. These patrols were composed of eight men each. On a regular basis two outposts were maintained. One was located two kilometers south of the camp and the other was one kilometer northeast of the camp. Each of the outposts was composed of twenty CIDG troops. The remaining force inside the camp totaled approximately 250 CIDG, 14 LLDB (VN Special Forces) and 10 USASF. (CIDJ in Camp Defense (Pleime))

On October 20, it was threatened by 2,000 attackers belonging to NVA 33rd Regiment. Why only two US-ARVB Special Forces companies comprising 160 men were dispatched to reinforce Pleime camp? It sounded barely sufficient against an enemy force that outnumbered 2 to 1.

However, II Corps Command deemed it was sufficient to prevent the enemy to overrun the camp, considering that the main repulsing force was lent by the air force.

For the next ten days [following October 19], air power played a key role in breaking the attack. In 696 day and night strike sorties, B-57s, AIEs, F-100s, and F-8s rained 866,300 pounds of GP bombs, 250,380 pounds of frag bombs, 485,880 pounds of napalm, plus rockets, CBUs and cannon fire on VC positions as close as 35 meters from the outpost walls. When it was over, the enemy had lost 326 killed in action by body count, and the camp’s defenders estimated that up to another 700 dead had been carried off. This was the largest close air support operation of the war, and perhaps the most effective. (Project CHECO Report, The Siege of Pleime,24 February 1966)

II Corps Command’s main intention was not in destroying the attacking regiment, just to lure it back to Chu Pong, and looked for the opportunity to annihilate the three 32nd, 33rd and 66th altogether as pre-planned.

The Chu Pong base was known to exist well prior to the Pleime attack and J2 MACV had taken this area under study in September 1965 as a possible B-52 target. (Intelligence Aspects of Pleime-Chupong Campaign, page 6)

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4. Why did ARVN II Corps Command retain the control of Pleime camp while extending the TO of 1st Air Cavalry Division?

As soon as Pleime camp was liberated, General Kinnard requested and got the permission to use the whole division in the pursuit of the two withdrawing enemy regiments. II Corps Command agreed but nevertheless retained the area of Pleime camp itself under its responsibility.

- 00:50H: II Corps (Major Black) At 292350 Col Williams called Col Hieu, CofS II Corps. II Corps requested that 1st Cav TAOR be extended to include the Plei Me area except the camp itself. From present line on NS grid line ZA14 east to NS grid line AR77, on EW grid line ZA/AR15, south on AR77 to EW grid line 00, then west to NW grid line ZA14. Col Buchan, Gen Knowles, Col Williams and Col Mataxis agree. (G3 Journal/IFFV, 10/30)

The reason for that exclusion was to keep wetting the tongue of B3 Field Front in wanting to conquer Pleime camp because it was still in the hand of a weak ARVN II Corps instead of a strong US 1st Air Cavalry Division.

Dan Thang 21 operation finished, Pleime camp was back on its footing, but among the two VC Regiments that had joined in the attack, we only inflicted the enemy with more than 400 killed. The withdrawal was a rational and intelligent initiative taken by the VC Field Front Command. But the enemy would attempt to take revenge and furthermore, the remote Pleime camp remains an eye sore to them. (Pleime, Trận Chię́n Lịch Sử, page 94)

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5. Why was All the Way operation conducted by 1st Air Cavalry Brigade a mere “walk in the park” exercise?

On October 27, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade was “officially” assigned the task of pursuing the two enemy withdrawing regiments. This operation named All the Way lasted until November 9 and was considered rather futile, a mere “walk in the park”.

After the 1st Brigade battalions generally lost contact with the remnants of the 33rd Regiment on November 7, Kinnard said, in Army Magazine, that, “I had been planning to replace the gallant, but spent, First Brigade with the Third Brigade, commanded by Colonel Thomas W. Brown, and this seemed a logical time to do so.” The general might have been indulging in a bit of hyperbole. The units of the 1st Brigade unquestionably were gallant, but spent? The 2/12 Cav had spent the longest period in the field, eighteen days total – but its days in contact numbered about five. The 2/8 had fourteen days in the valley and only two days of hard contact. The 1/8 Cav’s one company had one day of contact, while the others had none. And the 1/12 Cav had only its reconnaissance platoon truly get shot at in anger. Compared to times in the field by units later in the war, this was a walk in the park. (J.D. Coleman Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam, page 186)

But, taking into consideration the “real and classified” mission of All the Way operation which was to herd the scattered enemy troops back to Chu Pong, it was a success. As a matter of fact, all the moves of the different enemy units were carefully monitored by G2/II Corps and G2/1st Cavalry Division Forward.

On 10/27, the lead elements of the 33d had closed on it forward assembly area, the village Kro (ZA080030); on 10/28, the 32d Regiment had nearly closed its base on the north bank of the Ia Drang; on 10/29, the 33d Regiment decided to keep the unit on the move to the west, to Anta Village ( YA940010), located at the foot of the Chu Pong Massif; on 11/1, the 33rd regiment headquarters closed in at Anta Village; on 11/2, by 0400 hours, the 2d, the regimental CP had arrived at Hill 762 (YA885106); on 11/05, units of 66th Regiment continued to close in the assembling areas in the Chupong-Iadrang complex; on 11/07, the depleted 33d Regiment licked its wounds and waited for its stragglers to come in, meanwhile the remainder of Field Front forces were quiet; on 11/08, only fragmented units and stragglers remained east of the Chu Pong-Ia Drang complex; on 11/09, the 33d Regiment gathered in the last of its organic units. (Pleiku Campaign)

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6. Why was 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade ordered to switch the operational direction from west to east?

On November 8, 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade was stunned when it received the order from General Larsen, IFFVN Commander to switch the operational direction from west to east, because the enemy units were obviously toward Chu Pong (west) and not toward Pleime (east).

By this time Field Force Vietnam had asked the division to consider moving this operations east of Pleime if it appeared that was no further contact imminent in the west. (Pleiku Campaign, page 67)

A couple of days later, on November 10 and 11, General Larsen gave the explanation that it was a ploy to incite B3 Field Front to regroup its three regiments to prepare for a second attack against Pleime camp; and in so doing, they became targets for B-52 airstrike.

The movement and shift in emphasis from west to east was to further stimulate a forthcoming decision from the NVA division headquarters. (Pleiku Campaign, page 73)

With American units seemingly withdrawing to the east of Pleime, the decision was to attempt to regain its early advantage with an attack. The target once again was the Pleime CIDG Camp. The division headquarters set the date for attack at 16 November, and issued orders to its three regiments. (Pleiku Campaign, page 76)

On 11/11, the three battalions of the 66th Regiment were strung along the north bank of the Ia Drang river (center mass at 9104), the 32nd Regiment was also up north in the same area (YA820070), the 33rd Regiment maintained its positions in the vicinity of the Anta Village, east of the Chu Pong mountains. (Pleiku Campaign, page 76)

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7. Why was 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade ordered to revert back to Chu Pong?

On November 12, General Larsen startled 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade again by ordering it back to Chu Pong.

That day - November 12 - General Larsen was visiting the division’s forward command post at the II Corps compound. He asked Knowles how things were going. Knowles briefed him on the attack on Catecka the night before and then told him the brigade was drilling a dry hole out east of Plei Me. Larsen said, “Why are you conducting operations there if it’s dry?” Knowles’s response was, “With all due respect, sir, that’s what your order in writing directed us to do.” Larsen responded that the cavalry’s primary mission was to “find the enemy and go after him.” Shortly after, Knowles visited Brown at the 3rd Brigade command post and told him to come up with a plan for an air assault operation near the foot of the Chu Pongs. (Coleman, page 196)

The explanation for such an incongruent order was to have one 1st Air Cavalry Battalion inserted at Chu Pong footstep as a diversionary maneuver to lure B3 Field Front to delay moving out it three regiments to attack Pleime camp in order for B-52’s to have sufficient time to strike set for November 15 at 1600 hours.

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8. Why one battalion instead of one company size was inserted at LZ X-Ray?

The air assault tactic consisted of scouting the enemy with a company size force. Once the enemy is spotted, the scouting team engages the enemy unit to fix it. The next phase is to pile in as many units as needed to destroy the enemy.

Right after the Plei Me siege was broken, I felt that it was up to me to find these guys who had been around the camp. So we came up with a search “modus operandi” in which the Cav Squadron was going to range widely over a very large area and I was going to use one infantry brigade to plop down an infantry battalion and look at an area here and there. I felt that we had to break down into relatively small groups so we could cover more area and also the enemy would think he could fake us. You couldn’t put down a whole battalion out there and go clomping around. You had to break down into company and platoon-sized units. You had to rely upon the fact that with the helicopter you could respond faster than anyone in history. I then learned, totally new to me, that every unit that was not in contact was, in fact, a reserve that could be picked up and used. This is my strategy. Start from somewhere, break down into small groups, depending upon the terrain, and work that area while the Cav Squadron roamed all over. The name of the game was contact. You were looking for any form of contact – a helicopter being shot at, finding a campfire, finding a pack, beaten-down grass. (Cochran, Alexander S,"First Strike at River Drang", Military History, Oct 1984, pp 44-52, Per. Interview with H.W.O Kinnard, 1st Cavalry Division Commanding General.)

However the insertion of 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was not intended as a search and destroy mission but rather a diversionary tactic to distract the enemy and lure it into delaying the attack of Pleime camp to allow for B-52 airstrike to take place. The sudden appearance of a one company sized unit would not be enough to attract the attention of a mass of three regiments. The size of a battalion would do the trick.

Furthermore, to be sure to draw the attention of the enemy, 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion did not attempt to surprise the enemy, first by having a 20 minute pre-artillery and rocket barrage, then by going in with a thundering majestic 16 assault helicopter armada.

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9. Why was “Area Lime” chosen as the insertion site for 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion?

At 5:00 P.M. on the 13th, Brown flew down and met Moore at the A Company command post south of Plei Me and told Moore to conduct an airmobile assault into Area Lime [area at the foot of Chu Pong Massif] the following morning. As was his practice, Brown allowed his battalion commanders to select their own landing zones and to work out their schemes of maneuver. (Coleman 1988)

Why “Area Lime”, which was on the northeast side area at the foot of Chu Pong massif, and not on other side areas, northwest for example? Because it was near the position of 66th Regiment, which was the “real cutting edge” for the second attack against Pleime camp; with the main attack force threaten the other two attacking regiments were forced to remain in positions and B3 Field Front Command had to interrupt the movement to attack.

The real cutting edge for the attack, however, was the newly infiltrated 66th Regiment, fresh from North Vietnam and spoiling for a fight. It would be in the […] of the three regimental efforts against Pleime.

The disposition fo the 66th on 11 November had its three battalions, the 7th, 8th and 9th, strung along the north bank of the Ia Drang (center of mass Vic 9104).

The 33rd Regiment still maintained its positions vicinity Anta Village (YA 940010).

the 32nd Regiment was still north of the Ia Drang (YA 820070). (Pleiku Campaign, page 76)

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10. Why did LTC Hal Moore pile on the lead helicopter along with his general staff into LZ X-Ray while his reconnaissance company closed in last into LZ X-Ray?

It was because the mission was not a search and destroy one, but rather a diversionary maneuver to distract the enemy from moving out of its staging areas. It was intended to signaling to B3 Field Front Command that “we merely intend to establish a presence at Chu Pong with a battalion for the time being and do not look for an immediate attack“.

11. Why it took almost 5 hours to insert 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion?

It was not because of lack of helicopters. It was not because LZ X-Ray could only take eight to ten IHUD’s at one time. It was not because of the lengthy 20 minute commute time from Pleime to the landing zone. It was not because of the long refueling time. The slow pace of the insertion – from 10:20 a.m. to 3:00 p.m - was intended to not appear as too big of a threat to the enemy as to make it scatter away.

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12. Why did General Knowles request only one additional battalion?

Knowles got on the horn and called Harry Kinnard back at An Khe, asking for another infantry battalion, more artillery, and both troop- and medium-lift helicopters. Kinnard replied, “They’re on the way, but what’s going on?” (Coleman 219)

It did so because it was what was needed to counter the two battalions – the 7th and the 9th – the enemy committed into the battlefield and also to prevent the eventuality that General Kinnard could intervene and ordered the piling in of much more units, which action would disperse the the enemy units and in so doing would spoil the targets intended for B-52 airstrikes.

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13. Why the NVA did not use anti-aircraft guns and mortars at LZ X-Ray?

It was because the majority of their anti-aircraft guns and mortars had been lost during the Pleime camp siege. If they still had them at LZ X-Ray, then all the helicopters bringing in air cavalry troops would have been gunned down and much more air cavalry troops would be decimated before ground assaults.

The ratio which amounts to 1/10 has proved how lucky the 1/7 battalion had been because it was rather surprising that from the hills which dominate the LZ, the enemy did not position any crew-served weapons to support their attack. Such a situation could be explained only by the following reasons:

- The enemy has lost nearly all their heavy crew-served weapons during the first phase.

- They had been surprised by the attack of the 1/7 battalion and their commanders had failed to make the best use of the terrain.

- Their tactics relied mostly on the "human waves" and they were too confident that their attack would disorganize the 1/7 battalion very quickly. (Why Pleime, chapter V)

Furthermore, the planner of the insertion of 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was well aware that the two heavy anti-aircraft weapons and mortars assigned as support of the second attack against Pleime camp were not present at Chu Pong footstep.

Convinced that friendly forces had lost tracks of its units, VC Field Front quickly made a decision to regain its advantage with an attack. The target again was Pleime and the date of attack set at 16 November. The plan was known within the VC ranks as the second phase of the attack of Pleime. All the three regiments would be committed this time as well as a battalion of 120mm mortars and a battalion of 14.5mm twin-barrel anti-aircraft guns which were both en route down the infiltration trail and scheduled to arrive in time for the attack. (Why Pleime, chapter V)

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14. Why did 2/5 Air Calvary Battalion close in LZ X-Ray by land instead of by air?

2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion was scheduled as early as in the evening of Nov 14 to reinforce the two 1/7 and 2/7 Air Cavalry Battalions already present on LZ X-Ray to rescue the isolated platoon in danger.

Late in the afternoon of 14 November, the brigade Commander had moved the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, into LZ Victor. At approximately 0800 hours it headed, on foot, for LZ X-RAY. See Tab J for routes used. At 1205 hours, it closed into X-RAY. The Commanding Officer, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry and I coordinated on the disposition of forces. It was agreed that his A and B Companies which were south and west of LZ X-RAY on the lower slopes of the mountain headed northwest plus B Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry would conduct a coordinated attack behind artillery, ARA, TAC Air preparation to relieve the surrounded platoon. The route of attack was as shown at Tab K. It was agreed that I would assume operational control of Company B, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry and be in overall control of all units at LZ X-RAY plus responsibility for its defense. B Company, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry moved forward of D Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry on the perimeter. All 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry mortars went into position and registered. D Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry (minus the mortar platoon) was added to C Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry in reserve. The attack by A and C Companies of the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry and B Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry under control of Commanding Officer, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry jumped off at 1315 hours. There was little enemy resistance. B Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry reached the surrounded platoon at 1510 hours. (LTC Hal Moore’s After Action Report)

2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion was stealthily closing in LZ X-Ray so that the enemy side did not realize they became outnumbered by a ratio of 3 to 2 units, and would not feel the necessity to bringing in more troops and consequently remained vulnerable for B-52 airstrikes that were scheduled to start at 1600 hours.

At the forward command post, we grasped a better control of the situation at this moment. 66th Regiment reported back: 9th Battalion was able to establish communication with 7th Battalion. Thus, the balance of forces in this narrow area was two battalions for each side, with the American side higher in troop numbers, not counting two artillery companies and air force enforcements. (General Nguyen Huu An’s Memoire)

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15. Why were B-52 airstrikes called in?

Some military historians, like Gregory Daddis, thought it was to rescue 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion which was hard pressed by the NVA troops.

It seemed not to faze any of the 1st Cavalry Division or MACV’s leadership that B-52 bombers were needed to save Moore’s battalion. (Gregory Daddis, No Sure Victory: Measuring US Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War )

This observation is dead wrong considering that the use of B-52 bombers were pre-planned as the main force to destroy the three NVA regiments in Chupong with 1st Air Cav troops playing a secondary role and performing a diversionary maneuver in support of the B-52 airstrike.

The Chu Pong base was known to exist well prior to the Pleime attack and J2 MACV had taken this area under study in September 1965 as a possible B-52 target. (Intelligence Aspects of Pleime-Chupong campaign, page 6)

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16. Why was 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion helilifted out on November 16?

It is because it had accomplished its mission of drawing the attention of B3 Field Front Command to allow B-52 airstrikes that had gone into action at 1600 hours on November 15.

Furthermore, it was meant to signaling to B3 Field Front there was no need to bring in more troops as the ratio of troops on both side went back to being equal (2/5 and 2/7 versus 7th and 9th).

The withdrawal of 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was performed after LTC Hal Moore had been summoned to Saigon to debrief General DePuy, Chief of J3/MACV who was responsible of coordinating B-52 airstrikes with II Corps Command.

- 21:05H : 1st Cav (Col Beaty): Lt Col Moore will arrive Saigon 1130 in morning (to brief Gen DePuy). (Daily Log of G3/IFFV, Nhatrang, November 15)

Moore writes that:

At 10:40 a.m., with two fresh battalions – Bob Tully’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry and Bob McDade’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry – now in or on the way to X-Ray, colonel Tim Brown ordered the weary survivors of my 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry to prepare to pull out for some needed rest. (We Were Soldiers Once and Young, page 229)

This is also an indication that his mission was not an air assault search and destroy one but only a diversionary tactic in support of B-52 airstikes.

General Knowles reveals that the purpose for the insertion of the Air Cavalry troops at LZ X-Ray on November 14 was to “grab the tiger by its tail” and to hit its head with B-52 airstrikes from November 15 to 16.

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17. Why were 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions pulled out by land on November 17?

They were pulled out of LZ X-Ray, not noisily by helicopters but rather quietly by land, so as to allow B-52 airstrikes to catch the units of 66th Regiment by surprise right at the area of the landing zone.

Those troops still remaining in the now deserted Z-Ray area suddenly learned of the reason for the exodus of the Cavalry. A B-52 strike had been called in virtually on top of the old positions. (Pleiku Campaign, page 94)

General Knowles explains the reason for pulling out of LZ X-Ray on November 17 and moving to LZ Albany was “to grab the tiger by its tail from another direction” and continued to hit its head with B-52 bombs from November 17 to 20.

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18. Why were the American side’s casualties so high?

It was because the NVA troops used the “human waves” tactic.

Their tactics relied mostly on the "human waves" and they were too confident that their attack would disorganize the 1/7 battalion very quickly. (Why Pleime, chapter V)

Furthermore, the Air Cavalry troops were still inexperienced in real combat.

The green troops expended a lot of ammunition early on, firing mostly at shadows. During the early days at An Khe, the saga of Maggie the mule ended tragically. She wandered too far outside the perimeter one cloudy night and was shot by a spooked picket guard. The flailing about on the perimeter revealed a fundamental truth about the division for someone who was perceptive enough to see it: the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) that had just arrived in Vietnam was not an elite unit. True, the concept of airmobility was elite, but the troopers who were to provide the sinew for making the concept a reality were typical of the American infantry, artillery, and engineer soldiers the U.S. Army was providing to all of its line outfits in 1965.

So a lot of ammunition was fire off in those first days on the perimeter, until inexperienced troops began recognizing shadows for what they were and leaders began exercising the kind of control and fire discipline that was expected of a first-rate outfit. Step by step, the division began reaching a true wartime readiness; not the paper brand of readiness but that special kind of discipline marked by proficiency and dependability and automatic habits of combat not taught in any school. The division was striving to reach an elite status. The question was, would the enemy allow it the time? (Coleman, page 53)

And the NVA troops were well prepared in hand-to-hand combat.

I pondered deeply in order to visualize the proper tactics that would "demoralize" the enemy. After 2 days, the 304th Division Commander and I presented in person to comrade Chu Huy Man the content of the "demoralizing strike". One was to annihilate an American airmobile cavalry battalion; two was to attack at close range and with bayonets (in close combat).

In the preparation process, we encountered numerous difficulties, among which was an incident that stuck forever in my mind. It was that a section of cadres and combatants assessed mistakenly that American troops could not be attacked with close range combat using bayonets, and discarded almost all bayonets along Route 559 (from Route 9 to B3). I had to mobilize some political cadres together with the transportation unit to go back and gather bayonets from Route 9 to B3, succeeding in recuperating 300 pieces, sufficient to arm 3 infantry companies (one of 7th battalion and 2 of 8th battalion of 66th Regiment). The use of bayonets in this battle was not to be entrusted to just anybody, but to selected and highly motivated and determined combatants to defeat the American troops. Then to motivate, to train to the perfection the bayonet combat tactic, close range combat and light foot, under enemy fire, in order to ascertain close contact appropriate to the targeted Americans that we will face at Ia Drang valley. (General Nguyen Nam Khanh - (Crushing the American troops in Central Highlands)

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Conclusion

All those above mentioned perplexing maneuvers are resolved once one gains awareness of the operational concept that creates them and guides their performance. They were conceived to render possible the simultaneous annihilation of all three NVA regiments by B-52 airtrikes in Chu Prong. Because the entire campaign was designed by a genius mind in strategy and tactics, each and everyone operational maneuver had its raison d'ętre in the over-whole scheme.

Nguyen Van Tin
10 October 2014.

Documents

- Primary

- Books, Articles

* Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam, J.D. Coleman, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1988.

* We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, General Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, Random House, New York, 1992.

* "First Strike at River Drang", Military History, Oct 1984, pp 44-52, Per. Interview with H.W.O Kinnard, 1st Cavalry Division Commanding General, Cochran, Alexander S.

* The Siege of Pleime, Project CHECO Report, 24 February 1966, HQ PACAF, Tactical Evaluation Center.

* Silver Bayonet, Project CHECO Report, 26 February 1966, HQ PACAF, Tactical Evaluation Center.

- Viet Cong

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