A Puzzling Air Assault Performed by 1/7 Air Cavalry at LZ X-Ray

The air assault performed by the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion at LZ X-Ray has greatly puzzled the minds of various air cavalry commanders.

It first started with General Kinnard, 1st Air Cavalry Division Commander, who was puzzled about why General Knowles, his assistant whom he assigned as the Field Commander of the operation, decided to go into Chu Pong:[1]

The choice to go into the Chu Pong, a longtime enemy sanctuary [near the Cambodian border] into which ARVN had never gone, was not mine. It was either that of General Knowles or the brigade commander.

He was further puzzled when General Knowles let him know the air cav troop insertion at LZ X-Ray had sparkled a fight with the VC:[2]

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?” Knowles responded, “We’ve got a good fight going. Suggest you come up as soon as possible.” After setting the reinforcement wheels in motion, Kinnard choppered over from An Khe and met Knowles at Catecka. When he arrived, Knowles showed him the situation map he had propped up against a palm tree. Kinnard took one look and said, “What the hell are you doing in that area?” Obviously, someone hadn’t kept the boss informed about Larsen’s guidance to get after the enemy even if it meant walking away from the dry holes in the east. Knowles told Kinnard, “The object of the exercise is to find the enemy, and we sure as hell have!” Knowles remembers an awkward pause before Kinnard said quietly, “Okay, it looks great. Let me know what you need.”

General Kinnard was also puzzled by the fact Knowles only requested an additional infantry battalion, instead of several ones as dictated by the piling-in maneuver of an air assault tactic.

The next person to be puzzled by the conduct of the air assault was Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, 1/7 Air Cavalry Battlion Commander when he learned that Colonel Tim Brown, 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade Commander, had moved the 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion to LZ Victor in the afternoon of 14 November. At that time he thought his brigade commander had anticipated his need for reinforcement, not knowing that his battalion was about to be replaced by the 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion:[3]

A. Late in the afternoon of 14 November, the brigade Commander had moved the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, into LZ Victor. At approximately 0800 hours [November 15] it headed, on foot, for LZ X-RAY.

The next morning of 15 November, Moore was more puzzled, when Brown told him he wanted to take over the command of the battlefield in preparation of the withdrawal of the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion scheduled for 16 November:[4]

Mid-morning, before Tully arrived, Colonel Tim Brown flew in for a visit. Plumley recalls: “Lieutenant Colonel Moore saluted Brown and said, ‘I told you not to come in here. It’s not safe! Brown picked up his right collar lapel and waggled his full colonel’s eagle at Moore and said, ‘Sorry about that!” Dillon and I gave him a situation report. Brown asked whether he should stay in X-Ray to establish a small brigade command post, and run the show. We recommended against that. I knew the area, and Bob Tully and I got along just fine. Brown agreed. Just before he departed, Colonel Brown told us that we had done a great job but now that Tully's fresh battalion was coming in, along with two rifle companies of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav, he would likely pull us out of X-Ray the following day.

In the afternoon, he was again puzzled why General Knowles took the risk to land down at LZ X-Ray to make an announcement of the withdrawal of his battalion scheduled for the next day:[5]

Within half an hour after the Tully task force had returned to X-Ray Brigadier General Richard Knowles came up on the radio asking permission to land.

(…)

Before leaving, General Knowles told us that he would direct Tim Brown to pull my battalion and the attached units out of X-Ray the next day and fly us back to Camp Holloway for two days of rest and rehabilitation.

By midnight, he was not only puzzled but really astonished and pissed off upon receiving the order to leave his battalion at the battlefield and come to Saigon to brief General Westmoreland and his staff on the battle: [6]

Around midnight [November 15] Lieutenant Colonel Edward C. (Shy) Meyer, 3rd Brigade executive officer, passed me an astonishing message: General William Westmoreland's headquarters wanted me to "leave X-Ray early the next morning for Saigon to brief him and his staff on the battle." I could not believe I was being ordered out before the battle was over! I was also perplexed that division or brigade HQ had not squelched such an incomprehensible order before it reached me. My place was clearly with my men.

He did not realize that “to leave to brief” was an euphemism for “to be relieved of the command”, in order for the withdrawal of the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion to be carried out at all costs.

A close examination of the chronology of the unfolding of the air assault operation at LZ X-Ray indicates that General Knowles’ s intention in the use of the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was to create a diversionary tactic, instead of a movement to attack:

- On 14 November, in the afternoon, upon learning that the air cavalry troops insertion succeeded in drawing the attention of the B3 Field Front Command into postponing the attack of the Pleime camp and into committing two battalions to face the new threat, General Knowles immediately made arrangements to withdraw the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion: Company B/2/7 AC would be inserted by 1800 hours; the remaining of the 2/7 AC would follow in the next morning; the 2/5 AC was moved to LZ Victor to get ready to close in LZ X-Ray by noon the next day 15 November .

- On 15 November, at 0930 hours, Colonel Brown let Moore know his job was done and his battalion would be withdrawn and replaced by the 2/7 and the 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions. And at 1630 hours, General Knowles reiterated to Moore the same order.

It is worth mentioning that the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion did not perform an attack operation. Instead, immediately after the insertion on 14 November, it established a defensive perimeters to hold the ground at the LZ X-Ray, while the Brigade Commander started the motion to withdraw it in the afternoon; then the next morning of 15 November, it got the order to withdraw the next day, replaced by the 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions.

In a nutshell, the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion jumped in LZ X-Ray on 14 November, waived its hands to get the enemy troops’ attention, then withdrew on 16 November. Quite a puzzling air assault performance indeed.

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. He also 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.

Nguyen Van Tin
23 May 2016


[1]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.

[2]Coleman, J.D., "Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam", St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1988, page 219

[3] 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion’s After Action Report.

[4] Moore, We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young , page 202.

[5] Moore, page 210.

[6]Moore, page 216.

Nguyen Van Tin
06 June 2016

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

generalhieu.com