American Perspective of Pleime Battle

A Trilogy of Battles

The counter-offensive against the NVA Dong Xuan Campaign of 1965 in the Highlands resulted in three consecutive battles: 1. the Pleime Battle; 2. the Chu Pong Battle; and 3. the Ia Drang Battle.

In the Pleime Battle, the main forces of the relief column were made up by the 3rd ARVN Armored Cavalry Squadron with US air support and artillery support provided by the US 1st Cavalry.

In the Chu Pong Battle, the friendly side involved solely units of the US 1st Cavalry.

In the Ia Drang Battle, narrated by General Norman Schwarzkopf in his biography, It Doesn't Take a Hero, a ARVN Airborne Brigade took up the fighting, with some light and occasional support from US artillery.

In this trilogy, the Pleime Battle was the main and principal battle, with the Chu Pong and Ia Drang as the two secondary aftermaths intended as moppep-up campaigns. And yet, a review of the American writings taken from four websites alluding to this episode would yield a different and somewhat distorted perspective.

A Lop-Sided View

- A Study of American Involvement in the Vietnam War (1965-1969)

The Ia Drang Valley

November, 1965

This was a battle between the NVA 66th Regiment and the US 1st Cavalry Division. It started when NVA attacked a Special Forces camp at Plei Me. The 1st Cav was called in and drove off the NVA. The 1st Cav was ordered to sweep the Ia Drang Valley and to destroy the NVA there. The 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry landed at LZ X-Ray, but was immediately attacked by the NVA. The 1/7 was heavily outnumbered and had to call in heavy support. The fire support held off the NVA and the 1/7 was reinforced. The NVA assaulted the troopers several more times but failed and withdrew. The 2/7, was ambushed on its way to LZ Albany and took horrendous casualties, again fire support kept the US forces from being overrun. After that the battle was over.

- Ground Combat Operations - Vietnam 1965 - 1972

Silver Bayonet - 23 Oct-20 Nov 65 - 29 days - 5 Bns - 1st Cavalry Division - operation in Ia Drang Valley of Pleiku Province - VC/NVA KIA 1,771 - US KIA 240

- 1st US Cavalry's Website - Vietnam War

On 10 October 1965, in Operation "Shiny Bayonet", the First Team initiated their first brigade-size airmobile action against the enemy. The air assault task force consisted of the 1st and 2nd Battalions 7th Cavalry, 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry, 1st Battalion 12th Cavalry and the 1st Battalion 21st Artillery. Rather than standing and fighting, the Viet Cong chose to disperse and slip away. Only light contact was achieved. The troopers had but a short wait before they faced a tougher test of their fighting skills; the 35-day Pleiku Campaign.

On 23 October 1965, the first real combat test came at the historic order of General Westmoreland to send the First Team into an air assault mission to pursue and fight the enemy across 2,500 square miles of jungle. Troopers of the 1st Brigade and 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry swooped down on the NVA 33rd regiment before it could get away from Plei Me. The enemy regiment was scattered in the confusion and was quickly smashed.

On 09 November, the 3rd Brigade joined the fighting. Five days later, on 14 November, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, reinforced by elements of the 2nd Battalion, air assaulted into the Ia Drang Valley near the Chu Prong Massif. Landing Zone (LZ) X-Ray was "hot" from the start. At LZ X-Ray, the Division's first Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War was awarded to 2nd Lt. Walter J. Marm of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry. On 16 November, the remainder of the 2nd Battalion relieved the 1st Battalion at LZ X-Ray, who moved on to set up blocking positions at LZ Albany. The fighting, the most intensive combat in the history of the division, from bayonets, used in hand-to-hand combat, to artillery and tactical air support, including B-52 bombing attacks in the areas of the Chu Pong Mountains, dragged on for three days. With the help of reinforcements and overwhelming firepower, the 1st and 2nd Battalions forced the North Vietnamese to withdraw into Cambodia.

When the Pleiku Campaign ended on 25 November, troopers of the First Team had paid a heavy price for its success, having lost some 300 troopers killed in action, half of them in the disastrous ambush of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, at LZ Albany. The troopers destroyed two of three regiments of a North Vietnamese Division, earning the first Presidential Unit Citation given to a division in Vietnam. The enemy had been given their first major defeat and their carefully laid plans for conquest had been torn apart.

The 1st Cavalry Division returned to its original base of operations at An Khe on Highway 19.

- LZ X-Ray

Prelude

In late October '65, a large North Vietnamese force attacked the Plei Me Special Forces Camp. Troops of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry were sent into the battle. After the enemy was repulsed in early November, the 3rd Brigade replaced the 1st Brigade. After three days of patrolling without any contact, Hal Moore's 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry was ordered to air assault into the Ia Drang Valley on Nov 14, his mission: Find and kill the enemy!

At 10:48 AM, on November 14th, Moore was the first man out of the lead chopper to hit the landing zone, firing his M16 rifle. Little did Moore and his men suspect that FATE had sent them into the first major battle of the Vietnam War between the American Army and the People's Army of Vietnam - Regulars - and into history.

Lessons Learned

Do you see the ARVN units mentioned in all these four excerpts? This is a typical example of how the ARVN is treated by the majority of American authors when they write about the Vietnam War. No wonder why the American public has so low an opinion about the ARVN units even to these days.

In light of this trilogy, the outcomes of the battle were more positive when the ground forces were made of ARVN units with fire powers support lend by US units, and were more negative when the ground forces were made up of solely of US units. It looks like the ARVN units had a better grasp of the terrain than the US units, and they knew how to outsmart the NVA better than the US units.

Remark:
The most comprehensive view on Pleime Battle, narrated in the book entitled Why Pleime published in 1966 comprised three phases: one, Operation Dân Thắng 21; two, Operation Long Reach; and three, Operation Thần Phong 7.


Nguyen Van Tin
27 July 2001.
Updated on 020402007

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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