CIDG in Camp Defense (Plei Me)

1. General Situation

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.

2. Sequence of events during the Siege:

a. The camp started receiving small arms fire from the southwest at 1915 hours on 19 October 1965. It was determined later that one of the local ambush patrols was involved in a firefight with a PAVN unit of unknown strength. At 2200 hours the outpost to the south was attacked by approximately forty PAVN soldiers. At the same time the camp began receiving 81 mm mortar and 57 mm recoilless rifle fire. Twenty minutes later contact with the outpost was lost.

b. The PAVN force launched their first attack on the camp at 00300 hours 20 October, from the north and northwest. By 0110 hours the attack had growing intensity and the PAVN were within the defensive wire barriers, to the south, on the east near the main gate and to the north near the corner bunker. They made a concerted effort to overrun the corner bunker, however, the defenders in the vicinity stiffened and repulsed the attack. When the attack was initiated a flare ship had been requested, and it arrived on station at 0215 hours. Air strikes had also been requested and they began arriving at 0345 hours. The attack continued throughout the night and at 0600 hours the north bunker was hit by 75mm recoilless rifle fire. The bunker, although partially destroyed continued to hold.

c. […] treated himself on each occasion without slowing his pace in looking after the other wounded). One of the US Army helicopters flying support for the first medical evacuation was shot down by ground fire. Attempts to reach the downed aircraft were unsuccessful and a USASF sergeant was seriously wounded. As the rescue team worked its way back to the camp, they were pinned down by heavy machine gun fire. The sergeant died of wounds while they were pinned down and one other USASF team member was wounded.

d. The USASF and LLDB detachment commanders submitted requests through both channels for re-enforcements at first light on 20 October. The request was received at II Corps Tactical Zone Headquarters at 0518 hours. The ranger units in the Pleiku area had been assigned a reserve mission for operations and were not available for use as re-enforcement element. The Commanding Officer, 5th SFG (Abn) and his LLDB counterpart ordered two VNSF Airborne Ranger companies located in the Binh Dinh Province, to be airlifted to Pleiku. Later that day the II Corps commander agreed to send a relief force composed of one Armed Cav troop, one APC company and one Ranger company by road to Plei Me. They departed Pleiku early on the morning of 21 October. The Commanding Officer, 5th SFG (Abn), through advise to his counterpart dispatched the two VNSF Airborne Ranger companies, by helicopter, in three lifts to a landing zone six kilometers north of the camp. The first lift departed Pleiku at 0800 hours on 21 October.

e. The patrol from Plei Me, on the sweep and clear operation to the northwest of camp, began moving back to Plei Me upon notification that the camp was under attack. The patrol successfully closed into the camp without encountering any major action at 2130 hours on 20 October. The Camp was under continuous small arms and mortar fire from 1200 hours on the 20th until 0400 hours on the 21st. Then for two hours everything was quiet and very little activity could be observed outside the camp. At 0600 hours the camp again came under heavy small arms and mortar fire.

f. The last lift of the two VNSF Airborne Ranger companies arrived on the landing zone at 1005 hours and the force deployed immediately for movement to Plei Me. The commander, making an extremely wise decision, moved due east for several kilometers before turning south toward the camp. Although the movement was extremely difficult through the jungle growth, the strategy allowed the force to close into the camp, without being ambushed or becoming involved in a major firefight. They closed into the camp twenty-three hours later at 0900 hours on the 22nd. The camp had sent out a link-up force at 1830 hours the previous evening, however, they failed to locate the relief force and returned to camp at 0700 hours on the 22nd.

g. […] fighting their way out and continued on to Plei Me, arriving at 1845 hours on the 25th.

h. An A-1E aircraft was shot down by ground fire at 0140 on the 22nd. The pilot chuted out and landed approximately 500 meters from the camp. Rescue efforts that day failed to recover the pilot. At 1600 hours that evening the second A-1E was shot down and the pilot was rescued by members of the camp. From 1800 hours that day until 0300 hours on the 23rd, firing on the camp was sporadic, however, at 0210 hours the camp began receiving heavy mortar fire from the southwest, which continued until 0400 hours. After that the camp remained quiet for the next twenty-four hours, receiving only H and I fires. The link-up force reported many PAVN bodies around the camp and they brought in numerous weapons that they had picked up. The pilot of the first A-1E that wss shot down was rescued on the 23rd.

i. After the VNSF Airborne Ranger companies arrived in camp on the 22nd, the defenses were immediately re-aligned and now responsibilities designated. That afternoon at 1400 hours a three-company size force composed of Rangers and CIDG departed the camp to clear the high ground outside. One USASF Captain was killed and one wounded on this operation. There were eleven Ranger/CIDG and one LLDB Lt killed, and 26 Ranger/CIDG wounded. The operation closed back into the camp at 1840 hours. During the operation they had met fanatical resistance, and one PAVN soldier was observed chained to a .50 caliber machine gun. For the next three days the camp continued to launch company and platoon size offensive operations and rescue missions against the well-emplaced PAVN units around the camp.

j. H& I fires continued throughout the remainder of the day and through the night of 24 and 25 October. An operation was launched at 0930 hours on 25 October in an attempt to clear a slope north of the camp. The operation met with stiff resistance and was force back to the camp. This was the last major resistance received from the PAVN units around Plei Me. The ARVN relied force from II Corps began clearing operations around the camp on the 26th and met very little resistance. A Nung company from the USASF C detachment arrive at 1530 hours that day and began a screen operation on the road between Plei Me and Pleiku. This operation terminated successfully at 2 hours on 28 October without any contact. At 2245hours on 29 October the camp received ten rounds of mortar fire from the southwest. This was the last fire received by the camp and the siege was ended.

3. […]

a. […] camp would have surely been breached. There was a total of 672 sorties flown in support of the camp from 17 through 30 October 1965. There were two A-1E fighters shot down during these missions and both pilots were recovered.

b. The aerial resupply was also conducted in an outstanding manner. During the period 22 through 25 October 1965 a total of 313,000 pounds of supplies were air dropped to besieged Plei Me. Most of the missions were accomplished under extremely difficult conditions. The drops were made at night into a 200-meter triangle. 304,000 pounds of the supplies landed inside the camp and the remaining 9,000 pounds were either retrieved or destroyed by the camp. There were 41 missions flown, 25 by C-123 type aircraft from the 310th Air Commando Squadron and 16 by CV2B type aircraft from the 92nd Army Aviation company. Nineteen of the C-123 and two CV2B aircraft were hit by ground fire. Of the aircraft hit, the two CV2 and seven of the C-123's remained out of service as a result of the hits received. There were two US Army and two USASF enlisted men wounded during the missions. The USASF logistical support center continued to resupply the other CIDG camps during this period on a reduced basis because of the number of aircraft and crews available.

4. Statistics of Plei Me Siege:

a. Casualty Recapitulation
(1) Friendly KIAWIAMIA
USASF370
LLDB120
VN ABN Rangers15290
CIDG14280
Newman100
TOTAL34660
(2)EnemyKIAWIAMIA
Confirmed14100
Estimated2413000

a. […]

b. […]

5. Conclusions:

a. The PAVN attacked Plei Me for three basic reasons.

(1) Plei Me was the only organized force blocking the southern avenue of approach to Pleiku.

(2) To test their combat capability against American and ARVN ground and air re-enforcements

(3) To gain immediately a significant combat success against American, ARVN and CIDG troops which would instill confidence and provide experience for their newly committed troops.

b. The local security ambush patrols and combat outposts provided the early warning necessary for the camp to be alert for the attack. The re-enforcement by helicopters was successful because the troops were landed out of range of the anti-aircraft weapons and they approached the camp from an unexpected direction cross-country. Successful offensive operations were conducted by the forces from the besieged camp, which improved moral and fighting spirit. The tactical air support provided the necessary punch at the critical times to prevent the PAVN from massing for their assaults. The Logistical Air support provided the lifeline of ammunition, food and medical supplies necessary to give the strike force staying power during the siege.

5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
1st Special forces
31 December 1965

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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