When II Corps Command decided to send a relief column to rescue Pleime outpost that was besieged by the Viet Cong since October 19, 1965, it knew that the B3 Central Highlands Command intended to use the "encircle an outpost to destroy the relief column" in order to take over Pleiku, as the first phase in the Winter-Spring campaign aiming at slicing South Vietnam in two along National Route 19, from Pleiku down to Qui Nhon. II Corps Command undertook the proper counter-measures, and the results were that the relief column was able to break through the ambush site and proceed to liberate the outpost on October 29, 1965, with the artillery and air supports lent by th US 1st Air Cavalry. The remnant troops of the 320th and 33rd Regiments were compelled to withdraw to the Chu Prong Massif areas. The Pleime campaign ended; the Winter-Spring campaign was foiled.
Then, General Westmoreland decided to put into use his new "search and destroy" tactic and ordered the US 1st Air Cavalry to unilaterally jump into Ia Drang valley. The NVA 66th Regiment, which just arrived at this B3 Command base camp, after a two-month march, had to engage into combat before finishing unpacking. A first bloodiest fight ensued between the NVA and the US sides.
Next, II Corps Command request the Joint General Staff to dispatch a general reserve force from Saigon to the Central Highlands to pursue the NVA troops on their retreat route toward their secret base in Cambodia. The ARVN 3rd Airborne Brigade intercepted two NVA battalions in the Duc Co area near to the Cambodia border.
That was what really happened, but the North-Vietnamese Communist authors and historians distorted the truth in their account of the Pleime campaign. First they claimed that the plan of the campaign had been modified from encircling the outpost to attack Pleiku, to encircling the outpost to lure in the American troops into Pleime to inflict them with the first unforgettable blow; then, not even at Pleime, but rather at Ia Drang.
The boundary set for this article is to only address the second issue, which is the North Vietnamese Communists' claim the objective of the attack on Pleime outpost was to lure the American troops into Ia Drang valley. This contention can be found in the 5 following North Vietnamese Communist writings:
Quotes - First, let's quote what these 5 documents say about the plan of the Pleime campaign.
3 or 2 Phase Plan? Let's rearrange these quotes for comparison's sake.
- Phase 1: encircle camp Pleime, destroy the ARVN relief task force;
- Phase 2: continue to encircle camp Pleime to compel the American troops to intervene at camp Pleime;
- Phase 3: converge troops aiming at destroying an American unit at location xxx and end the campaign at this location.
- Phase 1: 33rd Regiment encircles camp Pleime and 320th Regiment destroys the ARVN relief task force;
- Phase 2: 33rd Regiment and 320the Regiment continue to encircle or overrun Pleime, compelling the American troops to intervene at camp Pleime
- Phase 3: Converge troops - at xxx- aiming to destroy from 4 to 5 American companies, in combination with attrition tactic aiming at putting out of combat from 1,200 to 1,500 American troops.
- Phase 1: Encircle and put pressure on camp Pleime, compelling the ARVN troops to come to the rescue, who when sustaining heavy losses will certainly force the American troops to come to the rescue, but not immediately at camp Pleime, rather…
- Phase 2: 15 days later, the American troops will be lured into Ia Drang valley (the anticipated location to attack them).
-: Phase 1: encircle the camp and destroy the ARVN relief task force at Pleime, thwart the enemy's intention to liberate the camp by air and compel the ARVN to dispatch a relief task force by land, allowing us to destroy it;
- Phase 2: get ready to face with the enemy's counterattack - launched by an American unit and an ARVN general reserve force, not at Pleime but rather toward the direction of Central Highlands because the American troops will be "frog hopping" to Ia Drang and the ARVN general force will arrive at Duc Co, but not that we lure them but rather extend them thin to attack them.
- Phase : Encircle camp Pleime.
- Phase 2: Ambush the ARVN relief task force.
- Phase 3. Attack the Americans at Ia Drang valley.
Flawed Representations The accounts of Pleime campaign's plan given by the 5 North Vietnamese Communist documents show flaws in their representation.
- Flawed Representation #1. In Pleime Campaign and The First Battles Against the American Troops - 304th Division, volume II, it was said that phase 1 and phase 2 were aiming at luring the American troops by encircling the camp and by inflicting heavy losses to the ARVN relief task force; why then a phase 3 was necessary to converge troops at another location (Ia Drang) to destroy an American unit.
- Flawed Representation #2. In Pleime-Ia Drang's Victory, General Nguyen Nam Khanh spelled out clearly that Ia Drang had been chosen as the trap to lure in the American troops: "Once the ARVN troops are severely wounded, the American troops would be forced to come to the rescue. At first, we calculated the American troops would come to the rescue within a week. But in reality it was only after 15 days that the Americans poured in their troops in Ia Drang valley (the spot we anticipated to fight them), which allowed us more time to prepare for a better battle plan." How was it possible for the plan to predict that the American troops would not intervene at Pleime and only at Ia Drang? And if the plan anticipated that the American troops would jump in within one week, why the 66th Regiment was not dispatched to arrive on time at the Ia Drang battlefield? Furthermore, how is that possible that a strategist could be that foolish to establish an ambush at the rear base camp of the battlefield command post and the main force, where ammunition and food were stocked, and causing the troops of 9th battalion to be attacked by surprise while they were been distributed ammunition and rice and cooking their lunch?
- Flawed Representation #3. In The Political Commissar at the First Battle Against the Americans in Central Highlands, General Dang Vu Hiep said B3 Front was getting ready, after the Pleime battle, for the American counter-offensive, "to defeat the new American tactic of "helicopter warfare" and "frog hopping". Troops of US 1st Air Cavalry just arrived at Tay Nguyen - which was why B3 Front had decided to advance the attack date to take advantage of the unpreparedness of the American troops, causing the 66th Regiment to show up late - and did not yet have the chance to try out the "frog hopping" tactic on the battlefield and the other American combat units - Marines, 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1/101st Airborne Brigade - did not know and were not capable of using this tactic. It would be preposterous to claim that B3 Front had a clear vision of how to counter this tactic.
Furthermore, General Hiep said that the objective of phase 2 was to " to destroy an enemy unit, an entire set of 4 to 5 American companies, to down 20 to 25 airplanes, to defeat the American "helicopter warfare" and "frog hopping" tactics. To lure a unit of American troops and the ARVN reserved force toward Central Highlands, forcing them to stretch out thin in order to attack." If such was the case, the Viet Cong would be on the disadvantage side because the American had much more mobility than them.
- Flawed Representation #4. In Chiến Dịch Tiến Công Plây Me (The Pleime Attack Campaign), Colonel Pham Van Gioi said the reason for selecting the attack area of Ia Drang was when the Americans jumped in this dense jungle area they would be forced to land on clearing spots where their troops could set up ambush sites.
It should be a lot more clearing sites besides the three X-Ray, Albany, Columbus landing sites. It is difficult to select a right ambush site for a relief task force by land. It would be a lot more difficult to select a right one for a relief task force by air; especially when the Americans had not had the chance to experiment and the Viet Cong did not have the experience to counter the "helicopter warfare" and "frog hopping" tactics of the US 1st Air Cavalry.
B3 Front's plan was to encircle Pleime camp to destroy the ARNV relief task force in order to conquer Pleiku. In the eventuality the American troops intervene to help the ARVN troops, NVA 66th Regiment would lend a hand to 320th Regiment and 33rd Regiment in dealing with them. Unfortunately: one, the American troops did not intervene; two, 66th Regiment did not arrive on time as planned; three, 33rd Regiment and 320th Regiment had to withdraw due to heavy American artilleray and air bombardment; four, 66th Regiment was struck by surprise when it just arrived at Ia Drang valley site. In order to appear proactive instead of reactive, the authors of the 5 above-mentioned documents had added Ia Drang into the plan of Pleime campaign to become the Pleime-Ia Drang campaign.
Nguyen Van Tin