1st US Cavalry Division Gives Support in the Battle at Plei Me

[…]

On 19 October the enemy attacked a Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) camp at Plei Me-the opening bid in an attempt to take over the Central Highlands. By 22 October intelligence indicated that there were two North Vietnamese Army regiments in the area: the 33d Regiment, at Plei Me, and the 32d Regiment, which was waiting in ambush to destroy the expected relief column from Pleiku, north of Plei Me.

The Vietnamese II Corps commander was confronted with a difficult choice. He could refuse to go to the relief of Plei Me and lose the camp, or he could commit the reserve from Pleiku, stripping the area of defensive troops. If he lost the reserve, Pleiku would be easy prey for the Communists, who could then control the western part of the Central Highlands. He decided to ask for help from the U.S. forces. The Commanding General, Field Forces, Vietnam, Major General Stanley R. Larsen, sent the following message to Major General Harry W. O. Kinnard, Commanding General, 1st Cavalry Division: "Commencing first light 23 October First Air Cav deploys one Bn TF minimum 1 Inf Bn and 1 Arty Btry to PLEIKU, mission be prepared to assist in defense of key US/ARVN installations vic PLEIKU or reinforce II Corps operations to relieve PLEI ME CIDG CAMP."

Task Force INGRAM was airlifted from An Khe to Pleiku early on 23 October. The force consisted of the 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, reinforced with a battery of artillery. While the move was under way, the division commander, sensing that a decisive operation was imminent at Plei Me, obtained permission to deploy the 1st Brigade to Pleiku. The brigade headquarters with the 2d Battalion, 8th Cavalry, and two batteries of the 2d Battalion, 19th Artillery, arrived by air at Camp Holloway by midnight on 23 October to assume operational control of Task Force INGRAM. The 1st Brigade was charged with securing Pleiku, providing artillery support for the Vietnamese Army's relief of Plei Me, and furnishing a reserve force.

Meanwhile, the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) armored relief column began moving down Provincial Road 6C toward Plei Me. At 1730 hours the North Vietnamese Army struck the relief column at two points, but 1st Cavalry artillery was called in on the ambushing enemy with deadly accuracy and was a decisive factor in repulsing the attack.

Before the relief column arrived at Plei Me, the camp had been resupplied day and night by airdrops from the Army's CV-2 (Caribou) of the 92d Aviation Company, the CV-7 (Buffalo) of the U.S. Army Aviation Test Board, and the Air Force's C-123. On the night of 24 October the weather was overcast and the camp could not be seen from the air. In order to identify a release point on which to drop the parachute loads, the camp commander fired a star-burst flare straight up through the overcast, and the pilots released their loads using the flare as a reference point. Most of the ammunition and food landed within the compound.

On the evening of 25 October the relief column arrived at the camp, which was still under siege, and immediately reinforced the defensive perimeter. By then, 1st Cavalry infantry and artillery had air assaulted from Pleiku into landing zones within close support range. The original enemy plan to destroy the ARVN relief column and then fall on Plei Me had failed. At 2220 hours on 25 October, the 33d North Vietnamese Army Regiment at Plei Me was ordered to withdraw to the west, leaving behind a reinforced battalion to cover the withdrawal.

At this point General William C. Westmoreland visited the 1st Brigade's forward command post and directed the 1st Cavalry Division to pursue and destroy the enemy. The division's scope of operations changed from reinforcement and reaction to unlimited offense. The division was to be responsible for searching out and destroying all enemy forces that threatened the Central Highlands.

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Lieutenant General John H. Hay, Jr.
Excerpt from Second Chapter: Ia Drang (October-November 1965)
Vietnam Studies – Tactical and Materiel Innovations
Department of the Army – Washington, D.C. 1989

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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