When the Pleime Battle is mentioned, from the American side, the names of Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore, General Kinnard or General Westmoreland normally come up; from the Viet Cong's side, the names of General Chu Huy Man or Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu An; from the ARVN's side, the name of General Vinh Loc. And these famous people were viewed as the main players of the battle. But, in reality, the two main players of the Pleime Chess Game were Colonel Ha Vi Tung, Viet Cong B3 Front Chief of Staff and Colonel Nguyen Van Hieu, ARVN II Corps Chief of Staff. In their respective role of chief of staff, both studied the planning, assembled the units and equipments, made projection of troop deployments, maneuvered troops according to planning, made tactical adjustments as military situation on the battlefield required; in sum, accomplished all necessary actions in order to implement the strategic and tactical objectives determined by the high command. From the Viet Cong's side, the objective was to slice the Highlands in two along Highway 19 from Pleiku down to Qui Nhon; from the ARVN's side, the objective was to prevent the enemy from realizing its intention of conquering half of the Highlands.
The Main Player Colonel Hieu
From Da Nang, I Corps, Colonel Hieu followed General Do Cao Tri to Pleiku, II Corps in January 1964,
in the role of II Corps Chief of Staff. Within a couple months later, Colonel Hieu launched units of II Corps into Do Xa, a Viet Cong sanctuary in search of the enemy.
Compared to other main and secondary chess players, Colonel Hieu was much younger - at that time he was 36 years old - and had not yet acquired much combat experience,
while Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore (43 years old), General Kinnard (48 years old), and General Westmoreland (51 years old) were experienced combatants since World War II in European battlefields and since the Korea War; on the Viet Cong's side, General Chu Huy Man (52 years old), Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu An (39 years old) and Colonel Ha Vi Tung (45 years old, perhaps) had all participated in numerous battles in the Indochina War, in particular the battle of Dien Bien Phu.
Nevertheless, Colonel Hieu had shown to be an exceptional chess player in the Pleime Chess Game, due to his inherent military skills. Like General Patton he "possessed an unsurpassed encyclopedic knowledge of the history of battles, an exceedingly thorough understanding of the ways and thoughts of the enemy, and a peerless, masterful, intuitive comprehension of the roadways and terrain (ancient and modern) on which the offensive army campaign was to sweep" and was "an accomplished staff officer who was a master of maps and briefings yet thoroughly tactical in the field, multi-lingual, communicative with allies, comprehensive on the larger plan yet good with details, possessing a technological edge" (James Miguez); he, furthermore, had the knack of putting to use all means on hand, be it small or big.
Colonel Hieu's tactical operation areas in II Corps was very expanded, the size of I, III and IV Corps tactical operation areas combined. But due to his passion in clocking a great amount of aerial observation flying times over the entire II Corps areas either by helicopter or L-19 observation airplane, he had the geography of the entire area in the palm of his hand, which allowed him to cope with any situation with relative ease.
The Main Player Ha Vi Tung
In a chess game, in order to win it is essential to grasp the personality of the opponent. Colonel Hieu studied very closely Colonel Tung's military profile. He remarked in Why Pleime: "(1) During the Indo-China war, Ha Vi Tung was commander of the 803rd Regiment which together with the 108th Regiment constituted the main forces of the Viet Minh in the Central Highlands. To their credit were the occupation of Kontum and the defeat of French Task Force #100 on Highway 19".
Through various battles prior to Pleime Battle, Colonel Hieu concurred with Colonel Mataxis, II Corps Senior Advisor, that Colonel Tung always calculated meticulously the respective strength of both sides in preparation of any attack, as is the case of Duc Co Battle:
The VC are well known for their meticulous gathering of intelligence prior to an operation. They carefully gather data not only on enemy strength to include number of troops, weapons and fortifications, but also the reinforcing capability of the headquarters controlling the zone in which they are in operation. When laying the groundwork for the attack at Duc Co the VC undoubtedly carefully calculated the number of troops garrisoning Duc Co and also estimated the troops available to the Special Zone and II Corps for a relief force.
At this time the Corps chief of staff (Colonel Hieu) and the Corps senior advisor (Colonel Mataxis) reconnoitered the area to clarify the situation for the Corps commander. They found that the VC troops were in battalion strength, well equipped, and had used conventional infantry tactics of fire-and-movement. In addition, the VC had been well trained in the techniques of antiaircraft fire against helicopter gunships. Those being fired at directly would seek cover, but those in the flanks would continue firing at the chopper.
Combat Order for an Ambush by the 32d Regiment
Prepared at Regimental Headquarters/Plei-Luc-Chin
At 1500 hours, 12 Oct. 1965, Pleiku, Plei The (YA 815 008)
Map: scale 1/100000 made in 1962
1. After the initial attack on Pleime the GVN will likely send a
relief column. The relief column will probably be composed of one ARVN
Battle Group and one Armored Battle Group from the 24th STZ. There will
probably be one or two US battalions in reserve. The relief forces
could come by air or by road, which ever is the most suitable. They
could arrive at the battle area in one or two days. Their battle
formation could operate up to one kilometer from the road. They could
have the infantry and armor elements interposed with each other; as an
example an Armor element leading with the infantry 500m to one
kilometer behind. After the ARVN elements are ambushed they will pull
back to the O-Gri area to regroup. ARVN forces behind the ambushed
element will probably move to the area of Po Post (20-14), O-Gri
(22-18) and Klan (26-22).
2. In order to defeat the ARVN forces and those American forces
engaged, all general activities must be coordinated throughout the
battle area. To widen the liberation zone and develop guerrilla
movement, the Field Front Headquarters orders the 32d Regiment (minus
7th Company, 966th Battalion) with two anti-aircraft companies, to
destroy the ARVN infantry and armor units moving on Provincial Road 21
(TN. Provincial Route 5) from Phu My (AR750 275) to Pleime (ZA150 065).
a. The sector from O-Gri to Chu Von is the main sector (for the ambush),
b. Units are responsible for attacking any enemy units
that are air-landed in their zone. The ARVN air landings will probably
be at Po and Pia posts.
c. We will destroy the ARVN forces outside of Phu My (AR750 275) and O-Gri by weapons fire, mines and explosives.
d. We will attack the ARVN forces concentrated at the junction of Phu My and O-Gri.
e. We must be prepared to conduct an attack along with the 33d Regiment.
3. The 33d Regiment has the mission of attacking and encircling
Pleime thus causing the enemy to send a relief force which will be
destroyed by the 32d Regiment.
4. Based on the missions outlined above the 32d Regiment has the following missions:
a. Set up an ambush to destroy the ARVN units on Road 21 (PR5).
b. The ambush will be conducted using the terrain from Hill 538 (16-14-4) to Hill 601 (20-18-9) (4 kilometers).
c. The 334th and 635th Battalions will be at position 1. The 966th Battalion will be at position 2.
5. The 635th Battalion, with one machinegun platoon from the
regimental machinegun company and with two 57mm recoilless rifles and
two 90mm Rocket launchers (B.40) from the 966th Battalion will deploy
on the west side of Hill 538 and Hill Siu (18-14-9); and has the
a. Occupy one part of the regimental area and
block one part of the road into the regimental area. This section of
the regimental road is from Hill 538 to the north side of the "lone
b. The battalion will conduct violent attacks on the enemy, attacking from many points in order to separate the enemy forces.
c. The battalion will occupy Hill 538 and the "lone tree" hill in order to canalize the enemy down the valley and destroy them.
d. The 655th Battalion will organize its firepower to
destroy tanks and infantry and to shoot down any enemy aircraft
e. The 1 combat formation will be in reserve (TN exact
translation and thus meaning, could not be determined. Could mean one
company will be held in reserve).
f. The left portion of the combat line of the 334th
Battalion, located on the north side of the "lone tree" hill, remains
under the command of the 334th Battalion.
6. The 334th Battalion with one platoon of the regimental
machinegun company, one platoon of the regimental 75mm recoilless rifle
company, the regimental mortar company and one 90mm rocket launcher
(B.40) from the 966th Battalion will deploy on the west side and the
south west side of the hill at coordinates 20-16-7 and has the
a. Occupy one part of the regimental area.
b. Blocking one section of the road in the regimental
area, within the area from the south side of Hill Blou to the north
side of Hill 601.
c. Use violent attacks to cut off the enemy forces in the rear.
d. Cut off the enemy counterattack elements in order to hold the battlefield under friendly control.
e. Attack at many points to separate enemy formations.
f. Seize Hill Blou, Hill 600, and Hill Ngon-Ho (18-18-1).
g. Destroy and capture all enemy troops within the battle area.
h. The battalion will organize its firepower to destroy
enemy tanks, and infantry and to shoot down aircraft bringing enemy
i. The 1 combat formation will be a reserve, (TN Exact
translation and thus meaning could not be determined. Could mean one
company will be held in reserve).
7. The 966th Battalion (minus the 7th Company) with the 2d
Anti-Aircraft Company will deploy at Hill 530 and has the following
a. Occupy position 2.
b. Be prepared to move in any direction to support position 1 as follows:
- (1) Hill Blou, Hill 600 and Hill Ngon-Ho.
- (2) The "lone tree" Hill.
- (3) Ready to attack ARVN forces air-landed in the areas of Po and O-Gri
- (4) Encircle enemy troops from the rear at O-Gri or Hill 600.
- (5) Be prepared to attack O-Gri or Po post.
8. 1st Anti-Aircraft Company will deploy on the west side of the Ia
Drang River. Mission is to shoot down enemy aircraft and protect the
334th Battalion during its operations.
9. The Regimental Anti-Aircraft Company will deploy on the
South side of Hill Siu. Mission is to shoot down enemy aircraft and
protect the 635th Battalion and Regimental Headquarters.
10. The regimental 75mm recoilless rifle company (minus one
platoon) is the reserve unit for attacking tanks of the enemy armored
regiment. The company must first seize Siu village and then destroy
enemy tanks on the north side of Hill 536. After the infantry has
assaulted enemy elements on the road, the 75mm recoilless rifle company
will withdraw and be in reserve for destroying tanks.
11. The Regimental Engineer Company has the following missions:
a. Cau truc Regimental Headquarters. (Cau Truc is
NVA military terminology which could not be translated. It could mean
"protect" or "secure").
b. Xoi 2 truc to protect the regiment during its
operation (Xoi 2 truc is NVA military terminology which could not be
c. Establish two controlled mine fields at O-Gri and Po Post.
d. Establish two deception areas at Hill 516 and on the east side of Ngon Ho Hill.
12. Regimental Headquarters will be located on the west side of Hill Siu.
13. Time of completion and preparation of operation.
Characteristics of the 1st US Air Cavalry Division
Through Their Activities at Pleime and Ia Drang
From 24 October to 19 November 1965
I. Main Activities
a) 1st Phase: cooperate with Vietnamese troops to lift the siege at Pleime (24 to 28 October 1965).
b) 2nd Phase: use small detachments and coordinate with
Vietnamese Special forces Ranges to conduct raids into our rear (28 Oct
to 11 Nov 1965).
c) 3rd Phase: use larger forces to launch raids deeper into our rear at Chu Pong and Ia Drang (14 to 19 November 1965).
II. Tactical Characteristics
Through their activities at Pleime and Ia Drang, the 1st US Air
Cavalry Division has conducted the following kinds of operations:
- Reinforce Vietnamese troops to lift the siege at Pleime.
- Conduct separate activities in a separate area or in coordination with small detachments of Vietnamese SF Rangers.
I - Tactics
a) Helilift followed by foot displacement to objectives.
- In the operation to lift the siege at Pleime, the
Americans use a Task Force composed of two Cavalry battalions and one
105 How battery.
- On 24 Oct, one battalion is helilifted to 1km5 SW
Phu My then progresses on road together with 20 armored vehicles and
one 105How Battery to Plei Ngol Ho (25 Oct), until Plei Xom at 4km
North of Pleime (26 Oct), behind the 3rd Armored Task Force. In
general, their progression takes place carefully and slowly.
b) Vertical landing by "frog leaps" into our rear by helicopters (28 Oct. to 10 Nov. 1965).
- forces used: from one battalion to one company of
US troops or two companies of US troops coordinated with Vietnamese SF
- Purposes: conduct raids, reconnaissance or harass
our rear; disrupt our supply routes; destroy our aid-stations, CP's,
information and telephone stations; capture isolate soldiers, destroy
caches; designate targets for airstrikes. Their purpose could be also
to harass our rear, to compel us to withdraw our troops, which are
encircling Pleime in order to facilitate their own withdrawal from
Pleime to Pleiku. While conducting raids into our rear, the enemy also
uses forces of company or battalion size to sweep around their bases in
the vicinity of Le Phong, Duc Nghiep, Xung Quen (South of Bau Can and
- Activities: quick raids into our weak positions
followed by quick withdrawals. Right after landing, the enemy could
attack quickly the objective. When isolate groups of our soldiers are
sighted, they use from 2 to 6 helicopters to make a landing and to
capture them. They also helilift a platoon or company size force to
cultivated spots, hills and establish their position on the edge of
forests to set ambushes along trails which they suspect to be our
supply routes (PleiBonGa, Pleithe). Sometimes they occupy high grounds
as vantage pints to control our axes of movement, for instance the hill
475 and Kuenh Xom. The activities of these detachments could last for a
few hours or up to 2 days.
- Remarks on enemy tactics: thanks to their high
mobility the enemy could raid with high speed and surprise into our
objectives in our rear. In our movements and halts, we must have
contingency plans to counter-attack enemy heliborne troops and to
protect our rear, our wounded personnel. Isolate groups must be armed.
Our observation and reconnaissance systems must be reorganized to keep
us abreast of the enemy situation. All units from company size up must
set observation posts at halts or in operations.
c) Vertical landing of large bodies of troops to conduct
larger-scale raids into our rear (Chu Pong, Ia Drang from 14 to 19
- Forces used: one reinforced Cavalry brigade
composed of 4 battalions (the 1/7, 2/7, 1/5, c2/3) and possibly the
whole 2/3 battalion, one composite 105-155 How battery, one helicopter
squadron (the 9th Hel Squadron belongs to the 1st Air Cav Div.) with
strong support by Air Force and B52's bombers.
- Purpose: conduct deep raids into our rear to destroy
or neutralize a part of our forces, destroy our infiltration routes,
our caches, conduct reconnaissance, detect targets for artillery and
strikes. Duration: 6 days from 14 to 19 November.
- Activities: After landing, the 3rd brigade form 3 battalion positions and one artillery position:
* the 1/7 Bn East of Chu Pong 02-90
* the 1/5 Bn West of Ba Bi 06-04
* the 2/7 Bn at 04-98
* the Arty Position West of Quenh Kla 06-00, 08-98, 06-02.
The Brigade CP is at Bau Can which serves also as its rear and base of departure. The 9th Hel Squadron at Pleiku.
- Remarks: Thanks to their high mobility (by helicopters), they
could attack with high speed and surprise into our flanks and our rear.
They could land in many places and then concentrate to attack an
objective or one of our units.
II - Tactics Tips
a) Before landing.
Reconnaissance of landing zones by repeated air reconnaissance or by small Vietnamese SF Rangers teams.
Prestrikes over landing zones. Usually there are no
prestrikes when small landing is conducted. For large landing of troops
battalion size, sometimes prestrikes are not conducted to achieve
surprise. During prestrikes, smoke bombs are also used.
b) Landing zones (in rough terain)
- Small landing: the enemy could land almost
everywhere, on small cultivated spots, on tops of hills, on slopes (15
degrees), on clearings with a diameter of 30m, for instance at Kuenh
Xom and Hill 475.
- Landing of battalion size forces: the enemy needs
large landing zones but could land even in places covered with high
elephant grass or in valleys. The width of the LZ is approximately
200m. Most of the time LZ are selected in the vicinity of trails (Plei
The, East of Chu Pong, Ba Bi). The enemy does not need to establish
their positions near water sources and is supplied by helicopters.
c) Landing of troops.
- Small landing: from 2 to 6 helicopters at one time or separately, one after the other.
- Large landing: from 8 to 10 helicopters (sometimes
20) at one time; each landing lasts for 2-5 minutes. The helicopters
land on the ground or hover over the LZ 1 to 2m and the soldiers will
Small landing is supported by 2-4 armed helicopters.
Large landing is covered by fighter and jet aircrafts. The flight
formation used by helicopters is one or two columns. In small landing,
the helicopters fly straight to the objectives. In large landing they
usually hover over other areas before heading for the objective.
Vietnamese SF Rangers or US reconnaissance elements
always land first to secure the LZ for the landing of riflemen, fire
support elements and CP.
d) After landing.
- Right after landing, the enemy could raid
immediately into the objective: capture isolate groups of our soldiers,
destroy our information stations, aid stations. For two times, they
have raided into the 2nd battalion of the 33rd regiment on 6 Nov and
the 9th battalion on 14 Nov.
- They can move into blocking positions on trails or
in the vicinity of axes leading toward our rear (Kuenh Xom, Lang Ga,
- Their positions, either in ambushes or in defense are always established near the LZ to facilitate resupply and withdrawal.
- The Vietnamese SF Rangers usually push far in patrols.
e) Air support.
- During the lift of the siege at Pleime, the average of enemy air sorties amounts to 200 per day (maximum: 240 sorties)
- Permanent air cover ensured by 10 to 12 jets and 8 to 10 fixed wings fighter aircraft.
- During the activities at Chu Pong and Ia Drang the
average of enemy air sorties is 120 per day (night not included) with a
maximum of 162 sorties per day. Maximum of B 52's sorties: 18 per day.
III - Equipment
(See organization charts of Air Cavalry Division and battalions already distributed)
- The Division is equipped with many helicopters and
possesses a high degree of mobility: It can conduct raids with speed
and surprise and thrust deeply into our rear. The Division has from 450
to 600 aircrafts. The aviation squadron of the Division has 250
aircrafts, among which are 220 helicopters. The Air Cavalry battalions
and companies have respectively 88 and 27 helicopters according to
their TO and E (The Infantry Battalions of the Division are not
equipped with helicopters).
- The Division is equipped with a great amount of
modern means for reconnaissance (reconnaissance helicopters) enabling
the enemy to detect targets quickly.
- The firepower of the Brigades and of the Division is very strong, reinforced by armed helicopters, artillery and Air Force.
- Defensive Forces at Pleime camp: 4 Companies of CIDG troops, 1 ARVN Special Forces Rangers and 1 US Special Forces A Team, reinforced by 2 Companies of 91st Airborne Rangers and US Special Forces Delta Team.
- Supportive Forces: US Battery C of 2/17th Artillery, 2nd US Air Cavalry Brigade.
Chess Game Moves
Chess Game Move 1A-Tung
Colonel Tung's main objective in his first move is to put a siege on Pleime camp with 33rd Regiment to compel Colonel Hieu to send a relief column to rescue the camp, which then allows him to destroy this relief column with 32nd Regiment; after succeeding in destroying the relief column, 32nd Regiment will join force with 33rd Regiment to overrun Pleime camp.
The reason Colonel Tung has chosen Pleime and the ambush site as battlefield is because its location is beyond the reach of the artillery firepower located at Pleiku. Without the support of artillery firepower, tanks become sitting ducks.
Furthermore, Colonel Tung also calculates meticulously that Colonel Hieu will not be able to assemble more than 1,000 troops for his relief column force and will only receive one or two American battalions to reinforce the rescue operation of Pleime camp. Colonel Tung has also tied down Airborne 1st Task Force, which constitutes Colonel Hieu's reserve force, with II Corps Operation Than Phong 6 in Hoai An District, Binh Dinh Province. Colonel Tung is applying the "one main attack and two secondary attacks".
Colonel Tung also makes used of a new tactic. Instead of using the static ambush tactic as in the Duc Co Battle in August 1965, this time around he uses the mobile ambush tactic to avoid casualties on ambush troops caused by air and artillery pre-strikes.
Chess Game Move 1B-Hieu
When he notices that the VC attack force on Pleime camp is not a battalion size but rather a regiment size, and not like previous "hit and run" attacks, the enemy troops this time do not attempt to overrun the camp, Colonel Hieu knows immediately Colonel Tung is using the "attack the camp in order to destroy the rescue force" tactic. And then, when the ARVN Special Forces Rangers recon teams report they do not detect any ambush site along the Provincial Route 5 leading to Pleime camp, Colonel Hieu knows Colonel Tung is applying the mobile ambush tactic instead of the static ambush tactic as in the Duc Co Battle.
When intelligence reports indicate that the unit that encircles the camp is 33rd Regiment and the unit that is to carry out the ambush attack is 32nd Regiment, Colonel Hieu concludes that the attack at Pleime camps is only a ruse and the main objective is the annihilation of the rescue force first, since Colonel Tung uses a weaker regiment - 33rd Regiment - to attack the camp and a stronger regiment - 32nd Regiment - to ambush the rescue column.
Colonel Hieu accepts to play Colonel Tung's game. Firstly, he assembles a rescue task force, then dispatches a team of Special Forces Rangers to reinforce Pleime camp, hinting to Colonel Tung he does not intend to let the enemy overrun the camp and is about to dispatch the rescue column.
However, Colonel Hieu needs a rescue force that is strong enough to defeat the enemy ambush troops, and since the number of troops of the rescue task force newly assembled is only about 1,000, he needs time to bring in 1/42 Infantry Battalion from Kontum and one battalion belonging to US 1st Air Cavalry Division to replace 22nd Rangers Battalion to assume the security of Pleiku City, in order for this battalion to participate in the eradication operation of the ambush site of 32nd Regiment. That is the reason Colonel Hieu orders the rescue Task Force to remain in the vicinity of Phu My, pending the arrival of these two battalions before resuming the advance toward Pleime camp.
Furthermore, Colonel Hieu reserves an unexpected big surprise to Colonel Tung: the introduction of the artillery firepower into the battle equation. He requests US 1st Air Cavalry to transport artillery battery by helicopters to Phu My at a location close by the ambush site to give efficient support to tanks to neutralize enemy's anti-tank machine guns.
Chess Game Move 2A-Tung
The outcome is Colonel Tung has to order 32nd Regiment et 33rd Regiment to abandon the attempt to destroy the rescue column and the camp and to retreat to Chu Pong massif.
Chess Game Move 2B-Hieu
Colonel Hieu makes use of the means provided by US 1st Air Cavalry Division to organize the exploitation phase of pursuing the retreating enemy troops to the very heart of their hideouts in the Chu Pong massif.
Chess Game Move 3A-Tung
Colonel Tung intends to attack Pleime camp a second time. This time the camp will be overrun immediately by the combined actions of 32nd, 33rd and 66th Regiments with the support of one battalion of 120 mm mortars and one battalion of 14.5 mm anti-aircraft. The D-day is set for November 16.
Chess Game Move 3B-Hieu
Upon obtaining the intelligence news of this precise date, Colonel Hieu feigns to having lost track of the enemy troop units, he asks US 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade to switch the direction of pursuit operations from west to east, meaning away of Chu Pong massif and toward Pleime camp.
A few days later, he then has US 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade to resume pushing west and suddenly land at the footstep of Chu Pong massif to attack the enemy on November 14.
Chess Game Move 4A-Tung
Colonel Tung orders 66th Regiment to counter attack US 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion.
Chess Game Move 4B-Hieu
Besides the ground force of US 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, B-52 bombers take part in the battle.
Chess Game Move 5A-Tung
Colonel Tung orders to his remaining units to retreat into the Cambodian territories.
Chess Game Move 5B-Hieu
Colonel Hieu estimates that Colonel Tung has lost approximately 2/3 of his forces and has only two battalions - 334th and 635th - still remaining in the jungle areas of Chu Pong massif close to Cambodian border, decides to throw in ARVN Airborne Brigade to attack these two battalions.
The Pleime Chess Game terminates when Colonel Tung's two last pawns are struck out of the chess board.