Than Phong 7

II Corps Command thought it was time to throw in the reserve in order to put an end to the battle which had lasted for about one month. We knew clearly that besides suffering heavy losses, the enemy was compelled to fall into the trap set by friendly forces and canalized into the routes of withdrawal which we had foreseen.. II Corps Command also wanted to give a retrieve to the Brigade belonging to the Air Cavalry Division that had been participating in the operation in extremely tough and trying conditions throughout 20 days merely in a secondary effort role and transferred the main effort role to the Vietnamese Airborne Brigade in this third phase. This time the main effort was conducted by the ARVN Airborne Brigade whose mission consisted of destroying the fleeing VC units and all their installations around the Ia Drang valley. The 1st Air Cavalry Division which had thus far borne the burden of the attack would continue to exert a pressure from East to West and to provide artillery support for the Airborne Brigade. (The 3rd Brigade was replaced by the 2nd Brigade on 11/20/1965).

The operational area was defined in the terrain limited by National 19 in the North, Ia Drang River in the South and from the border spreading toward the West about 7 kilometers.

The operation began in the afternoon, 18 November when the brigade was helilifted to the area of operations, immediately upon arrival in Pleiku from Saigon. This tactical maneuver of the entire Airborne Brigade comprising the Brigade Command, the Command Posts of the two Task Force 1 and Task Force 2, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions was itself a military feat. This was the biggest air transport and yet the most well thought and the speediest that were executed in the longest distance in the shortest time with the assistance of the USAF in Viet Nam. Within only a few hours, the five Airborne Battalions had been plucked up from different distant places, such as Saigon, Bien Hoa, Vung Tau and Phu Yen and airlifted to Pleiku. I should like to take advantage of this opportunity to cite the outstanding achievement of the C130's Squadron of the 7th US Air Force. It was thanks to their contribution that the operation had been able to commence exactly as scheduled. During ten days - from 18 to 26 November - numerous engagements had occurred in the 3 kilometer bandwith stretche of the valley along the two sided of the Ia Drang river, just as we had anticipated about the withdrawal route of the enemy.

Although most of the engagements were only minor contacts with scattered VC elements, they were characterized by the rout of the enemy but also by the increasing depression of their morale. The disintegration of enemy units – every man for himself - had been described by a platoon leader of the 32nd NVA Regiment in his diary in the following terms:

"I have just been assigned as platoon leader for a few days when suddenly enemy airborne troops were thrown into the vicinity of our location. We began to move at midnight on 18 November. We kept on moving to get out of the enemy encirclement on the next day, overnight and until 20 November. At 0130 hours on 21 November, we were ordered to be ready for an attack. At 0700 hours we came to the village... and at 0730 hours to the assembly area. The enemy must have recently bombed the area because the ground was marked with large craters. We could not help becoming anxious. We had just dispersed when suddenly enemy aircrafts appeared again and strafed into our position. My platoon had three comrades killed. We also lost a large amount of ammunitions and equipment..."

The salient point during this phase was that the paratroopers often found numerous VC weapons thrown into bushes along the trails or stream-beds. It was during this time that a political officer of the NVA 33rd Regiment - Lieutenant Bui Van Cuong - had been able to surrender to friendly troops.

The biggest engagement in the third phase happened at 1440 hours on 20 November, North of the Ia Drang river. From the standpoint of tactical perspective, this battle was only the natural outcome of the Airborne Brigade’s action, but based on its unfolding and results, this is a unusual battle that could only be explained by the misfortune of the VC unit that participated in the Pleime battle. In the morning of November 19, following the insertion on November 18 evening, the Airborne Task Force broke into two prongs marching westward with the intention of herding the enemy, but not allowing them an escape route. There were several contacts with the enemy but not significant. In the morning of November 20, the upper paratroop group of 3rd Airborne Battalion veered down southward to link with the lower paratroop group of the 6th Airborne Battalion; however to avoid any unwanted risk of friendly encroachments in the case both groups displace at the same time, the latter was ordered to stop moving and wait. While 3rd Battalion was on the move, a VC battalion-sized unit stealthily followed behind. Although aware of this, 3rd Battalion did not react and kept advancing, and notified 6th Battalion. When 3rd Battalion went through 6th Battalion’s area and the enemy the VC unit had emerged, 6th Battalion had only to open fire and the VC unit was caught in a frontal ambush set up.

The paratroopers participating in this battle narrated that in all the battles they had participated in, never had them shoot that happily; all they had to do was to lay down still at their positions and shoot and witness the enemy fall down one layer after the next. Another no less unusual fact was that 3rd Battalion made contact with another enemy company-sized unit after it passed through 6th Battalion’s spot. It was fortunate for this Battalion that otherwise would risk being “held down by the head while being kick on the rear”. Just in these two engagements, nearly 200 VC were left on the spot. During the night of November 21, the enemy attempted using faking east attacking west tactic to seek entering the area to pick up bodies, but in so doing suffered further casualties.

In their search for enemy installations in the area of operations, the Airborne Brigade destroyed 3 training centers at Hill 185, YA 801080 and YA 797097 in the two following days, November 21 and 23, along with a cache of equipment and 75 houses. On November 24, as no more contacts were made with the enemy, the Airborne Brigade withdrew from the area of operations and the 3rd phase of Pleime campaign ended at 18:45H on November 26 with 265 VC killed (BC), 10 others and 58 weapons captured.

(Translated excerpt from “Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử”)

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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