Operation Than Phong 7
as narrated in the English and Vietnamese versions of
ARVN II Corps Pleime Campaign After Action Report

Why Pleime

The intelligence estimate on enemy capabilities, made on 17 November indicated that nearly 2/3 of their strength had been wiped off through the engagements in Phases I and II.

Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử (translation)

According to prisoners and ralliers, the remaining troops of the three 32nd, 33rd, and 66th Regiments were estimated at approximately one third after 11-17.


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. 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.

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 operation - dubbed "Thần Phong 7" - began in the afternoon, 18 November when the brigade was helilifted to the area of operations, immediately upon arrival in 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 which, within only a few hours had airlifted:

- The Airborne Brigade Headquarters,
- The Airborne 1st and 2nd Task Forces Headquarters,
- Five Airborne battalions: the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th

from different distant places, such as Saigon, Bien Hoa, Vung Tau and Phu Yen to Pleiku. It was thanks to their contribution that the operation had been able to commence exactly as scheduled.

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.


Sauve Qui Peut

During ten days of "search and destroy" - from 18 to 26 November - numerous engagements had occurred in the valley of the Ia Drang river between the Airborne units and the enemy. But most of them were only minor contacts with scattered VC elements. The disintegration of enemy units 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..."

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 third phase of the battle of Pleime was characterized not only by the rout of the enemy but also by the increasing depression of their morale. Numerous VC weapons were found thrown into bushes along the trails or stream-beds. It was during this time that a political officer of the NVA 33rd Regiment - Lieutenant Bùi Văn Cường - 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. For the second time in the battle of Pleime, the VC fell into a friendly ambush and suffered severe losses (the first ambush on 3rd November, by elements of the 1st Air Cavalry Division). The 32nd NVA Regiment which remained uncommitted and unscratched throughout the second phase, was finally found and forced to fight, although it had tried to avoid contact as much as possible.

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 that day, the 3rd Airborne battalion was ordered to move southward to link-up with the 6th battalion. Both units had on the previous day conducted a thorough search on two different axes from the landing zone westward. During its displacement the 3rd battalion was stealthily followed by a battalion-sized enemy. But once the link-up was made between the two friendly battalions, the VC unit on its turn was caught within the field of fire of the 6th battalion and the very center of an ambush. Nearly 200 VC were killed in this fortuitous engagement.

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, a cache of equipment and 75 houses.

The search and destroy operations were also conducted south of the Ia Drang river but only small skirmishes with scattered VC elements happened.

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 24 November, as no more contacts were made with the enemy, the Airborne Brigade withdrew from the area of operations, terminating the third phase of the Battle of Pleime with 265 VC killed (BC), 10 others and 58 weapons captured.

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.


<

This comparison is an indication that Why Pleime is not a verbatim translation of Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử, but rather an adaption. Each version aims at its respective Vietnamese and American readers.

Furthermore, it is quite significant that the texts of both narrations do not describe the second major battle that occurred south of Ia Drang in phase 2 of the operation. This battle is only depicts in both maps: synthetically in Why Pleime's map and analytically in Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử's map. Fortunately, it is narrated by General Schwarzkopf in his book "It Doesn't Take a Hero":

The airborne was alerted to prevent the North Vietnamese regiments defeated in the Ia Drang Valley from escaping back into Cambodia. I was half asleep in my room at the Manor BOQ after a big meal of curried chicken and beer when the call came to get out to the airport. Truong had assembled an unusually large task force of some two thousand troops to go to the Ia Drang the following morning, and had chosen me as his advisor.

We flew in transports to the red clay strip at Duc Co, my old stomping ground, then by chopper south to the river valley. From the minute we stepped off our helicopters we were involved in skirmishes and firefights. The valley was about twelve miles wide at the point where the Ia Drang flowed westward into Cambodia-and somewhere in those miles of dense jungle the main body of the enemy was on the move. We had landed to the north, and Truong ordered the battalions to cross the Ia Drang and take up positions along the Chu Prong Mountains, which formed a series of steep ridges to the south. It was fascinating to watch him operate. As we marched, he would stop to study the map, and every once in a while he'd indicate a position on the map and say, "I want you to fire artillery here." I was skeptical at first, but called in the barrages; when we reached the areas we found bodies. Simply by visualizing the terrain and drawing on his experience fighting the enemy for fifteen years, Truong showed an uncanny ability to predict what they were going to do.

When we set up our command post that night, he opened his map, lit a cigarette, and outlined his battle plan. The strip of jungle between our position on the ridges and the river, he explained, made a natural corridor-the route the NVA would most likely take. He said, "At dawn we will send out one battalion and put it here, on our left, as a blocking force between the ridge and the river. Around eight o'clock tomorrow morning they will make a big enemy contact. Then I will send another battalion here, to our right. They will make contact at about eleven o'clock. I want you to have your artillery ready to fire into this area in front of us," he said, "and then we will attack with our third and fourth battalions down toward the river. The enemy will then be trapped with the river to his back."

I'd never heard anything like this at West Point. I was thinking, "What's all this about eight o'clock and eleven o'clock? How can he schedule a battle that way?" But I also recognized the outline of his plan: Truong had reinvented the tactics Hannibal had used in 217 B.C. when he enveloped and annihilated the Roman legions on the banks of Lake Trasimene.

But, Truong added, we had a problem: the Vietnamese airborne had been called into this campaign because of high-level concern that American forces in pursuit of the enemy might otherwise venture too close to the Cambodian border. He said, "On your map, the Cambodian border is located here, ten kilometers east of where it appears on mine. In order to execute my plan, we must use my map rather than yours, because otherwise we cannot go around deeply enough to set up our first blocking force. So, Thieu ta Schwarzkopf"-thieu ta (pronounced "tia-tah") is Vietnamese for "major"-"what do you advise?"

The prospect of letting an enemy escape into a sanctuary until he was strong enough to attack again galled me as much as it would any soldier. Some of these fellows were the same ones I'd run into four months earlier at Duc Co; I didn't want to fight them again four months from now. So why should I assume that my map was more accurate than Truong's?

"I advise that we use the boundary on your map."

Long after he'd issued his attack orders, Truong sat smoking his cigarettes and studying the map. We went over the plan again and again late into the night, visualizing every step of the battle. At dawn we sent out the 3rd Battalion. They got into position and, sure enough, at eight o'clock they called and reported heavy contact. Truong sent the 5th Battalion to the right. At eleven o'clock they reported heavy contact. As Truong had predicted, in the jungle below us the enemy had run into the 3rd Battalion at the border and decided, "We can't get out that way. We'll double back." That decision violated a basic principle of escape and evasion, which is to take the worst possible route in order to minimize the risk of encountering a waiting enemy. Had they climbed out of the valley up the Chu Pong Mountains, they might have gotten away. Instead they followed the low ground, as Truong had anticipated, and now we'd boxed them in. He looked at me and said, "Fire your artillery." We shelled the area below us for a half hour. Then he ordered his two remaining battalions to attack down the hill; there was a hell of a lot of shooting as we followed them in.

Around one o'clock, Truong announced, "Okay. We'll stop." He picked a lovely little clearing, and we sat down with his staff and had lunch! Halfway through the meal, he put down his rice bowl and issued some commands on the radio. "What are you doing?" I asked. He'd ordered his men to search the battlefield for weapons: "We killed many enemy, and the ones we didn't kill threw down their weapons and ran away."

Now, he hadn't seen a damn thing! All the action had been hidden by jungle. But we stayed in that clearing for the remainder of the day, and his troops brought in armful after armful of weapons and piled them in front of us. I was excited-we'd scored a decisive victory! But Truong just sat, smoking his cigarettes.

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

generalhieu.com