Hal Moore and 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion’s Real Mission at LZ X-Ray

According to Coleman (1988),

At 5:00 P.M. on the 13th, Brown flew down and met Moore at the A Company command post south of Plei Me and told Moore to conduct an airmobile assault into Area Lime [area at the foot of Chu Pong Massif] the following morning. As was his practice, Brown allowed his battalion commanders to select their own landing zones and to work out their schemes of maneuver. The Brigade commander’s guidance was that Moore was to conduct the search operation along the edge of the mountains through at least November 15. Brown was concerned about the possibility of heavy contact in the area, although there had been no American forces that far west; the closest the 1st Brigade came was the battle on November 4 about four kilometers northeast of Anta Village. Now Brown intended to send forces directly to the eastern slopes of the Chu Pongs. Looming in the back of his mind was that big red star on the G-2 and S-2 situation maps, and for this reason, he told Moore to keep his rifle companies within very close supporting range of one another.

[…]

After receiving the brigade commander’s guidance, Moore swung into action. His S-3, Captain Gregory “Matt” Dillon, began an extensive map reconnaissance of the target area, looking for possible landing zones.

And on

Sunday the 14th dawned bright and clear; it would be another hot, dry day on the western plateau.

[…]

“Few units that have a rendezvous with destiny have an inkling of their fate until the historical moment touches them. So it was with the 1/7 Cav on the morning of November 14th”. That was the way the 1st Cavalry’s official after-action report on the Pleiku Campaign let off the section dealing with LZ XRAY. It was to be a routine operation, in so far as any operation deep within enemy territory can be termed routine. Not for Hal Moore, of course. He had seen the menacing red star on both the G-2’s and S-2’s intelligence maps and he was too wise and experienced a warrior to be lulled by past inactivity.

So, apparently, Hal Moore went into Chupong knowingly he would encounter the enemy in great number, possibly one or two or even three NVA regiments. His mission would be to initiate the first contact with an enemy unit, then to fix that unit and, depending on the size of enemy forces in contact, General Knowles would pile in the appropriate amount of Air Cavalry troop units in order to destroy the enemy.

But what happened next was in the direct opposite to the unfolding of the operational concept of find, fix and destroy the enemy.

First, on November 14, after closing in LZ X-Ray, Hal Moore did not advance forward in a sweeping move to find the enemy, but contented to secure the perimeter of the landing zone in a defensive posture.

Second, when the enemy gave an assault with the size of two battalions, General Knowles did not react with a massive troop piling and contented to reinforce the defensive lines with just one battalion, the 2/7th Air Cavalry Battalion, and seemed to be satisfied when the enemy disengaged and withdrew on November 16 instead of pursuing the enemy.

Third, instead of bringing more troops in preparation of a pursuit operation, General Knowles effectuated a troop rotation by relieving the 1/7th with the 2/5th Battalion to continue to secure LZ X-Ray.

Four, on November 17, in order to make room for B-52 airstrikes, instead of a speedy helilifted troop extraction, General Knowles gave order to the 2/7th and 2/5th to march out of the landing zone toward LZ Columbus and LZ Albany respectively.

Based on these four facts, it is obvious that Hal Moore’s mission was not a routine search and destroy operation. In fact, his specific mission – although he had no purview to it - was to conduct a distracting diversionary move, which aimed at distracting the enemy troops concentrating at staging areas ready to move to attack Pleime camp for a second time and inducing them to stay immobile at those spots while B3 Field Command was refocusing its plan of attack to the newly appeared threat; and in doing so, the NVA troops remained immobile longer at the staging areas as targets for B-52 airstrikes.

This diversionary move was the last component in a threefold preparation for the operational concept which consisted of annihilating the three NVA Regiments – the 32nd, 33rd and 66th - with Strategic Air strikes. The other two precedent diversionary moves were: herding the enemy scattered troops back to Chupong-Iadrang complex and enticing the enemy into an attack posture that lead to further troop concentration in assembly and staging areas.

Contrary to common beliefs, General Knowles knew the exact positions of the three enemy regiments headquarters and their respective units all along and stalked the enemy looking for the right moment when the enemy troop’s concentration was targetable for B-52 airstrikes.

- On 10/27, the lead elements of the 33d had closed on it forward assembly area, the village Kro (ZA080030);

- On 10/28, the 32d Regiment had nearly closed its base on the north bank of the Ia Drang;

- On 10/29, the 33d Regiment decided to keep the unit on the move to the west, to Anta Village (YA940010), located at the foot of the Chu Pong Massif;

- On 11/1, the 33rd regiment headquarters closed in at Anta Village (YA940010);

- On 11/2, by 0400 hours, the regimental CP had arrived at Hill 762 (YA885106);

- On 11/5, units of 66th Regiment continued to close in the assembly areas in the Chupong-Iadrang complex;

- On 11/7, the depleted 33d Regiment licked its wounds and waited for its stragglers to come in, meanwhile the remainder of Field Front forces were quiet;

- On 11/8, only fragmented units and stragglers remained east of the Chu Pong-Ia Drang complex;

- On 11/9, the 33d Regiment gathered in the last of its organic units;

- On 11/11, the three battalions of the 66th Regiment were strung along the north bank of the Ia Drang river (center mass at 9104), the 32nd Regiment was also up north in the same area (YA820070), the 33rd Regiment maintained its positions in the vicinity of the Anta Village (YA 9400027);

- On 11/14, when the 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion was inserted at LZ X-Ray (YA935010), it was only “200 meters from the location of our 9th Battalion 66th Regiment” (Nguyen Huu An);

- On 11/15, B3 Field Front forces (center of mass vicinity YA8702) where the B-52s dropped their first ton of bombs.

In brief, contrary to the common belief that “For the first time in the Vietnamese conflict, Strategic Air strikes were to be used in direct support of the ground scheme of maneuver. (Pleiku campaign, 17 Nov, page 93), it was rather the other way around: the ground scheme of maneuver – meaning the 1/7th Air Cavalry’s – were conducted in direct support of Strategic Air strikes.

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(Coleman, J.D., "Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam", St. Martin’s Press, New York)

Nguyen Van Tin
01 March 2012

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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