It is quite surprising to discover that Colonel Hal Moore misunderstood his mission when his 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was sent in to the Chu Pong massif area on November 14, 1965. He thought that he was ordered to perform a routine search and destroy mission, while his real mission was to create a secondary action in support of the main action conducted by the B-52 Arc Light operation that would destroy the three NVA Regiments – 32nd, 33rd and 66th – regrouping in assembly areas to stage for a second attack on Pleime camp. By showing up at the footstep of Chu Pong massif, 1/7 Air Cavalry was aimed at enticing the B3 Field Front to postpone its attack to provide the B-52s with sufficient time to strike with efficiency.
On November 10, 1965, 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade succeeded in enticing B3 Field Front to regroup its three regiments in assembling areas in preparation for a second attack of Pleime camp with a diversionary maneuver.
On November 11, the 66th Regiment was at (center of mass vic YA 9104); the 32nd (YA 820072), the 33rd (YA 940011). They became available targets for B-52 airstrike.
Based on the required 72 hour leading time, the earliest time over target was set for 16:00 hour on November 15 at the enemy force’s center of mass (vicinity YA8702).
Since there was possibility that the movement for attack of NVA troops could be scheduled to commence on November 14, with the D-Day set for November 16, there was the necessity to create a diversionary maneuver to entice B3 Field Front to postpone the attack to allow B-52’s sufficient time to act. On November 12, General Knowles and Colonel Brown gave ordered to LTC Hal Moore to get ready to go into Chu Pong massif area with his 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion to distract the enemy from focusing its attention toward attacking Pleime camp.
Under the guidance of General Knowles and Colonel Brown, Moore did not conduct an air assault tactic into LZ X-Ray which consisted of “scout ships reconnoitering and locating enemy groups, followed by rifle platoons fixing him in place, followed by heliborne units finishing him.”(INTERIM REPORT OF OPERATIONS-1st CAVALRY DIVISION, page 21), but he conducted a diversionary maneuver with the intention to draw the enemy’s attention by making a lot of noise with a 20-minute pre-artillery bombardment and with the arrival of a thundering armada of 16 helicopters bringing a whole battalion at the outset of the insertion.
General Knowles and Colonel Brown had also made sure that the enemy did not have anti-aircraft guns to shoot down the helicopters transporting attacking troops.
In order not to scare off the enemy troops into dispersion, the insertion of the battalion was intentionally executed at a slow pace and took five hours from 10:20 am to 3:00 pm to achieve.
The scheme succeeded in making B3 Field Front to postpone the attack of Pleime camp and committed the 7th and 9th Battalions of 66th Regiment to deal with the new threat.
On November 15, knowing for sure that the enemy only committed two battalions, General Knowles and Colonel Brown determined that the mission of Hal Moore and his 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion had accomplished its diversionary mission and decided to perform a troop rotation by replacing 1/7 AC with 2/7 AC and 2/5 AC.
On November 15, at 9:30 am, Colonel Brown, 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade Commander, decided to set up a Forward 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade at LZ X-Ray and take over the field command. Not realizing his superior’s intention, LTC Moore refused to relinquish his command. In his own words, Moore recounted (We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young, page 202) :
Brown did not insist. However
Since Moore did not seem to get Brown’s hints, by 4:30 p.m., Brigadier General Knowles came in to the landing zone to back up Brown’s order regarding the removal of 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion. Moore wrote on page 210:
It seems that the division commander’s authority did not weigh more than the brigade commander’s, and a higher commander’s authority was needed in the person of Brigadier General William DePuy, MACV Chief of Staff. DePuy ordered Moore to show up MACV HQ in Saigon the next morning. The order was issued by 9:00 p.m. The Daily Log of G3/IFFV, Nhatrang recorded on November 15:
In his own words, Moore seemed to persist in his misunderstanding of his superiors’ intentions:
Colonel Moore got to voice his objections against the order. He wrote on page 217:
It is noteworthy that the order was not passed on to Moore by Colonel Brown himself, but rather by Lieutenant Colonel Meyer, 3rd Brigade executive officer.
Moore did not realize that although this battle was not over but his battalion of diversionary mission was, and for the battle to carry on to the subsequent steps, his battalion had to be pulled out the next day with or without him.
One might speculate the reason Moore 'heard no more on the matter' was he might have said to Meyer or let Meyer understand that he would not object to pull out his battalion in the middle of battle heat the next day as long as he is allowed 'to be the last man of his battalion to leave'.
In any cases, the extraction of 1/7 Air Cav - and B/2/7 Air Cav - was announced around 11:00H of November 16 as recorded by G3 Journal/IFFV:
And at 11:35H:
From LTC Moore's side, he wrote in We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, page 229:
It was fortunate LTC Hal Moore’s misunderstanding did not harm the conduct of the battle and had a happy ending with every sides saving face.
General Knowles reveals that the purpose for the insertion of the Air Cavalry troops at LZ X-Ray on November 14 was to “grab the tiger by its tail” and to hit its head with B-52 airstrikes from November 15 to 16. He also explains the reason for pulling out of LZ X-Ray on November 17 and moving to LZ Albany was “to grab the tiger by its tail from another direction” and continued to hit its head with B-52 bombs from November 17 to 20.
Nguyen Van Tin