Colonel Hal Moore Misunderstood his Mission at the Ia Drang Battle

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.

“By this time Field Force Vietnam [General Larsen, IFFV Commander] had asked the division [1st Air Cavalry] to consider moving this operations east of Pleime.” (General Kinnard, Pleiku Campaign, page 67)

“The movement and shift in emphasis from west to east was to further stimulate a forthcoming decision from the NVA division headquarters [B3 Field Front].” (General Kinnard, page 73)

“With American units seemingly withdrawing to the east of Pleime, the decision was to attempt to regain its early advantage with an attack. The target once again was the Pleime CIDG Camp. The division headquarters[B3 Field Front] set the date for attack at 16 November, and issued orders to its three regiments.”(General Kinnard, page 76)

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.

The enemy has lost nearly all their heavy crew-served weapons during the first phase. (Why Pleime, chapter V)

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.

Brother Chu Huy Man, Commander, brother Dang Vu Hiep, Political Commissar and I at the headquarters were making arrangements to prepare for a second phase of action against a target near Pleime. Upon receiving news from all directions reporting that the Americans had inserted troops, we issued an order to delay the attack of Chu Ho. (General Nguyen Huu An, Chię́n Trường Mới - Hồi Ức)

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) :

Mid-morning, before Tully arrived, Colonel Tim Brown flew in for a visit. Plumley recalls: “Lieutenant Colonel Moore saluted Brown and said, ‘I told you not to come in here. It’s not safe! Brown picked up his right collar lapel and waggled his full colonel’s eagle at Moore and said, ‘Sorry about that!” Dillon and I gave him a situation report. Brown asked whether he should stay in X-Ray to establish a small brigade command post, and run the show. We recommended against that. I knew the area, and Bob Tully and I got along just fine. Brown agreed.

Brown did not insist. However

Just before he departed, Colonel Brown told us that we had done a great job but now that Tully's fresh battalion was coming in, along with two rifle companies of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav, he would likely pull us out of X-Ray the following day.

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:

Within half an hour after the Tully task force had returned to X-Ray [Brigadier General Richard Knowles came up on the radio asking permission to land.

(…)

Before leaving, General Knowles told us that he would direct Tim Brown to pull my battalion and the attached units out of X-Ray the next day and fly us back to Camp Holloway for two days of rest and rehabilitation.

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:

- 21:05H : 1st Cav (Col Beaty): Lt Col Moore will arrive Saigon 1130 in morning (to brief Gen DePuy).

In his own words, Moore seemed to persist in his misunderstanding of his superiors’ intentions:

Around midnight [November 15] Lieutenant Colonel Edward C. (Shy) Meyer, 3rd Brigade executive officer, passed me an astonishing message: General William Westmoreland 's headquarters wanted me to "leave X-Ray early the next morning for Saigon to brief him and his staff on the battle." I could not believe I was being ordered out before the battle was over! I was also perplexed that division or brigade HQ had not squelched such an incomprehensible order before it reached me. My place was clearly with my men.

Colonel Moore got to voice his objections against the order. He wrote on page 217:

Around 1:30 a.m., I got Shy Meyer on the radio and registered my objections to the order in no uncertain terms. I made it very clear that this battle was not over and that my place was with my men - that I was the first man of my battalion to set foot in this terrible killing ground and I damned well intended to be the last man to leave. That ended that. I heard no more on the matter.

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:

- 11:00H: 1st Cav Adv Maj Boyle - At 0735 2/7 killed 8 VC (BC), est 100 KIA in area. 1/7 and B/2/7 to be extracted to camp Holloway when contact with enemy is broken. No time estimated.

And at 11:35H:

- 11:35H: 1st Cav Maj Turner - (Encoded) - Present plan extract 1/7 and B/2/7 today, then pull back 2000 meters to defensive position.

From LTC Moore's side, he wrote in We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, page 229:

At 10:40 A.M., with two fresh battalions - Bob Tully's 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry and Bob McDade's 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry - now in or on the way to X-Ray, Colonel Tim Brown ordered the weary survivors of my 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry to prepare to pull out for some needed rest. Brown also told us that Captain Myron Diduryk's Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion and Lieutenant Sisson's platoon from Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, which fought alongside us, would also have the same opportunity to rest and refit. We would fly by Hueys to Landing Zone Falcon, and from there by CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters on to Camp Halloway in Pleiku.

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.

Nguyen Van Tin
17 January 2016

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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