LZ X-Ray Battle
as narrated in the English and Vietnamese versions of
ARVN II Corps Pleime Campaign After Action Report

Why Pleime

But the above plan would never be carried out because only some days later, the 3rd Brigade resumed pushing west. (Operation Silver Bayonet).

Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử (translation)

But the above plan would never be carried out ! Because only some days later, when no traces were found in the East, the 3rd Brigade resumed pushing west.


At noon on 14 November, helicopters disgorged troops and artillery from the 1st Air Cavalry on the very doorsteps of the Chu Pong mountains. Instead of launching an attack on Pleime, field Front fount itself engaged in a struggle to defend its own base. The landing zone called L.Z. X-ray was about 25 km from the Camp of Pleime, at the eastern foot of the Chu Pong massif. The terrain was flat and consisted of scrub trees up to 100 feet high, thick elephant grass varying in height from one foot to five feet and ant hills throughout the area up to eight feet high with thick brush and elephant grass on and around them. Along the western edge of the LZ, the trees and grass were especially thick and extended off into the jungle on the foothills of the mountain.

The location selected for the troop insertion was at the eastern foot of the Chu Pong massif, at about 25 kilometer South-East of Camp of Pleime, nearby a village that the VC called Anta and used as base for the NVA 33rd Regiment based on VC prisoners’ statement.


After a 20-minute tube artillery preparation, and 30 seconds of aerial artillery fire, the landing of the 1/7 Cavalry battalion began. The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Harold G. Moore, himself with the assault company - Company B - landed precisely at 1048 hours on 14 November 1965.

While the helicopters were shuttling back to Pleime to lift company A, the B company commander secured the landing zone by having one platoon dispatch its squads into different areas, 50 to 100 meters off the landing zone to reconnoiter. At approximately 1120 hours a prisoner was taken. He stated that he had eaten only bananas for five days and that there were three VC battalions on the mountain.

At 1210 hours, as sufficient elements of company A had landed, the LZ security mission was given to that company and company B ordered to search the lower portion of the mountain area with emphasis on the finger leading down towards X-ray.

Around 1245 hours, lead elements of company B began to engage in a fire fight of moderate intensity. Shortly afterwards, at approximately 1330 hours, the company commander reported that he was being attacked heavily by at least two companies of enemy and that his right platoon 2B1/7 was in danger of being surrounded and cut off from the rest of the company by a numerically superior force. The fire fight became intense. Also a few rounds of 60 and 81 mm mortar fire began falling in the LZ and on company B.

Shortly after the fire fight began, the last platoon of company A and lead elements of company C landed. Company A was then ordered to move up on the left of company B, to establish physical contact with it, to protect its left flank and to send one platoon up to assist company B in getting to the platoon which was in danger. Company C was ordered to take up a blocking position off the landing zone to the south and southwest to prevent the LZ from being overrun in that direction and to give protection to A company's left flank.

The insertion was realized and immediately the enemy appeared and attacked the positions of the newly arrived Company C and Company D, at West and South-West of the landing zone.

The enemy force that attacked 1/7 Battalion was estimated at around 1,000 soldiers. The formation of the Battalion was shattered because out of its four Companies, Company A and Company had to defend the left side flank and at the same time made effort to rescue the isolated Platoon, while Company C and Company D had to counter the enemy frontal attack as soon as they set foot. The enemy main intention was to force 1/7 Battalion to defend itself from all directions and because a Platoon was isolated, it had to engage into a rescue attempt, its force was fragmented and would be destroyed one after the other by the enemy.


Airstrikes and artillery fires were called in on the lower fringe of the mountains foothills and work over the mountain and enemy approaches to the LZ from the west and south. But there were no well-defined terrain features to help and the scrubs and trees all looked alike. The air was heavy with smoke and dust. The fact that the separated 2B1/7 platoon was forward of companies A and B delayed delivery of effective fires in support of these two companies. However, using the technique of "walking" fires down the mountain from the south and west, fires were placed where they gave some help to these two companies. Despite all its efforts, company B reinforced was only able to get to within 75 meters of the cut-off platoon and could get no further.

Concurrently, company A minus also made heavy contact with a large force of at least one enemy company which was driving in and along a dry creek bed parallel to the western edge of the LZ. A very heavy firefight immediately broke out. Company A was taking light casualties and extracting a heavy toll from the enemy. One platoon was in such a position that it was able to bring close-in flanking fire on 50-70 VC as they continued moving across their front.

Just as company A firefight broke out, the last elements of company C and the lead elements D landed. The C company commander directed his elements into position alongside his other elements which had landed previously within five minutes, a force of 175-200 enemy headed for the LZ and ran headlong into company C. They were held off and numerous of them killed in the process of trying to get to the landing zone. The action continued for approximately one hour and a half until the enemy, disorganized and decimated, pulled off under heavy friendly artillery and air fires, dragging many of his dead and wounded.

Especially, the Artillery and the air force, although ready to give support, were helpless because they were blinded by smoke and dirt swirling all over the skies and with a terrain covered by thick brush and elephant grass, there was no terrain configuration that could be used as reference to provide guidance to the pilots. Each and every combatant was only concerned with open fire; even the company commanders were unable to determine the positions of their respective Platoons and their Squads. The Artillery had to resort to give support by firing behind the enemy and gradually shortened their aiming to hit the enemy troops, instead of firing directly and repulsing them back.


At 1500 hours, as the remainder of the tactical elements of the battalion finally landed, and the enemy fire had slacked off, due to companies C and D actions, the battalion commander could quickly give necessary orders for the repositioning of his troops. Afterwards, two attacks were launched to reach the surrounded 2B1/7 platoon. But they were met by a greatly superior enemy force which from concealed positions was trying to cut off the attacking forces into parts.

As a result, the enemy attack weakened and the Battalion had time to regroup and to consolidate the defensive lines and the Battalion Commander was able to focus his efforts in the rescue of the isolated Platoon. But the enemy was resolved in their determination so that companies A and B were stopped by the enemy as soon as they advanced and although only about 150m from the cut-off Platoon, they could not get further. The Artillery had to used firing rounds to repulse the enemy that could not sustain the heat, but the Platoon was still cut-off from Company B and was encircled.


It was around 8:00 pm, Colonel Moore decided to withdraw this Company to organize a night defensive perimeter in anticipation of a second enemy offensive that took advantage of darkness. The cut-off Platoon was given support throughout the night by the air force and the artillery that fired all around its position, so that all three enemy assaults were defeated and unable to overrun the Platoon’s position.

15 November 1965

Due to the heavy losses they had received in the afternoon, the enemy made only some light probes around the perimeter at night. As for the cut-off platoon, it received three separate attacks from the enemy but thanks to the protection by continued close-in artillery fires, when daylight broke, numerous enemy dead were seen around the platoon.

By 1740 hours, Colonel Moore decided to pull back companies A and B under cover of heavy supporting fires to the fringe of the landing zone and set up a tight defensive perimeter for the night. The battalion was still in good communications with the surrounded platoon and it was ringed with close in artillery defensive fire. By 1800 hours, company B of the 2/7 battalion landed to reinforce the 1/7.

By 19:00 hours, at least 400 enemies were killed. Due to heavy losses, the enemy made only some light probes during the night and did not conduct significant attacks against the battalion that was reinforced by that time by Company B of 2/7 Battalion that was helilifted in by 18 hours.


But as first light came, the enemy reappeared and simultaneously attacked from three directions: from the south, south west and south east. By 0730 hours, the enemy had moved almost to the perimeter foxholes despite taking severe losses from artillery, mortar and close air support. There was considerable hand fighting. At 0755 hours, all platoon positions were ordered to throw a colored smoke grenade to define visually for the air observers the periphery of the perimeter and all fire support brought in extremely close, because the enemy fire was so heavy that movements toward or within the sector of defense resulted in more friendly casualties. Some friendly artillery fire fell inside the perimeter itself and two cans of napalm were delivered in the battalion CP area.

At approximately 0910 hours, company A, 2/7 battalion landed to reinforce. By 1000 hours, the enemy attack was finally repelled, enemy corpses, body fragments, weapons and equipment were littered in profusion around the edge and forward of the perimeter. There was massive evidence of many other enemy dead and wounded being dragged away from the area.

But as first light came, the enemy reappeared and simultaneously attacked from three directions: from the South East, the South West and in particular the South, at Company C’ defensive line. The fighting was fiercer than the day before and the enemy troops risked their lives and got close to the Battalion’s perimeter. Hand-to-hand fighting forced the units to use colored smoke grenades to define visually for the airplanes to fire at about 50m from friendly positions. Napalm bombs fell even near the position of the Headquarters and at many spots, foe and friend corpses intermingled. The entire landing zone area exploded with gun fires causing Company A of 2/7 Battalion that came to reinforce the Battalion to have to wait 2 hours to be able to land. Around 10 hours in the morning, after 3 hours of fierce combat, the enemy broke off.


The relief of the cut-off platoon took place in the afternoon and was conducted by the 2/5 battalion which had been sent by the 3rd Brigade and on foot from LZ Victor, had closed into LZ X-ray at 1205 hours. Little enemy resistance was encountered and the platoon was reached at 1510 hours. It still had ammunitions left, was in good morale and suffered only 8 KIA, 12 WIA.

As the combat was occurring, 2/5 Battalion was sent in by foot to landing zone X-Ray. The Battalion closed in at 12:15 hours and was assigned that afternoon to attack and rescue the cut-off Platoon. Little enemy resistance was encountered in its advance and the platoon was reached at 15:10 hours. It suffered only 8 KIA, 12 WIA and 7 combatants were safe. Not only did the enemy fail in their assaults, they also failed in attempting to overrun this Platoon. And in the efforts to stay close to this Platoon, the enemy suffered additional losses, as they became targets for air force and artillery fire powers around the position of the Platoon. At least hundreds of VC dead lied on top each other and on hill ridges.


16 November 1965

The night was relatively quiet until 0400 hours when a force of 250-300 enemy attacked from the south east. Flareship illumination was called for and continuous until 0545 hours. The attack was beaten off by small arms and artillery fires. At 0432 hours, another attack by 200 enemies came in from the same direction but the artillery took a heavy toll. By 0500 hours, the weight of the enemy attack had shifted more to the southwest but repulsed half an hour later. At 0627 hours, another attack came directly toward the CP. At 0641 hours, the enemy had been beaten off and was dragging off bodies under fire.

The night of the 15th was relatively quiet and like the night before the artillery lent support throughout the night. Around 4 o’clock in the morning, the enemy force equivalent to one Battalion attacked again the southern defensive perimeter, but by 7 o’clock the enemy was repelled.


A search and clear sweep was conducted at 0810 hours by all units on the perimeter. Enemy dead were lying throughout the area and numerous weapons were collected.

The entire battle had lasted continuous for 48 hours and the enemy had suffered at X-ray almost one third of their total losses throughout all three phases:

- KIA (body count): 834

- KIA (estimated): 1215

- CIA: 6

-Weapons captured: 141

- Weapons destroyed: 100

In the morning of the 16th, a search and clear sweep was conducted and the enemy had vanished. Enemy dead were lying throughout the area and numerous weapons were collected after the three assaults. The entire battle had lasted continuous for 48 hours and the enemy had suffered losses as following:

-- KIA (body count): 634

- KIA (estimated): 1215

- CIA: 6

- Weapons captured: 141

- Weapons destroyed: 100 with numerous grenades, shovels, equipments

As for the 1/7 battalion, 79 troops were killed and 125 wounded.

As for the 1/7 battalion, after more than 2 days and 2 nights of incessant combat, 79 troops were killed and 125 wounded, with a ratio of around 1/20 in comparison of enemy losses.


The ratio which amounts to 1/10 has proved how lucky the 1/7 battalion had been because it was rather surprising that from the hills which dominate the LZ, the enemy did not position any crew-served weapons to support their attack. Such a situation could be explained only by the following reasons:

- The enemy has lost nearly all their heavy crew-served weapons during the first phase.

- They had been surprised by the attack of the 1/7 battalion and their commanders had failed to make the best use of the terrain.

- Their tactics relied mostly on the "human waves" and they were too confident that their attack would disorganize the 1/7 battalion very quickly.

The 1/7 battalion left LZ X-ray at 1040 hours on 16 November and was replaced by the 2/7 and 2/5 battalions.

This comparison has proved how lucky the 1/7 battalion had been because it was rather surprising to me that from the hills which dominate the LZ at some 150m distance, the enemy did not position any crew-served weapons to support their attack; otherwise, it was certain the above good results could not have been achieved.

Such a situation could be explained only by the following reasons:

- The enemy has lost nearly all their heavy crew-served weapons during the first phase.

- Their commanders had failed to make the best use of the terrain or they had been surprised by the attack of the 1/7 battalion.

- Their tactics relied mostly on the "human waves" and they were too confident that their attack would disorganize the 1/7 battalion very quickly.

The entire 1/7 battalion left LZ X-ray at 1040 hours on 16 November and was replaced by the 2/7 and 2/5 battalions.


17 November 1965

It is worth mentioning that since the afternoon on 15 November, the B52 stratofortresses had also taken part in the battle with five daily bombardments of the Chu Pong massif. On 17 November, the targets also included LZ X-ray and the two friendly battalions were so ordered to move 3 km away from the LZ, northward and northwestward to another called LZ Albany.

In order to finish off the objective, on 11.17.1965 the landing zone was scheduled to be bombed by B-52. Therefore in the morning of this day, the above two Battalions were ordered to advance toward the north and the north east, to a location near Ia Drang river, at more than 3 kilometers from the landing zone (1st Air Cavalry Division named this location Albany)


(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.)

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