(27180000000, Richard T. Knowles Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University)
Lt. Gen. Richard Knowles wrote-up his narrative of the LZ X-Ray Battle in May 1983 at the request of Lt. General Hal Moore who was seeking help in writing his upcoming book, We Were Soldiers Once … And Young co-authored by Joseph Galloway. Moore’s book was published in 1992. Knowles sent his narrative to Moore with a cover letter dated 20 June 1983.
Knowles’s narrative remained unknown to the general public until August 2017, at which date it was released and made available for research at the Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas University, in Richard T. Knowles Collection (2718)
In his narrative, Knowles expresses quite a few pertinent points of view that are unique and eye-opening.
- “Why are you conducting operation there if the hole is dry?”
By relating this dialogue with Lt. Gen. Swede Larsen, IFFV Commander, Knowles indicates that the idea and the planning of the LZ X-Ray Operation was not his, but came from higher up and relayed to him by Larsen.
- “Jump command post”.
Knowles specifies the command post that was established within the MAVC compound in the ARVN II Corps Headquarters in Pleiku was not a full division forward command post, but rather a “jump command post” consisting of “a skeleton staff” that fitted in a pod. Its main purpose was to assist the ARVN II Corps Command in the execution of the Long Reach Operation in terms of controlling the troop operations and the essential logistics. The orders dictating the Air Cavalry troop maneuvers, as it is indicated in the Pleiku Campaign, were relayed from the ARVN II Corps Command to Knowles through General Larsen, IFFV Commander, so as not to give the appearance that Knowles was under the command of General Vinh Loc.
Knowles' jump command post was established next to the ARVN II Corps Command and functioned as the American component in the joint ARVN-US operation in which the ARVN side was in charge of the concepts of operation and intelligence while the US side took care of the control of troops and logistics.
- “Steel ring”.
Hal Moore’s 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion once inserted at LZ X-Ray was heavily protected by “a ring of steel” put up by the Division Artillery. Furthermore, Knowles had “every route into and out of the area hit hard around the clock” - to interdict NVA troops of the 32nd and 33rd to come in the area - and reinforced the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion with the 2/7 and 2/5 to counter the NVA 7th and 9th Battalions belonging to the 66th Regiment as well as to cover the withdrawal of the 1/7 set for November 16.
The 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was at all times safe, allowing Knowles to check in at the LZ X-Ray during the heat of the battle in the afternoon of November 15, as well as Colonel Tim Brown in the morning of the same day.
The reason for Knowles' visit was to assess the situation and see if Moore was willing and able to handle the withdrawal of his battalion. (Moore and Galloway, page 210)
That morning, at 9:30 am, Brown landed at LZ X-Ray to establish a forward brigade command post to execute the withdrawal of Moore's 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion. But Moore refused to relinquish the command of his battalion. (Moore and Galloway, page 202)
Around midnight, Moore was ordered to report to Saigon the next morning to brief General Westmoreland and his staff about the battle. Moore vehemently objected to the order. (Moore and Galloway, page 216)
Before having the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion inserted at LZ X-Ray, Knowles was aware that the NVA 66th Regiment, whose headquarters was located nearby the insertion point, did not have its battalion of 14.5mm twin-barrel anti-aircraft guns and its battalion of 120mm mortars, which were both en route down the infiltration trail and scheduled to meet the 66th Regiment at Pleime, for the attack. These two battalions, if present at LZ X-Ray with their heavy guns and mortars positionned on the hillsides overlooking the landing zone, would have caused havoc to the troop insertion.
It is obvious that the 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was inserted at LZ X-Ray to establish a presence as a diversionary ploy and not an attack threat.
- “Mad minute”.
Knowles gives an explanation for the Harassment and Interdiction (H&I) night firing conducted by one outpost of Bob Tully’s 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion: the men of that outpost “were due to leave for the U.S. that day and they did not want to become casualties on their last night".
In the cover letter, Knowles advised Hal Moore to include details of his battalion’s “Mad Minute” in his coming book.
- “Grab the tiger by its tail”.
Knowles reveals the purpose for the insertion of the Air Cavalry troops 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 head its with B-52 bombs from November 17 to 20.
The expression “Grab the tiger by its tail” used by Knowles has the imprint of Colonel Hieu, II Corps Chief of Staff, who coined the name given to the operation conducted by the 1st Air Cavalry, Long Reach - in Vietnamese Trường Chinh (Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử, page 101) - and who used a similar expression to describe a tactic used by a NVA battalion in its attempt to ambush an ARVN Airborne battalion later in the campaign: kiềm thủ kích vĩ , literally hold head kick ass (Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử, page 132) .
Nguyen Van Tin