Operation LZ X-Ray

Background

By November 11, 1965, the three NVA Regiments have been lured into assembly areas in the Chupong-Iadrang complex by 1st Air Cavalry Brigade and became available targets for B-52 airstrikes: the 32nd at YA 820072, the 33rd at YA 940011 and the 66th at center of mass vic YA 9104. The time over target was set for November 15 at 1600 hours. B3 Field Front set D-day for November 16.

The NVA troops did not have the support of anti-aircraft guns and heavy mortars. Some weapons were lost at Pleime, the rest was still on its way down the Ho Chi Minh trail.(1)

G2/II Corps provided to 1st Air Cavalry Division Forward real time intelligence on B3 Field Front’s accurate and precise military situation: its intentions, planning, troop maneuverings.(2)

Operational Concept

Because the movement to attack of the NVA units was set November 14, a diversionary maneuver needed to be created to entice the B3 Field Front to postpone the attack to give the B-52 bombers sufficient time to act.

The distracting ploy would be achieved by the insertion of an air cavalry battalion at the footstep of Chu Pong massif, next to the position of 66th Regiment, the main force in the second attack of Pleime camp.

The inserted battalion would be reinforced with appropriate number of units relative to the enemy reactive forces.

As soon as the distracting ploy is achieved, the inserted battalion would be withdrawn.

Execution

On November 12, 1/7 AC Battalion was ordered to prepare for an air assault to LZ X-Ray. (3)

On November 13, Colonel Brown ordered 1/7 AC Battalion to get ready for an insertion the next day. (4)

November 14

- At 1048H, 1/7 AC Battalion announced its arrival after a 20 minute pre-artillery bombardment with a thundering armada of 16 helicopters. (5). Company B was the lead element. The insertion was intentionally conducted at a slow pace so as not to scare off the enemy troops.

- Around 1200H, B3 Field Front decided to commit its two 7th and 9th Battalions. (6) General Knowles alerted the 2/7 AC Battalion to get ready for reinforcement. (7)

- At 1210H, elements of Company A closed in.

- Around 1245H, elements of Company C landed.

- Around 1300H, elements of Company D landed.

- By 1500H, remainder of the tactical elements of the battalion closed in. (8)

- By late afternoon, General Knowles decided to commit another battalion – the 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion, in preparation of the withdrawal of 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion scheduled for November 16. (9)

- At 1705H, B Company of 2/7 AC Battalion landed and closed in by 1800H.

- By late night, A Company of 2/7 AC Battalion was readied to reinforce the next day. (10)

November 15

- At 0800H, 2/5 AC Battalion was ordered to close in LZ X-Ray by foot from LZ Victor as reinforcement.

- Also at approximately 0800H, A Company of 2/7 AC Battalion was brought into LZ X-Ray.

- At 0930H, Colonel Brown landed in LZ X-Ray to let Moore know about the withdrawal of 1/7 AC Battalion scheduled for the next day. (11)

- At 1205H, 2/5 AC Battalion closed in LZ X-Ray.

- By 1510H, all units were positioned in tight defensive positions.

- At 1600H, the first waves of B-52 struck the center of mass of 32nd Regiment at (vicinity YA8702), 7 kilometers west of LZ X-Ray.

- At 1630H, General Knowles landed in LZ X-Ray to reiterate the order to withdraw 1/7 AC Battalion the next day. (12)

November 16

- At 1135H, 1/7 AC Battalion was helilifted out, covered by 2/7 and 2/5 AC Battalions. (13)

- At 1245H, order was issued to 2/7 and 2/5 AC Battalions to be prepared to move out LZ X-Ray to make room for Arc Light strike. (14)

November 17

- Approximately 0900H, 2/7 and 2/5 AC Battalions moved out LZ X-Ray by foot. (15)

- At 1200H, Arc Light struck LZ X-Ray, catching 7th and 9th Battalions troops by surprise. (16)

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.

Conclusion

In brief, 1/7 AC Battalion shows up at Chu Pong footstep, waives hand to the enemy, catches its attention, then disappears, allowing Arc Light airstrikes to surprise the enemy units.


- (1)The enemy has lost nearly all their heavy crew-served weapons during the first phase. (Why Pleime, chapter V); The NVA effort unquestionably was hampered by the unexplained delay in getting the heavy mortar and heavy anti-aircraft battalions off the infiltration trail and into the battle zone. (Pleiku campaign, page 88)

- (2) Therefore this time around, the determination not to allow the enemy to escape, coupled with the solid intelligence on the enemy situation had permitted the battle to develop to maximum degree and scale and at the same token lead to the biggest victory ever achieved by the ARVN and its Allied. (Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử page 94)

- (3) In this late afternoon of November 12, he flew south from Pleiku in his command helicopter looking for Colonel Tim Brown, who was with me in the field. […] He turned back to Brown: “Tim, what do you think about heading west – a long jump into the Ia Drang Valley?” […} Knowles gave us the go sign. (Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers Once, and Young, page 17)

- (4) 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. (Coleman, J.D., "Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam", page 199)

- (5) The time of the assault was precisely 1048 hours. (1/7 AC after action report)

- (6) At the forward command post, we grasped a better control of the situation at this moment. 66th Regiment reported back: 9th Battalion was able to establish communication with 7th Battalion. Thus, the balance of forces in this narrow area was two battalions for each side, with the American side higher in troop numbers, not counting two artillery companies and air force enforcements. (General Nguyen Huu An’s Memoire)

- (7) Knowles got on the horn and called Harry Kinnard back at An Khe, asking for another infantry battalion, more artillery, and both troop- and medium-lift helicopters.(Coleman, Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam, page 219)

- (8) At this time, approximately 1500 hours, I decided that it was necessary to continue to land the remainder of the tactical elements of the battalion consisting of the recon platoon, 3 UH1D loads of C Company men, and the XO and 1st Sergeant of D Company. (1/7 AC after action report)

- (9) A. Late in the afternoon of 14 November, the brigade Commander had moved the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, into LZ Victor. At approximately 0800 hours [November 15] it headed, on foot, for LZ X-RAY. (1/7 AC after action report)

- (10) He had already alerted Company A, 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry the previous night and assembled it with helicopters ready for movement. (1/7 AC after action report)

- (11) 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. 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. (Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers Once, and Young, page 202)

- (12) 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. (Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers Once, and Young, page 210)

- (13) 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. (G3 Journal/IFFV, Nov 16 entry)

- (14) 12:35H: FFV TOC Maj Murray to 3d Bde Adv 1st Cav – Ref your last msg. 3000 meter withdrawal. (G3 Journal/IFFV, Nov 16 entry)

- (15) 09:30H: 1st Cav (Capt Cook) 2/7 moved to Makin 0910 2/5 moved to Columbus 0900. (G3 Journal/IFFV, Nov 17 entry)

- (16) Those troops still remaining in the now deserted X-Ray area suddenly learned the reason for the exodus of the Cavalry. A B-52 strike had been called virtually on top of the old positions. (Pleiku campaign, page 94)

Nguyen Van Tin
03 February 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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