Than Phong 7 Operation
2. Mission: Than Phong 7 operation was conceived as a surgical strike to be executed by the ARVN Airborne Brigade to finish off two surviving NVA 334th and 635th Battalions and to destroy the NVA B3 Field Front rear bases.
3. Planning: The operation comprises three phases:
-Phase I (Preparation):
A new artillery firebase is created by the US 1st Air Cavalry to provide artillery support to the Airborne Brigade’s operation.
The five scattered Airborne battalions in Phu Yen, Vung Tau, Saigon and Bien Hoa are flew in Pleiku by C-130’s of the 7th US Air Force.
The Airborne Brigade Forward Command Post is established at Duc Co camp.
- Phase II (Sweeping the northern area of Ia Drang River):
Two airborne battalions search for the NVA 635th Battalion located on the north side of Ia Drang River.
- Phase III (Sweeping the southern area of Ia Drang River):
The entire Airborne Brigade search for the NVA 334th Battalion located on the south side of Ia Drang River.
a. Phase I (November 17-18).
- On November 17, the entire Airborne Brigade comprising the Airborne Brigade Headquarters, the 1st and 2nd Task Forces Headquarters and five Airborne battalions: the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th scattered in Saigon, Bien Hoa, Vung Tau and Phu Yen were put on alert.
- On the same day, US 1st Air Cavalry Division established a firepower base at Landing Zone Crooks (YA 875125), manned by US 2/17 Arty, and secured by US 2/5 Air Cav Battalion.
- The airlift of the five Airborne battalions to Pleiku began in the early morning of November 18. It was achieved by the C130's Squadron of the 7th US Air Force.
- In the afternoon of November 18, these airborne units were helilifted to Duc Co camp where the Airborne Brigade Headquarters was set up.
b. Phase II (November 18-20)
- On November 18, from 15:00H to 18:00H, ten UH1Ds, twelve UH1Bs and eleven UH1Bs (A) of the 52nd Aviation Battalion, reinforced by twenty UH1Ds and six UH1Bs (A) from the 229th Avn Bn, 1st Air Cav Div, helilifted in five lifts 1,500 troops of Task Force 1 Headquarters, 3rd Battalion, 5th Battalion and 6th Battalion from Duc Co camp to Landing Zone YA 841092. Two (2) UH1Ds from the 155th Avn Co sustained light damage from ground fire, no injuries.
- In the morning of November 19, Airborne Task Force 1 broke into two prongs marching westward with the intention of herding the enemy, but not allowing them an escape route. There were several contacts with the enemy but not significant.
- In the morning of November 20, the upper paratroop group of 3rd Airborne Battalion veered down southward to link with the lower paratroop group of the 6th Airborne Battalion at YA 805080; however, to avoid any unwanted risk of friendly encroachments in the case both groups displace at the same time, the latter was ordered to stop moving and wait. While 3rd Battalion was on the move, a VC battalion-sized unit stealthily followed behind. Although aware of this, 3rd Battalion did not react and kept advancing, and notified 6th Battalion.
- Around 14:40H, when 3rd Battalion went through 6th Battalion’s area at YA 805080 and the VC unit (634th Battalion) had emerged, 6th Battalion had only to open fire and the VC unit was caught in a frontal ambush set up.
- After 3rd Battalion passed through 6th Battalion’s spot, it made contact with another enemy company-sized unit. It was fortunate for this Battalion that otherwise would risk being “held down by the head while being kick on the rear”.
- Just in these two engagements, nearly 200 VC were left on the spot.
- On November 20, intelligence learned that B3 Field Front Command had given order to its 334th Battalion to withdraw back to Cambodia and to pass through the narrow corridor along side of Ia Drang River by November 24. Plan was made to have this battalion intercepted at that location.
- On November 20 sometime around 16:00H – after the first ambush was over - Airborne TF1 with its three Battalions – 3rd, 5th and 6th – were ordered to march to the assembly area located at YA 822075.
- On November 20, at 17:45H, 8th Battalion was helilifted to Landing Zone YA 822075 to secure it for the entire Airborne Brigade in preparation for setting up an ambush site to entrap the NVA 334th Battalion.
- During the night of November 21, the enemy attempted using faking east attacking west tactic to seek entering the area to pick up bodies, but in so doing suffered further casualties.
- On November 21, in their search for enemy installations in the area of operations, units of 3rd Battalion destroyed a training center at Hill 185.
c. Phase III (November 22-24)
- On November 22, at 11:00H, 2nd Battalion and 7th Battalion were helilifted to Landing Zone YA 822075.
- On November 22, at 13:50H, Airborne TF 1, 3rd Battalion, 5th Battalion and 6th Battalion closed in at the assembly area.
- The entire Airborne Brigade, except 3rd Battalion, then crossed over the Ia Drang River to the south side and proceeded by land to the mountain top located at YA 810055 chosen as the staging area for the ambush site.
- During its march, the Airborne Brigade spotted various enemy units positions along its path and called in artillery firepower which accounted for around 127 enemy dead.
- On November 23, 3rd Battalion reverted back westward and destroyed two training centers located at YA 801080 at 08:55H and YA 797097 at 09:00H along with a cache of equipment and 75 houses, and a battalion sized camp of 30 huts and 2 kitchens in the vicinity of YA 795084.
- On November 23 at 11:50H, 7th Battalion made contact with an estimated VC platoon, killed one VC and captured one VC; no friendly casualties.
- On November 23, the Airborne Brigade closed in at the staging area and remained there overnight to make plan for the next morning ambush operation.
- On November 24, early in the morning, 6th Battalion set up a blocking position at YA 802070. The first contact was made with enemy units at 08:45H.
- On November 24, later in the morning, 5th Battalion set up a blocking position at YA 820064. The second contact was made with enemy units at 10:30H.
- Artillery firepower was called in and the shelling last about half an hour.
- 7th and 8th Battalions charged down the mountain and pinned the last enemy battalion - the 334th - down with its back against the Ia Drang River and destroyed at YA 815070.
d. Phase IV (November 25-26)
- On November 24, as no more contacts were made with the enemy, the Airborne Brigade withdrew from the area of operations in two prongs:
- 3rd Battalion marched to its assembly area located at YA 805125 and closed in on November 26 at 18:45H;
- the other Battalions - 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th - marched to their assembly area located at YA 840240 and closed in on November 26 at 18:00H.
The last phase of Pleime campaign ended at 18:45H on November 26 with 265 VC killed (BC), 10 others and 58 weapons captured.
General Schwarzkopf describes Phase III of Than Phong 7 as follows: Than Phong 7 operation
Nguyen Van Tin