The Truth About Ia Drang Valley Battle
There were two battlefronts at Ia Drang Valley: the first one was a ground force action performed by the 1st Air Cavalry Division, focusing at LZ X-Ray, from 14 to November 17, 1965; and the second one was an air force action performed by B-52 bombers, expanding all over the Chu Pong/Ia Drang complex areas, from 15 to November 19, 1965. The ground force action was a diversionary maneuver in support of the air force action: its purpose was to prepare and fixe the targets for Arc Light airstrike.
It all started with the appellation Chu Pong Operation; then due to changes in the enemy military situation, it became Pleime-Chupong Campaign subsequently, then Pleime-Chupong-Iadrang Campaign
Chu Pong Operation
End of 1964, Chairman Mao Zedong of Red China turned on the green light for the Viet Cong to upgrade attacking forces to divisional level in its conquest of South Viet Nam. In the meeting dated 10/05/1964, Mao Zedong told Pham Van Dong :
Beginning of 1965, the NVA 304th Division received the order to prepare to infiltrate South Vietnam:
In August 1965, the NVA 304th Division received the order to intensify preparation to go to Central Highlands by September:
In September of that year, B3 Field Front Command finalized the Plâyme Campaign to be conducted with its three regiments – the 32nd, the 33rd, and the 66th.
The plan was to be carried out in four phases: 1) The 33rd Regiment would put up a siege of Pleime camp to lure II Corps’ main force out of Pleiku City; 2) The 33rd Regiment would ambush and destroy the relief force; 3) Both Regiments would combine force and overrun the camp; 4) The 66th Regiment would combine force with the two regiments to conquer Pleiku City.
The Viet Cong conceived the Plâyme Campaign with the direct help of Red China. A Chinese Advisors General Staff Headquarters was established in Phnom Penh to coordinate the campaign:
It was the intercepts of open radio communication of the Chinese Advisors between the Phnom Penh headquarters and the regimental battlefield command posts that allowed II Corps Command to obtain a real-time intelligence of the enemy military situation throughout the campaign and to design a flexible counter-measure plan accordingly, which lead to the victory of Pleime Campaign:
In September 1965, II Corps Command conceived the Chu Pong Operation. The intention was to crush the three NVA regiments at the precise moment they congregate at their assembly areas to stage for the imminent attack in Chupong with B-52 carpet bombing, even before they could act:
However, on September 19, B3 Field Front Command decided to start the attack sooner with only the two 32nd and 33rd Regiments and intensified the preparation one month before the attack:
II Corps Command reacted with a modified plan: Pleime-Chupong campaign.
The operational concept was: to repulse the attacking enemy and wait for the two 32nd and 33rd Regiments to regroup with the 66th Regiments in Chu Pong to use B-52 airstrike as pre-planned.
The execution of the plan was to be carried out in two phases: 1) to repulse the attacking enemy; 2) to herd the decimated troops of the two attacking regiments back to Chupong.
- Phase I: Repulsing with Dan Thang 21 operation
When the 33rd Regiment attacked Pleime camp on October 19, II Corps Command took up the challenge:
In the afternoon of October 20, an Armored Task Force was dispatched to rescue the camp, and on October 21, a group of two SF Ranger companies was sent in to reinforce the camp.
US Air Force was used as the main force to repulse the enemy at both camp and ambush sites:
- at Pleime camp
- at the ambush site
- Phase II: Herding with Long Reach operation
Pleime camp was liberated. II Corps Command learned through intelligence source that the two 32nd and 33rd Regiments were ordered to withdraw and prepare for another attack together with the 66th Regiment:
The mission of herding the enemy troops was assigned to 1st Air Cavalry Division with Long Reach operation:
And to keep the enemy’s tongue wet, while extending the TAOR of 1st Air Cavalry Division, II Corps command retained the control of Pleime camp; thus, it still appeared vulnerable to an enemy’s attack:
Long Reach operation was carried out with two phases: All the Way operation with 1st Air Cavalry Brigade and Silver Bayonet I with 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade.
All the Way operation (October 27-November 9)
The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade set out to herd the scattered small units of the 33rd Regiments back to Chu Pong, meanwhile G2/II Corps monitored their migration through radio intercepts:
Silver Bayonet I (November 9- November 17)
On November 9, the 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade replaced the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade and had the mission to entice B3 Field Front to regroup its three regiments to stage for the second attack of Pleime camp:
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.
The time over target was set for 16:00 hours on November 15 at the enemy force’s center of mass (vicinity YA8702).
To accommodate the slowness of the B-52’s action – which required a 72-hour notification and an eight-hour flight from Guam to Chupong - on November 12, 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was ordered to get ready for a diversionary tactic operation to be executed at Chupong’s east side footstep. On November 14, 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion air assaulted LZ X-Ray, forcing B3 Field Front Command to postpone its attack of Pleime camp and to focus its attention on dealing with the new threat:
As the purpose of the insertion of 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion was only to divert the enemy troops' attention, it was planned so that it did not appear too big of a threat as to scare them away: a lot of noise was created with a 20-minute pre-artillery prep and a thundering arrival of a majestic armada of 16 helicopters; the closing in was intentionally slow with a 5 hour scheduling; the ratio of troop balance was maintained at 2:2 with NVA 7th and 9th Battalions versus US 1/7th and 2/7th Air Cavalry Battalions, and when the 2/5th Air Cavalry Battalion's reinforcement was needed, it closed stealthily in by foot after a 5 hour march from LZ Victor on November 15; then on November 16, as the enemy was about to realize they were outnumbered, the 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion was pulled out, leaving behind the 2/7th and the 2/5th at LZ X-Ray.
On November 15, at 1600 hours, the first waves of B-52's struck at center of mass vic YA 8702, about 7.5 kilometers west of LZ X-Ray, aiming at the 32nd Regiment positions. On November 17, after the three 1/7, 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions had abandoned LZ X-Ray, B-52's struck the landing zone itself, aiming at the 66th Regiment troops still lingering around the area.
B-52 carpet bombing continued for five consecutive days:
On November 15 and 16, B-52 airstrikes aimed mainly at the positions of units of the 33rd and 32 Regiment; on November 17, 18 and 19, units of the 66th Regiment; and on November 20, units of the 32nd Regiment. ̣
On November 17, intelligence source intercepted communications indicating B-52 airstrikes caused the enemy to suffer around 2,000 killed and the two surviving Battalions – 635th and 334th – had received order to withdraw to Cambodia through the narrow corridor of Ia Drang river, the first along the north side of the river and the latter the south side, II Corps decided to finish off the campaign with operation Than Phong 7 conducted by five ARVN Airborne battalions.
On November 18, a new artillery support base was established at LZ Crooks (YA 875125), secured by 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion.
Based on precise intelligence source, 3rd and 6th Airborne Battalions were inserted in the northern area of Ia Drang in the afternoon of 11/18 in order to ambush 635th Battalion at YA 805080 on 11/20.
And also based on accurate intelligence source, the four 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Airborne Battalions –after crossing Ia Drang river to the southern side (3rd Airborne Battalion reverted to the northern side to destroy three training centers), set up an ambush site to intercept 334th Battalion at YA 815070 on 11/24.
The 38-day long campaign ended on November 26:
The truth about Ia Drang Valley Battle is then that it was an Arc Light operation, supported by a ground force in which the 1st Air Cavalry’s role was to set up and fix the targets for B-52 airstrikes.
Sidebar: An ARVN-US Joint Operation
The Pleime campaign is an ARVN-US joint operation with a clear cut modus operandi in which the intelligence and operational concept were provided by the ARVN, and in which the command and the deployment of forces were separate (during the Pleime phase, it was conducted by the ARVN Armored Task Force; during the Chupong phase, by the US 1st Air Cavalry Division; and during the Iadrang phase, by the ARVN Airborne Group).
The operation for the Chupong phase was named Long Reach by II Corps Command, a translation of Trường Chinh:
General Westmoreland acknowledges the key role of the ARVN in this joint operation:
The American commanders involved in this joint operation were: General DePuy, J3/MACV, Saigon; General Larsen, IFFV, Nha Trang, in charge of American forces operating in II Corps; General Kinnard, 1st Air Cavalry Division, An Khe; General Knowles, 1st Air Cavalry Division/CP Forward, Pleiku.
General DePuy was in charge of coordinating Arc Light operation with ARVN II Corps:
There is an indication that he was also closely implicated with the ground force operation when he summoned Colonel Hal Moore to Saigon to brief him:
General Kinnard delegated the direct command of the Long Reach operation to General Knowles, who set up a command post next to II Corps Command headquarters in Pleiku.
General Kinnard and General Knowles did not have free hands in the direction of the Long Reach operation, with General Larsen intervening on the field to give tactical maneuvering orders:
The mastermind of the entire Pleime-Chupong-Iadrang was Colonel Hieu, II Corps Chief of Staff, who designed the operational concept of using Arc Light strike to destroy the three NVA 32nd, 33rd and 66th Regiments at Chu Pong. He was mentioned at least twice in the G3 Journal of IFFV that recorded the Pleime campaign:
- (1) Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Wilson Center
- (2) General Nguyen Nam Khanh, Quan Doi Nhan Dan magazine, 11/13/2005
- (3) Nguyen Huy Toan and Pham Quang Dinh, 304th Division, volume II, pp 19-42
- (4) General Vĩnh Lộc, Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử, page 124
- (5) General Vĩnh Lộc, page 94
- (6) General McChritian, J2/MACV, Intelligence Aspect of Pleime/Chupong Campaign, page 6
- (7) General Vinh Loc, Why Pleime, chapter III, page 47
- (8) General Vinh Loc, chapter IV, page 55
- (9) Project CHECO Report, The Siege of Pleime, 24 February 1966
- (10) General Vĩnh Lộc, page 94
- (11) General Vĩnh Lộc, page 101
- (12) G3 Journal/IFFV, 10/30 entry
- (13) General McChristian, pp. 16-44
- (14) General Kinnard, Pleiku Campaign, page 67
- (15) General Kinnard, page 73
- (16) General Kinnard, page 76
- (17) General Nguyen Huu An, Chiến Trường Mới– Hồi Ức
- (18) General Vinh Loc, chapter VI, page 97
- (19) General Vĩnh Lộc, page 132
- (20) General Vinh Loc, Why Pleime, Preface
- All the above reference sources can be seen online (scroll further down to "documents" and click on link, if available)