According to Coleman (1988),
So, Hal Moore went into Chupong knowingly he would encounter the enemy in great number, possibly one or two or even three NVA regiments. His mission would be to initiate the first contact with an enemy unit, then to fix that unit and, depending on the size of enemy forces in contact, General Knowles would pile in the appropriate amount of Air Cavalry troop units to destroy the enemy.
But what happened next was in the direct opposite to the unfolding of the operational concept of find, fix and destroy the enemy.
First, on November 14, after closing in LZ X-Ray, Hal Moore did not advance in a sweeping move to find the enemy, but contented to secure the perimeter of the landing zone in a defensive posture.
Second, when the enemy gave an assault with the size of two battalions, General Knowles did not react with a massive troop piling and contented to reinforce the defensive lines with just one battalion, the 2/7th Air Cavalry Battalion, and seemed to be satisfied when the enemy disengaged and withdrew on November 16 instead of pursuing the enemy.
Third, instead of bringing more troops in preparation for a pursuit operation, General Knowles effectuated a troop rotation by relieving the 1/7th with the 2/5th Battalion to continue to secure LZ X-Ray.
Four, on November 17, to make room for B-52 airstrikes, instead of a speedy helilifted troop extraction, General Knowles gave order to the 2/7th and 2/5th to march out of the landing zone toward LZ Columbus and LZ Albany respectively.
Based on these four facts, it is evident that Hal Moore’s mission was not a routine search and destroy operation. In fact, his specific mission – although he had no purview to it - was to conduct a distracting diversionary move, which aimed at distracting the enemy troops concentrating at staging areas ready to move to attack Pleime camp for a second time and inducing them to stay immobile at those spots while B3 Field Command was refocusing its plan of attack to the newly appeared threat; and in doing so, the NVA troops remained immobile longer at the staging areas as targets for B-52 airstrikes.
This diversionary move was the last component in a threefold preparation for the operational concept which consisted of annihilating the three NVA Regiments – the 32nd, 33rd and 66th - with Strategic Air strikes. The other two precedent diversionary moves were: herding the enemy scattered troops back to Chupong-Iadrang complex and enticing the enemy into an attack posture that leads to further troop concentration in assembly and staging areas.
Contrary to common beliefs, General Knowles knew the exact positions of the three enemy regiments headquarters and their respective units all along and stalked the enemy looking for the right moment when the enemy troop’s concentration was targetable for B-52 airstrikes.
- On 10/27, the lead elements of the 33d had closed on it forward assembly area, the village Kro (ZA080030);
- On 10/28, the 32d Regiment had nearly closed its base on the north bank of the Ia Drang;
- On 10/29, the 33d Regiment decided to keep the unit on the move to the west, to Anta Village (YA940010), located at the foot of the Chu Pong Massif;
- On 11/1, the 33rd regiment headquarters closed in at Anta Village (YA940010);
- On 11/2, by 0400 hours, the regimental CP had arrived at Hill 762 (YA885106);
- On 11/5, units of 66th Regiment continued to close in the assembly areas in the Chupong-Iadrang complex;
- On 11/7, the depleted 33d Regiment licked its wounds and waited for its stragglers to come in; meanwhile, the remainder of Field Front forces were quiet;
- On 11/8, only fragmented units and stragglers remained east of the Chu Pong-Ia Drang complex;
- On 11/9, the 33d Regiment gathered in the last of its organic units;
- On 11/11, the three battalions of the 66th Regiment were strung along the north bank of the Ia Drang river (center mass at 9104), the 32nd Regiment was also up north in the same area (YA820070), the 33rd Regiment maintained its positions in the vicinity of the Anta Village (YA 9400027);
- On 11/14, when the 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion was inserted at LZ X-Ray (YA935010), it was only “200 meters from the location of our 9th Battalion 66th Regiment” (Nguyen Huu An);
- On 11/15, B3 Field Front forces (center of mass vicinity YA8702) where the B-52s dropped their first ton of bombs.
In brief, contrary to the common belief that “For the first time in the Vietnamese conflict, Strategic Air strikes were to be used in direct support of the ground scheme of maneuver. (Pleiku Campaign, 17 Nov, page 93), it was instead the other way around: the ground scheme of maneuver – meaning the 1/7th Air Cavalry’s – were conducted in direct support of Strategic Air strikes.
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(Coleman, J.D., "Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam", St. Martin’s Press, New York)
Nguyen Van Tin