Colonel Hieu’s Operational Concept for LZ X-Ray

As soon as Colonel Hieu learns on Nov 13 that B3 Field Front starts staging its three regiments for the movement to attack Pleime camp, he notifies General DePuy to set the TOT for 11151600H.

Now he needs to have the three regiments stay immobile at their staging spots until that TOT time. To achieve that, he needs to distract them from going out toward Pleime camp and refocus their attention toward a new threat.

They have to perceive the new threat is serious enough as not to ignore it. At the same token the new threat should not be perceived as a great punch that would make them scattered into hiding again.

The arrival of an Air Cav battalion is just about right. A company-sized force would be too small as a threat; they would just ignore it and carry on moving out of the staging areas, which will be emptied in a couple of hours.

B3 Field Front Saw Only One Air Cav Battalion

So, the Air Cav announces its arrival with a 20-minute artillery prep fire, followed by a “large, majestic armada of sixteen ships” (Coleman, page 213), with the battalion commander on the lead helicopter, instead of the recon platoon.

Air Cav succeeds in attracting B3 Field Front's attention. By 1120H, B3 Field Front sent a message to Air Cav through a so-called “prisoner” captured: “don’t you dare attack us; we are three battalions strong and anxious to kill you”. (Coleman, page 210)

By 12:10H, B3 Field Front understands the signals giving out by Air Cav: we are coming to attack you, alright, but not immediately (we left our recon platoon behind).

By this time, the bulk of 1/7 Cav has closed in: Company B, Company C, Company D, and the bulk of Company A.

The distraction sought is achieved: B3 Field Front decides to postpone the attack of Pleime camp and intends to get rid of the small nuisance with two battalions while the bulk of its forces remain immobile at staging locations. It thinks it can do that in no time and resume the movement to attack:

they were too confident that their attack would disorganize the 1/7 battalion very quickly. (Why Pleime, chapter V)

As B3 Field Front decides to attack 1/7 Cav with two battalions, the remainder of 1/7 Air Cav is rushed in at 1500H, and 2/7 Cav and 2/5 Cav are put on alert as reaction forces. B 2/7 Cav closes in at 1800H.

At 1850H, while inspecting the X-Ray battlefield, General Larsen broke to General Kinnard the news of an Arclife strike scheduled for tomorrow at 1600H:

18:50H: 1st Air Cav Div (Lt Col Buham) Gen Kinnard discussed with Gen Larsen the possibility of having a B-52 strike in the Long Reach area “X” Gen Larsen was in favor of this. (G3 Journal/IFFV).

Later on that night, General Kinnard questions General Knowles about this. General Knowles lies to him in not revealing it is Colonel Hieu’s operational concept:

The original plan to employ strategic bombers in support of the division was presented by the Assistant Division Commander (ADC-A) through Field Force Vietnam Commanding General to the J-3 of US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. (Pleiku Campaign, page 9)

B3 Field Front Saw Only Two Air Cav Battalions

Since B3 Field Front only commits one to two battalions, Colonel Hieu advises General Knowles not to commit more than two battalions, so that B3 Field Front would not rush in more troops in reactive response and the targets for Arclite strike would evaporate in smokes.

At this point, General Knowles is put on a difficult posture: as soon as there is a contact made, he should pile in troops immediately; that’s Kinnard’s air assault tactics.

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. Kinnard replied, “They’re on the way, but what’s going on?” Knowles responded, “We’ve got a good fight going. Suggest you come up as soon as possible.” After setting the reinforcement wheels in motion, Kinnard choppered over from An Khe and met Knowles at Catecka. When he arrived, Knowles showed him the situation map he had propped up against a palm tree. Kinnard took one look and said, “What the hell are you doing in that area?” Obviously, someone hadn’t kept the boss informed about Larsen’s guidance to get after the enemy even if it meant walking away from the dry holes in the east. Knowles told Kinnard, “The object of the exercise is to find the enemy, and we sure as hell have!” Knowles remembers an awkward pause before Kinnard said quietly, “Okay, it looks great. Let me know what you need.” (Coleman page 219)

Oof, General Kinnard let General Knowles do as he sees fit: only one additional battalion…

The next morning by 0915H on 11/15, company A 2/7 Cav lands to reinforce 1/7 Cav.

As the Air Cav units present at LZ X-Ray are still not able to rescue the isolated platoon, 2/5 Cav was ordered in by foot from LZ Victor undetected so as B3 Field Front is left to believe (2/5 Cav closes in at 1205H) there are still only two Air Cav battalions at X-Ray and does not feel the need to rush in units of 32nd Regiment to the amazement of General Kinnard:

Neither has there been an explanation for the failure to commit the 32d Regiment which apparently held its positions 12-14 kilometers to the northwest on the north bank of the Ia Drang. (Pleiku Campaign, page 88)

Arclite strikes at 1600H.

Mission accomplished for 1/7 Cav!

1/7 Cav is relieved by 2/7 Cav and 2/5 Cav and is helilifted out of X-Ray at noon 11/16.

2/7 Cav and 2/5 Cav are ordered out by foot the next day 11/17 to make room for Arclites to strike X-Ray itself.

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.

A Hunting Game
You have cornered an animal.
You are about to shoot when the animal decides to move away.
You make a little bit of noise to draw his attention.
He stares at you and stands still.
You avoid making anything else that he would perceive as a threat and would run away.
He stands still and you shoot.

Nguyen Van Tin
08 September 2012


- 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