It all started with the appellation Chu Pong Operation; then due to changes in the enemy military situation, it became subsequently Pleime-Chupong Campaign, then Pleime-Chupong-Iadrang Campaign.
Other related military operations comprise Pleime Campaign, Pleiku Campaign, Long Reach Operation, All the Way Operation, Silver Bayonet I Operation, Silver Bayonet II Operation, Ia Drang Campaign, LZ X-Ray Battle, LZ Albany Battle.
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 (Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Wilson Center):
Beginning of 1965, the NVA 304th Division received the order to prepare to infiltrate South Vietnam (General Nguyen Nam Khanh):
In August 1965, the NVA 304th Division received order to intensify preparation to go to Central Highlands by September (304th Division):
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 (Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử, page 124):
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 (Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử, page 94):
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 (Intelligence Aspect of Pleime/Chupong Campaign, page 6):
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(Why Pleime, chapter III):
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 (Why Pleime, chapter IV):
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 were 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 (Project CHECO Report, The Siege of Pleime, 24 February 1966):
- 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 (Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử, page 94):
The mission of herding the enemy troops was assigned to 1st Air Cavalry Division with Long Reach operation (Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử, page 101):
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 (G3 Journal/IFFV, 10/30):
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 (Intelligence Aspect of Pleime/Chupong Campaign)
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 a second attack of Pleime camp (Pleiku Campaign):
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 0n dealing with the new threat (General Nguyen Huu An, Chien Truong Moi – Hoi Uc):
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 5 consecutive days (Why Pleime, chapter VI):
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. ̣
General Knowles reveals that the purpose of 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.
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 orders 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), secure 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 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 (Pleime, Trận Chiến Lịch Sử):
Nguyen Van Tin