Pleime/Chupong Campaign Destroying B3 Field Front Base
Using SLAR and IR, J2/MACV learned that a huge divisional base had been established in Chu Pong comprising supply storage caches and training centers.
G2/II Corps learned that around July 1965, General Chu Huy Man was transferred from Region 5 Danang to the Central Highlands to lead Field Front B3 with the mission to take control of the Central Highlands. Its main force would comprise three regiments – 32nd, 33rd, and 66th. 32nd Regiment had been operating in the Central Highlands since the beginning of 1965. 33rd Regiment was dispatched to the South by the end of July and 66th Regiment by the end of August.
At the beginning of August 1965, the PAVN Joint General Staff in Hanoi received the attack plan of Pleime-Pleiku drafted by B3 Field Front. Early in October, B3 Field Front received approval from the Joint General Staff of the Plâyme campaign's plan, which was scheduled to commence at the end of 1965 or the beginning of 1966.
2. Operational Concept
Based on intelligence collected, beginning in September 1965, G3/II Corps and J3/MACV jointly worked out a plan to destroy Chu Prong base and to annihilate the three regiment B3 Field Front forces simultaneously using B-52 airstrikes.
The challenge was to have the three regiments regrouped within a one kilometer square area, which means that the center of mass of the targeted object can be pinpointed with a precision degree of at least (XX’YY’) and the target should remain immobile at least 8 hours, because that was the time it took B-52 bombers to travel the distance from Guam to Chu Prong in the Central Highlands.
The optimum time is when the three regiments regroup at assembly areas and especially when they concentrate at staging areas in preparation for an imminent attack. The regiments would remain at assembly areas for reorganization, re-equipment and rehearsals for two-three days, but would only remain at staging areas for a couple of hours. Therefore, it is necessary to resort to a diversionary ploy to entice the enemy to remain at the staging area at least 8 hours to allow the B-52’s sufficient time to reach their targets on time.
Upon learning through intelligence source that B3 Field Front had selected Chu Pong base as a staging area to attack Pleime camp, G3/II Corps saw the opportunity to destroy its base and its force with one punch. The difficult task therefore, consisted of monitoring the enemy situation in order to pinpoint the precise moment when all three regiments regroup and lure them into remaining at the staging areas for at least 8 hours.
3. Conduct of Operations
Operation Dan Thang 21
When B3 Field Front decided to launch Plâyme campaign earlier than planned – instead of December 1965 – on October 19 with only two regiments – the 33rd encircling Pleime camp and the 32nd attacking the armored relief column at the ambush site, to avoid engaging with American troops, G3/II Corps did not see the appropriate time to use B-52’s because the 66th had not yet arrived in the Central Highlands. G3/II Corps just contented to apply a delay tactic aiming at neutralizing the enemy “lure and ambush” tactic, in enforcing the camp with two joint Vietnamese-American Special Forces units and in dispatching an armored relief task force. These two forces were strong enough to repulse the attacking enemy units while not inflicting them with too heavy casualties and allowing them to plan for revenge in attacking Pleime camp a second time; at which time, the efforts would involve all three regiments – 32dn, 33rd, and 66th.
Operation All the Way
Starting October 27, after the relief of Pleime, G3/II Corps assigned 1st Air Cavalry Brigade the mission of herding the enemy back to Chu Pong base with operation All the Way. The main objective of air assaults was to interdict enemy scattered units from settling down at troop shelters along the withdrawal routes from Pleime to Chu Prong and to spare the command posts of 32nd and 33rd Regiment headquarters on the move. G2/II Corps assumed the task of monitoring days to days the withdrawal progress of the enemy scattered and isolated units.
By the end of 10/27, according to the intelligence daily report, the lead elements of the 33d had closed on its forward assembly area, the village Kro (ZA080030), while its rear-guard battalion, was just beginning to break contact at the Pleime CIDG camp.
- On 10/28, according to the intelligence daily report, the 32d Regiment had nearly closed its base on the north bank of the Ia Drang.
- On 10/29, according to the intelligence daily report, the 33d Regiment was headed for its "home" prior to the attack on Pleime. This was Anta Village at YA940010.
- On 10/31, according to the intelligence daily report, the enemy units continued to disintegrate and fragment into small parties; furthermore, the 33d experienced shortage of food and medicines since many units could not reach their pre-stocked supply because of the sudden thrusts of the helicopter-borne troopers.
- On 11/01, according to the intelligence daily report, the 1st Air Cavalry Division discovered and destroyed a VC field hospital well equipped with medicines and surgical instruments; and the regimental headquarters had reached the base at Anta village, but the bulk of the regiment was still strung out between Pleime and Chu Pong.
- On 11/02, according to the intelligence daily report, the 66th Regiment began moving into assembly areas in the Chu Pong-Ia Drang area.
- On 11/03, according to the intelligence daily report, elements of 1st Air Cavalry Brigade conducted an audacious ambush in the very heart of the Chu Pong - Ia Drang complex against the 8th Battalion of the newly-infiltrated 66th Regiment. Also according to intelligence daily report, the 33d Regiment, meantime, was still trying to pull its bruised and battered tail into the Chu Pong sanctuary.
- On 11/04, according to the intelligence daily report, the 33d Regiment was ordered out of its base at Hill 732, which it had hardly reached, and onto the eastern slopes of Chu Pong in the vicinity of YA922010 with its battalions (when they closed) to take up positions from Hill 732, down through Anta Village (940010) to the north bank of the Ia Meur (980000). Also, according to intelligence daily report, the fragmented bits and pieces of the regiment were still making their way in a generally westward direction, clinging to stream beds, utilizing all available concealment to avoid detection by the ever-present Cavalry helicopters. There still was one unit reasonably intact - the battalion that had acted as rear guard. Starting later and moving more slowly than the rest, it was still east of main Cavalry positions.
- On 11/05, according to the intelligence daily report, the 66th Regiment continued to close into assembly areas in the Chu Pong sanctuary and the 33d Regiment waited for its shattered forces to rejoin the parent unit. The 32d Regiment and Field Front, meanwhile, remained untouched and untroubled north of the Ia Drang and adjacent to the Cambodian frontier.
- On 11/07, according to the intelligence daily report, in the Chu Pong sanctuary, the depleted 33d Regiment licked its wounds and waited for its stragglers to come in.
- On 11/08, according to the intelligence daily report, only fragmented units and stragglers remained east of the Chu Pong-Ia Drang complex.
- On 11/09, according to the intelligence daily report, the Field Front headquarters was at north of the Ia Drang.
And so, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade succeeded in herding the enemy back to Chu Pong base. However, the enemy units were still widely scattered in a defensive posture to avoid being air assaulted by the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade in a defensive posture.
The herding phase ended. Now came the phase of enticing the enemy units to get close together. This was the mission G3/II Corps assigned to the 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade to achieve.
Operation Silver Bayonet I
On 10/9, through General Larsen (IFFV Commander and II Corps Advisor)’s order, General Knowles, 1st Air Cavalry Division Forward replaced 1st Air Cavalry Brigade with 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade and switched the direction of enemy search operations from west in operation All the Way to east in operation Bayonet I, aiming at letting B3 Field Front to believe that the American troops had lost the enemy tracks and that it was the appropriate time to switch the defensive to the offensive posture in preparation for the second attack against Pleime camp.
On 11/10, according to the intelligence daily report, B3 Field Front fell for the subterfuge: After evaluating the situation and with American units seemingly withdrawing to the east of Pleime, B3 Field Front decided to regain its early advantage with an attack; the target once again was the Pleime CIDG Camp; the division headquarters set the date for attack at 16 November, and issued orders to its three regiments to regroup in assembly areas for reorganization, re-equipment and rehearsals.
On 11/12, again through General Larsen’s order, General Knowles made preparation to insert a battalion – 1/7 Air Cavalry Bn – on the footstep of Chu Pong nearby the position of 66th Regiment once the three regiments were issued the order to move in to staging areas in order to retain them there to allow B-52’s to have sufficient time to reach their targets.
On 11/14, when intelligence source revealed that B3 Field Front ordered the units to move in staging areas, J3/MACV notified to B-52’s to get to the targets located at YA 8702 which was the coordinates of the center of mass of B3 Field Front forces vicinity YA 8702 and to drop the first wave of bombs at noon on 11/15, while 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was ordered to land at LZ X-Ray to hold enemy units instead of moving out to attack Pleime immediately. Intelligence source reported that some recon parties and transportation units already had moved out at dawn of that day.
Because the purpose was only to create a distraction when going into Chu Pong, great precaution has been taken as not to poke the beehive too sharp;y: either the bees would be scattered in panic, or they would rush in mass directly against what they would perceive as a big threat. Therefore all actions should be conducted with measure, just right as not to induce B3 Field Front forces to either run away or rush in an unexpected threat that suddenly appeared at their door. Therefore:
- only insert one battalion, and close in at a slow rhythm that took 5 hours;
-when B3 Field Front decided to postpone the attack against Pleime and dispatched only two battalions – the 7th and the 9th – into the battlefield, the American side only sent in a reinforcement of one battalion – the 2/7;
-when that was not sufficient to rescue the isolated company in danger, the American side quietly reinforced with another battalion – the 2/5th – by helilifted it to LZ Victor which was 5 kilometers in distance and had the troops silently march by land to LZ X-Ray and closed in by noon of 11/15, leaving B3 Field Front the impression the unit balance ration was still 2/2 and not 3/2 and did not feel the need to pour in more troops into the battlefield.
The result was the targets were still there, the 32nd and the 33rd Regiments remained immobile at the staging areas for the B-52s to enter in action in the afternoon, precisely at 1600H.
In the afternoon of 11/16, 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was helilifted out of LZ X-Ray so that the unit balance ration reverted to 2/2 so that B3 Field Front would not be tempted to move units around.
On 11/17, 2/7 and 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalions were ordered to exit LZ X-Ray by land to allow B-52’s strike the landing zone itself. The enemy troops that still lingered at the LZ-Ray area suddenly why the Air Cavalry troops abandoned the landing zone when the B-52’s struck over their old positions.
On 11/18, 2/7 Air Cavalry Battalion made contact with the 7th Battalion/66th Regiment when approaching LZ Albany. The bloody fortuitous encounter lasts from noon to 9:00 p.m.
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.
Operation Silver Bayonet II and Operation Than Phong 7
On 11/19, 2/7 Air Cavalry Battalion was airlifted to LZ Crooks and closed in by 2:00 p.m. to join forces with 2/5 Air Cavalry Battalion in securing the newly established artillery base to support operation Than Phong 7 of the ARVN Airborne Group.
Intelligence source revealed that the remnants of the 33rd and the 66th Regiments began moving in small groups toward the Cambodian border, utilizing the cover of Ia Drang river.
On 11/20, division artillery units at Golf and Crooks continued to give fire support to ARVN Airborne forces to the west. Most noteworthy was the fires delivered in support of the 3rd and 6th battalions of the Airborne Brigade when they struck an estimated battalion of the 32nd Regiment NVA.
The B-52 airstrikes that started in the afternoon of 11/15 continued for five consecutive days until 11/20 (Intelligence Aspect of Pleime/Chupong, 11/15/1965):
Why Pleime, chapter VI echoes:
4. Campaign Results
The Pleime Campaign (Pleime-Chuprong-Iadrang) accomplished the feat of destroying Chu Pong base and the entire three regiment forces of B3 Field Front completely. The remnant combatants escaped to the sanctuaries located deep into the Cambodian territories.
J2/MACV report notes on page 67
Source: Intelligence Aspects of Pleime/Chupong Campaign, J2/MACV, 1965.
Nguyen Van Tin