A Review of “Intelligence Aspects of Pleime/Chupong Campaign”

1. The after action report does not carry a date. It is known only the US Army War College Library received its copy on August 22, 1966. One can only surmise it was drafted sometime between after November 1965 and before August 22, 1966.

2. The report was drafted by J2/MACV and bore Brigadier General J.A. McChristian’s signature.

3. It talks about the intelligence aspect Pleime/Chupong campaign from 20 October to 20 November 1965, which means it only deals with phase I and phase II of the entire Pleime campaign that comprises three Pleime/Chuprong/Iadrang phases, from 20 October to 26 November 1965.

4. Section 07. Conduct of Operations, mainly records daily operations summary and intelligence summary, from 24 October to 20 November, identical to section 07. Execution of Operations, from 24 October to 20 November of Pleiku Campaign drafted by 1st Air Cavalry Division Command. J2/MACV only adds an operations summary and an intelligence summary for 20-23 October 1965.

However, General McChristian did edit the text of Pleiku Campaign in erasing all section 4. Activities Statistics as well as in deleting some sentences, for instances.:

- In Nov 8 - Intelligence Summary: "By this time Field Force Vietnam had asked the division to consider moving this operations east of Pleime if it appeared that was no further contact imminent in the west";

- In Nov 10 - Intelligence Summary: "The movement and shift in emphasis from west to east was to further stimulate a forthcoming decision from the NVA division headquarters";

- In Nov 11 - Intelligence Summary: "With American units seemingly withdrawing to the east of Pleime, the decision was to attempt 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".

5. Furthermore, section Concept of Operations , and section Lessons Learned of the two J2/MACV and 1st ACDC reports are also identical. Besides, section Conclusions of J2/MACV report is a cut-and-paste taken out from section Foreward of 1st ACDC report.

6. Because the 1stACDC report is finished and submitted for General Kinnard’s signature on 4 March 1966 while the J2/MACV report does not indicate when it was drafted and when it was submitted for General McChristian’s signature, it is difficult to determine who copies whom.

There is a document that might shed some light on this fuzzy issue. Why Pleime mentions an intelligence report dated 24 November 1965, drafted by G2/1st ACDC as a reference document: “27. Intelligence Report, Hqs, 1st Air Cav Div, Office of the G-2, Dated 24 Nov 65, Subject: Ia Drang Valley (Silver Bayonet 1) YA 9104 14-19 Nov 65.” This leads to the assumption it is more likely the section describing the operations from 20 October to 20 November was written by 1st ACDC and copied by J2/MACV rather than vice-versa.

7. However, based on General McChristian’s words:

When it became apparent that during the Chu Pong Campaign a sizeable battle was in the making, the ACofS, J2, requested the field forces to maintain accurate records of actions taken and results thereof for inclusion in an after action report. Upon receipt of this information an after action report was prepared and is furnished for your use.

one can assume the structure of the daily operations reports which comprise two summaries of operations and of intelligence, with the intention of demonstrating the causality relationship between the intelligence aspect and the operational aspect, was General McChristian’s initiative.

8. It is worthwhile noticing that the J2/MACV report is more reticent than the 1stACDC report in the listing of intelligence methods – SLAR, IR, aerial photography and interrogation of prisoners – leaving out the radio research (RR) method of radio waved communication intercepts: “The DTOC received direct SLAR and infra-red (I-R) reports from the aerial surveillance and target acquisition platoon (OV-1 Mohawk) and USAF sources, plus reports and the Radio Research Unit.” ( Pleiku Campaign, page 128).

Only this latest intelligence gathering method allowed to obtain real-time information of B3 Field Front Command’s intentions, planning, discussions as they occurred at B3 Field Front headquarters. Such as:

- On 11/1, soon after arrival at Anta Village, the regimental cadres held a conference in an attempt to discover what was allowing the US forces to make such repeated, accurate air strikes. It was concluded that only spies within the ranks could be furnishing the location and movement of the regiment's elements.

- On 11/2, the NVA division headquarters (Field Front) got the news the 66th Regiment due to arrive soon in South Vietnam and begin moving into assembly areas in the Chu Pong-Ia Drang area.

- On 11/04, 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);

- - On 11/08, the 33d Regiment began to assess its losses and began to count noses. There were many missing. The regimental muster brought these casualty figures:

Units* Approx Strength Prior to Pleime Percent or Number of Casualties
1st Battalion 500 33% KIA
2d Battalion 500 50% KIA
3d Battalion 500 33% KIA
Regt Mortar Company 120 50% KIA
Regt Anti Acft Company 150 60% KIA
Regt Signal Company 120 4 KIA-16 MIA
Regt Transport Company 150 50% KIA
Regt Medical Company 40 80% KIA or MIA
Regt Engineer Company 60 15 KIA or MIA
Regt Reconnaissance Co 50 9 KIA

In total, the headcount showed 890 men of the original 2,200 killed, with more than 100 missing and still more suffering from incapacitating wounds. Materiel losses were also heavy with the Regimental Anti-air-craft company losing 13 of its 18 guns and the Regimental mortar company losing 5 of its 9 tubes. Six more mortars were lost by the battalions, along with most of the recoilless rifles. The ammunition, food and medical supply losses also had been crippling.

- On 11/11, at Field Front headquarters north of the Ia Drang, it was a day of situation analysis.

- On 11/11, Field Force B3 decided a second attack on Pleime camp scheduled for 11/16.

- On 11/12, Field Front units continued preparations and rehearsals for the scheduled attack on Pleime.

- On 11/13, Field Front forces began staging in the Chu Pong-Ia Drang area in preparation for movement to Pleime and the projected 16 November attack. Some recon parties and transportation units already had moved out.

The other intelligence sources – SLAR, IR, aerial photography, interrogation of prisoners – were only able to provide enemy unit positions, and could not possibly reveal what had been discussed within the cadres at B3 Field Front Command.

9. Another detail reported by the J2/MACV text (page 67) is the VC’s relative ignorance of the specific main intelligence source used by the American side: These collection methods are particularly valuable in the sense that they are reliable and very timely and their activity is relatively unknown to the enemy,” and believed there were spies in their midst:

The precision of the strikes was so upsetting that regimental cadre held a conference in an attempt to discover what was allowing the US forces to make such repeated, accurate air strikes. It was concluded that only spies within the ranks could be furnishing the location and movement of the regiment’s elements.

(Pleiku Campaign, 11/1/65, page 46)

10. The J2/MACV report reveals a particular information not known in other documents (page 5: narrative description of situation prior to operation) that the destruction of Chu Prong sanctuary using B-52 airstrikes had been studied since September 1965, prior to the starting of Plâyme campaign on October 19, 1965:

The Chu Pong base was known to exist well prior to the Pleime attack and J2 MACV had taken this area under study in September 1965 as a possible B-52 target.

This information shows that the VC Plâyme campaign created an opportunity for ARVN II Corps to coordinate with J3/MACV which was responsible for the B-52 Airstrike Operational Center to implement the planning to destroy Chupong/Iadrang complex simultaneously with the annihilation of the entire B3 Field Front forces of three regiments with B-52 airstrikes.

11. The fact that J2/MACV issued a report regarding the Pleime-Chupong Campaign is an indication that this campaign was conducted with the involvement at Corps level with J3/MACV coordinating with ARVN II Corps in the planning since September 1965 and in the execution of B-52 airstrikes at Chupong from November 15 to 20. This fact is illustrated by the difference in the two maps depicting the same operational day of November 18, the one of J2/MACV showing B-52 strike and the other of 1st Air Cav Pleku Campaign without B-52 strike:

Nguyen Van Tin
31 August 2010


- 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