After the participation of the US 1st Air Cavalry Division in Pleime Campaign, Major General Kinnard, Commanding General, drafted his after-action report Pleiku Campaign. Its original title was Long Reach Operation, which depicts the "long reach" pursuit efforts of the Viet Cong from Pleime camp to Chu Prong hideouts. This name's substitution has caused many people to believe that the campaign in which US 1st Air Cavalry took part was entirely different from the Pleime Campaign. It might not be General Kinnard's conscious intention to induce such a negative effect, nevertheless the consequence has been that many American historians and authors when writing about the Pleime battle have had the tendency of burying the name Pleime together with the primary role played by the ARVN, and in lieu of promoting the name Ia Drang together with the primary role played by the USAF in parallel with the North Vietnamese Armed Forces.
General Kinnard dated his Pleiku Campaign on March 14, 1966, and submitted it to General Westmoreland, US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Since US 1st Air Cavalry was attached to ARVN II Corps in the Pleime Campaign, a copy of this classified document was given to ARVN II Corps. Afterward, Colonel Hieu, II Corps Chief of Staff, referred (#30) of General Kinnard's after-action report in his after-action report of Pleime Campaign, signed by General Vinh Loc, and submitted to the TOC/Joint General Staff. In his report, Colonel Hieu tactfully filled up some gaps and rectified some oversights found in Pleiku Campaign.
A copy of Why Pleime had been given to General Kinnard who sent an acknowledgment letter to General Vinh Loc:
1. Reading the Enemy's Mind
When the Viet Cong started the attack against Pleime camp on the night of October 19, 1965, US 1st Air Cavalry was being attached to Than Phong 6 Operation in Bong Son in the coastal area. This operation was a II Corps' reaction against a VC attack in Hoai An District which occurred simultaneously with the attack against Pleime camp. General Kinnard agreed with I Field Force Vietnam Commander and with II Corps Senior Advisor that Hoai An, not Pleime was the main VC trust. (Pleiku, page 10):
However, Colonel Hieu had immediately determined that the Viet Cong was applying the tactics of "one point and two faces" (Pleime, end of chapter II), with "point" being Pleiku, and the two "faces" being Hoai An - secondary - and Pleime - primary. Consequently, Colonel Hieu advised General Vinh Loc, who, at that time, was conducting Than Phong 6 Operation, that he should come back to Pleiku as soon as possible (Pleime, beginning of chapter III).
Colonel Hieu further assessed that the Viet Cong was applying the tactics of "attacking the outpost and destroying the relief column" at the Pleime battle, based on the following factors (Pleime, chapter IV):
1. The Viet Cong used a regiment when attacking Pleime and yet did not overrun it, but merely put a siege on it.
2. They ringed the camp with anti-aircraft weapons to interdict an airborne relief attempt and to force II Corps to dispatch a Relief Task Force by land.
3. NVA 33rd Regiment, which put pressure on the camp, had infiltrated South Vietnam barely a month ago and was a weaker combat force than NVA 32nd Regiment, which set up the ambush and was present in the Highlands and was already involved in several attacks since the beginning of 1965.
2. LTC Luat Held Up the Armored Relief Task Force
When General Kinnard sensed that LTC Luat was hesitant to push forward the Armored Relief Task Force during four days, from 20 to 24 of October, he concluded that LTC Luat only gained confidence when he was promised with the guarantee of artillery support from the US 1st Air Cavalry Division (Pleiku, page 21):
In the summary section of the report on page 123, General Kinnard made mentioned again of LTC Luat's timorous attitude:
Colonel Hieu corrected General Kinnard's misconception in asserting that all actions taken by LTC Luat from the time he left Pleiku to the time he reached Pleime were subjected to specific orders from Colonel Hieu. On 21 October, Colonel Hieu had ordered LTC Luat to move the relief column to Phu My where he would linger and fake aggressive patrols within a 10 kilometer radius for two reasons: one, to gain time to allow to gather more reinforcements to further strengthen the relief column, and two, to counter the mobile ambush tactic the Viet Cong adopted this time around, instead of the static ambush that had been their common practice in previous attacks. It was only when these two factors were met that LTC Luat received the order to proceed. (Pleime, chapter IV).
3. The Initiative of Pursuing the Enemy After the Relief of Camp Pleime
When mentioning about the circumstance in which US 1st Air Cavalry received the mission of pursuing the enemy after the relief of camp Pleime, General Kinnard wrote (Pleiku, page 31):
And General Kinnard also provided the telegram he received from I Field Force Vietnam Commander that spelled out the official mission (Pleiku, page 15):
In section 10. Concept of the Operations (Pleiku, page 16) and section 11. Execution (Pleiku, page 17), General Kinnard did not mention that the pursuit of the enemy phase was II Corps Command's initiative and that US 1st Air Cavalry continued to be an attached unit to II Corps.
Colonel Hieu rectified this oversight by reporting the important meeting held on 26 October at the TOC/II Corps with the presence of American Advisors and all unit commanders. In this meeting, Colonel Hieu recommended the pursuit of the enemy to the very heart of Chu Prong sanctuaries with the means of air mobility provided by US 1st Air Cavalry. In this phase, US 1st Air Cavalry played the role of main effort with Long Reach Operation and ARVN Airborne Brigade as a reserve force (Pleime, chapter V).
Colonel Hieu also laid out clearly the combined operational concept between II Corps Command and 1st Air Cavalry Division Command (Pleime, chapter VIII).
American advisors at II Corps relayed the idea of pursuing the enemy to the highest American military authorities and received the agreement and approval of I Field Force Vietnam and COMUSMACV Commanders.
After the Pleime Campaign, General Westmoreland highly praised the combined operational concept conceived by II Corps (Pleime, preface):
4. The Role Played by CIDG Eagle Flights
General Kinnard acknowledged the support lend by CIDG Eagle Flights that II Corps attached to the 1st Air Cavalry Division to be used as scout and recon teams. These teams were particularly attached to 1/9 Cavalry Squadron from 1 November (Pleiku, page 46) to 15 November (Pleiku, page 58). However, General Kinnard seemed to belittle this Montagnard recon teams when he first encountered them on 25 October, during the Pleime's relief phase (Pleiku, page 24):
For Colonel Hieu, though, it seemed that these Eagle Flight teams were II Corps' prized showcases (Pleime, chapter V). They had been created as "fire station" squads ready to jump down to extinguish fires that Viet Cong sappers ignited at isolated remote CIDG outposts in II Corps areas.
5. The Role Played by Airborne Rangers Teams
Besides the supporting role of Montagnard Eagle Flights, II Corps also provided 1st Air Cavalry with recon teams of Airborne Rangers on helicopters in "search and destroy" missions. General Kinnard remained silent on this point. Colonel Hieu made indirect mention of the activities of these Airborne Rangers teams by way of an attachment to his report of a captured Viet Cong document depicting the activities of 1st Air Cavalry at Pleime and Ia Drang (Pleime, document B). Let us quote:
6. The Event on 11/9/1965
On 10 November 1965 (Pleiku, page 73), General Kinnard wrote in the report that starting 9 November
and on 10 November, 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade replaced 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
General Kinnard did not specify what he meant by "a forthcoming decision from NVA division headquarters". However, before searching for an understanding of this decision, let us talk about the shift in operational direction from "west to east".
On November 08, Colonel Hieu fed General Kinnard this concept of changing the direction in operations through I Field Force (Pleiku, page 67):
Such was Colonel Hieu's diversionary tactic that would cause the Viet Cong in believing that 1st Air Cavalry Brigade had lost track of their whereabouts and relaxed their guard, allowing 1st Air Cavalry Brigade to surprise them with an unexpected tactical move (Pleime, chapter V):
7. Concept of the Attack on Landing Zone X-Ray on 11/14/1965
And here was the "forthcoming decision from NVA division headquarters": to attack camp Pleime for the second time. Colonel Hieu immediately studied a plan of a pre-emptive attack at LZ X-Ray and this operational concept was executed by units of 1st Air Cavalry Division.
Firstly, Colonel Hieu chose that 14 November 1965 to be D-day, two days prior to the day the Viet Cong had scheduled to attack Pleime camp a second time, because around that time, units of enemy had not yet been re-equipped with anti-aircraft weapons and heavy mortars that they had lost during the first attack on Pleime camp - the battalion of 120 mm mortars and the battalion of 14.05 mm anti-aircraft guns had not reached the battlefield. (Pleime, chapter V):
General Kinnard did notice Colonel Hieu's wise foresight (Pleiku, page 88):
Secondly, Colonel Hieu had units of 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade landed down at the south edge of area where the three NVA regiments had concentrated, at the foothill step of Chu Pong massif, rather than to penetrate further up north, and not to ambush the enemy at its rear bases, but to establish a blocking position preventing soldiers of the three regiments to move down southward, so that B-52's bombs could deliver deadly blows:
General Kinnard also mentioned the use of B-52's bombs in his report (Pleiku, page 88):
Therefore, the main efforts in the attack into the enemy rear in Chu Pong massif from 14 to 17 November 1965 were not of Colonel Hal Moore's 1/7 Air Cavalry Battalion at Landing Zone X-Ray, but rather of B-52 carpet bombardments aiming at the entire three NVA regiments, specifically the 32nd and the 33rd on the two days of 15 and 16 November, and specifically the 66th on 17 November at Landing Zone X-Ray. The B-52 bombers killed approximately 2.000 NVA combatants.
8. The Event on 11/19/1965
On 18 November 1965, General Kinnard revealed that a new artillery position was set up at Landing Zone Crooks, but failed to state its purpose (Pleiku, page 96):
Colonel Hieu was more specific in saying that on 17 November 1965 (Pleime, chapter VI):
In the afternoon of 17 November 1965, Colonel Hieu made arrangements for
Concurrently, Colonel Hieu asked the 1st Air Cavalry Division to establish a new artillery firebase at (YA875125) so that the coming ARVN Airborne Brigade operational areas would be within artillery firing range.
In this phase of Pleime Campaign, General Kinnard did say that starting 20 November, 2nd Air Cavalry Brigade replaced 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade and continued search and destroy operations and its Forward Command Post was put at Duc Co camp (Pleiku, page 102):
But he failed to mention that 2nd Air Cavalry Brigade was opcon-ed to ARVN Airborne Brigade. Its mission was to conduct operations from east to west, as Colonel Hieu indicated in the above-mentioned quotation, in order to execute II Corps planning aiming at preventing the enemy to slip downward south and assisting ARVN Airborne Brigade in channeling the two enemy remnant battalions into the corridor that II Corps Command anticipated they would use to escape back to their sanctuaries in Cambodia.
9. First Air Cavalry Division's Credit in the Pleime Campaign
In the summary section of his report, General Kinnard formulated a key question (Pleiku, page 123):
His answer was understandably negative. He advanced the following factors: one, II Corps did not have sufficient available troops to mount an effective relief force that would ram through an ambush manned by NVA 32nd Regiment comprising 2.000 combatants; two, LTC Luat was reluctant to advance his relief task force until General Kinnard succeeded in coaxing him by providing him with artillery support; three, the relief task force, after Pleime camp had been relieved, was spared of being decimated by the enemy while conducting a sweep operation around the camp, with artillery power support provided by 1st Air Cavalry Division; four, II Corps did not have the capacity to pursue the enemy to its sanctuary in Chu Pong massif; five, even when ARVN Airborne Brigade entered the battlefield in replacement of 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade, its brigade commander admitted that 1st Air Cavalry's artillery inflicted more casualties to the enemy than airborne units on the ground.
General Kinnard was quite right on all the points. Furthermore, considering the enemy's casualties in Pleime Campaign, among the total of about 6.000 Viet Cong combatants killed, the three air cavalry brigades accounted for 3561 VC killed and 1178 VC wounded, the B-52's for about 2.000 killed, while ARVN units accounted for only about 450 VC killed (200 around Pleime in Dan Thang 21 Operation and 250 at Ia Drang during Than Phong 7 Operation).
Nevertheless, General Kinnard forgot that all the victories that 1st Air Cavalry Division had achieved during Pleime Campaign were due to the clever calculations of a mind at II Corps General Staff: one, Colonel Hieu had guessed right that this time around the Viet Cong was using the mobile ambush tactic, otherwise 1st Air Cavalry Division artillery would have fired into places not yet populated by enemy troops; two, Colonel Hieu had provided intelligence information gathered through interrogation of VC prisoners and deserters, and from Airborne Rangers infiltrating amidst the very heart of enemy territories, pertaining to positions of the three NVA regiments concentrating in Chu Prong massif; three, Colonel Hieu had suggested the diversionary tactic of switching the direction of the operations from east-west to west-east on 9 November which made possible the mounting of a surprise attack; four, Colonel Hieu had 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade attack into Chu Prong on 14 November and in so doing was able to avoid maximum casualties inflicted to American helicopters and soldiers at the moment the Viet Cong did not have available anti-aircraft guns and heavy mortars; five, Colonel Hieu had thought out the concept using for the first time B-52 strategic weapons as tactical weapons in the Vietnam battleground; six, Colonel Hieu had positioned 1st Air Cavalry Division artillery at Crooks from where the areas ARVN Airborne Brigade was about to operate could be covered by artillery support. In brief, Colonel Hieu knew how to put to use (Pleime, chapter V):
Without Colonel Hieu's control skills, 1st Air Cavalry Division's mighty strength would be merely a formidable punch thrown into a space, powerless in delivering a blow at an enemy savvy in stealthy tactics. General Westmoreland expressed a better assessment of to the role played by II Corps in the Pleime Campaign when he wrote (Pleime, preface):
Nguyen Van Tin