Pleime Campaign commenced when units of NVA 33rd Regiment opened fire on Pleime Special Forces remote outpost at 2300 hours on 10/19/1965 and ended in the evening of 11/24/1965 when units of ARVN Airborne Brigade in pursuit of fleeing Viet Cong troops in Iadrang valley near the Cambodian border did not detect any more enemy presence and withdrew from the operational area. Pleime Campaign lasted 38 days and 38 nights, or in other words, over 800 hours.
The battlefield where Pleime Campaign occurred extended from the areas surrounding Pleime camp (which was 40 kilometers southwest of Pleiku City) along the east-west axis to the areas surrounding Pleithe, near the Cambodian border, passing through Chu Pong massif and Iadrang valley. The length between Pleime and Pleithe is around 35 kilometers.
NVA B3 Front Command's Plan
The North Vietnamese Communists wanted to control the Central Highlands by overrunning Pleiku City at the end of 1965 or the beginning of 1966 and entrusted B3 Front Command with the planning of the operation. By the end of August 1965, B3 Front Command put a final touch on the planning with the following main outline: phase 1, NVA 33rd Regiment attacks and encircles Pleime camp to lure ARVN II Corps Command to dispatch a relief force from Pleiku City with two purposes, one is that the troops of the relief force once out of their base camp would be more vulnerable and thus more easily annihilated and two, Pleiku City will be wide open or at least its defense force will be greatly reduced; phase 2, NVA 32nd Regiment set up an ambush to intercept and to destroy the relief force; phase 3, once the relief force destroyed, NVA 32nd Regiment joins forces with NVA 33rd Regiment to overrun Pleime camp; phase 4, once Pleime camp is toppled, these two regiments join forces with NVA 66th Regiment to capture Pleiku City.
NVA 32nd Regiment was present in the Central Highlands since the beginning of 1965. NVA 33rd Regiment left its base camp in Quang Ninh at the end of July and was present in the Central Highlands at the end of September 1965. NVA 66th Regiment was ordered to infiltrate South Vietnam at the end of August and was scheduled to reach the Central Highlands by the beginning of November 1965.
B3 Front Command's plan was approved by NVA Joint General Staff at the beginning of October 1965 and Pleime Campaign was scheduled to start by the end of November or December 1965. But the fact that units of US 1st Air Calvary started to move in An Khe to reinforce II Corps at the beginning of October 1965 compelled B3 Front Command to launch Pleime Campaign earlier and to order the attack of Pleime camp on 10/19/1965 although NVA 66th Regiment had not yet arrived at the Central Highland battleground.
ARVN II Corps' Plan
For guessing the Viet Cong's plan accurately, II Corps Command reacted in an appropriate and timely manner.
II Corps Command launched operation Dan Thang 21 to rescue Pleime camp. The Armored Task Force pierced through the ambush site with support from American artillery and air and liberated Pleime camp on 10/25/1965, compelling the two NVA 32nd and 33rd Regiments to retreat to their stronghold located in Chu Pong massif.
Immediately after the liberation of Pleime camp, II Corps Command coordinated with US 1s Air Cavalry Division and launched a pursuit operation to search and destroy the enemy's remnant troops to the very heart of Chu Pong massif hideout through two operations. The first one was operation "All the Way", in which units of US 1st Air Cavalry played the role of the main force and ARVN Airborne Brigade, the role of the reserve force. The second one was operation Than Phong 7 in which ARVN Airborne Brigade played the role of the main force and US 1st Air Cavalry the role of the reserve force.
The outcome of II Corps Command's counterattack was that the entire B3 Front Command and the remnant troops of the three NVA 32nd, 33rd and 66th Regiments were repulsed across the border into the Cambodian territories.
The various engagements
- 10/21/65 - After landing at 5 kilometers northeast of Pleime camp at 0930 hours, two Special Forces Rangers companies, on its march toward the camp, engaged with the enemy at 1030 hours, and killed and wounded an unknown number of VC and captured one 83 mm mortar, two 50 cal machine guns, many submachine guns and rifles.
- 10/22/65 - These two SF Rangers companies made two more contacts with the enemy and captured 4 heavy machine guns and many rifles before they entered Pleime camp.
- 10/23/65 - At 1750 hours, the Armored Task Force felt into the ambush site on Route LTL5, at 20 kilometers from Pleime camp. Supported by US Air Force intervention, the Armored Task Force repulsed the assaults from units of NVA 32nd Regiment. After the attack, the Armored Task Force regrouped its troops for the night.
- 10/24/65 - At 0315 hours, the enemy resumed its attack against the Armored Task Force, but failed to pierce the defense positions. At sunrise, the Armored Task Fore fanned out patrols and discovered 125 dead bodies, collected 75 crew-served and individual weapons, and captured some prisoners.
- 10/25/65 - At 0300 hours, the Armored Task Force resumed advancing toward Pleime camp. After 5 kilometers, the APC's moving ahead of the column encountered zn enemy fire, which was quickly repressed by American artillery. At dusk, the Armored Task Force arrived at Pleime camp.
- 10/26/65 - At 1015 hours, while searching the surroundings of the camp, the relief force was attacked by the enemy, which resulted in 140 VC killed, 5 captured along with 20 crew-served weapons.
- 10/27/65 - The American military high command approved II Corps' recommendation to allow US 1st Air Cavalry to pursue the withdrawing enemy troops.
- 11/01/65 - At 0730 hours, an Eagle Flight team from US 1st Air Cavalry Brigade sight a VC platoon at 10 kilometers southwest of Pleime camp. A reaction force was sent out and killed 20 VC and captured 10 prisoners. An ensuing search discovered a field hospital well equipped with medicines and surgical instruments. While the evacuation of the trophy was carried out by helicopters, a battalion-size enemy force attacked the friendly troops. It was the first engagement between units of the US 1st Air Cavalry Division and the VC. Results: 99 VC killed, 44 other VC captured along with 40 weapons; at least more than 200 other VC were estimated killed and wounded.
- 11/03/65 - At 1200 hours, an element of US 1st Air Cavalry Brigade ambushed NVA 8th Battalion/66th Regiment newly arrived at the very heart of Chu Pong-Iadrang complex and killed 112 VC and captured 30 weapons; 200 other VC were estimated killed or wounded.
- 11/06/65 - In an engagement between an element of US 1st Air Cavalry Brigade and NVA 6th Battalion/33rd Regiment, 77 VC were killed, and 400 other VC were estimated killed and wounded.
- 11/14/65 - At 1200 hours noon, US 1/7th Battalion/3rd Air Cavalry Brigade landed at LZ X-Ray to search and destroy the enemy at the footsteps of Chu Pong massif and engaged with NVA 9th Battalion/66th Regiment. The confrontation lasted into 11/15 with the American side reinforced by 2/7th Battalion and 2/5th Battalion. The enemy broke off at 1510 hours.
- 11/16/65 - The enemy launched a series of assaults at 0400 hours, 0432 hours, 0500 hours, and 0627 hours and ceased the fighting at 0641 hours.
The entire battle had lasted continuously for 48 hours from 11/14 to 11/16, and the enemy had suffered at LZ X-Ray 634 KIA (body count), 1215 KIA (estimated), 6 CIA, 141 weapons captured and 100 weapons destroyed. US 1/7th Air Cavalry Battalion suffered 79 KIA and 125 WIA.
- 11/17/65 - On its way to LZ Albany, US 2/7th Air Cavalry Battalion fell into a VC ambush. But the VC had offered themselves as targets for air-strikes and artillery fire: 403 KIA (body count), 100 KIA (estimated), 112 weapons captured.
- 11/18/65 - The enemy attacked an artillery position resulting in 200 VC KIA and 20 weapons captured.
During a search and destroy operation in the Ia Drang Valley near the Cambodian border from 11/18 to 24, ARVN Airborne Brigade numerous minor contacts with scattered VC elements occurred. However, ARVN Airborne Brigade had successfully ambushed two enemy battalions on the following days:
- 11/20/65 - 3rd Airborne Battalion lured a battalion-size enemy force into an ambush set up by 6th Airborne Battalion. In this engagement, the enemy suffered 200 KIA.
- 11/24/65 - In the morning, another battalion size enemy force fell into an ambush set up by 5th Airborne Battalion and 6th Airborne Battalion. Approximately 65 enemy troops were killed along with numerous weapons captured. This was the last engagement with the VC in the Pleime Campaign.
Orders of Battle
- B3 Front
= 32nd Regiment: 334th Battalion, 635th Battalion, 966th Battalion
= 33rd Regiment: 1st Battalion, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Battalion
= 66th Regiment: 7th Battalion, 8th Battalion, 9th Battalion
= 415th Main Force Battalion (local unit)
= One battalion of 120 mm and 82 mm Mortars
= One battalion of 14.5 mm Anti-Aircraft Machine guns
- II Corps
= Relief Task Force: 3rd Armored Squadron, 21st Rangers Battalion, 22nd Rangers Battalion, 1/42nd Infantry Battalion, 2/6th Artillery Platoon, 105th Engineer Platoon, Task Force Ingram (2/12th Cavalry Battalion, 1/19th Cavalry Battalion, Battery B/ 2/17th Artillery, and unit of 8th Engineer Battalion), ARVN Marine Task Force Alpha
= Pursuit Force: 1st US Air Cavalry Brigade, 3rd US Air Cavalry Brigade (1/7, 2/7, 2/5 Cavalry Battalion), ARVN 1st Airborne Task Force (3rd Airborne Battalion, 5th Airborne Battalion, 6th Airborne Battalion), ARVN 2nd Airborne Task Force (7th Airborne Battalion, 8th Airborne Battalion), Battery C of 2/17th Artillery, 2nd US Air Cavalry Brigade
Statistics: losses in personnel and equipment
According to B3 Front
In the article entitled "The Political Commissar at the First Battle Against the Americans in Central Highlands" published in Báo Nhân Dân on 07-04-2006, General Dang Vu Hiep, Front Political Chief, wrote
According to 1st Air Cavalry Division
In his After Action Report of this Pleime Campaign - that he called Pleiku Campaign, Major General Harry Kinnard, 1st Air Cavalry Division Commander, provided the following casualties figures:
According to II Corps
In the Forewords of the book entitled "Why Pleime", Major General Vinh Loc, II Corps Commander, wrote:
After the relief of Plei Me camp, ARVN G3/II Corps provided the following casualties report on 10/27/1965:
At the end of Than Phong 7 Operation conducted by ARVN Airborne Brigade, ARVN G3/II Corps provided the following casualties report on 11/25/1965:
The number of 6,000 VC killed advanced by II Corps - approximately 2/3 of NVA 32nd, 33rd, and 66th Regiments' troops that B3 Front Command had committed in Pleime Campaign - ought to be accurate, since II Corps Command had based on the intelligence analysis done on 11/17/1965 to reach the conclusion that the enemy had remaining no more than 3 battalions in order to decide to launch ARVN Airborne Brigade which comprised 5 battalions (3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th) in the final pursuit - after taking up the task done by units of US 1st Air Cavalry - the remnant force in the Ia Drang Valley near the Cambodian border. In fact, during the one-week pursuit of operation Than Phong 7, from 11/18 to 11/24/1965, the airborne units encountered only 2 Viet Cong battalions, the 334th and the 635th belonging to NVA 32nd Regiment. Supposed the number was miscalculated, and the enemy still had a sizable number of troops remaining, for sure the 5 airborne battalions would have been decimated to pieces when they jumped into the lion's den.
The role played by B-52 bombers
Carpet bombing tactics with B-52 bombers tactics were introduced the first time in South Vietnam battlefields at Chu Pong massif in Pleime Campaign. After the two US 1st and 3rd Air Cavalry Brigades had chased the two NVA 32nd and 33rd Regiments from Pleime camp to their arrear hideouts at Chu Pong massif and after asserting the positions of the three NVA 32nd, 33rd, and 66th Regiments at the footsteps of Chu Pong massif and along the two northern and southerner river banks of Ia Drang River, US 1st Air Cavalry Division Command sent US 1/7th Cavalry Battalion to debark at LZ X-Ray in a blocking position south of the position of NVA 66th Regiment on 11/14/1965, and had B-52 bombers carpet bombing from west to east, 5 times daily from 11/15 to 11/16/1965. On 11/17, the two US Cavalry Battalions occupying LZ X-Ray were ordered to withdraw out of the landing zone and march northbound to allow B-52 bombers to target also LZ X-Ray.
When narrating operation Than Phong 7, General Vinh Loc wrote:
Among the 6,000 Viet Cong killed, B-52 bombers accounted for about 2,000.
Different names assigned to Pleime Campaign
- B3 Front Command
Plâyme Campaign was the initial name given to this campaign by B3 Front Command. Later, North Vietnamese Communist military establishment came up with another name, Plâyme-Iadrang Campaign, with the intention of concealing the fact its troops were caught by surprise by units of US 1st Air Cavalry Division that jumped in at their arrears at Iadrang valley and claimed they attacked the ARVN puppet troops at Pleime camp on 10/19/1965 to lure in and to ambush the American troops who came in to rescue at Iadrang valley - more than 30 kilometers away from Pleime camp - on 11/14/1965!
- US 1st Air Cavalry Division Command
Instead of humbly accepting its secondary OPCON role to II Corps and remaining under II Corps' control during the Pleime Campaign, US 1st Air Cavalry Division Command opted to change the name for this campaign to become Pleiku Campaign or Pleiku-Iadrang Campaign in which either the ARVN's role became secondary or even the Pleime battle was the epic encounter between solely two major forces - Viet Cong and American without the presence of any ARVN combat units.
- II Corps Command
In reality, Pleime Campaign was the counterattack of II Corps that had neutralized B3 Front's Plâyme Campaign with three major battles: one, at Pleime camp (ARVN 3rd Armored Task Force); two, at the footsteps of Chu Pong massif (US 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade); and three, at Iadrang valley (ARVN Airborne Brigade).
The Viet Cong and the American only emphasize the battle at the footsteps of Chu Pong massif - that both named Iadrang battle (it should be called Chu Pong battle instead and reserved to the battle conducted by ARVN Airborne Brigade) - and either ignore or minimize the importance of the two battles conducted by ARVN units at Pleime camp and at Ia Drang Valley.
Nguyen Van Tin