14 November 2011

Anniversary: Battle of la Drang

Today marks the anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley.

The Battle of Ia Drang was the first major battle between the United States Army and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) (referred to by U.S. fighting units as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Vietnam War).

The two-part battle took place between November 14 and November 18, 1965, at two landing zones (LZs) northwest of Plei Me in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam (approximately 35 miles south-west of Pleiku). The battle derives its name from the Drang River which runs through the valley northwest of Plei Me, in which the engagement took place. "Ia" means "river" in the local Montagnard language.

Representing the American forces were elements of the 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, and the 5th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. The North Vietnamese forces included the 66th and 1st battalion/33rd Regiments of the NVA as well National Liberation Front (NLF) (known world wide as the Viet Cong) of the H15 Battalion. The battle involved close air support by U.S. bombers, including B-52 bombers from Guam.

The US Army's history of Vietnam includes an excellent chapter on the fight that manages to be clinical and descriptive at the same time.

At 1017, after a brief delay resulting from the too hasty positioning of the artillery pieces at FALCON, the preparatory fires began. Thirteen minutes later the leading elements of Company B lifted off the Plei Me airstrip with a thunderous roar in a storm of red dust. With volleys of artillery fire slamming into the objective area, the sixteen Hueys-four platoons of four each-filed southwestward across the midmorning sky at two thousand feet. Two kilometers out, they dropped to treetop level. The aerial rocket artillery gunships meanwhile worked X RAY over for thirty seconds, expending half of their loads, then circled nearby, available on call. The 229th's escort gunships came next, rockets and machine guns blazing, immediately ahead of the lift ships. As the lead helicopters braked for the assault landing, their door gunners and some of the infantrymen fired into the trees and tall grass.

Lunging from the ships, the men of Company B, Colonel Moore among them, charged into the trees, snap-firing at likely enemy positions. By 1048 the helicopters were already returning to Plei Me for the rest of Company B and advance contingents of Company A.

Relatively flat and open as seen from above, X-RAY took on a different appearance when viewed by the infantryman on the ground. Ringed by sparse scrub brush with occasional trees ranging upward to a hundred feet, the landing zone was covered with hazel-colored, willowy elephant grass as high as five feet, ideal for the concealment of crawling soldiers. Interspersed throughout were anthills, some considerably taller than a standing man, all excellent as crew-served weapons positions. Along the western and northeastern edges of the landing zone the trees were especially thick and extended up the slopes of Chu Pong peak, which was 542 meters high and whose thick vegetation offered good concealment for enemy troops. A dry creek bed with waist-high banks ran along the western edge of the landing zone.

Captain Herren watched with satisfaction as his 1st Platoon leader, 2d Lt. Alan E. Deveny, went about the business of securing the landing zone. In line with orders from Colonel Moore, Herren was using a new technique. Rather than attempt a 360-degree perimeter coverage of the entire area as in previous operations, Herren concealed most of his force in a clump of trees and tall grass near the center of the landing zone as a reaction striking force, while Deveny's squads struck out in different directions, reconnoitering the terrain fifty to a hundred meters from the western side of X-RAY. A sound technique, it allowed Captain Herren to conserve his forces while he retained a flexible option, which, in view of the 30-minute turnaround flight time for the rest of the battalion, appeared prudent.

As Lieutenant Deveny's soldiers pressed the search, Herren became fully convinced that if there was to be a fight the proximity of X-RAY to the enemy haven across the Cambodian border made X-RAY the likely site. Yet the leading elements of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, had landed successfully and were thus far unopposed.

Where was the enemy?

And of course, we can't post this without including mention of the book: We were Soldiers Once...And Young: Ia Drang - The Battle That Changed The War In Vietnam by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway

Interesting story behind the guy on the cover of the book, too...

By: Brant

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