The Battle of Ia Drang was the first major battle between the United States Army and the North Vietnamese Army-NVA (People's Army of Vietnam-PAVN), part of the Pleiku Campaign conducted early in the Vietnam War. It comprised two main engagements. The first involved the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment and supporting units, and took place November 14–16, 1965 at LZ X-Ray, located at the eastern foot of the Chu Pong massif in the central highlands of Vietnam. The second engagement involved the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment plus supporting units, and took place on November 17 at LZ Albany, farther north in the Ia Drang Valley. It is notable for being the first large scale helicopter air assault and also the first use of B-52 strategic bombers in a tactical support role.
The size of the clearing at LZ X-Ray meant that troops had to be shuttled in, the first lift landing at 10:48. The last troops of the battalion were landed at 15:20, by which time the troops on the ground were already heavily engaged, with one platoon cut off. Faced with heavy casualties and unexpected opposition, 1st Battalion was reinforced by B Company 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry. Fighting continued the following day when the LZ was further reinforced by A Company 2/7 and also by 2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry, and the lost platoon was rescued. The last Vietnamese assaults on the position were repulsed on the morning of 16th. As the Vietnamese forces melted away, the remainder of 2/7 and A Company of 1st Battalion 5th Cavalry arrived. By mid-afternoon 1/7 and B Company 2/7 had been airlifted to LZ Falcon, and on the 17th November 2/5 marched out towards LZ Columbus while the remaining 2/7 and 1/5 companies marched towards LZ Albany. The latter force became strung out and, in the early afternoon, were badly mauled in an ambush before they could be reinforced and extricated.
The battle at LZ X-Ray was documented in the CBS special report Battle of Ia Drang Valley by Morley Safer and the critically acclaimed book We Were Soldiers Once... And Young by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. In 1994, Moore, Galloway and men who fought on both the American and North Vietnamese sides, traveled back to the remote jungle clearings where the battle took place. At the time the U.S. did not have diplomatic relations with Vietnam. The risky trip which took a year to arrange was part of an award-winning ABC News documentary, They Were Young and Brave produced by Terence Wrong. In 2002, Randall Wallace depicted the battle at LZ X-Ray in the movie We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson and Barry Pepper as Moore and Galloway, respectively. Galloway later described Ia Drang as "the battle that convinced Ho Chi Minh he could win".
By early 1965, the majority of rural South Vietnam was under limited Viet Cong (VC) control, increasingly supported by Vietnam People's Army (PAVN) regulars from North Vietnam, Westmoreland had secured the commitment of upward of 300,000 U.S. regulars from Lyndon B. Johnson and a build-up of forces took place in the summer of 1965.
Viet Cong forces were in nominal control of most of the South Vietnamese countryside by 1965 and had established military infrastructure in the Central Highlands, to the northeast of the Saigon region. Vietnamese communist forces had operated in this area during the previous decade in the First Indochina War against the French, winning a notable victory at the Battle of Mang Yang Pass in 1954. There were few reliable roads into the area, making it an ideal place for the communist forces to form bases, relatively immune from attack by the generally road-bound ARVN forces. During 1965, large groups of North Vietnamese Army regulars moved into the area to conduct offensive operations. Attacks to the southwest from these bases threatened to cut South Vietnam in two.
By 1964 North Vietnam had established the B3 Front in the central highlands of South Vietnam. By early November 1965 three PAVN regiments - the 32nd, 33rd and 66th - and the H15 Local Force Battalion had been assembled in the area. The B3 Front commander, Maj. Gen. Chu Huy Man, planned to target South Vietnamese positions in the Kontum and Pleiku provinces. The city of Pleiku was the location of the South Vietnamese II Corps headquarters, commanded by General Vinh Loc, who had at his disposal nine South Vietnamese battalions; four ranger, three airborne and two marine.
The U.S. command saw this as an ideal area to test new air mobility tactics. Air mobility called for battalion-sized forces to be delivered, supplied and extracted from an area of action using helicopters. Since the heavy weapons of a normal combined-arms force could not follow, the infantry would be supported by coordinated close air support, artillery and aerial rocket fire, arranged from a distance and directed by local observers. The new tactics had been developed in the U.S. by the 11th Air Assault Division (Test), which was renamed as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). The division's troopers dubbed themselves the "Air Cav" (Air Cavalry) and in July 1965 began deploying to Camp Radcliff, An Khê, Vietnam. By November, most of the division's three brigades were ready for operations.
The U.S. deployment caused the B3 Field Front Command to bring forward an attack on the U.S. Army Special Forces Plei Me camp, some 45 km southwest of Pleiku, which was originally planned for December. The assault was instead launched October 19 with only two Regiments, the 32nd and 33rd, instead of the planned three, before the Air Cavalry troops were combat ready. The plan was to attack the camp with the 33rd Regiment while the 32nd Regiment would lie in wait to ambush the South Vietnamese relief force that would inevitably be sent from Pleiku. Once the relief force was destroyed, the two regiments were to join and take the camp. The initial attack was repulsed with the help of strong air support, and a small relief force reinforced the camp on the morning of the 22nd. The main relief force, advancing south from Pleiku on route 6C, was duly ambushed at 18:00 the next day. After a two-hour battle the ambushing forces were beaten off, but the South Vietnamese, discouraged from moving any further, set up a defensive position, and did not reach the camp at Plei Me until dusk on the 25th. The North Vietnamese forces withdrew west towards the Chu Pong Massif.
At the end of October, after the siege of Plei Me was lifted, General Westmoreland ordered General Kinnard to take his division on to the offensive and seize the initiative in Pleiku province. Initial operations were conducted by 1st Brigade, and on November 1 they captured a North Vietnamese aid station south west of Plei Me. Further engagements over the next few days revealed the arrival of the North Vietnamese 66th Regiment. Having taken increasing casualties, 1st Brigade was relieved by 3rd Brigade, the handover being completed over the period November 7–12.
On November 11, intelligence source revealed the disposition of the three NVA regiments: the 66th at vicinity YA9104, the 33rd at YA 940010 and the 32nd at YA 820070. On November 12, the 3rd Brigade was given orders by General Larsen, IFFV Commander and General Knowles, 1st Air Cavalry Division Forward Headquarters Commander to prepare for "an air assault near the foot of the Chu Pongs", at 13°34′11″N107°40′54″E / 13.56972°N 107.68167°E / 13.56972; 107.68167 (Chu Pong), 14 miles (22 km) west of Plei Me.
On November 13, 3rd Brigade Commander Colonel Thomas W. Brown, acting following the order issued by Gen. Larsen, IFFV Commander and Gen. Knowles, 1st Air Cavalry Division Forward Command Post Commander, met with Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore the commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, and told him "to conduct an airmobile assault the following morning" and to conduct search and destroy operations through 15 November. Meanwhile, an ARVN intelligence source by intercept of radio communication indicated that some NVA B3 Field Front recon elements and transportation units had already moved out of their assembly areas to attack the Pleime camp.
- Landing zones
Col. Brown selected Lt. Col. Moore and his men for the mission, with the explicit orders not to attempt to scale the mountain. There were several clearings in the area that had been designated as possible helicopter landing zones, typically named for a letter of the NATO phonetic alphabet. Moore selected:
Artillery support would be provided from firebase "FB Falcon," about 8 km (5 mi) to the northeast of X-Ray at 13°37′22″N107°45′51″E / 13.62278°N 107.76417°E / 13.62278; 107.76417 (FB Falcon).
General Knowles stated that he had selected the initial landing zone used by Hal Moore and his troops, knowing quite well that the enemy lacked anti-aircraft guns and heavy mortars that had been destroyed during the attack on the Plei Me camp and that the enemy could have positioned on the hillsides overlooking the landing zone to gun down the helicopters and to decimate the cavalry troops landing on the ground.
LZ X-Ray was approximately the size of a misshapen football field, some 100 meters in length (east to west). It was estimated that only eight UH-1 Hueys could fit in the clearing at a given time. The 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry (1/7) was typical for U.S. Army units of the time, consisting of three rifle companies and a heavy weapons company: A-Alpha Company, B-Bravo Company, C-Charlie Company, and D-Delta Company... about 450 men in total of the 765 of the battalion's authorized strength. They were to be shuttled by 16 Huey transport helicopters, which could generally carry 10 to 12 equipped troopers, so the battalion would have to be delivered in several "lifts" carrying just less than one complete company each time. Each lift would take about 30 minutes. Lt. Col. Moore arranged the lifts to deliver Bravo Company first, along with his command team, followed by Alpha and Charlie Companies, and finally Delta Company. Moore's plan was to move Bravo and Alpha Companies northwest past the creek bed, and Charlie Company south toward the mountain. Delta Company, which comprised special weapons forces including mortar, recon, and machine gun units, was to be used as the battlefield reserve. In the center of the LZ was a large termite hill that was to become Moore's command post. Furthermore, the Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry closed in at 18:00.
Day 1: Nov. 14, 1965
On November 14, an ARVN intelligence source by intercept of radio communication indicated that before dawn, some assault elements of the NVA B3 Field Front started moving out of their assembly areas to attack the Plei Me camp.
At 10:48, the first troops of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry (1/7) arrived at LZ X-Ray with members of B Company touching down after about 30 minutes of bombardment via artillery, aerial rockets, and air strikes. The troops were inserted about 200 meters from the position of the NVA 9th Battalion belonging to the 66th Regiment.
The air assault insertion had the effect of causing the B3 Field Front to postpone the attack on the Plei Me camp. B3 Field Front Command fell for the subterfuge, decided to postpone the attack on Plei Me camp, and met the new threat with its 7th and 9th Battalions, while the remaining units of its force were put on hold at their staging positions.
Accompanying Captain John Herren's B Company were Lt. Col. Moore and his 1st Battalion command group. Instead of attempting to secure the entire landing zone with such a limited force, most of B Company was kept near the center of the LZ as a strike force, while smaller units were sent out to reconnoiter the surrounding area. Following their arrival, Capt. Herren ordered B Company to move west past the creek bed. Within approximately 30 minutes, one of his squads under Sgt. John Mingo surprised and captured an unarmed deserter of the 33rd NVA Regiment. The prisoner revealed that there were three North Vietnamese Army battalions on the Chu Pong Mountain – an estimated 1,600 North Vietnamese troops compared to fewer than 200 American soldiers on the ground at that point. At 11:20, the second lift from the 1st battalion arrived, with the rest of B Company and one platoon of Capt. Tony Nadal's A Company. Fifty minutes later, the third lift arrived, consisting of the other two platoons of A Company. A Company took up positions to the rear and left flank of B Company along the dry creek bed, and to the west and to the south facing perpendicular down the creek bed.
At 12:15, the first shots were fired on the three platoons of B Company that were patrolling the jungle northwest of the dry creek bed. Five minutes later, Capt. Herren ordered his 1st Platoon under Lt. Al Devney and 2nd Platoon under Lt. Henry Herrick to advance abreast of each other and the 3rd Platoon (under Lt. Dennis Deal) to follow as a reserve unit. Lt. Devney's 1st Platoon led approximately 100 yards (91 m) west of the creek bed, with Herrick's 2nd Platoon to his rear and right flank. Just before 13:00, Devney's 1st platoon was heavily assaulted on both flanks by the North Vietnamese, taking casualties and becoming pinned down in the process. It was around this point that Lt. Herrick radioed in that his 2nd Platoon were taking fire from their right flank, and that he was pursuing a squad of communist forces in that direction.
General Knowles called General Kinnard to report that the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry had engaged the enemy and requested an additional battalion - the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry - to counter the two NVA 7th and 9th Battalions.
Herrick's platoon is cut off
In pursuit of the North Vietnamese on his right flank, Lt. Herrick's 2nd Platoon, B Company, was quickly spread out over a space of around 50 meters, and became separated from the rest of 1/7 by approximately 100 meters. Soon, Lt. Herrick radioed in to ask whether he should enter or circumvent a clearing that his platoon had come across in the bush. Lt. Herrick expressed concerns that he might become cut off from the battalion if he tried to skirt the clearing and therefore would be leading his men through it in pursuit of the enemy. An intense firefight quickly erupted in the clearing; during the first three or four minutes his platoon inflicted heavy losses on the North Vietnamese who streamed out of the trees, while his men did not take any casualties. Lt. Herrick soon radioed in that the enemy were closing in around his left and right flanks. Capt. Herren responded by ordering Lt. Herrick to attempt to link back with Devney's 1st Platoon. Herrick replied that there was a large enemy force between his men and 1st Platoon. The situation quickly disintegrated for Lt. Herrick's 2nd Platoon, which began taking casualties as the North Vietnamese attack persisted. Herrick ordered his men to form a defensive perimeter on a small knoll in the clearing. Within approximately 25 minutes, five men of 2nd Platoon were killed, including Lt. Herrick who, before dying, radioed Capt. Herren to report that he was hit and was passing command over to Sgt. Carl Palmer, ordered the signals codes to be destroyed and artillery support to be called in. 2nd Platoon was technically under the command of SFC Mac McHenry, but he was positioned elsewhere on the perimeter. Sgts. Palmer and Robert Stokes were also dead, leaving Sgt. Ernie Savage, 3rd Squad Leader, to assume by virtue of being close to the radio, and proceeded to call in repeated artillery support around the 2nd Platoon's position. By this point, eight men of the platoon had been killed and 13 wounded.
Under Sgt. Savage's leadership, and with the extraordinary care of the 2nd Platoon's medic Charlie Lose, the platoon held the knoll for the duration of the battle at X-Ray. Spec. Galen Bungum, 2nd Platoon, B Company, later said of the stand at the knoll: "We gathered up all the full magazines we could find and stacked them up in front of us. There was no way we could dig a foxhole. The handle was blown off my entrenching tool and one of my canteens had a hole blown through it. The fire was so heavy that if you tried to raise up to dig you were dead. There was death and destruction all around.":117,118 Sgt. Savage later recalled of the repeated NVA assaults: "It seemed like they didn't care how many of them were killed. Some of them were stumbling, walking right into us. Some had their guns slung and were charging bare-handed. I didn't run out of ammo – had about thirty magazines in my pack. And no problems with the M16. An hour before dark three men walked up on the perimeter. I killed all three of them 15 feet away.":168
Fight for the creek bed
With 2nd Platoon, B Company cut off and surrounded, the rest of 1/7 fought to maintain a perimeter. At 13:32, C Company under Capt. Bob Edwards arrived, taking up positions along the south and southwest facing the mountain. At around 13:45, through his Operations Officer flying above the battlefield (Capt. Matt Dillon), Lt. Col. Moore called in air strikes, artillery, and aerial rocket artillery on the mountain to prevent the North Vietnamese from advancing on the battalion's position.
Lt. Bob Taft's 3rd Platoon, A Company, confronted approximately 150 Vietnamese soldiers advancing down the length and sides of the creek bed (from the south) toward the battalion. The platoon's troopers were told to drop their packs and move forward for the assault. The resulting exchange was particularly costly for the platoon — its lead forces were quickly cut down. 3rd Platoon was forced to pull back, and its leader Lt. Taft was killed. Sgt. Lorenzo Nathan, a Korean War veteran, took command of 3rd Platoon which was able to halt the NVA advance down the creek bed. The NVA forces shifted their attack to 3rd Platoon's right flank in an attempt to flank B Company. Their advance was quickly stopped by Lt. Walter "Joe" Marm's 2nd Platoon, A Company, situated on B Company's left flank. Lt. Col. Moore had ordered Captain Nadal (A Company) to lend B Company one of his platoons, in an effort to allow Capt. Herren (B Company) to attempt to fight through to Lt. Herrick's (2nd Platoon, B Company) position. From Lt. Marm's (2nd Platoon, A Company) new position, his men killed some 80 NVA troops with close range machine gun, rifle, and grenade assault. The NVA survivors made their way back to the creek bed, where they were cut down by fire from the rest of A Company. Lt. Taft's (3rd Platoon, A Company) dog tags were discovered on the body of an NVA soldier who had been killed by Taft's platoon. Upset that Lt. Taft's body had been left on the battlefield, Capt. Nadal (A Company commander) and his radio operator, Sgt. Jack Gell, brought his and the bodies of other Americans back to the creek bed under heavy fire.
Attack from the south
At 14:30 hours, the last troops of C Company (1/7) arrived, along with the lead elements of D Company (1/7) under Capt. Ray Lefebvre. The insertion took place with intense NVA fire pouring into the landing zone, and the Huey crews and newly arrived 1/7 troopers suffered many casualties. The small contingent of D Company took up position on A Company's left flank. C Company, assembled along the south and southwest in full strength, was met within minutes by a head-on assault. C Company's commander, Capt. Edwards, radioed in that an estimated 175 to 200 NVA troops were charging his company's lines. With a clear line of sight over their sector of the battlefield, C Company was able to call in and adjust heavy ordnance support with precision, inflicting devastating losses on the NVA forces. Many NVA soldiers were burned to death as they scrambled from their bunkers in a hasty retreat, while others were caught in a second barrage of artillery shells. By 15:00 the attack had been stopped, and one hour after launching the assault the NVA forces withdrew.
Attack on Alpha and Delta Companies
At approximately the same time, A Company and the lead elements of D Company (which had accompanied Alpha Company at the perimeter in the vicinity of the creek bed) were subjected to a fierce NVA attack. Covering the critical left flank were two of A Company's machine gun crews positioned 75 yards (69 m) southwest of the company's main position. Spec. Theron Ladner (with his assistant gunner PFC Rodriguez Rivera) and Spec. 4 Russell Adams (with his assistant gunner Spec. 4 Bill Beck) had positioned their guns 10 yards (9.1 m) apart, and proceeded to pour heavy fire into the North Vietnamese forces attempting to cut into the perimeter between C and A Companies. Lt. Col. Moore later credited the two gun teams with preventing the NVA from rolling up Alpha Company and driving a wedge into the battalion between Alpha and Charlie Companies. Spec. 4 Adams and Pfc. Rivera were severely wounded in the attack. After the two were carried to the battalion's collection point at Lt. Col. Moore's command post to await evacuation by air, Spec. 4 Beck, Spec. Ladner, and Pfc. Edward Dougherty (an ammo bearer) continued their close range suppression of the Vietnamese advance. Spec. 4 Beck later said of the battle: "When Doc Nall was there with me, working on Russell, fear, real fear, hit me. Fear like I had never known before. Fear comes, and once you recognize it and accept it, it passes just as fast as it comes, and you don't really think about it anymore. You just do what you have to do, but you learn the real meaning of fear and life and death. For the next two hours I was alone on that gun, shooting at the enemy.":133
Delta Company's troopers also experienced heavy losses in repelling the NVA assault, and Captain Lefebvre was wounded soon after arriving at LZ X-Ray. One of his platoon leaders, Lt. Raul Taboada, was also severely wounded, and Capt. Lefebvre passed command of D Company to SSgt. George Gonzales (who, unknown to Lefebvre, had also been wounded). While medical evacuation helicopters (medevacs) were supposed to transport the battalion's increasing numbers of casualties, they evacuated only two before the pilots called off their mission under intense fire from the NVA. Casualties were loaded onto the assault Hueys (lifting the battalion's forces to X-Ray), whose pilots carried load after load of wounded from the battlefield. 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry's intelligence officer Capt. Tom Metsker (who had been wounded) was fatally hit when helping Capt. Lefebvre aboard a Huey.
Capt. Edwards (C Company) ordered SSgt. Gonzales who had been given command of D Company by its commander, to position D Company on C Company's left flank, extending the perimeter to cover the southeast side of X-Ray. At 15:20, the last of the 1st battalion arrived, and Lt. Larry Litton assumed command of D Company. It was during this lift that one Huey, having approached the landing zone too high, crash-landed on the outskirts of the perimeter near the command post (those on board were quickly rescued by the battalion). With Delta Company's weapons teams on the ground, its mortar units were concentrated with the rest of the battalion's in a single station to support Alpha and Bravo Companies. D Company's reconnaissance platoon (commanded by Lieutenant James Rackstraw) was positioned along the north and east of the landing zone, establishing a 360-degree perimeter over X-Ray. Had the NVA forces circled around to the north of the U.S. positions prior to this point, they would have found their approach unhindered.
Second push to the lost platoon
As the NVA attack on Alpha Company diminished, Lt. Col. Moore organized another effort to rescue 2nd Platoon, B Company. At 15:45, Moore ordered Alpha Company and Bravo Company to evacuate their casualties and pull back from engagement with the enemy. Shortly after, Alpha and Bravo Companies began their advance from the creek bed toward 2nd Platoon, B Company and soon suffered casualties. At one point, B Company's advance was halted by a firmly entrenched NVA machine-gun position at a large termite hill. Lt. Marm, 2nd Platoon, A Company, fired a light anti-tank weapon (LAW) at the machine-gun position, charged the position with grenades while under fire, and killed the remaining NVA at the machine-gun position with rifle fire. The following day, a dozen dead NVA troops (including one officer) were found in the position. Lt. Marm was wounded in the neck and jaw in the assault and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his lone assault. The second push had advanced just over 75 yards (69 m) toward the lost platoon's position before being stopped by the NVA. Alpha Company's 1st Platoon, leading the advance, was at risk of becoming separated from the battalion, and at one point it was being engaged by an American M60 machine gun that had been taken by the NVA from a dead 2nd Platoon gunner. The impasse lasted between 20 and 30 minutes before Capts. Nadal (A Company) and Herren (B Company) requested permission to withdraw back to X-Ray (to which Moore agreed).
Americans dig in for the night
Near 17:00 hours, the lead elements of Bravo Company of 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry (2/7) arrived at LZ X-Ray to reinforce the embattled 1st Battalion; the company closed in at 18:00 hours. In preparation for a defensive position to last the night, Lt. Col. Moore ordered Bravo Company's commander Capt. Myron Diduryk to place two of his platoons between B/1/7 and D/1/7 on the northeast side of the perimeter. Capt. Diduryk's 2nd Platoon, B Company (under Lt. James Lane), was used to reinforce C/1/7's position (which was stretched over a disproportionately long line). By nightfall, the battle had taken a heavy toll on Lt. Col. Moore's battalion (1/7): B company had taken 47 casualties (including one officer) and A Company had taken 34 casualties (including three officers); C company had taken four casualties.
Around this time, Colonel Brown ordered the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry to be heli-lifted to LZ Victor, at 5 kilometers from LZ X-Ray to be ready to reinforce the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry and the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry the next morning. The American forces were placed on full alert throughout the night. Under the light of a bright moon, the North Vietnamese probed every company on the perimeter (with the exception of D/1/7) in small squad-sized units. The Americans exercised some level of restraint in their response. The M60 gun crews, tactically positioned around the perimeter to provide for multiple fields of fire, were told to hold their fire until otherwise ordered (so as to conceal their true location from the NVA). Second Platoon of B Company (1/7) under the leadership of Sgt. Savage, suffered three sizable assaults of the night (one just before midnight, one at 03:15, and one at 04:30). The NVA, using bugles to signal their forces, were repelled from the knoll with artillery, grenade, and rifle fire. Savage's "lost platoon" survived the night without taking additional casualties.
At 18:50 hours, General Kinnard discussed with Gen Larsen the possibility of having a B-52 strike at the area of LZ X-Ray. At 21:00 hours: 1st Air Cavalry selected coordinates for B-52 strike in Code – YA 870000, YA 830000, YA 830070, YA 870070 with alternative targets (in Code) YA 8607, YA 9007, YA 9000, YA 8600.
Day 2: Nov. 15
Attack at dawn
At 06:00 hours: J3/MACV notified 1st Air Cavalry that the time over target of the B-52 strike is set for 16:00 hours.
Just before dawn at 06:20, Lt. Col. Moore ordered his battalion's companies to put out reconnaissance patrols to probe for North Vietnamese forces. At 06:50, patrols from Charlie Company's 1st Platoon (under Lt. Neil Kroger) and 2nd Platoon (under Lt. John Geoghegan) had advanced 150 yards (140 m) from the perimeter before coming into contact with NVA troops. A firefight broke out, and the patrols quickly withdrew to the perimeter. Shortly after, an estimated 200-plus NVA troops charged 1st and 2nd Platoons of C Company on the south side of the perimeter. Heavy ordnance support was called in, but the NVA were soon within 75 yards (69 m) of the 1st Battalion's lines. Their fire began to cut through Charlie Company's positions and into the command post and the American lines across the LZ. 1st and 2nd platoons suffered significant casualties in this assault, including Lts. Kroger and Geoghegan. Lt. Geoghegan was killed while attempting to rescue one of his wounded men, Pfc. Willie Godboldt (who died of his wounds shortly thereafter). Two M60 crews (under Spec. James Comer and Spec. 4s Clinton Poley, Nathaniel Byrd, and George Foxe) were instrumental in preventing the North Vietnamese advance from completely overrunning Lt. Geoghegan's lines. Following this attack, Charlie Company's 3rd Platoon under Lt. William Franklin came under NVA assault. C Company's commander, Capt. Edwards was seriously wounded, and Lt. John Arrington assumed command of the company and was himself wounded while receiving instructions from Edwards. C Company's command then passed to Platoon Sgt. Glenn A. Kennedy. Lt. Franklin was also seriously wounded. The battalion was being attacked in two directions.
At 07:45, the NVA launched an assault on Crack Rock, near its connection with the beleaguered C/1/7. Enemy fire started to hit the 1st Battalion command post, which suffered one medic killed and several other troops wounded (including one of Lt. Col. Moore's own radio operators, Spec. 4 Robert Ouellette). Under heavy attack on three sides, the battalion fought off repeated waves of NVA infantry. It was during this battle that Spec. Willard Parish of Charlie Company, situated on Delta Company's lines, earned a Silver Star for suppressing an intense NVA assault in his sector. After expending his M60 ammunition, Parish resorted to his .45 sidearm to repel NVA forces that advanced within 20 yards (18 m) of his foxhole. After the battle, more than 100 dead NVA troops were discovered around his position.
As the battle along the southern line intensified, Lt. Charlie W. Hastings (U.S. Air Force liaison forward air controller), was instructed by Lt. Col. Moore (based on criteria established by the Air Force.) to transmit the code phrase "Broken Arrow," which relayed that an American combat unit was in danger of being overrun. In so doing, Lt. Hastings was calling on all available support aircraft in South Vietnam to come to the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry's defense, drawing on a significant arsenal of heavy ordnance support. On Charlie Company's broken lines, NVA troops walked the lines for several minutes, killing wounded Americans and stripping their bodies of weapons and other items. It was around this time, at 07:55, that Lt. Col. Moore ordered his men to throw colored smoke grenades to mark the battalion perimeter. Aerial fire support was then called in on the NVA at close range – including those along Charlie Company's lines. Shortly after, Lt. Col. Moore's command post was subjected to a
|Battle of Ia Drang Valley|
|Part of the Vietnam War|
(Operation Silver Bayonet I, Pleiku Campaign 1965)
Some U.S. Army soldiers air-lifted into LZ X-Ray.
| United States|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Richard Knowles 1st Air Cavalry Division Fwd CP|
Tim Brown 3rd Air Cavalry Brigade
Harold G. Moore, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry
Robert McDade, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry
Walter B. Tully, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry
|Nguyễn Hữu An B3 Field Front Fwd CP|
Phạm Công Cửu 66th Deputy Cmdr †
Lã Ngọc Châu 7/66
Lê Xuân Phôi 8/66 †
Nguyễn Văn Định 9/66
3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile):
2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile):
1st Battalion, 21st Artillery3AC Fleet/SAC
|Total: ~1,000 cavalry troops|
Two batteries of artillery
Separate aircraft and helicopter support units (740 bomber sorties and 96 B-52 sorties were flown)
Total: ~2,500 troops
|Casualties and losses|
LZ X-Ray: 79 killed and 121 wounded
LZ Albany: 155 killed, 124 wounded and 4 missing
LZ Columbus: 3 killed and 13 wounded
Another 71 killed and 282 wounded in earlier actions
4 helicopters shot down, 55 damaged
North Vietnamese estimate: 1,500 to 1,700 U.S. casualties
LZ X-Ray: Between 634 (body count) and 1,215 (estimated) killed and 4–6 captured
LZ Albany: between 403 (body count) and 503 (estimated) killed, 2 captured (later executed).
LZ Columbus: At least 27 killed
North Vietnamese figures: 559 killed and 669 wounded
|Both sides' estimates of their opponent's casualties are probably inflated.|
Ia Drang Valley, Chu Pong Mountain, Vietnam.
Those of you that have read the book by Moore and Galloway: "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young" or seen the Mel Gibson movie of the same name will be more than familiar with the story of LZ X-Ray: "the first major battle of the Vietnam War between the American Army [USA] and the People's Army of Vietnam [NVA/PAVN] - Regulars".
That American air mobile battalion of light infantry airlifted onto a landing zone [LZ X-Ray], unbeknownst to them the LZ located directly on top of a base camp for a NVA divisional sized unit.
That air mobile battalion of Colonel Moore instantly and irrevocably so pinned down, unable to advance beyond the perimeter of the LZ, casualties excessive even catastrophic, annihilation even a possible!
That battalion surviving and only so emerging from three days of the most intense combat by a combination of hard fighting, reinforcement, indirect weapons fire [artillery] and a LOT of close-air-support [CAS].
LZ X-Ray however should be understood to be ONLY HALF THE STORY OF IA DRANG VALLEY, CHU PONG MOUNTAIN!
Further combat as seen atLZ Albanythe rest of the story.
One of those reinforcing battalions as having previously been engaged at X-Ray ambushed and also nearly wiped out, decimated to an extent of no longer being a cohesive and combat effective unit, so heavy was the casualties!!
This ONLY IN THE AFTERMATH OF X-RAY, UNEXPECTED AS IT WAS!
The story of LZ Albany as best told by Jack Smith, American infantryman present at the scene, repeatedly wounded, surviving only barely, and as recounted in: "Death in the Ia Drang Valley, November 13-18, 1965" , thanks to : The Saturday Evening Post, 28 January 1967."
"Sandbag For A Machine Gun: Jack P. Smith on the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley and the Legacy of the Vietnam War".
Jack Smith recently passed away and of course the son of the famous American journalist and TV evening news anchor Howard K. Smith!
That account of Jack Smith an outstanding anecdotal account of combat, worthy of inclusion into any anthology! Read the whole thing for yourself!
Regarding both X-Ray and Albany the word debacle is not used lightly but is almost considered to be appropriate?
That first major and large-scale engagement between American army and NVA forces did not go so well from the American standpoint, admittedly so at the time or not!
In the aftermath of both LZ X-ray and LZ Albany the order was given from the highest command for all leadership ranks serving in Vietnam to WEAR ONLY SUBDUED NAME TAGS AND BADGES OF RANK!! Especially at Albany so many in leadership positions INSTANTLY AND MORE OR LESS IN SECONDS CUT DOWN BY SUPER-INTENSE ENEMY FIRE, THOSE HIGHLY VISIBLE AT THE TIME BADGES OF RANK IN PARTICULAR ALLOWING FOR CONCENTRATED NVA FIRE TO BE DIRECTED AT THOSE ATTEMPTING TO CONDUCT AN EFFECTIVE DEFENSE. Albany became a battle with privates in command of whatever unit structure remained or those remnants forming from the survivors of wiped out squads and platoons!!
* Those American soldiers at Ia Drang each and every one parachute qualified, paratroopers the finest and best and most prepared infantry the American army could deploy to Vietnam!
* Those American officers commanding at all ranks and echelons of command too the finest and best infantry officers the American army could deploy to Vietnam!
* Inexplicably - - twice at Ia Drang, the American infantry was surprised and much to their chagrin nearly annihilated. This cannot have been considered to be anything but an inauspicious and unfavorable start to major ground combat as undertaken by American forces in Vietnam. Even established a trend and tenor that was to last the entire duration of the war?