19 October – 26 November, 1965
The battle for Ia Drang was between U.S. and People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces, significant because it prevented the PAVN from seizing control of the Central Highlands and cutting SOuth Vietnam in two. It also demonstrated the effectiveness of airmobility against regular army units.
In 19 October 1965 PAVN troops attacked the Plei Me Special Forces camp southwest of Pleiku. Initially the 1st Cavalry helped Army of the Replublic of Vietnam (ARVN) troops relieve Plei Me. On 27 October Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) Commander Gen. William Westmoreland ordered the 1st Cavalry to seek and destroy the 32nd, 33d, and 66th PAVN regiments commanded by Brig. Gen. Chu Huy Man. Gen. Man also sought battle to learn how to fight the 1st Cavalry, whose base at An Khe blocked his route of advance to the coast.
The location of PAVN units was unclear until 1 November, when the 1st Squadron of the 9th Cavalry (1/9th), commanded by Lt. Col. John B. Stockton, captured a hospital area five miles west of Plei Me, killing or capturing 135 PAVN troops. Further reconnaissance indicated a PAVN presence in the Ia Drang Valley and on the Chu Pong Massif. The 1/9th Cavalry sprang a night ambush and developed contacts that were turned over to the infantry.
The heaviest contact developed on 14 November as Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore’s 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry (1/7th) assaulted landing zone (LZ) X-Ray on Chu Pong. Vegetation and tall anthills obstructed fields of fire. Moores made heavy contact before his whole understrength battalion could be landed. PAVN Lt. Col. La Ngoc Chau’s 66th Regiment, under intense artillery fire and bombardment by the U.S. Air Force, tried to outflank LZ X-Ray to the south, but Moore got his companies in line just in time. One of Moore’s platoons advanced too far and was cut off and almost destroyed, but it delayed Chau in locating the main U.S. line. His line fully extended to the south, Moore called for help and recieved Company B of the 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry.
At first light on 15 November, Chau resumed the attack, and Lt. Col. Robert Tully’s 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry (2/5th) marched in to give much-needed support. Chau’s vicious attacks were repulsed. The lost platoon’s survivors were pulled to safety, and B-52s began six days of strikes on Chu Pong. Two more batteries of artillery arrived at LZ Columbus to provide a total of 24 pieces in support. During the night the 66th PAVN regiment withdrew.
Early on 16 November Chau launched a last attack, which was easily repulsed. By body count, PAVN losses were 634, but U.S. estimates placed the number at 1,215 killed, more then ten times the 1st Cavalry’s losses. Moore’s battalion was lifted to Camp Halloway at Pleiku, but Tilly’s 2/5th Cavalry and McDade’s 2/7th Cavalry remained to secure LZ X-Ray.
On 17 November, continued B-52 raids on Chu Pong forced Tully and McDade to move from X-Ray and seek PAVN forces elsewhere. McDade’s 2/7th Cavalry, with Company A of the 1/7th Cavalry attached, was ordered to march toward LZ Albany to try to resume contact with PAVN units. Tully’s unit was ordered to march to the fire base at LZ Columbus.
Having little combat experience and not yet working as a cohesive unit, McDade’s men blundered into a PAVN ambush, and a savage battle ensued. The head of the column had just reached LZ Albany when McDade halted it and assembled his company commanders for a council. At the same time, Chau, who was on his way to attack the artillery fire base, used one battalion of his 66th Regiment and one battalion of the 33d to ambush McDade.
Bunched up at rest, McDades men were easy targets for PAVN mortars and grenades. All unit cohesion was lost as the commanders were seperated from their companies and the battle devolved into individual combats. PAVN troops moved about, killing the wounded. No artillery fire or close air support was possible until McDade’s men could mark their positions. After two hours of close combat, the survivors threw smoke grenades, and artillery fire and napalm rained down on the 66th and 33d.
By late afternoon, Company B of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry (1/5th) was ordered to help McDade’s men. It fought its way into LZ Albany and collected the wounded for helicopter evacuation. At dusk, Company B of the 2/7th Cavalry also reinforced McDade. Chau withdrew his men during the predawn of 18 November. His losses were unknown; McDade’s unit lost 151 men killed.
When the Ia Drang campaign ended on 26 November, the 1st Cavalry Division has successfully spoiled the PAVN attack along Route 19 to the sea. It also demonstrated the effectiveness of airmobility warfare. In the entire campaign, U.S. losses were 305 killed; PAVN killed were estimated at 3,561.