Dear Readers: It’s another look at military history withe fellow San Diego blogger Barry Jacobsen/Deadliest Blogger. Barry will be joining Silvio Canto Jr., and I on Canto Talk this Thursday (Nov. 21, 7 pm PST/9 pm CT/10 pm EST – click here for podcast or archived show).
As week look to the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, it seems timely to look another event that impacted the rest of the decade…the start of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Barry has a great write-up at his Facebook Military History Page, and those interested in great information exchanges on the subject should check it out.
TODAY IN HISTORY, NOVEMBER 14: THE 7TH CAVALRY AVOIDS A SECOND LITTLE BIG HORN AS AMERICAN FORCES ENGAGE IN THE FIRST BATTLE OF THE VIETNAM WAR, AT IA DRANG VALLEY; 1965!
In the first use of airmobile forces, Lt. Colonel Hal Moore’s 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division is inserted on November 14, 1965 into the Ia Drang Valley; to conduct a reconnaissance in force. This will lead to the first battle between American forces and North Vietnam’s Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN).
Intelligence reported the presence of PAVN forces on or around Chu Pong Mountain on the northeast side of the valley. The North Vietnamese were attempting to dominate the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, and the mountain was in fact the base camp for the PAVN 33rd and 66th Regiments; approximately 4,000 troops.
Moore’s 1st Bn, numbering less than 400 men was landed in waves in an open area approximately 100 meters in width, designated LZ X-RAY. Platoons quickly established a perimeter along the wood line surrounding the LZ. Initially, no resistance was encountered.
However, 2nd Platoon under Lt. Henry Herrick spotted fleeing PAVN soldiers, and Herrick unwisely pursued into the wooded hills. 2nd Platoon was soon deep in the wood, isolated from the rest of the Battalion. As they continued the chase, the Americans ran directly into a prepared PAVN ambush. Herrick and his Platoon Sergeant were among the initial casualties. The Americans fell back to a brush-covered knoll, where they were subject to intensive fire and intermittent assault by the Vietnamese.
This force came to be referred to as the “Lost Platoon”. Though three attempts were made to establish contact and rescue the besieged force, they were cut-off and isolated for most of the battle; subject to continuous attacks. Sgt Ernie Savage took command and held out tenaciously despite lack of water, food, and ammunition.
Meanwhile, the PAVN began continuous, coordinated attacks against the 7th Cavalry’s perimeter around LZ X-RAY. For the next 3 days, the PAVN commander attempted to overrun the LZ or Moore’s command post. Moore directed his battalion brilliantly, fending off these attacks with slender reserves and occasional reinforcements; while helicopters braved deadly fire to bring-in fresh men and supplies, and take out the wounded.
Massed attacks by PAVN forces upon the entrenched Americans were met with withering fire and close air and artillery support. The American doctrine of defensive close artillery support proved devastatingly effective; providing a curtain of steel and fire between American and PAVN forces. Moore directed frequent counter-attacks, which threw the PAVN forces back on their heals and preempted several assaults.
Despite successes, LZ X-RAY was closed on the second day. A new LZ was cut with explosive charges; and the supplies continued to flow.
On the morning of the second day, a massed three-pronged attack broke through the perimeter, overrunning both LZ X-RAY and Moore’s command post. Moore radioed “Broken Arrow” to American Headquarters; the signal that an American force was in danger of being overrun. The response was immediate: all available support aircraft in the country were redirected to support Moore’s embattled Battalion. The exposed PAVN forces were hammered with napalm and high explosive ordinance, and their attack broken.
By the third day, Moore’s position was reinforced by both the 2nd Bn 7th Cavalry, and the 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry. The badly mauled PAVN forces withdrew, leaving hundreds dead. Despite the intensity of the fighting, American casualties were a mere 79 killed and 121 injured; a testament to both Moore’s leadership and the effectiveness of American tactical doctrine.
Ia Drang was a tactical victory for American forces, and showed the PAVN command that they were facing a much more formidable enemy than they had previously encountered in either the South Vietnamese army or the French. The PAVN command had thought to handle the American forces in the same way they had the French in the same region in 1954: a battle of annihilation through repeated ambush. Moore for his part stated in his memoir of the battle that he feared another “Little Big Horn” for his own battalion of the 7th Cavalry.
The battle is the subject of the excellent 1992 book, “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lt. Gen. (Ret) Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and war journalist Joseph L. Galloway (who was present as a photo-journalist during the battle); and was adapted into the terrific film “We Were Soldiers” (2002) by Mel Gibson.
Related, Badass-of-the-Week offers this homage to one of the battle’s participants: Bruce Crandall:
Dealing out “death from above” while cranking Wagner from his boom box at maximum volume was cool and all, but it was during the bloody asskicking carnage on 14 November 1965 that Solid Old Snake Plisskin Crandall really made a name for himself as a stone-cold hardass who didn’t flinch in the face of ludicrous amounts of danger and giant raging explosions. Crandall’s company was in the process of combat-dropping the men of the 7th Cavalry Regiment in the Ia Drang Valley when all of a sudden the entire countryside erupted into a geyser of bullets, rockets, and general suckitude. The infantry came under intense fire, seemingly from all directions at once, and within seconds the entire valley was completely littered with dying and wounded American soldiers. Crandall himself was in an extremely exposed position – at one point a squad of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops occupied a position less than 30 yards from the landing zone, opening up at Crandall’s chopper with a burst of gunfire that wounded three men inside the bird – but this ice-water asskicker didn’t freak out and haul his shit full-throttle outta there like the MiGs in Top Gun just because a bunch of dudes with assault rifles and RPGs were hurling massive amounts of incredibly lethal substances at him in an angry and threatening manner. No, this guy waited for wounded men to be loaded into his Huey, refusing to take off until he had filled the cargo bay with soldiers in desperate need of medical attention, and only then did he burn rubber back home.
So, please join us for an exciting show.