Skip to comments."Search and Destroy": The Origins of Our Air-Mobile Army
Posted on 11/18/2006 7:44:22 PM PST by Valin
This week (Nov. 14) marks the 41st anniversary of the beginning of the epic battle of the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnams Pleiku Province in the Central Highlands. The first part of the operation pitted Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moores 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) against three regiments of the Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN) in a deadly struggle for Landing Zone (LZ) X-Ray. For better or worse, the lessons of this battle during the early days of Americas Vietnam War shaped U.S. operational strategy for the remainder of the conflict and, indeed, still influence the U.S. Armys preferred way to fight.
In an effort to validate the Armys new air-mobility doctrine, which was based on the use of helicopters, Moores superiors ordered his battalion to seize and defend a landing zone in Pleiku Province not far from the Cambodian border. The idea was to draw the PAVN into a battle and then to attack the massed enemy forces with supporting arms, disrupting the attempt by the North Vietnamese to seize the strategically important Central Highlands. The plan to draw the PAVN into battle workedtoo well. Moores under-strength command soon found itself in the midst of a large PAVN base camp containing some 2,000 PAVN troops intent on killing Americans.
The problem Moore faced on November 14, 1965, was holding the PAVN force at bay while he built up sufficient combat power around LZ X-Ray. Although the helicopter assault initially caught the North Vietnamese by surprise, there were only enough choppers to bring in 80 troops at a time. Since the round-trip flight-time between LZ X-Ray and the battalions base at Plei Me was an hour, the danger was that the PAVN force would overrun the LZ before the entire unit was on the ground. Even then, Moores 450 soldiers would be heavily outnumbered by a skillful and determined enemy.
By all accounts, Moore was a remarkable battalion commander who had prepared his unit well. Despite having lost almost a third of its most experienced soldiers and noncommissioned officers before its deployment to Vietnam because their enlistment terms were about to expire, the 1st of the 7th Cavalry was a fine unit, well-trained, with high morale and unit cohesion. This, along with supporting arms, was all that could keep the battalion from destruction in the Ia Drang Valley.
As Moore wrote in his account of the campaign, We Were Soldiers Once and Young, "Among my sergeants [at LZ X-Ray] were three-war menmen who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and had survived the war in Koreaand those old veterans were shocked by the savagery and hellish noise of this battle We were dry-mouthed and our bowels churned with fear, and still the enemy came on in waves."
When the PAVN broke contact on November 16, after 40 straight hours of often hand-to-hand combat, Moores battalion had suffered 74 dead and 121 wounded. Over 800 enemy dead were counted on the field, and countless others were killed by U.S. artillery and air strikes. Despite the high American losses during the fight for LZ X-Ray, the planners felt that the battle had vindicated the Armys operational concept. As terrible as the fight for LZ X-Ray was, it was a U.S. victory.
What happened a day later was a debacle, and points to the truth of the observation by the Duke of Wellington that "the only thing worse than a battle won is a battle lost."
On the afternoon of November 16, Moores battalion was heli-lifted out of LZ X-Ray and replaced by its sister battalions, Robert Tulleys 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, and Robert McDades 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. Neither of these units was as well-trained as Moores battalion.
Because a B-52 strike was scheduled to hit the suspected PAVN base camp near the Chu Pong Massif on the Cambodian border, the two battalions were ordered to abandon LZ X-Ray and move overland the next day to helicopter landing zones farther east. On the afternoon of November 17, the 2nd of the 7th Cavalry was ambushed as it moved to LZ Albany. Strung out along a trail, three of the battalions line companies and its headquarters companies were annihilated. In six hours, 155 Americans died, the highest death toll for any day of the war.
It should be noted that, while Americans have been programmed to be cognizant only of alleged U.S. atrocities in Vietnam, many of the U.S. dead in this battle were wounded American soldiers killed by the Communists after the fighting had stopped. The late Jack Smith, son of the ABC newsman Howard K. Smith, described a night so harrowing that most of us cannot imagine it. Badly wounded but covered by the body of a dead comrade, Smith listened as laughing communist soldiers killed any American they found alive.
The battle in the Ia Drang Valley had important implications for the future conduct of the war. The Army favored "search and destroy" missions, such as the Ia Drang operation, designed to bring the PAVN to battle and then to destroy it. Although U.S. casualties in Pleiku Province were highsome 300 between October 23 and November 26, 1965estimated PAVN casualties were 12 times higher. Thus the Pleiku campaign convinced Westmoreland that the Army Concept was correct. In a head-to-head clash, an outnumbered U.S. force had spoiled an enemy operation and sent a major PAVN force reeling back in defeat, inflicting far more casualties than it sustained.
Reasonable people may disagree about the Armys operational concept. For instance, in the opinion of the overall commander of all Marines in the Pacific during much of the Vietnam War, Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak, Ia Drang represented an example of fighting the enemys warwhat North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap predicted would be "a protracted war of attrition." And, says Krulak, a "war of attrition it turned out to be [by] 1972, we had managed to reduce the enemys manpower pool by perhaps 25 per-cent at a cost of over 220,000 U.S. and South Vietnamese dead. Of these, 59,000 were Americans."
Krulaks figures are probably low. Hanoi has admitted that it suffered some 1.4 million combat deaths during the war. But the lessons of Ia Drang transcend Vietnam. The fact is that the United States Army has a preferred way of fighting. The wars the Army wants to fight are conventional wars involving regular troops on both sides. Unfortunately, as Vietnam showed us some four decades ago and Iraq shows us today, we do not always get to fight the wars we want.
Mackubin T. Owens is an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook Center and a professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam in 1968-1969.
'WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE...& YOUNG'...4 FREEDOM
Signed:.."ALOHA RONNIE" Guyer
Veteran-"WE WERE SOLDIERS" Battle of IA DRANG-1965, Landing Zone Falcon
(IA DRANG-1965 Photo Collection)
I was going to ping ya, but you're just a little to fast for me.
IA DRANG-1965 Lifesaver Hero
WORLD TRADE CENTER Bombing-1993 Lifesaver Hero
WORLD TRADE CENTER Airstrikes-2001 Lifesaver Hero
...........RICK RESCORLA, ..R.I.P.
Lt. Gen. HAL G. MOORE (Ret) & JOSEPH GALLOWAY's website:
Paramount Pictures website:
Our U.S. 7th Cavalry's 1965 Victory in the IA DRANG Valley stopped the North Vietnamese Communists from succeeding in their plan to cut a then Free South Vietnam in half at the Central Highlands and then making a run for Saigon in 30 days.
After a post-WATERGATE Democrat controlled U.S. Congress cut-off all our Military & Medical funding for a then Free South Vietnam to fight for its own Freedom with...
...that's exactly how the Communist North took over a Free South in 1975.
With $6 Billion in Soviet Military & Medical backing, that is, as revealed later on in exposed Soviet KGB Intelligence Files
Bringing in the End for all to sadly see:
Pictures of a vietenamese Re-Education Camp
"Search and Destroy" is one of those Vietnam Urban Legends that has been completely misunderstood by the press, history, and most of the uninformed American public.
When the U.S. Army entered Vietnam with large conventional forces in 1965, they were there to take on the North Vietnamese Army who had just begun to enter combat in large numbers. Their first objective was to cut South Vietnam in two along the Highway 14/19 corridor running through the Central Highlands to the coast. This is why the 1st Cavalry Division was sent to the Central Highlands and why the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry ended up at LX X-Ray.
The Search part was: find the North Vietnamese Army. Not a small task since they worked hard to stay hidden until they could attack at a time and place of their choosing. We took the initiative away from them and forced battles when the advantage was on our side.
The destroy part was: destroy North Vietnamese and Main Force VC units. The press reported that we were destroying villages. Nothing could be further from the truth, but the lie was told and the myth was built. The U.S. Army in II and III CTZ was engaged from 1965-1969 in destroying the North Vietnamese Army. This they did very well. The tragedy of 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry was never repeated and by 1970 the NVA and Main Force VC were largely confined to the regions continguous to the borders, close to the sanctuaries that we so graciously gave them.
The Marine Corps had a different fight in I CTZ, so their perspective is understandably different. Their fight along the coastal zone much more an insurgency operation. Except for Khe Sanh and Tet 68, their mission and experiences were different than that experienced by Army units. Marines fought well and effectively, but their criticisms of Army operations are a bit of a cheap shot, IMO.
American ground forces brought the NVA to their knees. Politicians, took our hard fought victories from us, and handed them to our enemies on a silver platter. Pardon me if I don't sense deja vu all over again.
'The MANSIONS of the Lord'
stirring Hymn majestically sung by the West Point Mens Choir at the end of the "WE WERE SOLDIERS" Motion Picture...
...was also stirringly sung in the Washington National Cathedral as President RONALD REAGAN's flag-draped casket was slowly being carried out for its trip back to his final Presidential Library resting place in California.
The Hymn made such a lasting impression on those that heard it then for the first time that it has also become known forever as...
'The REAGAN Recessional'
Thank to 'MANSIONS' Lyric writer RANDALL WALLACE & 'MANSIONS' Music Composer NICK GLENNIE-SMITH.
..A Freeper Vet goes to the Vietnam Wall..
Thank you, Valin, for posting this outstanding Battle of IA DRANG-1965 Article Thread.
I have to tell you that this last week, our 41st Battle Anniversary week, has been quite an unforgettable one ..DEJA VU world events being what they are now a days..?
As always, thank you for your kindness and for your CLARITY.
Threads like this make me miss the "Freeper Foxhole" all the more.
Thank you, and God Bless.