The Siege of Plei Me (Vietnamese: Bao vây Plei Me) (19–25 October 1965) was the beginning phase of the first major confrontation between soldiers of the communist North Vietnamese Army (PAVN) and the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The lifting of the siege by South Vietnamese forces and American air power was followed by the pursuit of the retreating North Vietnamese from 28 October until 12 November, setting the stage for the Battle of Ia Drang. Plei Me was an isolated U.S. Army Special Forces and Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) camp in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam defended mostly by Montagnard tribesmen.
Plei Me camp was established in October 1963 by the United States Army Special Forces 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Pleiku city and less than 20 miles (32 km) from the Cambodia border in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Plei Me was one of many Special Forces camps scattered around the Central Highlands and charged with gaining and maintaining the support of the Montagnards for the South Vietnamese war effort and gathering intelligence about the infiltration into South Vietnam of North Vietnamese soldiers along the Ho Chi Minh trail.
In 1965 the camp was manned by more than 400 CIDG soldiers — local Montagnard irregulars, mostly members of the Jarai ethnic group, many of which had families living just outside the camp. 12 American soldiers from the 5th Special Forces Group and 14 Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces assisted and advised the Montagnards. At the time of the attack on Plei Me, about 300 Montagnards, the 14 South Vietnamese, and 10 Americans were inside the camp, the others were on patrol or stationed at nearby listening posts. The camp itself was under the control and command of II Corps Command.
Brigadier General Chu Huy Man of the PAVN was tasked with destroying special forces outposts as a prelude to capturing Pleiku city, the headquarters of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in the II Corps region, and gaining control of Highway 19, which led from Pleiku to the coast of South Vietnam. The ARVN had nine battalions (about 4,500 soldiers) of combat troops stationed in Pleiku. Anticipating a PAVN offensive to capture Pleiku and Highway 19, the United States had stationed the 1st Cavalry Division at Camp Radcliff near the town of An Khe in September 1965. The 1st Cavalry Division was composed of three brigades with a total complement of eight battalions. The 1st Cavalry utilized the new tactic of relying on helicopters to transport soldiers and supplies, for medical evacuations, and aerial rocket artillery.
General Man had under his command the 32nd (or 320th) and 33rd Regiments of the PAVN army, comprising about 4,200 men, with another regiment, the 66th, becoming available by early November. The 32nd Regiment had been operating in II Corps since January 1965; the 33rd Regiment had arrived in September; and the 66th Regiment was expected to arrive by November 1965. General Man's offensive was to be launched by December 1965 with all the three regiments. The staging areas were located in the Chu Pong massif on the Vietnam-Cambodian border.
II Corps Command, in coordination with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, planned to use B-52 airstrikes to destroy the three PAVN Regiments once they concentrated at the assembly areas: "The Chu Pong base was known to exist well prior to the Plei Me attack and J2 MACV had taken this area under study in September 1965 as a possible B-52 target."
However, General Man decided to launch the attack earlier on October 19, 1965, with only two Regiments (the 32nd and the 33rd), apparently before the 1st Cavalry troops became combat ready. His battle "plan consisted of three phases: 1) The 33rd Regiment would surround Plei Me and harass the defenders, exerting enough pressure to force II Corps to send a reaction force; 2) The 32d Regiment would ambush the relief column and destroy it; 3) Both Regiments would combine force to overrun and destroy the Camp itself."
II Corps Command had to hold off the use of B-52 airstrikes, and came up with a revised plan which consisted of repulsing without destroying the two attacking Regiments, then looking for the chance to use the airstrikes against all the three regiments as initially planned.
The first indication of an impending attack was about 19:00 hours on October 19 when a Montagnard patrol was attacked near Plei Me. At 22:00, one PAVN Company overran an outpost southwest of the camp and shortly after midnight the PAVN attacked from the north, west, and east with small arms, mortars, and recoilless rifles with some attackers reaching the defensive perimeter of the camp. The American commander at Plei Me, Captain Harold M. Moore, called in airstrikes which arrived about 0400 on October 20 and continued throughout the day and the next night.
US and ARVN commanders in Pleiku agreed that reinforcement of the besieged garrison was necessary and decided, while preparing an overland relief convoy, to airlift 175 men, mostly ARVN Rangers, into Plei Me commanded by Major Charles A. Beckwith. The relief group, transported by helicopter, landed about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) northeast of Plei Me on the morning of October 21 and made its way to the camp the next morning. Beckwith took command of Plei Me and was ordered to rally outside the camp to confront the besiegers, but his force of two companies of Rangers quickly suffered 14 dead and retreated to Plei Me again.
Plei Me was resupplied with airdrops from CV-2 Caribous of the 92d Aviation Company, CV-7 Buffalos of the U.S. Army Aviation Test Board, and a number of night drops of munitions, medical supplies, and rations by C-123s from the 310th Air Commando Squadron from Nha Trang Air Base. Some of the air drops landed outside the camp, while two defenders were killed when a pallet of supplies fell on them. Plei Me became, up until then, the largest air support operation of the Vietnam War with 696 sorties and more than 1.5 million pounds of bombs, napalm, and rockets dropped on the attackers. Several U.S. planes and helicopters were damaged or shot down by intense ground fire.
At Plei Me, the PAVN plan was not to overrun the camp, only to lure out II Corps main force from Pleiku to destroy it. Air strikes were called in to hit the attackers only a few meters outside the defensive perimeter of the camp. This was the "grab them by the belt buckle" tactic that would be commonly employed by the communist forces throughout the Vietnam War.
General Vĩnh Lộc, II Corps Commander, decided to accept the PAVN's challenge. A relief task force was established in the afternoon of October 20. In order to allow the 22nd Ranger battalion that defended Pleiku city to participate in the rescue column, General Vĩnh Lộc requested the help of the U.S. Task Force Ingram to secure Pleiku city and Pleiku Air Base to meet all contingencies.
The 1,400 man armored Task Force, led by Lieutenant Colonel Nguyễn Trọng Luật, moved out to Phú Mỹ, 20 kilometers south of Pleiku on October 21. LTC Luật was expressly given ordered by II Corps Command to simulate the imminent approach of a relief column to the Pleime camp by lingering around Phú Mỹ to counter the enemy's mobile ambush tactics. On October 22, the armored task force continued to patrol around Phú Mỹ while 91st Ranger Battalion continued to advance to the camp. Early on the morning of October 23, when all was clear, the armored task force received orders to advance to the camp. At 13:00 on the same day, Task Force Ingram closed in on Pleiku city. Vĩnh Lộc also sent a battalion of troops west of the suspected ambush site to engage the PAVN from the rear.
The ARVN armored column proceeded down Provincial Road 6C toward Plei Me, and was ambushed at two places at 17:30 hours on 23 October. The leading elements of the convoy responded effectively to the PAVN assault, but the ARVN suffered heavy casualties in the second attack toward the rear of the convoy. Both attacks were repelled by U.S. airpower, and by morning, the PAVN had given up the attack and withdrawn westward. Fearing another attack, General Vinh Loc remained in place on October 24, but proceeded onward to Plei Me with only minor resistance on October 25. The PAVN withdrew westward that same evening after suffering heavy casualties from U.S. bombing and the siege of Plei Me was lifted.
In the aftermath of the siege, elements of the 1st Cavalry were airlifted to Plei Me and the camp was visited by the U.S. Commander in South Vietnam, General William Westmoreland. At the request of II Corps Command, on October 26, Westmoreland authorized the 1st Cavalry to take the offensive and pursue the withdrawing North Vietnamese. A division tactical Command Post was established, co-located with II Corps headquarters for the purpose of tactical coordination led by Brigadier General Richard T. Knowles, 1st Cavalry Division Deputy Commander.
On October 26, with the Plei Me camp secured, ARVN II Corps Command requested that "1st Air Cavalry Tactical Area Of Responsibility (TAOR) be extended to include the Plei Me area except the camp itself," so that the camp remained vulnerable in the enemy's eyes: "Dan Thang 21 operation finished, Plei Me camp was back on its footing, but among the two VC Regiments that had joined in the attack, we only inflicted the enemy with more than 400 killed. The withdrawal was a rational and intelligent initiative taken by the VC Field Front Command. But the enemy would attempt to take revenge and furthermore, the remote Pleime camp remains an eye sore to them." With the extension of the operational area, II Corps Command further assigned to the American division the Long Reach operation: "Therefore the decision to organize an enemy pursuit of II Corps Command, in which 1st Cavalry Division is the main effort and ARVN Airborne Group is the reserved force ready to intervene when necessary, was wholeheartedly accepted by the entire division, because rarely an unit got the chance to open its first history pages with a trường chinh (Long Reach) operation." This operation was carried out in three stages: All the Way (1st Brigade, 27 Oct-9 Nov), Silver Bayonet I (3rd Brigade, 9 Nov-17 Nov), and Silver Bayonet II (2nd Brigade, 18 Nov- 26 Nov).
The 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry under Colonel Harlow Clark undertook the search and destroy operation over an area of 1,500 square miles (3,900 km2) north and west of Plei Me. PAVN officers later described their forces as in "great disorder" following the siege. The 33rd Regiment had suffered heavy casualties; the 32nd remained mostly intact. In the pursuit, the 33rd would continue to be punished by the U.S. forces. Approximately 40 percent, or 600, of its 1,500 men were killed in the siege and its aftermath.
On 1 November elements of the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry located a PAVN hospital area and killed 99 or more soldiers at a cost of 11 Americans dead and 47 wounded. On 3–4 November, the Americans ambushed (and were in turn counter-ambushed) an element of the newly arrived PAVN 66th Regiment, killing an estimated 72 PAVN at a cost of 4 American dead. This firefight was distinguished by the first use of helicopters to reinforce and supply an American unit at night. On 6 November, two American companies engaged in a lengthy firefight with PAVN elements with the US claiming to have killed 77 at a cost of 26 American dead and 73 wounded. Between 9 and 11 November the 1st Brigade was withdrawn to its base at An Khe and replaced with the 3rd Brigade.
On November 10, the 3rd Brigade was ordered to perform a diversionary maneuver by switching the operational direction to the east to entice B3 Field Front to regroup its three regiments in assembly areas, to stage a second attack on Plei Me camp set for November 16.
On November 11, intelligence sources revealed the disposition of the three PAVN 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 to prepare for "...an air assault near the foot of the Chu Pongs," at 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Plei Me. On November 13, Colonel Brown met with Lieutenant Colonel Moore and told Moore "...to conduct an air-mobile assault the following morning."
On November 14, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment air assaulted into LZ X-Ray, starting the Battle of Ia Drang which lasted from 14 to 18 November 1965. The PAVN B3 Field Front Command decided to postpone the renewed attack on Plei Me camp and met the new threat with its 7th and 9th Battalions.
On November 15, at precisely 16:00 hours, B-52s began bombing grid YA 8702 (about 7 kilometers west of LZ X-Ray) and would carry on for 5 consecutive days. "One after the other, the areas of the Chu Pong massif — each of 20 square miles — underwent a systematic earthquake spreading from West to East."
During the battle, A-1A Skyraider pilot Captain Melvin C Elliott was shot down while strafing the area around the camp. After evading the PAVN for 36 hours by covering himself with mud, Elliott was rescued by helicopter.
In 1965, the United States rapidly increased its military forces in South Vietnam, prompted by the realization that the South Vietnamese government was losing the Vietnam War as the communist-dominated Viet Cong gained influence over much of the population in rural areas of the country. North Vietnam also rapidly increased its infiltration of men and supplies to combat South Vietnam and the U.S.. The objective of the U.S. and South Vietnam was to prevent a communist take-over. North Vietnam and the insurgent Viet Cong sought to unite the two sections of the country.
Political instability and internal dissent continued to plague the government of South Vietnam, although in June General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu and Air Marshall Nguyễn Cao Kỳ took control of the country and remained in power for the remainder of the year. In the United States, a majority of Congress and the people supported U.S. participation in the war, although protests against the war became larger and more frequent, especially among college students.
The U.S. began bombing North Vietnam in March, in Operation Rolling Thunder. The U.S. Army and Marines began ground operations to ferret out and defeat the communist forces. General William Westmoreland commanded U.S. forces in South Vietnam. Westmoreland's strategy was attrition, employing U.S. superiority in firepower, technology, and mobility. The usual military tactic of the United States was search and destroy operations in which large U.S. and South Vietnamese units, supported by air and artillery, swept through an area to attempt to engage the communists in battle. North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, by contrast, relied on hit-and-run operations and ambushes, avoiding set-piece battles except at their own initiative.
In November, the U.S. and North Vietnamese armies met head-on for the first time in the Battle of Ia Drang. Both sides claimed victory. The U.S. inflicted heavy casualties on the North Vietnamese, but the battle vindicated the conviction by North Vietnam that its military could slowly grind down the U.S.'s commitment to the war.
South Korea contributed an army division to South Vietnam, while Australia, New Zealand and other countries provided smaller numbers of soldiers. North Vietnam received military aid from the Soviet Union and China.
At year's end, President Lyndon Johnson declared a temporary halt to the bombing of North Vietnam and undertook a diplomatic initiative to seek negotiations with North Vietnam. North Vietnam, on its part, aimed to achieve a decisive military victory, but prepared also for an expanded war if the U.S. continued to escalate its involvement.
Most of the reports and conversations mentioned below were secret and not made public for many years. They reflect the ongoing debate among American officials, military leaders, and the American people about the scope and character of American intervention in the Vietnam War.1st Cavalry Division (United States)
The 1st Cavalry Division ("First Team") is a combined arms division and is one of the most decorated combat divisions of the United States Army. It is based at Fort Hood, Texas. It was formed in 1921 and served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, with the Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the Iraq War, in the War in Afghanistan and in Operation Freedom's Sentinel. As of October 2017, the 1st Cavalry Division is subordinate to III Corps and is commanded by Major General Paul T. Calvert.
The unit is unique in that it has served as a Cavalry (horse) Division, an Infantry Division, an Air Assault Division and an Armored Division throughout its existence.Battle of Ia Drang
The Battle of Ia Drang was the first major battle between the United States Army and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), also referred to as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), and was part of the Pleiku Campaign conducted early in the Vietnam War. It comprised two main engagements, centered on two previously scouted helicopter landing zones (LZs), known as LZ X-Ray and LZ Albany. The first involved the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment and supporting units under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, 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 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDade, 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 Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers in a tactical support role. Surrounded and under heavy fire from a numerically superior force, the American forces at LZ X-ray were able to hold off and drive back the North Vietnamese forces over three days of battle, largely through the support of both air power and heavy artillery bombardment, which the North Vietnamese lacked. LZ X-ray was considered an American tactical victory, as the Americans were able to exact an almost 10:1 kill ratio. At LZ Albany, the American forces were ambushed in close quarters. They were unable to use air and artillery support due to the close engagement of the North Vietnamese, the American forces were badly defeated, suffering an over-50% casualty rate before being extricated from the battle. Both sides, therefore, were able to claim victory in the battle.
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 the 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 of 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 2002 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".Catecka Base Camp
Catecka Base Camp (also known as Catecka, Catecka Tea Plantation or The Stadium) is a former U.S. Army base southwest of Pleiku in central Vietnam.Charles Alvin Beckwith
Charles Alvin ("Charlie") Beckwith (January 22, 1929 – June 13, 1994), known as Chargin' Charlie, was a career U.S. Army Special Forces officer best remembered as creating Delta Force, the premier counter terrorism and asymmetrical warfare unit of the U.S. Army, based on his experience serving with the British Special Air Service. He served in the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War, and attained the rank of colonel before his retirement.Civilian Irregular Defense Group program
Civilian Irregular Defense Group program (CIDG, pronounced "sid-gee") was a program developed by the U.S. government in the Vietnam War to develop South Vietnamese irregular military units from minority populations.John Laurence
John Laurence (also known as Jack Laurence) is an American television correspondent, author, and documentary filmmaker. He is known for his work on the air at CBS News, London correspondent for ABC News, documentary work for PBS and CBS, and his book and magazine writing. He won the George Polk Memorial Award of the Overseas Press Club of America for "best reporting in any medium requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad" for his coverage of the Vietnam War in 1970.Nguyễn Văn Hiếu
Major General Nguyễn Văn Hiếu (23 June 1929, Tientsin, China – 8 April 1975, Biên Hòa, Vietnam) was a general in the South Vietnamese army. As a child he lived in Shanghai. He later emigrated with his ethnic Vietnamese parents to Saigon when the Chinese Communist Party took over China in 1949. He attended Aurore University in Shanghai, China. In 1950, he attended the Vietnamese Military Academy, graduating second in his class in 1951. In 1963, he graduated from Command and General Staff College, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
His assignments included G3/Joint General Staff, G3/1st Corps, Chief of Staff of 1st Division, Chief of Staff of I Corps, Chief of Staff of II Corps, Commander of 22nd Division, Chief of Staff of II Corps, Commander of 5th Division, Deputy Commander of I Corps, Minister of Anti-Corruption under Vice-President Trần Văn Hương, Deputy Commander of III Corps, Commander of Forward HQ III Corps, and MG Deputy Commander of III Corps. He was found dead on 8 April 1975 at III Corps Headquarters, Biên Hòa, and theories that he had been assassinated emerged. Two days later, he was posthumously promoted to lieutenant general.October 23
October 23 is the 296th day of the year (297th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 69 days remain until the end of the year.Operation Masher
Operation Masher (24 January—6 March 1966) was in early 1966 the largest search and destroy mission that had been carried out in the Vietnam War up until that time. It was a combined mission of the United States Army, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), and Republic of Korea Army (ROK) in Bình Định Province on the central coast of South Vietnam. The People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) 3rd Division, made up of two regiments of North Vietnamese regulars and one regiment of main force Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas, controlled much of the land and many of the people of Bình Định Province, which had a total population of about 800,000. A CIA report in 1965 said that Binh Dinh was "just about lost" to the communists.The name "Operation Masher" was changed to "Operation White Wing", because President Lyndon Johnson wanted the name changed to one that sounded more benign. Adjacent to the operational area of Masher/White Wing in Quang Ngai province the U.S. and South Vietnamese Marine Corps carried out a complementary mission called Operation Double Eagle.The 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was the principal U.S. ground force involved in Operation Masher and that operation was marked as a success by its commanders. Claims are made that the PAVN 3rd Division had been dealt a hard blow, but intelligence reports indicated that a week after the withdrawal of the 1st Cavalry PAVN soldiers were returning to take control of the area where Operation Masher had taken place. Most of the PAVN/VC had slipped away prior to or during the operation, and discrepancy between weapons recovered and body count led to criticisms of the operation.Allegations that there were a reported six civilian casualties for every reported PAVN/VC casualty during the Fulbright Hearings prompted growing criticism of US conduct of the war and contributed to greater public dissension at home. During Operation Masher, the ROK Capital Division were alleged to have committed the Bình An/Tây Vinh massacre on 26 February 1966. The operation would create almost 125,000 homeless people in this province, and the PAVN/VC forces would reappear just months after the US had conducted the largest search and destroy in the war up to that point.Richard T. Knowles
Richard T. Knowles was a United States Army Lieutenant General, who served as assistant commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and as commander of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and Task Force Oregon during the Vietnam War.Vietnamese Rangers
The Vietnamese Rangers, properly known in Vietnamese as the Biệt Động Quân and commonly known as the ARVN Rangers, were the light infantry of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Trained and assisted by American Special Forces and Ranger advisers, the Vietnamese Rangers infiltrated beyond enemy lines in daring search and destroy missions. Initially trained as a counter-insurgency light infantry force by removing the fourth company each of the existing infantry battalions, they later expanded into a swing force capable of conventional as well as counter-insurgency operations, and were relied on to retake captured regions. Later during Vietnamization the Civilian Irregular Defense Group program was transferred from MACV and integrated as Border Battalions responsible for manning remote outposts in the Central Highlands.Rangers were often regarded as among the most effective units in the war, the most well-led ARVN unit and formed part of the highly-mobile response units operating in key areas. Part of this was due to the specialized role of these units, given that they had their origins in French-raised Commando Units, the GCMA which were drawn from Viet Minh defectors and Tai-Kadai groups, operating in interdiction and counter-intelligence roles, and were trained specifically for counter-insurgency and rough-terrain warfare in the region. Ranger Units often had a US Military Adviser attached to these units although operated independently. The foremost counterinsurgency expert Sir Robert Thompson remarked in 1974 that the ARVN as a whole were the third-best trained army in the free-world and second only to the Israelis in counter-insurgency, with the Rangers, ARVN Airborne and Marine Division forming the vanguard. With improvements in the ARVN from 1969 onward and the growing prestige of the Airborne and Marine Division, depredation had caused the Central Highlands-based Rangers to become manned by deserters, released convicts and Montagnards nevertheless the unit continued to perform critical roles in the Easter Offensive and frontier skirmishes in 1973 and 1974.
A total of 11 U.S Presidential Unit Citation (United States) were issued to the 22 original Ranger Battalions, including one unit whom earned three total citations from two different presidents. See List of Non-US Presidential Unit Citations in Vietnam.
Easter Offensive (1972)
Post-Paris Peace Accords (1973–1974)