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Vietnam War: Battle of Ia Drang

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Vietnam War: Battle of Ia Drang

Combat operations at Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam, November 1965. Bruce P. Crandall's UH-1 Huey dispatches infantry while under fire.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

Battle of Ia Drang - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Ia Drang was fought November 14-18, 1965, during the Vietnam War (1955-1975).

Armies & Commanders

United States

  • Colonel Thomas Brown
  • Lieutenant Colonel Harold G. Moore
  • Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDade
  • approx. 1,000 men

North Vietnam

  • Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu An
  • approx. 2,000 men

Battle of Ia Drang - Background:

In 1965, General William Westmoreland, commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, began utilizing American troops for combat operations in Vietnam rather than solely relying on the forces of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. With National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) and People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces operating in the Central Highlands northeast of Saigon, Westmoreland elected to debut the new air mobile 1st Cavalry Division as he believed its helicopters would allow it to overcome the region's rugged terrain.

Following a failed North Vietnamese attack on the Special Forces camp at Plei Me in October, the commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Colonel Thomas Brown, was instructed to move from Pleiku to seek and destroy the enemy. Arriving in the area, the 3rd Brigade was unable to find the attackers. Encouraged by Westmoreland to press towards the Cambodian border, Brown soon learned of an enemy concentration near Chu Pong Mountain. Acting on this intelligence, he directed the 1st Battalion/7th Cavalry, led by Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, to conduct a reconnaissance in force in the area of Chu Pong.

Battle of Ia Drang - Arriving at X-Ray:

Assessing several landing zones, Moore chose LZ X-Ray near the base of the Chu Pong Massif. Roughly the size of a football field, X-Ray was surrounded by low trees and bordered by a dry creek bed to the west. Due to the relatively small size of the LZ, the transport of the 1st/7th's four companies would have to be conducted in several lifts. The first of these touched down at 10:48 AM on November 14 and consisted of Captain John Herren's Bravo Company and Moore's command group. Departing, the helicopters began shuttling the rest of the battalion to X-Ray with each trip taking around 30 minutes (Map).

Battle of Ia Drang - Day 1:

Initially holding his forces in the LZ, Moore soon began sending out patrols while waiting for more men to arrive. At 12:15 PM, the enemy was first encountered northwest of the creek bed. Shortly thereafter, Herren ordered his 1st and 2nd Platoons to advance in that direction. Encountering heavy enemy resistance, the 1st was halted though the 2nd pushed on and pursued an enemy squad. In the process, the platoon, led by Lieutenant Henry Herrick, became separated and was soon surrounded by North Vietnamese forces. In the firefight that ensued, Herrick was killed and effective command devolved to Sergeant Ernie Savage.

As the day progressed, Moore's men successfully defended the creek bed as well as repelled assaults from the south while awaiting the arrival of the remainder of the battalion. By 3:20 PM, the last of the battalion arrived and Moore established a 360-degree perimeter around X-Ray. Eager to rescue the lost platoon, Moore sent forward Alpha and Bravo Companies at 3:45 PM. This effort succeeded in advancing around 75 yards from the creek bed before enemy fire brought it to a halt. In the attack, Lieutenant Walter Marm earned the Medal of Honor when he single-handedly captured an enemy machine gun position (Map).

Battle of Ia Drang - Day 2:

Around 5:00 PM, Moore was reinforced by the lead elements of Bravo Company/2nd/7th. While the Americans dug in for the night, the North Vietnamese probed their lines and conducted three assaults against the lost platoon. Though under heavy pressure, Savage's men turned these back. At 6:20 AM on November 15, the North Vietnamese mounted a major attack against Charlie Company's section of the perimeter. Calling in fire support, the hard-pressed Americans turned back the attack but took significant losses in the process. At 7:45 AM, the enemy began a three-pronged assault on Moore's position.

With the fighting intensifying and Charlie Company's line wavering, heavy air support was called in to halt the North Vietnamese advance. As it arrived over the field, it inflicted major losses on the enemy, though a friendly fire incident led to some napalm striking the American lines. At 9:10 AM, additional reinforcements arrived from the 2nd/7th and began reinforcing Charlie Company's lines. By 10:00 AM the North Vietnamese began withdrawing. With fighting raging at X-Ray, Brown dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Bob Tully's 2nd/5th to LZ Victor approximately 2.2 miles east-southeast.

Moving overland, they reached X-Ray at 12:05 PM, augmenting Moore's force. Pushing out of the perimeter, Moore and Tully succeeded in rescuing the lost platoon that afternoon. That night North Vietnamese forces harassed the American lines and then launched a major assault around 4:00 AM. With the aid of well-directed artillery, four assaults were repelled as the morning progressed. By mid-morning, the remainder of the 2nd/7th and 2nd/5th arrived at X-Ray. With the Americans on the field in strength and having taken massive losses, the North Vietnamese began withdrawing.

Battle of Ia Drang - Ambush at Albany:

That afternoon Moore's command departed the field. Hearing reports of enemy units moving into the area and seeing that little more could be done at X-Ray, Brown wished to withdraw the remainder of his men. This was vetoed by Westmoreland who wished to avoid the appearance of a retreat. As a result, Tully was instructed to march the 2nd/5th northeast to LZ Columbus while Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDade was to take the 2nd/7th north-northeast to LZ Albany. As they departed, a flight of B-52 Stratofortresses was assigned to strike the Chu Pong Massif.

While Tully's men had an uneventful march to Columbus, McDade's troops began encountering elements of the 33rd and 66th PAVN Regiments. These actions culminated with a devastating ambush in the vicinity of Albany. Under heavy pressure and taking major losses, McDade's command was soon aided by air support and elements of the 2nd/5th which marched in from Columbus. Beginning late that afternoon, additional reinforcements were flown in and the American position was appearance during the night. The next morning, the enemy had largely pulled back. After policing the area for casualties and dead, the Americans departed for LZ Crooks the next day.

Aftermath of Ia Drang

The first major battle that involved US ground forces, Ia Drang saw them suffer 96 killed and 121 wounded at X-Ray and 155 killed and 124 wounded at Albany. Estimates for North Vietnamese losses are around 800 killed at X-Ray and minimum of 403 killed at Albany. For his actions in leading the defense of X-Ray, Moore was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Pilots Major Bruce Crandall and Captain Ed Freeman were later (2007) awarded the Medal of Honor for making volunteer flights under heavy fire to and from X-Ray. During these flights they delivered much needed supplies while evacuating wounded soldiers. The fighting at Ia Drang set the tone for the conflict as American forces continued to rely on air mobility and heavy fire support to achieve victory. Conversely, the North Vietnamese learned that the latter could be neutralized by quickly closing with the enemy and fighting at close range.

Selected Sources

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  7. Vietnam War: Battle of Ia Drang

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