Battle of Ia Drang Valley (1965)



The battle of the Ia Drang Valley began with a North Vietnamese attack on the Special Forces camp at Plei Me in the Central Highlands on October 19, 1965. The brand-new 1st Cavalry Division, responsible for the security of the Central Highlands and the important Highway 19 which ran through them toward the coast, was ordered to the relief of Plei Me, even though the division had not yet finished developing its airmobile tactics. The operation was code-named Silver Bayonet. Using airmobility, the division's 1st Brigade was able to fly over a North Vietnamese ambush and relieve the Special Forces camp. The North Vietnamese Army troops deployed in the ambush now had to flee back toward their base camps near the Cambodian border in the Chu Phong mountains. In their retreat, they were harassed constantly from the air by the 1st Cavalry Division.

In early November, the division's 3rd Brigade began a "search and destroy" operation intended to break up the North Vietnamese concentration and destroy the NVA forces in the Ia Drang Valley and the nearby mountains. On November 14, the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry inadvertently landed in the midst of a large body of North Vietnamese troops, bringing on an intense and bloody two-day battle. Fighting was so ferocious that relief forces had to land a considerable distance from the action, and for the first time American ground forces were directly supported by B-52 strikes. The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry was ambushed while moving toward the scene of the original fighting, bringing on another daylong battle in which some American units, cut off and surrounded, were almost wiped out. The rest of the American forces managed to hang on to their positions with the support of air strikes and artillery fire. On November 18, the North Vietnamese broke off the action and withdrew. The 1st Cavalry Division returned to its base at An Khe on November 26. In the fighting, the division lost some 300 men killed. North Vietnamese dead totaled about 1,770 in the entire campaign.


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