Ia Drang Valley Campaign

By Pete Jones

 


7th Cavalry Patch - Garry OwenThis article is a piece I first wrote for my local club newsletter (which I also edit). I hope you find it interesting and is a good idea for a scenario in either 6mm for the entire battle or in l5mm/20mm for the desperation of B Company.

In 1965 the Americans identified the Ia Drang Valley to be a major enemy staging area with at least one North Vietnamese regiment being based there. On 14th November Colonel Thomas brown decided an airmobile assault should be launched into the Valley near the base of Chu Pong with foot patrols conducting a search and destroy mission. Fire support was to be provided by two 150mm howitzer batteries located east of the assault area. Up until then no major contacts with enemy had been received by any ground troops sent to Vietnam -things were about to change.

At 0830 hours the assault began with helicopter reconnaissance and artillery preparation fire on three possible landing zones was made. At 1030 hours Company B of the 1st Battalion of the 7th cavalry landed unopposed at Landing Zone X-Ray. (This is probably one of the most famous American units; it is the unit that was annihilated by the Sioux Indians at the battle of Little Big Horn.) The first foot recce patrols moved out from the LZ meeting no resistance at all. A NVA deserter was captured and he confirmed their intelligence sources that the area was indeed a major enemy communist base.

In fact, the 66th and 33rd NVA Regiments who had been planning to attack Plei Mei Special Forces camp were now redirected to attack this American operation. By noon the two NVA Regiments were in place to attack the LZ. B Company by now had moved across a dry creek and spread out two platoons abreast and one in reserve heading up a ridge towards Chu Pong. As they moved through thick jungle heavy contact was made by the 8 superior NVA forces. 2nd Platoon became separated from the rest of the Company and were surrounded by the enemy. 1st and 3rd Platoons tried to force their way through to their aid but the NVA small arms fire was too intense.

Back on the LZ A Company completed its' insertion amongst a shower of 60mm and 81mm mortar fire, one platoon was immediately ordered to help B Company. As they approached B Companies position they became aware of a considerable Vietnamese force moving around their left flank heading towards the LZ and the rest of A Company, they too had become surrounded. The NVA units that had cut them off was company sized but the enemy had made one major blunder. They crossed the dry creek which the rest of A Company was using for cover, they easily cut the NVA down as they ran.

C and D Companies now landed in the LZ and secured the perimeter as A Company moved up the ridge and joined B Company who in turn attempted to reach 2nd Platoon. They met murderous incoming fire, which halted them quickly. Massive artillery fire and air support was used but it seemed not to make an impression on the NVA and still the Americans held on by a thread. Hand to hand fighting was taking place everywhere and despite heroic efforts A and B Company could not reach 2nd Platoon.

As evening tell both A and B Company's were ordered to fall back to the LZ where C and D Company's were still involved in a ferocious firefight. C Company were fighting off two Vietnamese Company's alone. No further rescue attempts could be made on the forlorn 2nd Platoon who were all alone. Of the 27 men who had started in 2nd Platoon 8 had already been killed including Lt. Herrick and the second in command. The platoon was now commanded by Sergeant Clyde E. Savage. During the night three major enemy assaults were repulsed due to well aimed small arms fire and accurate fire missions.

B Company of the 2nd battalion 7th Cavalry was now airlifted into the LZ but thereafter because of the ferocious enemy fire no more troops could be airlifted in. Further reinforcements had to be landed at alternate LZ's between 3km and 10km away. The only hope was they could march overland to the assistance of their colleagues. During the night the NVA weren't inactive either, the 8th Battalion of the 66th NVA regiment was moved into the area with the responsibility of attacking the eastern side of the LZ defended by D Company. H-15 main Force Viet Cong Battalion was ordered to attack the South side of the LZ where C Company defended. They kept the 32nd NVA Regiment assailable to be thrown in and mortars and anti-aircraft equipment was moved towards the LZ. During the night the NVA probed the American positions, which were now well dug in.

The Americans used air and artillery support highly effectively. The Americans did not suffer too many casualties overnight. By dawn the firefights had subsided and small recce patrols covered the perimeter. C Company's recce patrol soon met heavy resistance and once again heavy fire was received across the Company's front. The Vietnamese were launching a massive assault in attempt to overrun the American positions and artillery and air support arrived in abundance. Quickly the situation worsened and A Company was sent to help C Company and as they left D Company received heavy contact. The reserve, which was the battalion recce platoon, went to D Company's aide. The LZ was covered with criss crossing incoming fire.

 Heavy and accurate fire/air support was landing on the NVA positions, by 0800 hours a third attack was made by them on A Company. The Americans were by now in a desperate situation, B Company 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry was moved into the centre of the LZ so they could lend support to the danger spots. Yet amazingly the defenders hung on whilst the Vietnamese suffered heavy casualties through very intense barrages. B52 bombers also dropped payloads onto the NVA to assist the ground troops. At 0900 hours the first American helicopters landed on the hot LZ with reinforcements in the shape of A Company 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry.

Every officer in C Company had been killed but their firepower had proved too intense for the NVA and the attack disintegrated. At LZ Victor 3 km away the 2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry had to battle through heavy enemy resistance to reach LZ X-ray and duly arrived at noon. A and C Company's of their battalion joined up with B Company 1st Battalion to lead a rescue attempt on the beleaguered 2nd Platoon. At 1300 hours they set off firstly meeting light resistance and sniper fire, they there escorted the living, wounded and dead back to the LZ.

The American forces spent another night on the LZ and shortly after midnight a massive NVA attack was launched against the LZ . But the Americans had received reinforcements and consolidated their positions and the NVA attack was only over a small front. The defenders co-ordinated all mortars and the available four artillery batteries to halt the attack and were not overrun at all. By dawn the Vietnamese had melted back into the jungle and the odd shot fired by wounded VC was the only firing.

The American casualties were 79 killed, 121 wounded and none missing. There were 634 enemy dead soldiers on the field but numerous trails of blood were found, Americans estimate they caused 1,000 casualties. The Vietnamese certainly learnt from this battle because never were they to throw troops at cavalry forces again in such a mindless manner.  


WARGAMING THE ACTION

In 15mm/20mm a large number of figures would be required unless you stick to the plights of A and B Companies. In 1/300th (6mm) if you count one base as a squad of 10 men you can represent a company with 12 bases. Each company could be divided into four bases per platoon (one platoon being the heavy weapons platoon the other three rifle platoons9. Each NVA regiment would require 150 bases and the VC main force as 50 bases - I suggest recycling dead bases or using counters as well. Americans should be classed as veterans and the Vietnamese as regular troops.

AMERICANS:

1st Battalion 7th Cavalry (4 Co.'s)
2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry (4 Co.'s )
2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry (4 Co.'s)
Four 105mm Artillery Batteries
Liberal air support

NORTH VIETNAMESE

32nd NVA Regiment (1,500 men)
33rd NVA Regiment (1,500 men)
66th NVA Regiment (1,500 men)
H-15 Main Force Viet Cong (500 men)
Mortar and Heavy weapon Support  


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Great Battles of the Vietnam War - Tom Carhart

Vietnam: A History - Stanley Marrow

Vietnam The Decisive Battles - John Pimlott

The Rise and Fall of an American Army - Shelby L. Stanton

 

Courtesy of Pete Jones - the SOTCW Vietnam War Study Group


 

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