Unique Tactical Bombing Raid Successful
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, has returned home after four months in Viet Nam. He was with men of the 1st Cavalry Division during many of their recent engagements with Communist guerrillas, and his articles on the war as he saw it will continue in The Enquirer daily.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Write
During the evening of Nov. 16 at Pleiku, at the compound where the press corps covering the 1st Cavalry Division’s Plei Me campaign was staying between trips to the field, Capt. J. D. Coleman of the public information office passed out word which explained why Brig. Gen. Richard Knowles had pulled 3rd Brigade troops back from Chu Pong Mountains.
Col. Thomas Brown’s brigade was poised for yet another smash at the North Vietnamese army units in the Ia Drang valley - and a massive B-52 bomber raid would strike the slopes of Chu Pong Mountain the next morning.
Robin Mannick of Associated Press and myself got a helicopter arrangement made with Capt. Coleman and went out from Camp Holloway to get a sky-view seat for the bombing attack.
The attack was unique in B-52 tactical bombing history. Missions for this big bomber require 72 hours advance notice, and the coordination with Vietnamese officials is complex. Most of the bombs seem to finally land in areas deserted by the Communists.
The raid on Chu Pong Mountain was already planned for another target in the area and the 1st Cavalry Division’s assistant commander had prevailed in having the bombs carried on down to the Chu Pong battle.
Brig. Gen. Knowles had pulled the Sky Troopers back to trap the Communist units into filling a kill zone for what amounted to an ambush utilizing B-52 strategic bombers and 750-pound bombs.
On these raids, a 1,500 meter “zero line” is observed. No friendly troops or aircraft are allowed closer to the bomb targets than that distance. Our helicopter flew a monotonous pattern along the line at about 1,500 feet altitude. Chu Pong still was smoking from the battle just finished there and the scars of artillery and bombs were visible on its lower slopes.
Mannick and I were coping with seat belts which didn’t work by using a buddy system. He had a camera and I held him while he leaned out and took pictures. He had a telescopic lens arrangement which looked very impressive and I borrowed it to look at the mountain through. He took it back hurriedly when the helicopter lurched and I almost dropped it grabbing for a handhold.
“You hold me and I will hold the camera. I didn’t intend to establish any priority in grabbing the camera instead of you, then, of course. It was just a matter of putting first things first,” he informed me in his best Oxford manner.
I saw an orange blossom on the military crest of Chu Pong, then a long line of them grew, stretching in a continuous flash. As the orange flames disappeared a boil of black smoke went up and then the crash of the first explosions came to us.
I attempted to spot the B-52s which had dropped this fury and couldn’t see them at all. More bombs were bursting in lines which traced out an almost geometrical pattern of violence on the mountain and in the brush around Landing Zone X-Ray where the battle had been fought.
“That is fantastic,” I told Mannick.
He was shooting pictures and I was holding his belt to anchor him.
“Here, look at them through the lens,” he shouted, he held to me and let me handle the camera but he kept the cord to it securely around his neck.
Through the telescopic lens, I could see the initial burst of the bombs flattening trees and sending huge gusts of dirt and dust into the air. The boiling black smoke and dust would obscure one burst just as the next bomb exploded. I looked at the first string of bombs and saw a staggering line of craters stitched through the green canopy on the mountain.
Mannick went back to his photography and I kept shouting nonsensical directionsat the pilots of the still invisible B-52s. There is a valley behind Chu Pong Mountain which seemed to be an especially desirable target to me, and there was a finger from the main ridge which shielded a defile from the battlefield below which had sheltered reserves and possibly a regimental headquarters, I had been told.
While I was pounding poor Mannick on the back instead of holding him, causing him considerable problems in properly focusing his camera, and acting like a football fan helping the quarterback of the home team, the B-52s kept up the inexorable pounding.
The flash and smoke of bombs blotted out the finger of ground and its reverse slope and there was a sudden cloud of smoke and dust from behind the mountain in the valley I had been shouting about.
Mannick suddenly pointed to the sky. I saw tiny silver specks shining.
“Look at that! They must have dropped those bombs 20 or 30 miles from here! They are at 35,000 and hitting exactly where they should,” Mannick said.
The silver flashes kept coming. I had no detailed information on the number of planes or the number of bombs they had dropped, but the explosions were still flaring, this time in the timber around Landing Zone X-Ray.
The bombing was a display of brutal firepower and the lack of warning of any plane’s approach must have made them a horrible surprise to the PAVN battalions there.
The B-52s completed the display of U.S. firepower at Landing Zone X-Ray. The shattered, bloody woods had been the scene of the death of the 66th Regiment, 325th Division of the People’s Army of Viet Nam. A prisoner, his morale shattered, later deserted when “. . . less than 100 soldiers finally came to our rendezvous point. Regimental headquarters was also destroyed.”
The raid was an example of how the big planes could be used to full effect in a tactical blow.
© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
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