Dec 9, 1965

Peoples Army Of North Viet Nam Suffers Heavy Losses At Hands Of 1st Cavalry

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Enquirer military writer Charles Black was with elements of the 1st Cavalry Division Thanksgiving Day when the troops ended on of the biggest campaigns of the war. The following is an account of the mission.

Enquirer Military Writer

AN KHE, Viet Nam – On Thanksgiving Day the 1st Cavalry Division completed a 30-day campaign which had shattered the 32nd, 66th and 101st Regiments of the Peoples Army of North Viet Nam (PAVN) and cleared the woods and hills from Plei Me to the Cambodian border of Communist resistance.

The campaign had made history.

It was the first time in the Vietnamese war when regular Communist troops found themselves pursued, harried and defeated after playing their old game of “hitting the outpost and ambushing the relief.”

The outpost was hit on Oct. 19 when two battalions of the 101st Regiment crept into position around Plei Me and opened a fierce attack on the U.S. Special Forces Team and 360 Montagnard troops holding that isolated fortified camp.

Relief Ambushed

The relief was ambushed Oct. 24 when a tank, armored personnel carrier and truck column ran into two battalions of the 32nd Regiment in a furious battle on a dirt road south of Plei Me, where a helicopter force of Rangers had already effected a relief of the camp.

In the past history of this war, the fighting would have been done. The Communists would have withdrawn to hidden rendezvous points, their officers would have harangued them on the “victory” they had just won and reorganized them and moved the combat-trained battalions on into other such pre-planned fights.

The 1st Cavalry Division’s First Brigade, commanded by Lt. Col. Harlowe Clark, upset this script, however, when on Oct.27 the PAVN forces made a last attack on Plei Me.

Arms Caches

On Oct.28 the Second Battalion 12th Infantry overran hidden arms caches in the woods west of Plei Me. On Oct 29 the First Squadron Ninth Cavalry, reinforced by Company A of the Second Battalion 12th Infantry, Company B of First Battalion (Airborne) Eighth Infantry and the reconnaisance platoon from First Battalion (Airborne) 12th Infantry, overran a fie1d hospital defended by a fanatical battalion from the 101st Regiment and captured weapons, $250,000 worth of elaborate medical and surgical supplies and equipment, and inflicted hundreds of casualties -- as well as capturing more prisoners than any other action in Viet Nam has produced.

The toll of PAVN defeats kept mounting. Second Battalion (Airborne) Eighth Infantry smashed the reserve battalion of the 101st Regiment, and First Squadron Ninth Cavalry ambushed a battalion of PAVN in the Ia Drang River Valley the night of Nov. 3. The First Brigade has ruined PAVN forces lingering in the Plei Me area when it came in from the field on Nov. 8, turning over the campaign to Co1. Thomas W. Brown’s Third Brigade.
The First Battalion Seventh Cavalry drew heavy blood from the 66th and the few remaining survivors of the 101st in the now-historic battle at the foot of Chu Pong Mountain near the Ia Drang River and the Second Battalion Seventh Infantry fought the most bitter engagement any American unit has been involved in near the river two days later, smashing the final two battalions available to the 66th and 101st Regiments and piling up casualties on the 32nd Regiment during the two days and nights of fray.

Division Beaten

When it was done, a PAVN division had been beaten by out-numbered Sky Soldiers fighting in an area no other force could have penetrated. Helicopter-lifted infantrymen and helicopter-lifted artillery (a single battalion, First Battalion 19th Artillery. (Airborne) commanded by Lt. Col. Joe Bush had moved 39 times from one wilderness location to another by helicopter during two weeks of action) coordinated by air strikes from fighter planes, Skyraider bombers and B52 bombers, had won a campaign. The campaign had been studded with American successes. It proved helicopters could take men into battle where no other means would do. It proved that man for man, gun for gun, the young soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division could outfight the Communist infantry. It proved that Hanoi could not win its coveted victory in the Central Highlands which would split Viet Nam.

The Americans had killed fanatical soldiers by the thousands -- at least 2,000 bodies were counted after fights in the campaign and air and artillery, gunships and far-ranging cavalry patrols, had shot fleeing PAVN soldiers in untold numbers. Hundreds of weapons were captured, recoilless artillery, machine guns, mortars and a host of new, automatic weapons for infantrymen were piled up in front of 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters as the campaign went ahead. The final push, which killed additional hundreds of Communists, came when Col. William Lynch took his Second Brigade into the area and supported a sweep by Vietnamese Airborne battalions which combed the woods along the Cambodian border. The remaining Communists (a prisoner from one battalion of the 66th said that when the regiment attempted to regroup, less than 100 soldiers could be counted) fled over into the hills of Cambodia and the area was cleared of living enemy by Thanksgiving Day.

The first campaign of the 1st Cavalry Division had become the first major American victory in Viet Nam and one which is expected to shape the destiny of the war in this country. It was a victory which can be repeated as often as the Communist planners in Hanoi care to risk defeat, officers in the division say. It should be the handwriting on the wall for Communist aspirations in South-east Asia. The stubborness of the Communist planners is expected to bring more North Vietnamese troops down the long trail to misery and death before they accede to its message -- but the message was sent loud and clear by the former Fort Benning soldiers and its contents will finally be understood in Hanoi.

© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
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