Plei Me Special Forces Camp – the Opening Act

The Plei Me Siege and Opening of the 1st CAV Pleiku Campaign In the late summer and fall of 1965, the PAVN B-3 Front is established in the Central Highlands of Vietnam under the command of Brig Gen Chu Huy Man. Gen Man has tactical and administrative control over both the People’s Army (North Vietnamese) and Viet Cong units. The PAVN units are the 320th, 33rd, and 66th Regiments.

Gen Man is charged with bringing the new high-tech 1st CAV Division to battle, learning how it fights with airmobile tactics and new modern gear, and putting this into writing for dissemination to all PAVN and Viet Cong units. To record this information as it is gathered in battle, Lt Col Hoang Phuong, a historian, is to debrief PAVN commanders after the battles.

In October, the 33rd Regt attacks Plei Me Special Forces Camp approximately 40 miles south of Pleiku City in the Pleiku Province. Plei Me is garrisoned with a 12-man US Special Forces Team and 350 Montagnard mercenaries under MAJ Charlie Beckwith’s command (the Delta Force’s creator). The siege continues for several days. An Army of Vietnam relief force is sent out from Pleiku and is ambushed en route by the PAVN 32nd Regt. 1st CAV Artillery supports the ARVN column, the ambushers are beaten off, and the siege is lifted. In late October, the 1st CAV Division is committed to finding and destroying the defeated enemy. The 1st Brigade pursues the withdrawing enemy force over a vast area south and west of Pleiku City and west of Plei Me. It harasses and hounds the 33rd into the eastern area of the Ia Drang Valley.

The two most significant events are the capture of a PAVN Field Hospital on Nov 1st, along with numerous troops, weapons, and enemy documents, and the ambush of a unit of the fresh 66th Regt along the Ia Drang River in the western area of the Valley.

On 10 Nov, the 3rd Brigade relieved the 1st Brigade, moved into the area to the east and west of Plei Me, and conducted patrolling actions. No enemy contact. UPI reporter Joe Galloway accompanied 1/7 CAV units on these patrols.

Late in the afternoon of Saturday, 13 Nov, the 3rd Brigade Commander, COL Thomas Brown, gave the 1st Bn, 7th Cavalry commander, Lt. Col Hal Moore, orders to move his battalion on 14 Nov into the Ia Drang Valley with the mission: “Find and kill the enemy.” Moore would have 16 Huey helicopters to move his unit. Two 105 mm Howitzer batteries (12 tubes) to render fire support. Three battalions of PAVN were reported to be in the Valley.

Moore put out a warning order to his staff and five company commanders, made a map study, formed a tentative plan, arranged for supplies, and set up an air recon for early 14 Nov to select a landing zone to be followed by the operations order to the staff and commanders.

The air recon went as planned, and at 8:50 AM, 14 Nov, Moore issued his operations plan of maneuver and plan of fire support. All companies were to land in one clearing dubbed landing zone X-Ray. LZ X-Ray could hold 8-10 Hueys. It is 14.3 miles from the pick-up areas around Plei Me. Moore would land with the assault company after prepping fires with 105 mm howitzers and aerial rocket artillery. Moore’s command chopper, overhead with its bank of radios, would carry his operations officer, forward air controller (USAF), fire support coordinator, and helicopter liaison officer.

The fire support was to begin at 10:17 AM, with the air assault landing hitting the ground at 10:48. In this enemy base area, Moore would keep his companies within mutual supporting distance of one another. His principal concern is that the lead assault company would get heavily engaged before the rest of his battalion could be shuttled into the battle area – under fire.