Battle for the Ia Drang Valley: The US Army vs The People's Army of Vietnam

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  • 0:01 Battle for the Ia Drang Valley
  • 1:14 Planning Phase
  • 2:02 Battle at X-Ray
  • 3:46 Battle at Albany
  • 4:31 Outcome
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The Battle for the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 was the first confrontation between the United States Army and the People's Army of Vietnam. Learn about the battle including the planning, combat and outcome in this lesson.

Battle for the Ia Drang Valley

Between November 14 and 18, 1965, the United States Army engaged the People's Army of Vietnam (or PAVN) in one of the first and largest conventional struggles of the Vietnam War, known as the Battle for the Ia Drang Valley. The encounter witnessed elements of the United States Army 7th Calvary Division (Airmobile), also known as the Air-Cavalry Division, challenge the 66th and 33rd PAVN Regiments massed along the Chu Pong Mountain, which was just west of the village of Plei Me.

The Battle for the Ia Drang Valley had a number of important implications. First, was securing the Central Highlands region by the United States. North Vietnam had funneled thousands of troops into the region in an attempt to create a stronghold. The United States needed to eliminate the enemy as a means of capturing the Central Highlands and securing the border between South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Second, the United States used the engagement to test its air mobility strategy against the enemy. The tactic encouraged the use of helicopters to move soldiers in and out of combat zones as well as to supply important covering fire. Finally, the outcome of the struggle reinforced the North Vietnamese strategy of not engaging the United States in a direct encounter. Instead, North Vietnam encouraged hit-and-run tactics; it would only participate in two conventional battles throughout the remainder of the war.

Planning Phase

Battle preparations for the Ia Drang Valley campaign began following an enemy attack on an American installation at Plei Mei on October 19, 1965. The United States ordered a response by establishing search zones in the western areas of Plei Mei. Three search areas were created: Maroon, Bronze and Lime - the Ia Drang Valley rested in zone Lime.

Colonel Harold Moore, commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Division, was assigned to conduct operations within Lime. After initial reconnaissance, Moore considered three potential landing zones within the area: Albany, Tango and X-Ray. Moore decided upon landing his troops at X-Ray due to its friendly geographical features. The mission for the 7th Cavalry was to capture the Ia Drang Valley by securing the territory around both X-Ray and Albany while decimating the enemy.

Battle at X-Ray

The 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Division landed at X-Ray shortly before 11 a.m. on November 14. Since only eight helicopters could fly into the landing zone at one time, and due to the 30-minute trip, Moore decided to send his initial wave of soldiers, Company B, toward a strategically important creek bed to establish a patrol line and report enemy movement. Throughout the day, additional companies arrived to support the mission.

Shortly after 12 p.m., PAVN launched its first major strike against the Americans. The North Vietnamese successfully cut off Company B while simultaneously leading a full assault on Companies A, C and the remainder of B located at X-Ray. Soldiers within the 1st Battalion fought to repel the attack, but it wasn't until nightfall when the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry arrived to reinforce X-Ray that the PAVN retreated.

Under the cover of the night, PAVN troops continued to harass the stranded Company B while positioning for a three-pronged assault against X-Ray at dawn on November 15. The wave of PAVN soldiers nearly overwhelmed the 7th Cavalry. However, in a move that saved the division, Moore called for 'Broken Arrow,' which requested all available air, artillery and gunship support to target within yards of the American perimeter at X-Ray. Soldiers popped smoke grenades to identify their positioning. The area was bombed, strafed and napalmed all in an effort to save the 7th Cavalry.

The strategy was successful, even though there were American deaths due to the proximity of the bombs, and the remainder of the PAVN staggered from the field. Additionally, those who survived within Company B were rescued. On November 16, PAVN once again attempted multiple assaults on the American position. Utilizing superior firepower, especially the Bell UH-1 (Huey) helicopter and the A-1 Skyraider aircraft and a more aggressive positioning, the 7th Cavalry was able to finally force PAVN from the area around X-Ray.

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