The Battle of Ia Drang

The Battle of Ia Drang took place from the 14th of November 1965 until the 18th of November 1965. It was the first major battle between the United States Army and the People’s Army of North Vietnam. Ia Drang is a River that is in the central highlands of South Vietnam, South-west of Pleiku. The word ‘Ia meaning river’ in the local Montagnard language, whom were the local tribes of the southern highlands of Vietnam.

This was the first time the United States Army would try the new battle tactic of airlifting (Via helicopter) troops into a battle zone. They would be supplied by air and all wounded and dead would be evacuated by Helicopter. This had been tried on a smaller scale with great success, however the tactic had not been used to mount a full scale operation. (this was to become the standard for future military operation during the Vietnam war and in all other future confrontations, it is now status quo for airlift operations with many nations.

United States Forces consisted of the 7th Calvary (which during WW2 was converted to an airborne regiment). Also elements of the 5th Calvary Regiment (By the end of WW2 no horse equipped fighting regiments existed) of the United States Army. The People’s Army of North Vietnam consisted of 66th and 33rd Regiments as well as National Liberation front, commonly known as the Viet Cong or VC.

The United States could call on Bombers from Guam (B-52’s) Fighter aircraft from both the United States Airforce as well as United States Army. The battle was also made famous in a 2002 film Starring Mel Gibson titled “We Were Soldiers”, taken from a book written By Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway titled “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young”. A documentary was made by the National Geographic Channel titled “Day Under Fire: The Vietnam War” which focuses on The Battle of Ia Drang.

On the 14th of November the American Army Began an Artillery Bombardment of Ia Drang, 30 minutes later Bravo Company of The 7th Cavalry land Via Helicopter at Ia Drang. Some 200 men and equipment landed in the first wave. Bravo company was kept close to the initial Landing Zone as they were a small force awaiting the reinforcements of the further companies of the 7th cavalry. In the first hour of operations in Ia Drang, Sergeant John Mingo of Bravo company captured an unarmed NVA Soldier. This Soldier revealed there were some 1600 North Vietnamese Soldiers in the Ia Drang Valley.

By mid morning a second airlift had arrived, bringing the remainder of Bravo Company into the fight. Also some of Alpha company had arrived in this second wave. By noon Alpha company was on the ground and the American 7th Cavalry were involved in fierce fighting with The People’s Army of North Vietnam. By 2pm on the first day of the battle Charlie Company had arrived. At this time the Americans were pinned down at the landing Zone and heavy casualties were inflicted on both sides.

By late afternoon the entire Battalion was on the ground and the Americans with there superior fire power and equipment began to gain control of the situation. As Night Fell colonel Harold Moore the commanding officer orderd his men to dig in for the night. 47 men had been injured in the fighting with 34 of those from Alpha company who bore most of the fighting. During the night the 7th Cavalry were attacked repeatedly but were never overrun.

On the second day The Battle Of Ia Drang intensified with The People’s Army of North Vietnam, throwing everything they had at the American Army overrunning many American positions but not able to defeat the Americans, always retreating after each attack. As Night drew closer on the second night of the battle the Americans had gained control of the situation but had not won the battle, again The People’s Army of North Vietnam attack throughout the night. On Friday the 18th of November American Reinforcements Arrived with the 5th Cavalry, this gave the Americans fresh troops and supplies and they began to control the battle.

Both The United States Army and The People’s Army of North Vietnam learnt Many things from The Battle of Ia Drang, firstly they both claimed victory, neither side controlled the Valley of Ia Drang. General Nguyen Huu An concluded “Move inside the column, Grab them by the belt, and thus avoid casualties from the artillery and air.” One of the few set battles of the Vietnam war where  both Sides claimed victory, the Americans claiming they had killed 10-1 (this was never confirmed). The People’s Army of North Vietnam made similar claims.

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