Siege of Plei Me

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Siege of Plei Me
Part of the Vietnam War
Plei Me Vietnam Special Forces camp 1965.jpg
Special Forces camp at Plei Me in 1965
Date October 19–25, 1965
Location 13°37′01″N 107°55′01″E / 13.617°N 107.917°E / 13.617; 107.917Coordinates: 13°37′01″N 107°55′01″E / 13.617°N 107.917°E / 13.617; 107.917
Plei Me, Vietnam
Result Siege lifted
Belligerents
 South Vietnam
 United States
CIDG
Vietnam North Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
Charles Beckwith
Richard T. Knowles
Harold M. Moore
Vinh Loc
Chu Huy Man
Nguyen Huu An
Strength
450 CIDG
12 U.S. Special Forces
250 ARVN Rangers
ARVN armored column of 1,400 men
U.S. Air Force and elements of First Cavalry Division
33rd and 320th PAVN Regiments (~3,000)
Casualties and losses
Montagnard and ARVN: unknown, but substantial
US: about 50 dead

U.S. body count: 326 killed during siege [1]

U.S. estimate: 850 killed, 1,700 wounded during siege and pursuit[2]
North Vietnamese estimate: 600 killed in 33rd regiment.
The siege took place in Gia Lai province, South Vietnam.

The Siege of Plei Me (Vietnamese: bao vây diệt địch ở Pleime) (19-25 October 1965) was the beginning phase of the first major confrontation between soldiers of the communist North Vietnamese Army (PAVN) and the U.S. army during the Vietnam War. The lifting of the siege by South Vietnamese forces and American air power was followed by the pursuit of the retreating North Vietnamese from 28 October until 12 November, setting the stage for the Battle of Ia Drang.[3]

Plei Me was an isolated U.S. Special Forces and Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) camp in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam defended mostly by Montagnard tribesmen.

Background[edit]

The camp at Plei Me, 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Pleiku city in the central highlands of Vietnam, was established in October 1963 by the United States Army Special Forces. Plei Me was one of many Special Forces camps scattered around the Central Highlands and charged with gaining and maintaining the support of the Montagnards for the U.S. and South Vietnamese war effort. Less than 20 miles from the Cambodian border, Plei Me also had the objective of gathering intelligence about the infiltration into South Vietnam of North Vietnamese soldiers along the Ho Chi Minh trail.[4]

In 1965 the camp was manned by more than 400 Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) soldiers -- local Montagnard irregulars, mostly members of the Jarai ethnic group. Many of them had families living just outside the camp. 12 American soldiers and 14 South Vietnamese special forces assisted and advised the Montagnards. AT the time of the attack on Plei Me, about 300 Montagnards, the 14 Vietnamese, and 10 Americans were inside the camp. The others were on patrol or stationed at nearby listening posts.[5]

Brigadier General Chu Huy Man of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) was tasked with destroying special forces outposts as a prelude to capturing Pleiku city, the headquarters of the South Vietnamese army (ARVN) in the II Corps region, and gaining control of Highway 19 which led from Pleiku to the coast of South Vietnam. ARVN had 9 battalions (about 4,500 soldiers) of combat troops stationed in Pleiku. Anticipating a North Vietnamese push to capture Pleiku and Highway 19, the United States had stationed the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) at Camp Radcliff near the town of An Khe in September 1965. The Air Cavalry Division was composed of two brigades with at total complement of eight battalions. The First Cavalry utilized the new tactic of relying on helicopters to transport soldiers and supplies, for medical evacuations, and aerial rocket artillery.[6]

General Man had under his command the 32nd (or 320th) and 33rd regiments of the North Vietnamese army, comprising about 3,000 men, with another regiment, the 66th, becoming available by early November. All three regiments were newly arrived from North Vietnam and were unfamiliar with the Plei Me area. Man's battle plan was to threaten Plei Me with one reinforced battalion (600-700 men) of the 33rd and thereby generate an attempt by the U.S. and South Vietnam to relieve the siege of the beleaguered camp. To deal with the anticipated relief force from Pleiku, which would have to follow the only road leading to Plei Me, Man stationed four battalions of the 33rd and 32nd regiments near the road to ambush the relief force. A sixth battalion was in reserve. Once the relief force was defeated, Man would use both regiments to destroy the Plei Me camp.[7]

PAVN attacks Plei Me[edit]

The first indication of an impending attack was about 1900 hours on October 19 when a Montagnard patrol was attacked near Plei Me. At 2200, one NVA company overran an outpost southwest of the camp and shortly after midnight the NVA attacked from the north, west, and east with small arms, mortars, and recoilless rifles. Some attackers reached the defense perimeter of the camp. The American commander at Plei Me, Captain Harold M. Moore, called in airstrikes which arrived about 0400 on October 20 and continued throughout the day and the next night.[8]

American and South Vietnamese commanders in Pleiku agreed that reinforcement of the besieged garrison was necessary and decided, while preparing an overland relief convoy, to airlift 175 men, mostly South Vietnamese rangers, into Plei Me. Major Charles A. Beckwith commanded this group. The relief group, transported by helicopter, landed about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) northeast of Plei Me on the morning of October 21 and made its way to the camp the next morning. Beckwith took command of Plei Me. He was ordered to sally outside the camp to confront the besiegers, but his force of two companies of Vietnamese rangers quickly suffered 14 dead and retreated to Plei Me again.[9]

Plei Me was resupplied with airdrops from CV-2 (Caribou) of the 92d Aviation Company, the CV-7 (Buffalo) of the U.S. Army Aviation Test Board, and a number of night drops of munitions, medical supplies, and rations by C-123s from the 310th Air Commando Squadron from Nha Trang USAF base. Some of the air drops landed outside the camp, while two defenders were killed when a pallet of supplies fell on them.[2] Plei Me became, up until then, the largest air support operation of the Vietnam War with 696 sorties and more than 1.5 million pounds of bombs, napalm, and rockets dropped on the attackers. Several U.S. planes and helicopters were damaged or shot down by intense ground fire. [10]

At Plei Me, the North Vietnamese attempted to negate American tactical air power by engaging the defenders at very close quarters. Air strikes were called in to hit the attackers only a few meters outside the defense perimeter of the camp.[11] This was the "grab them by the belt buckle" tactic that would be commonly employed by the communist forces throughout the Vietnam War.

The ambush[edit]

General Vinh Loc, the South Vietnamese commander in Pleiku, was reluctant to send a relief convoy by road to Plei Me, fearing to weaken his defenses in Pleiku and anticipating that the relief convoy would be ambushed. In exchange for a promise from the Americans to reinforce the garrison at Pleiku, Vinh Loc dispatched a relief column of 1,400 Vietnamese soldiers by land toward Plei Me on October 23. During that day, the U.S. airlifted more than a battalion of American soldiers into Pleiku (Task Force Ingram).[12] Vinh Loc also sent a battalion of troops west of the suspected ambush site to engage the NVA from the rear. The U.S. provided air support and artillery.

The ARVN armored column proceeded down Provincial Road 6C toward Plei Me, and was ambushed at two places at 1730 hours on 23 October. The leading elements of the convoy responded effectively to the NVA assault, but the South Vietnamese suffered heavy casualties in the second attack toward the rear of the convoy. Both attacks were repelled by U.S. air power, and by morning the North Vietnamese had given up the attack and withdrawn westward. Fearing another attack, General Vinh Loc remained in place on October 24, but proceeded onward to Plei Me with only minor resistance on October 25. The assaulting force of the NVA withdrew westward that same evening after suffering heavy casualties from U.S. bombing. The siege was lifted.[13]

The pursuit[edit]

The Pleiku-Plei Me area and the Battle of Ia Drang.

In the aftermath of the siege, elements of the U.S. First Cavalry Division (airmobile) were airlifted to Plei Me and the camp was visited by the U.S. Commander in South Vietnam, General William Westmoreland. After a delay, on October 28, Westmoreland authorized the the First Cavalry to take the offensive and pursue the retreating North Vietnamese. The first problem the U.S. army had was a deficiency of petroleum due to the unprecedented heavy use of helicopters by the First Cavalry. That problem solved, the First brigade of the First Cavalry under Brigadier General Richard T. Knowles undertook the search and destroy operation over an area of 1,500 square miles (3,900 km2) north and west of Plei Me.[14]

North Vietnamese officers later described their forces as in "great disorder" following the siege. The 33rd regiment had suffered heavy casualties; the 32nd remained mostly intact. In the pursuit, the 33rd would continue to be punished by the U.S. About 40 percent, or 600, of its 1,500 men were killed in the siege and its aftermath.[15]

On 1 November elements of the First Brigade of the First Cavalry located a North Vietnamese hospital area and killed 99 or more soldiers at a cost of 11 Americans dead and 47 wounded. On 3-4 November, the Americans ambushed (and were in turn counter-ambushed) an element of the NVA's 66th regiment, newly arrived in the area, killing an estimated 72 North Vietnamese at a cost of 4 American dead. This firefight was distinguished by the first use of helicopters to reinforce and supply an American unit at night. On 6 November, two American companies engaged in a lengthy firefight with NVA elements killing 77 at a cost of 26 American dead and 73 wounded. Between 7 and 12 November the war-weary First Brigade was withdrawn to its base at An Khe and replaced with fresh troops at Pleiku and Plei Me.[16] These new elements of the First Cavalry would continue the pursuit which culminated in the Battle of Ia Drang, 14-18 November 1965.

Miscellaneous[edit]

During the battle, A-1A Skyraider pilot Captain Melvin C Elliott was shot down while strafing the area around the camp. After evading the PAVN for 36 hours by covering himself with mud, Elliott was rescued by helicopter.[17]

During the siege, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson telephoned Beckwith to congratulate him on his defense of Plei Me.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report #160 - Special Report: The Siege of Plei Me - 19-29 October 1965, 24 February 1966, Folder 0279, Box 0001, Vietnam Archive Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 9 Apr. 2015. <http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=F031100010279>
  2. ^ a b "Seven Days of Zap". Time Magazine. 1965-11-05. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  3. ^ Lịch sử Đảng bộ tỉnh Gia Lai: 1945-1975 1996 Page 323 "TỪ ngày 7 đến 15-11-1965 khi quân chủ lưc đang bao vây diệt địch ở Pleime, ta đá huy động hơn 3.000 lượt người từ các Huyện 3, 4, 5, 6 kéo vào thị xá, tới cơ quan nguy quyền tỉnh tố cáo tội ác quân Mỷ đi càn, phá hoại hoa màu, bắn pháo ."
  4. ^ Vietnam Studies: U.S. Army Special Forces, 1961-1971 (1989), CHM Publication 90-23, Department of the Army. http://www.history.army/milBOOKS/Vietnam/90-23/tab5.htm, accessed 8 April 2015
  5. ^ Garland, John M. Stemming the Tide, May 1965 to October 1966 (2000), United States Army in Vietnam, Center of Military History, United States Army, p. 99
  6. ^ Garland, pp. 95-96; 1st Cavalry Division Association - Interim Report of Operations, First Cavalry Division, July 1965 to December 1966, ca. 1967, Folder 01, Box 01, Richard P. Carmody Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, pp. 15-19, accessed 8 Apr. 2015. <http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=22030101001>
  7. ^ Moore, Harold G. and Galloway, Joseph L. (1992), We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, New York: Ballantine Books, pp. 50-52
  8. ^ Garland, pp. 99-100
  9. ^ Garland, pp. 100-103
  10. ^ Garland, pp. 95-96; 1st Cavalry Division Association - Interim Report of Operations, First Cavalry Division, July 1965 to December 1966, ca. 1967, Folder 01, Box 01, Richard P. Carmody Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, pp. 15-19, accessed 8 Apr. 2015. <http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=22030101001>
  11. ^ Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report #160 - Special Report: The Siege of Plei Me - 19-29 October 1965, 24 February 1966, Folder 0279, Box 0001, Vietnam Archive Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 9 Apr. 2015.<<http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=F031100010279>
  12. ^ 1st Cavalry Division Association - Interim Report of Operations, First Cavalry Division, July 1965 to December 1966, ca. 1967, Folder 01, Box 01, Richard P. Carmody Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, pp. 15-19, accessed 8 Apr. 2015. <http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=22030101001>
  13. ^ Garland, pp. 102-104
  14. ^ 1st Cavalry Division Association - Interim Report of Operations, First Cavalry Division, July 1965 to December 1966, ca. 1967, Folder 01, Box 01, Richard P. Carmody Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, pp. 15-19, accessed 8 Apr. 2015. <http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=22030101001>
  15. ^ Moore and Galloway, pp. 50-54
  16. ^ Garland, pp. 106-111
  17. ^ "Pilot covers himself with mud to elude VC", http://www.skyraider.org/skyassn/warstor/pleime.htm, accessed 10 Apr 2015
  18. ^ "Plei Me 9", http://www.lzxray.com/content/plei-me-9, accessed 15 Apr 2015

Further reading[edit]

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