The campaign in the Pleiku Province is most famous for the battles at Landing Zones X-Ray and Albany, but these were both parts of a wider campaign that actually started with a failed North Vietnamese attack on a Special Forces camp that was designed to draw the local South Vietnamese reserves into a trap. The battle is now famous because of Hal Moore’s excellent We were Soldiers Once… and Young, which portrays the
The section on the opposing commanders helps demonstrate some of the reasons behind the US failure in Vietnam – they essentially snubbed the Vietnamese general in charge in the area the battles were fought, and invented a new formation above the division to avoid having any US divisions serving under even the loosest Vietnamese authority. Once the fighting begins we get a similar problem, with the first US brigade to be involved largely ignoring any intelligence that came from the local Vietnamese II Corps, even that provided by the embedded American force. As a result they wandered rather pointlessly around the jungle, and missed a chance to attack the north Vietnamese as they were retreating after a failed attack of their own.
The entire campaign emerges as rather pointless, being carried out more to prove the validity of the airborne infantry model than for any real military benefit it might have offered. Having ignored their Vietnamese colleagues, the American high command emerges rather badly when operating on its own. Once they finally discovered where the North Vietnamese actually were, their response was to drop a tiny force into an isolated clearing, then split it in two by sending a single company off into the jungle to see what they could find! What they found was a much larger Vietnamese formation, and only the problems of commanding in the jungle appears to have saved them from being totally wiped out! One of the interesting results of seeing the battle from both sides is that the battle to save that company, which features largely in American accounts of the campaign, wasn’t even noticed by the North Vietnamese!
This is an interesting account of the first large scale US battle of the Vietnam War, and one that set a pattern for much of the rest of the conflict – the Americans could inflict higher casualties on their opponents, but their own losses were too high for satisfaction, and their tactical victories often made no real contribution towards winning the war. The use of Vietnamese sources makes this especially useful, looking at both sides of the picture.
The Strategic Background
The Battlefields Today
Author: J.P. Harris & J. Kenneth Eward