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Hell in the Ia Drang Valley

Hell in the Ia Drang Valley

The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley was the first major engagement between American and North Vietnamese forces in the Vietnam War. The battle took place during the US airmobile offensive of Operation Silver Bayonet in November 1965. Prior to 1965, the United States had a limited footprint in Vietnam. American advisors and special operation forces had been supporting the South Vietnamese for years. Following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, America increased its commitment to the region. On 8 March 1965, 3,500 Marines were deployed to South Vietnam, sparking the beginning of the American ground war. By the end of the year, 200,000 American troops would be in the region.

Ia-Drang-ValleyOn 11 November 1965, American intelligence sources revealed three NVA regiments had moved into the Ia Drang Valley. The American 1/7th Cavalry, 2/7th Cavalry, and 2/5th Cavalry were airlifted into the region on 14 November. The first elements of 1/7th Cavalry arrived at 10:48 a.m. following a 30-minute bombardment of the landing zone. The remaining elements of the battalion arrived in the following hour. The first engagement between American and NVA forces occurred at 12:15 p.m., sparking the battle. Fighting raged through the day, and by 5:00 p.m. the lead elements of Bravo Company 2/7th Cavalry arrived at Landing Zone X-Ray (LZ) to reinforce the embattled troops. Defensive positions were prepared around the perimeter of LZ X-Ray for the night.

p038Throughout the night, the NVA probed the American lines. The following morning, American reconnaissance patrols were sent to investigate NVA lines. These patrols found the NVA were within 150 yards from the American perimeter, and after a brief firefight, the patrols. Shortly after the firefight, a sizeable NVA force charged the southern side of the perimeter. There was an attempt to call in artillery and air strikes on the NVA positions, but within moments, the Vietnamese had closed within 75 yards of the defensive lines. The American defenses held, but the assault had inflicted heavy casualties on Charlie Company manning the line. A second assault against Charlie was launched an hour later, with small elements of the NVA force breaking through the line. With the situation growing ever dire, the battalion commander called in danger close airstrikes. Inadvertently, two F-100 Super Sabre jet dropped napalm on American lines.

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With losses growing, the 2/5th Cavalry was ordered to land at LZ Victor and make their way to support the troops at LZ X-Ray. As evening arrived, 2/5 made it to LZ X-Ray, helping fortify the lines and assisting in evacuating the dead and wounded soldiers. Throughout the night, the NVA continued to probe the defensive lines. Aided by artillery support, the troops were able to again repulse the assaults on LZ X-Ray. The following day 1/7 was ordered to withdraw from the battlefield. The remaining troops were ordered to move towards LZ Albany and LZ Columbus to be extracted. Further action would occur at LZ Albany where 2/7 Cavalry was ambushed by the remnants of NVA forces that fought in the previous engagement.

Look for more information regarding the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in the future Modern War issue #24 with the article “Ambush at LZ Albany” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Managing Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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