Fire Support, LZ X-Ray (Part two)

The Americans also found an amazing number of enemy casualties and evidence that many more dead and wounded had been removed from the field of battle. After the expansion of the perimeter Moore “ordered a two-pronged attack by two companies of Tully’s men across the of the Chu Pong” (Galloway)with the goal of retrieving his “lost platoon” which amazingly had not lost a single soldier after their platoon leader had been killed on the first day of battle (Galloway) . I believe their lives were spared because of the very effective and constant coverage provided by the American field artillery and air power.

On 16 November, LTC Moore’s men were entering their third day of battle for LZ X-Ray and they were by no means home free. At 4:22 in the morning an estimated 300 North Vietnamese attacked and were relatively easily beaten back. One reason for this little victory was the fact the artillery had registered their guns during the slow times during the battle. Registering the guns makes them much more accurate and therefore they can conduct fire missions both faster and safer for the friendly ground troops. The Air Force provided flair support from orbiting C-123 aircraft allowing easy identification of targets on and around the LZ (Galloway). At this point “the North Vietnamese broke and ran” (Galloway). Shortly after that attack the enemy assaulted again this time with about 200 men, this attack yielded the enemy the same result as they were turned back once again (Galloway).

After being on the defensive for most of the time since he had landed, LTC Moore decided to go on the offense. To begin the offensive LTC Moore decided to use a technique called a mad minute, where every soldier shoots at anything that makes them suspicious. There was indeed a good reason to be suspicious, about 50 North Vietnamese immediately attacked and were repulsed (Galloway).

With the goal of taking 500 yards of ground, LTC Moore put all nine of his companies on line for the assault. After only moving about 50 yards they encountered a large volume of small arms fire. They simply pulled back and called in the artillery which made quick work of the enemy (Galloway). This would be the last major engagement for LTC Moore and his men on and around the hard fault battlefield called LZ X-Ray.

On the third day LTC Moore gave the order to begin transporting his men out of the LZ. LTC Moore was the last to get on the departing helicopters as was his practice throughout the war, first on last off. They had performed very well, inflicting around 1,300 casualties on the enemy. Sadly the Americans suffered 79 killed and 121 wounded. The artillery, aerial artillery and CAS  were equally impressive, around 18,000 artillery shells had been fired, 3,000 rockets from the helicopter gunships and around 400 CAS sorties (Galloway).

The soldiers involved in the battle either performed or witnessed some events that had never been done before. They took part in the first large scale engagement between the United States combat forces and North Vietnamese regulars. They witnessed the first use of a B-52 being used for CAS, when 24 B-52’s dropped their bombs very close to the LZ (Galloway). And were also part of the first time an entire U.S. Division the 1st Air Cavalry Division was committed to a battle. The battle also validated the concept of deploying, displacing, maintaining and supplying field artillery batteries by helicopter. This concept would prove especially useful in the less than friendly terrain of Viet Nam (Ott 1975, 95).

There were also some unfortunate trends that came out of the X-Ray experience, LZ’s X-Ray and Albany had a large role in making that November the deadliest month yet for United States in the war so far with 545 deaths (Galloway). Because they had fought the Americans to what they believed to be a draw the North Vietnamese felt they could now eventually win the war (Galloway).

The battle for LZ X-Ray would predict the future of fire support in Vietnam. The use of helicopters to rapidly deploy and sustain artillery units, keeping friendly units usually under a protective artillery umbrella. Helicopters being used as effective mobile rocket artillery became fact not just theory. The first deployment of 24 B-52s for close air support of ground troops, each plane could carry in excess of 50,000 pounds of ordnance. America took fire support to levels of effectiveness never before seen by any country. The PAVN and VC also learned from the encounter. Move inside the artillery fire towards their enemy, and the need for anti-aircraft weaponry.

Author: Ed Faught

Bibliography

Leonard, Steven. “Fire Support in the Ia Drang Valley.” www.almc.army.mil. http://www.almc.army.mil/alog/issues/MarApr06/ia_drang_spprt.html (accessed September 21, 2013).

Galloway, Joseph. “Vietnam Story.” www.usnews.com. http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/soldiers/vietnam_901029.htm (accessed September 22, 2013).

Ott, David. Vietnam Studies. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1975. (accessed September 20, 2013).

Moore, Harold, & Hieu, Colonel. “LZ X-Ray After Action Report.” www.generalhieu.com. http://www.generalhieu.com/lzxray_moore_hieu-2.htm (accessed September 20, 2013).

Galloway, Joseph. “Ia Drang The battle that convinced Ho Chi Minh he could win.” www.historynet.com. ia-drang-where-battlefield-losses-convinced-ho-giap-and-mcnamara-the-u-s-could-never-win (accessed September 22, 2013).

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