Fire Support, LZ X-Ray (Part one)

About fifty years ago the battle for landing zone (LZ) X-Ray became the first large scale engagement between the regulars of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the United States Army. During the three days of battle, field artillery and close air support (CAS) would often bring the Americans back from inevitable defeat at the hands of the PAVN, who at times outnumbered them by ten to one (Leonard). PAVN had a definite numerical advantage and our fire support shifted the battle to our advantage.

It all began on the morning of November 14, 1965 when Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Harold Moore’s 1st Battalion 7th Infantry, 1st Cavalry Division conducted an air assault on LZ X-ray. At 10:48 in the morning LTC Moore was the first person to set foot on LZ X-Ray, part of the Chu Pong massif near the Cambodian border (Leonard).

Fire support began before LTC Moore landed, with preparation fire from two batteries of six M-102, 105 millimeter howitzers that had been air lifted in to nearby landing zones. The howitzers  were firing from a nearby LZ’s (Falcon and later Columbus) also took part in a plan to confuse the enemy as to where we would assault by firing on two nearby LZ’s (Tango and Yankee) for approximately eight minutes.  In addition to the field artillery, aerial rocket artillery was also employed firing rockets and machine guns for about 30 seconds (Leonard). 1st Cavalry Division had up to 39 UH-1B helicopters, each capable of firing 48, 2.75 inch folding fin aerial rockets (Ott 1975 85-86).

When the American soldiers assaulted LZ X-Ray they expected combat with the Viet Cong. What they did not expect was to be attacked by the 2,200 man 33rd People’s Army Regiment. The enemy was highly motivated and almost immediately attacked every element that LTC Moore had on the LZ. By approximately 13:30 (1:30 PM) on the 14th, the 2nd platoon of Captain John Herron’s Bravo company was heavily engaged by the enemy after they moved to far too fast and getting cut off (Leonard) With one of the cavalry platoons cut off from the main body and completely surrounded, aerial artillery and howitzers were brought to bear on the enemy attackers (Ott 1975, 93). The surrounded platoon had 29 men and they were being attacked by at least 200 enemies (Galloway). Fire support and bravery would be the only things keeping the lost platoon alive.

This is when the Americans brought 60 and 81 millimeter mortars into play, in an After Action Report (AAR) written (plagiarized) by ARVN Colonel Nguyen Van Hieu it seems that the mortars were not so effective. In the same AAR (mostly written by LTC Moore) it states this is when LTC Moore began calling in CAS, artillery and aerial rockets (Moore, & Hieu) that were much more effective than mortars.

All through the night the enemy kept attacking and probing the perimeter, in search of any weakness. And all through the night the field artillery kept firing and preventing the enemy from overrunning the LZ. Sometimes the artillery fire was brought to within 100 meters or less, if you have ever seen artillery fire land you know that is very close. During the night of the 14th, Batteries A and C, of the 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery would fire no fewer than 4000 105 millimeter shells around LZ X-Ray.

The enemy continued to attack into the morning of the 15th of November sometimes getting to within bayonet combat range in an attempt to get inside of the artillery fire. At this point the artillery was brought into within 50 meters of the cavalry soldiers (Ott 1975, 93). This powerful wall of death finally forced the enemy to withdraw temporarily in order to regroup and rearm. In the lull in fighting that followed the Americans began reinforcing and resupplying the still surrounded LZ.

The Army perhaps realizing the gravity of the situation placed additional firing batteries on LZ Columbus to support X-Ray. On the 15th of November, the Army placed B Battery of the 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery and C Battery of the 2nd Battalion, 17th Artillery on LZ Columbus to provide additional fire support (Ott 1975, 93). This proved to be a fortuitist move, on the second day the enemy would attack with a very large force, putting the LZ at risk of being overrun.

The enemy continued to attack over and over, each time being repelled by the various types of fire support. When the LZ was at risk of being overrun completely, LTC Moore used a code word to let his higher ups know he was in serious trouble. Joe Galloway in a story he wrote for U.S. News stated “We had aircraft stacked at 1000-foot intervals from 7,000 feet to 35,000 feet, each waiting to receive a target” Galloway did not specify the word “broken arrow” in his article.  All of this destruction was a much-needed relief for the LZ, creating a virtual impenetrable wall of death around the Americans.  There was a very unfortunate accident when two F-100 Super Saber aircraft (one was called off) dropped napalm practically on top of LTC Moore’s command post, almost hitting Moore himself and eventually killing at least two Soldiers. Three days after the incident Private First Class (Pfc.) Jimmy D. Nakayama would pass away from his burns on the exact same day that his wife gave birth to a baby girl (Moore, & Galloway).

During the afternoon of the second day LTC Moore received reinforcements. LTC Robert Tully’s 2nd Battalion of the 5th Cavalry had air lifted into LZ Victor and marched overland the two miles to LZ X-Ray.  LTC Tully’s men reported that they were finding dead enemy for a half an hour before they ever reached the landing zone. LZ X-Ray had been successfully reinforced and

resupplied by approximately noon on the 15th of November (Galloway) .With his reinforcements in place LTC Moore moved his perimeter out 300 yards in search of American wounded and dead.

Author: Ed Faught

(To be continued next issue)

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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