November 17

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Nov 17, 1965:

1st Cavalry unit ambushed in the Ia Drang Valley

During part of what would become known as the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, a battalion from the 1st Cavalry Division is ambushed by the 8th Battalion of the North Vietnamese 66th Regiment. The battle started several days earlier when the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry engaged a large North Vietnamese force at Landing Zone X-Ray at the base of the Cheu Pong hills (Central Highlands).

As that battle subsided, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was ordered to move cross-country to Landing Zone Albany, where it was to be picked up by helicopter and moved to a new location. The U.S. unit was moving through the jungle in a long column when the North Vietnamese sprang a massive ambush along the length of the column from all sides. Companies C and D took the brunt of the Communist attack--within minutes, most of the men from the two companies were hit.

The North Vietnamese forces had succeeded in engaging the U.S. forces in very tight quarters, where supporting U.S. firepower could not be used without endangering American lives. The cavalrymen returned fire, but the Communistss were fighting from prepared fighting positions and many of the American leaders had been felled in the initial stages of the ambush. As night fell, the cavalrymen waited for the North Vietnamese to attack but illumination flares provided by air force aircraft made the enemy cautious. By morning, they had withdrawn.

Senior U.S. military leaders declared the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley an American victory. That had clearly been the case with the fight at Landing Zone X-Ray, where the three-day battle resulted in 834 North Vietnamese soldiers confirmed killed with another 1,000 communist casualties likely. However, the battle at Landing Zone Albany was another story. Although there were over 400 enemy soldiers lying on the battlefield after the fighting was over, the battle had been an extremely costly one for the 1st Cavalry troopers. Of the 500 men in the original column moving to Landing Zone Albany, 150 had been killed and only 84 were able to return to immediate duty. 93 percent of Company C sustained some sort of wound or injury--half of them died.

The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley was important because it was the first significant contact between U.S. troops and North Vietnamese forces. The action demonstrated that the North Vietnamese were prepared to stand and fight major battles, and senior American leaders concluded that U.S. forces could wreak significant damage on the communists in such battles. The North Vietnamese also learned a valuable lesson during the battle: they saw that they could negate the effects of superior American firepower by engaging American troops in physically close combat, so that U.S. artillery and air fire could not be used without endangering American lives. This became standard North Vietnamese practice for the rest of the war.

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