Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ia Drang Valley

The 1st Cavalry Division deploys the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, at Ia Drang two miles to the northeast of Landing Zone X-Ray. There they are ambushed by Communist forces and nearly overrun until rescued by the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry. American losses are 276 men to an estimated 400 Viet Cong.

 LTC Hal Moore, Commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, on the radio during the fight for LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam.

The most significant individual battle of the Vietnam War was fought on November 14, 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley in the Central Highlands. It was the first engagement of North Vietnamese Forces and an American unit, bolstered by the technology of the helicopter to deliver troops into battle. The 1st Air Cavalry Division prevailed, but not without sustaining significant casualties, and the victory was sealed when US airpower was unleashed against the numerically superior forces of the PAVN. This earliest of battles is described with great detail using eyewitness accounts in Hal Moore and Joe Galloway ' s We Were Soldiers Once and Young (2004 [1992]). Such writing was possible because the authors had been involved in the battle as commander and reporter, respectively. They not only chronicle the battle moment by moment, but they offer a gripping analysis of the impact of the outcome of the battle on decision - making in Washington, Saigon and Hanoi. The American leadership assumed massive force and technology would always prevail, and the PAVN leadership decided to minimize force size to avoid casualties. They also realized that Cambodia provided sanctuary: “I was always taught as an officer that in a pursuit situation you continue to pursue until you either kill the enemy or he surrenders... Not to follow them into Cambodia violated every principle of warfare. It became perfectly clear to the North Vietnamese that they then had sanctuary; they could come when they were ready to fight and leave when they were ready to quit ". Ultimately, the North Vietnamese analysis of the battle and subsequent battlefield strategy would prevail.

Operations in mid-October by units of the 1st Air Cavalry provided intelligence on PAVN dispositions and General Westmoreland decided on a spoiling attack. This resulted in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, a forested area just east of the Chu Pong massif, from 23 October to 20 November. It was the first major battle between PAVN and US Army units and one of the war's bloodiest encounters. 

On 27 October Westmoreland committed a brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry to search-and-destroy operations. For two weeks there was sporadic but light contact between the opposing sides. This changed on 14 November. Over the next four days savage fighting erupted over landing zones (LZS) X-Ray and Albany. It began when Lieut. Col. Harold Moore's understrength 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment-some 450 men-landed at LZ "XRay" almost on top of two PAVN regiments of 2,000 men. Outnumbered and in unfamiliar terrain, the Americans fought desperately. In bitter, sometimes hand-to-hand combat, the Americans drove back the attackers. Beginning the next day, 15 B-52 bombers from Guam began six days of Arc Light strikes on the Chu Pong massif. It was the first time that B-52s were employed in a tactical role in support of ground troops. Moore's battalion was relieved by Lieut. Col. Robert Tully's 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, which was then ordered to vacate LZ "X-Ray" and march overland to "Albany" two miles away. Three PAVN battalions ambushed the Americans en route, and in the most savage one-day battle of the war 155 Americans were killed and another 124 wounded. 

The battle ended when PAVN units withdrew across the border into Cambodia. In a month of fighting the 1st Air Cavalry had lost 305 killed. The Americans estimated PAVN losses at 3,561, less than half of these confirmed. Both sides claimed victory. The PAVN learned they could survive high-tech American weapons and the new helicopter tactics. They also learned to minimize casualties by keeping combat troops close to US positions in what Giap referred to as his "grab them by the belt" tactic. 

The PAVN had inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans, even while suffering horrendously themselves. But the PAVN leadership believed that even lopsided body counts favoured them and would eventually wear down American resolve. The Americans believed they had prevented a decisive PAVN success before the US deployment could be completed. Westmoreland and his chief deputy, General William DePuy, both of whom had learned their trade in the meat-grinder battles of World War II, saw their estimated 12 to 1 kill ratio advantage as proof that the war could be won through attrition, by carrying the conflict to the PAVN in search and destroy operations. Indeed, Time magazine selected General Westmoreland as its Man of the Year for 1965. In that year the United States lost 1,275 killed, 5,466 wounded, 16 captured, and 137 missing. RVN forces lost 11,403 killed, 23,296 wounded, and 7,589 missing. The Allies estimated VC/PAVN dead at 35,382 killed and 5,873 captured. 

The Battle

LTC Hal Moore, Commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, on the radio during the fight for LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam. Hal Moore regarded the battle as a draw, and I agree with that assessment. Another veteran put it, "The survivors of Landing Zone X-Ray have always had an aura of fame about them. They fought in the first violent "stand up" fight of the war, and they won... barely." 

The North Vietnamese Army attacked a Special Forces camp at Plei Me; when it was repulsed, Westmoreland directed the division to launch an offensive to locate and destroy enemy regiments that had been identified in the vicinity of the camp. The result was the Battle of the Ia Drang, named for a small river that flowed through the valley, the area of operations. For thirty-five days the division pursued and fought the North Vietnamese 32d, 33d, and 66th People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) Regiments, until the enemy, suffering heavy casualties, returned to his bases in Cambodia.

With scout platoons of its air cavalry squadron covering front and flanks, each battalion of the division's 1st Brigade established company bases from which patrols searched for enemy forces. For several days neither ground patrols nor aeroscouts found any trace, but on November 4 the scouts spotted a regimental aid station several miles west of Plei Me. Quick-reacting aerorifle platoons converged on the site. Hovering above, the airborne scouts detected an enemy battalion nearby and attacked from UH-1B Huey gunships with aerial rockets and machine guns. Operating beyond the range of their ground artillery, Army units engaged the enemy in an intense firefight, killing ninety-nine, capturing the aid station, and seizing many documents. 

The search for the main body of the enemy continued for the next few days, with Army units concentrating their efforts in the vicinity of the Chu Pong Massif, a mountain range and likely enemy base near the Cambodian border. Communist forces were given little rest, as patrols harried and ambushed them. 

The heaviest fighting was yet to come. As the division began the second stage of its campaign, enemy forces began to move out of the Chu Pong base. Units of the U. S. 1st Cavalry Division's 3d Brigade, which took over from the 1st Brigade, advanced to establish artillery bases and landing zones at the base of the mountain. Landing Zone X-RAY was one of several U. S. positions vulnerable to attack by the enemy forces that occupied the surrounding high ground. Here on November 14 began fighting that pitted three battalions against elements of two North Vietnamese regiments. 

Withstanding repeated mortar attacks and infantry assaults, the Americans used every means of firepower available to them-the division's own gunships, massive artillery bombardment, hundreds of strafing and bombing attacks by tactical aircraft, earth-shaking bombs dropped by B-52 bombers from Guam, and, perhaps most important, the individual soldier's M16 rifle-to turn back a determined enemy. The Communists lost more than 600 dead, the Americans 79. 

Although badly hurt, the enemy did not leave the Ia Drang Valley. Elements of the 33d and 66th PAVN Regiments, moving east toward Plei Me, encountered the U. S. 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, a few miles north of X-RAY at Landing Zone ALBANY, on November 17. The fight that resulted was a bloody reminder of the North Vietnamese mastery of the ambush, as the Communists quickly snared four U. S. companies in their net. As the trapped units struggled for survival, nearly all semblance of organized combat disappeared in the confusion and mayhem. Neither reinforcements nor effective firepower could be brought in. At times combat was reduced to valiant efforts by individuals and small units to avert annihilation. When the fighting ended that night, almost 70 percent of the Americans were casualties and almost one of every three soldiers in the battalion had been killed. 

Despite the horrific casualties from the ambush near Landing Zone ALBANY, the Battle of the Ia Drang was lauded as the first major American triumph of the Vietnam War. The airmobile division, committed to combat less than a month after it arrived in country, relentlessly pursued the enemy over difficult terrain and defeated crack North Vietnamese Army units. In part, its achievements underlined the flexibility that Army divisions had gained in the early 1960s under the Reorganization Objective Army Division (ROAD) concept. Replacing the flawed pentomic division with its five lightly armed battle groups, the ROAD division, organized around three brigades, facilitated the creation of brigade and battalion task forces tailored to respond and fight in a variety of military situations. The newly organized division reflected the Army's embrace of the concept of flexible response and proved eminently suitable for operations in Vietnam. The helicopter was given great credit as well. Nearly every aspect of the division's operations was enhanced by its airmobile capacity. During the battle, artillery units were moved sixty-seven times by helicopter. Intelligence, medical, and all manner of logistical support benefited as well from the speed and flexibility helicopters provided. Despite the fluidity of the tactical situation, airmobile command and control procedures enabled the division to move and keep track of its units over a large area and to accommodate the frequent and rapid changes in command arrangements as units moved from one headquarters to another. 

Yet for all the advantages the division accrued from airmobility, its performance was not without blemish. Though the conduct of division-size airmobile operations proved tactically sound, two major engagements stemmed from the enemy's initiative in attacking vulnerable American units. On several occasions massive air and artillery support provided the margin of victory, if not survival. Above all, the division's logistical self-sufficiency fell short of expectations. It could support only one brigade in combat at a time, for prolonged and intense operations consumed more fuel and ammunition than the division's helicopters and fixed-wing Caribou aircraft could supply. Air Force tactical airlift became necessary for resupply. Moreover, in addition to combat losses and damage, the division's helicopters suffered from heavy use and from the heat, humidity, and dust of Vietnam, taxing its maintenance capacity. Human attrition was also high: hundreds of soldiers, the equivalent of almost a battalion, fell victim to a resistant strain of malaria peculiar to Vietnam's highlands. 

Westmoreland's satisfaction in blunting the enemy's offensive was tempered by concern that enemy forces might reenter South Vietnam and resume their offensive while the airmobile division recuperated at the end of November and during most of December. He thus requested immediate reinforcements from the Army's 25th Infantry Division, based in Hawaii and scheduled to deploy to South Vietnam in the spring of 1966. By the end of 1965, the division's 3d Brigade had been airlifted to the highlands and, within a month of its arrival, had joined elements of the 1st Cavalry Division to launch a series of operations to screen the border. Army units did not detect any major enemy forces trying to cross from Cambodia into South Vietnam. Each operation, however, killed hundreds of enemy soldiers and refined airmobile techniques, as Army units learned to cope with the vast territorial expanse and difficult terrain of the highlands.

Moore, Hall G., and Joseph L. Galloway ( 2004 [1992] ). We Were Soldiers Once and Young: Ia Drang - the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. Novato, CA: Presidio Press.

Sino-Indian Border Confrontations (1959-1988)

The battle games between India and China continue on the disputed boundary between the two neighbours, with the two sides.

Takeoff points for fighters from both nations. Graphic by StratRisks.

flirting dangerously close to an accidental conflict on the 50th anniversary of the 1962 War.
On October 30, the defence brass of the two countries had some anxious moments after nuclear-armed Chinese fighter aircraft were dispatched to scramble Indian jets flying in the Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh.

Sources say the incidents were reported by the Indian Air Force (IAF) to the defence ministry and a separate report by India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was also filed on the affair.

Mail Today has in its possession the report on the incident.

Around 3pm on that day, some IAF jets were on a routine sortie mission in Arunachal Pradesh, when they were picked up on their Lhasa-based radar by the Chinese, senior officials privy to the deliberations following the incident said.

The disputed areas in the western sector.

Protracted border dispute, culminating in a war in 1962 between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and India that compromised India's standing among nonaligned nations and has not yet been settled. While the dispute between the PRC and India, a nonaligned nation, became an issue in the context of the Cold War, the origins of the Sino-Indian conflict date back to the nineteenth century. Both the British, who ruled India until 1947, and the imperial Chinese government had made claims to regions on India's northeastern frontier. Neither side, however, committed troops or exerted significant political pressure to settle claims over the contested area.

By the 1950s, this situation changed dramatically because of a variety of factors. Greater mobility and instant communications made it easier for the now-independent Indians and Chinese to attempt to exert control over the border areas. In addition, the incorporation of Tibet into China in 1950 substantially lengthened the Sino-Indian border, thereby increasing the likelihood of a conflict. The possibilities for a border clash increased dramatically in 1956 when the Chinese began to construct a military highway in the disputed territory. This led to a series of diplomatic protests and exchanges, followed in 1959 by an Indian military buildup along the border. Although there were no major military operations in the area, frequent military patrol missions and occasional small-scale skirmishes did occur.

In the summer of 1962, however, the border conflict escalated, with heavier than usual clashes. Heavy fighting then occurred in October and November, ending with a cease-fire on 21 November 1962. At the conclusion of this brief war, the PRC had taken all the contested area over which it had made claims, although it stopped short of advancing into Indian territory proper.

With the cease-fire, the Chinese withdrew to the positions they had held before the beginning of the war. The following month, a conference opened in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with representatives of Egypt, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Ghana, and Indonesia. These representatives, negotiating with the Indian and PRC governments, formulated what became known as the Colombo Proposals. The proposals called for PRC forces to withdraw 20 kilometers (12 miles) from their positions before the war and India not to advance its own troops. Although never formally ratified, the proposals were accepted by both sides.

Thus ended the actual conflict between India and the PRC, although for the next twenty-six years relations between the two major powers remained frigid. The movement of Chinese troops near the border in 1963, alleged Indian movements across the border, and the incorporation of northern areas as part of India all produced hostile rhetoric. PRC support of Pakistan during the latter's conflicts with India and Chinese opposition to the creation of Bangladesh, championed by India, were other manifestations of the poor relations between the two nations.

There were sporadic attempts on both sides to improve relations. Informal talks between Indian and Chinese diplomats occurred in the early 1970s, and in 1976, fourteen years after the conclusion of the war, full diplomatic relations were restored. In 1988, the two nations agreed to the establishment of a bipartite commission to resolve the border question. Not until 2005 did the leaders of both India and the PRC announce a settlement of the dispute, although details remained to be arranged.

The conflict had especially pronounced effects in India. Jawaharlal Nehru's final months as prime minister were clouded by both his miscalculations that had led to the war and the loss of standing that the war had brought India within the Non-Aligned Movement.

References Hoffman, Steven A. India and the China Crisis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Jetly, Nancy. India-China Relations, 1947-1977: A Study of Parliament's Role in the Making of Foreign Policy. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1970. Palit, D. K. War in High Himalaya: The Indian Army in Crisis, 1962. New York: St. Martin's, 1990. Vertzberger, Yaacov. Misperceptions in Foreign Policymaking: The Sino-Indian Conflict, 1959-1962. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1984.

Warsaw Pact Deployment on the Central Front I

A Warsaw Pact invasion would have come via three main paths through Germany.

As with that of the Americans, British and French, the long-term Soviet deployment on the Central Front was, in the main, a direct result of where the Red Army stopped in 1945, although there were some minor adjustments during the forty years of the Cold War. The forces permanently stationed in East Germany were designated Group of Soviet Forces Germany (GSFG), with their headquarters at Zossen-Wünstorf, 30 km south of Berlin, and comprised five armies, most of which were approximately equivalent to a NATO corps in size.

The Soviet army believed that the basic form of military strategy was the offensive, and all its (and the Warsaw Pact’s) planning, organizations and exercises were devoted to this end. The 1945 organizations lasted for only a short time, and from 1947 infantry regiments began to be mechanized, using BTR-40P wheeled trucks. This process gathered pace in the 1950s, until 1957, when a major re-equipment programme began to bear fruit and new-style tank and motor-rifle divisions were introduced, which were smaller, easier to control and much harder hitting than their predecessors. These were organized into two types of army: a ‘tank army’, in which tank divisions normally predominated, and a ‘combined-arms army’, in which motor-rifle divisions predominated, the number and type of divisions depending upon the army’s combat mission.

The history of GSFG included some major equipment milestones, which marked a significant increase in tactical capability. The first of these was the fielding of T-62 tanks and BTR-60 eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers in the early 1960s, while in the early 1970s the Mi-24 (NATO = ‘Hind’) helicopter gave a totally new capability to the Soviet air force’s Frontal Aviation command. The changeover in artillery from wheeled to tracked self-propelled guns, which came in the late 1970s, was also of major significance, although it was made considerably later than in NATO. The final stage was marked by the fielding of the new T-80 tank, which joined the front line facing NATO in the mid-1980s.

In war the Warsaw Pact forces in central Europe would have come under the Western Teatr Voyennykh Destiviy (Theatre of Military Operations (TVD)), which would have been subdivided into fronts, each composed of a number of armies, and an air army. The commander-in-chief Western TVD controlled all Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and Poland, as well as the second-echelon armies which would have been generated by the western military districts in the USSR.

In 1945 East Germany was occupied by six armies: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Guards Tank Armies; the 3rd Shock Army; and the 8th Guards Army.fn2 Of these, the 4th Guards Tank Army was gradually withdrawn to the USSR in the 1950s, followed by the 3rd Guards Tank Army in 1960–61. This appears to have overstretched the headquarters that remained, since, in the aftermath of the 1961 Berlin crisis, a new headquarters unit, the 20th Guards Tank Army, was formed. The other army was Frontal Aviation’s 16th Air Army, which remained in East Germany from 1945 to the end of the Cold War.

From the 1960s onwards, GSFG comprised the following.

• The 2nd Guards Tank Army, the northernmost formation, occupied an area near the Baltic south of Rostock, with its peacetime headquarters at Fürstenberg–Havel, 60 km north of Berlin. Despite its title of ‘Tank Army’, it actually consisted of just one tank division, plus two motor-rifle divisions.

• The 3rd Shock Army was located in the centre and, in view of its intended role of thrusting across the North German Plain, it consisted of four tank divisions and a single motor-rifle division, making it, at least on paper, the most formidable fighting formation in any army. The title ‘Shock’ was conferred in 1945, but the name changed to 3rd Mechanized Army in 1947, before reverting to 3rd Shock Army in 1957–8. The headquarters was at Magdeburg, conveniently close to the IGB and just off the E8 autobahn, which would have been the main axis of the army’s advance into West Germany in the event of war.

• The 8th Guards Army was located in the south and, as its intended role would take it through primarily infantry country, it consisted of one tank division and three motor-rifle divisions. Its headquarters was at Nohra, 10 km south-west of Weimar.

• The 20th Guards Army was located just west of Berlin, effectively in the rear of the 3rd Shock Army. It consisted of three motor-rifle divisions, and did not have an integral tank division. Its headquarters was at Eberswalde-Finow, some 40 km north-east of Berlin.

• The 1st Guards Tank Army was virtually identical to the 3rd Shock Army, with four tank divisions and one motor-rifle division. Its headquarters was at Dresden, in the south-east corner of the GDR.

GSFG also included considerably more supporting units (artillery, engineers, aviation, communications and logistic services) than other similar organizations in the Soviet armed forces. Thus, for example, GSFG was supported by 34 Guards Artillery Division, which was three times the size of a normal artillery division.

The offensive nature of GSFG’s wartime missions was underlined by a further six reinforced bridging regiments and six amphibious river-crossing battalions, whose wartime mission was to ensure that the many rivers in West Germany and Denmark were crossed quickly. There were also two assault-engineer regiments, specially trained in urban clearance tasks, whose wartime missions would have been in cities such as Braunschweig and Hanover and in the Ruhr. Two aviation regiments were equipped with Hind attack helicopters, which established such a fearsome reputation in Afghanistan. There were also eight spetsnaz battalions for employment in NATO’s rear areas, and one integral airborne regiment, although GSFG had priority call on one or more of the airborne divisions back in the USSR, which were normally under centralized Ministry of Defence control.

The peacetime strength of GSFG amounted to some 380,000 men, with 7,000 tanks, 3,000 infantry fighting vehicles, 300 helicopters and a vast amount of artillery. All were manned at Category-A levels, which was usually well in excess of 90 per cent of their wartime figure.

Situated in Poland was the Soviet Northern Group of Forces (NGF), with its headquarters at Legnica. In peacetime its troops consisted of two motor rifle divisions and an air army. In war its position astride the lines of communication from the homeland would have been absolutely vital to the success of the offensive, and it would have been reinforced by units from the USSR.

The third element, in addition to GSFG and NGF, was the Central Group of Forces (CGF), which was formed in 1968, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The headquarters was located at Milovice, Czechoslovakia, some 30 km north-west of Hradec Králové, and after a rapid build-up in 1968–71 the CGF was composed of two tank and three motor-rifle divisions.