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Lessons of Ia Drang For the Vietnam War
By Elvis S., October 2007; Revised
Category: 20th Century: Military History
Lessons of Ia Drang
The Ia Drang campaign changed the face of the Vietnam War from a more distant one to a more personal, and intensified war where both the public and the government took interest in. The battle was a costly one for the United States Armed forces stationed in the Ia Drang valley as the mortality rate skyrocketed due to a pressing and suicidal Viet Cong battle strategy(112, 3-8). Due to the battle the generals fighting the war turned to an ever increasing reliance upon helicopters as not only a means of transport(113, 115, 118), but a crucial strategy in the overall pattern of war. Furthermore, the Viet Cong developed a very aggressive and viscous strategy that used their quick ability to replace their armed personnel as a spring board for daring, and viscous attacks using brute force, and in some instances Berserker like tactics to gain advantage(112, 364). Ia Drang was a lesson to both sides of the conflict. The American forces solidified their use of helicopters as part of their war strategy(371), alongside fighting a war of attrition, while the North Vietnamese forces relied on the difficulty of the terrain, and the ability to procure an even flow of replenishments to their forces, which allowed them more suicidal, and viscous war tactics.
We Were Soldiers is a good tactical account of the overall situation at Ia Drang that is very intricate, and also a foreshadowing of the progression of the Vietnam War. The operations up until the battle had been more on an advisory nature, with the use of special forces, and limited personnel, and naturally a heavier reliance on the South Vietnamese troops to counter Viet Cong efforts to establish a united communist regime in all of Vietnam. The accounts and interviews provide a chilling account of the intense hours in battle, and the unpreparedness of both the aerial support groups, and the infantry to fight a more personal battle(118-120).
There is a strong reference to lessons from both sides of the conflict in this book and drawing from these references the picture drawn of the initial days of battle is a very unclear one, the soldiers were confident in their training, and the operation, however, they were not prepared for an enemy that did not consider massive deaths as a negative tactic. The North Vietnamese forces knew their inferiority in technology, and therefore their reliance was on extreme training for the regular forces, and mass numbers. During the battle near suicidal tactics had been used by them, and they almost succeeded, while on the other hand the American forces relied on their technological advantage(114), and their numerical inferiority a blunt disadvantage did not cost them the battle due to a reliance on the aerial squadrons of attack helicopters to replenish(119), and counter the North Vietnamese numbers with superior artillery.
The North Vietnamese forces and their officer corps took the lessons to heart. their numerical superiority and their ability to maneuver on foot gave them an advantage at Ia Drang. Furthermore, this lesson foreshadowed their future heavy reliance on their infantry, more precisely masses of infantry as a sound tactical strategy to overcome the American forces that had both a rather well trained infantry and superiority in technology. As the numerous charges show the North Vietnamese were beaten back, but however, almost had complete victory, and in fact claimed it as well at Ia Drang(365). Their armed forces were extremely reliable, and while not as armed as the American their determination, sheer numbers, and aggressive charges gave them the advantage on the battle field(8,134). Their tactics were able to draw out the smaller American forces, and divide that, a very dangerous position for a smaller force that was only overcome with the repeated counter attacks by the Huey squadrons.
Out of this battle the American forces not only experienced the aggressive nature of combat that the North Vietnamese would employ throughout the war, but also came to the conclusion that the Huey was the key in their perseverance at Ia Drang, and would be relied upon heavily the rest of the war(354-5,). Helicopter combat was quite a novelty at Ia Drang, but it proved crucial in the survival of the infantry who lost cohesion and suffered heavy casualties, and injuries. Furthermore, the large death toll that the North Vietnamese suffered during the battle provided the American commanding staff evidence that this was a war of attrition, and that victory would be ensured with both a reliance on helicopter combat, and heavy enemy casualties.
The American forces solidified their use of helicopters as part of their war strategy, alongside fighting a war of attrition, while the North Vietnamese forces relied on the difficulty of the terrain, and the ability to procure an even flow of rep replenishments to their forces, which allowed them more suicidal, and viscous war tactics. Nevertheless, with hindsight the obvious advantages of North Vietnamese strategies were evident due to the ability of the Communist forces to gain territory at the expense of the South Vietnamese, and American forces. That however was not taken as a disadvantage by the American commanding staff that saw the vast death tolls of the Communist forces as signs of their eventual downfall. Essentially what lost the war was its increasing unpopularity at home, however, the stalemate that had come into being was due to a heavy reliance on the idea that a war of attrition, and technological advantages would bring about the end of the war.
We Were Soldiers Once. Moore. Galloway.