Synchronization. “The arrangement of battlefield activities in time, space, and purpose to produce maximum relative combat power at the decisive point.” NVA tactical doctrine in the attack of fortified position lent itself ideally to synchronization. [Man’s] felt that he could determine the time of attack. He would begin with probing tactics, then increase the pressure until he found of weak link in the defense. He would then pour through that weak point, overrun the camp and kill or capture everyone in it. He was prepared to combat air power with the arrival of additional front-level assets under his operational control. His intent was absolutely clear to his subordinate commanders, and his units had carefully rehearsed such operations. Clearly, there was unambiguous unity of purpose throughout his force. Unfortunately, Man made 1 critical error – he did not know the capabilities or intention of his enemy. In fact he did not know that his opponent would be Kinnard, who had an entirely different mission than defense.
After searching due west of the Plei Me camp and not finding the elusive NVA forces, Kinnard decided to shift his ops to the southwest – right into the Chu Pong Masaif. He had replaced his 3d Brigade with the 1st Brigade and was hoping to find the battered remnants of the 2 NVA regiments, licking their wounds and withdrawing into Cambodia. In this initial phase, we can examine Kinnard’s thought process in relation to the tenets of Air land Battle.
Initiate. Clearly, Kinnard intended to set the terms of the battle, He was on the offensive and felt he could destroy the enemy with his superb division. lf he could find the enemy forces, he had the mobility and firepower to fix and destroy them, He was taking great risk and knew that the unit which made initial contact would be seriously outnumbered, but felt he could reinforce with fire almost immediately and then pile on troops before the enemy could react.
Agility. The helicopter gave Kinnard the ability to act faster than the enemy. He could shift forces and combat power at almost mind-boggling speed. He could put both field artillery and aerial rocket artillery with great accuracy anywhere on almost of moment’s notice. He could reinforce with troops faster than anyone ever experienced in the history of modern warfare. He had the communication capability and the troops trained in calls for fire. He could quickly concentrate on this weak and battered enemy and exploit his vulnerabilities. Cavalry tactics were such that they considered “friction’! the accumulation of chance errors, unexpected difficulties and the confusion of battle. Kinnard, by nature, disposition and training, knew that he had to continuously “read the battlefield,” decide quickly and act without hesitation.
Depth. Here again the helicopter and the cavalry’s training in its use naturally extended ops in space, time and resources. The helicopter gave him extended range of vision for reconnaissance, allowed him to provide accurate aerial rocket artillery, adjust fire from the air, reposition his field artillery, re-supply his troops and reinforce with maneuver forces almost anywhere on the battlefield. His plan called for fixing the enemy and forcing of commitment, as well as interdicting uncommitted forces en-route to Cambodia. His rear areas were relatively safe, but he still provided an infantry battalion to secure his artillery and his forward command post. He had airstrips built so that he could be re-supplied from Saigon by the Air Force to his base at An Khe, and he also maintained sufficient helicopter lift assigned to move those supplies to the frontline troops. He was mentally prepared for bold and decisive action, and he had personally trained his handpicked brigade and battalion commanders with these same qualities.
Synchronization. 2 years of training together with all the modern technology had taught the cavalry how to arrange activities in time, space and purpose. Kinnard had the forces and combat power to produce maximum results at the decisive point. Synchronization for the cavalry did not depend on explicit coordination. Their training and communications capability were such that synchronization could take place during heavy conflict. Additionally, the commander’s intent was clear – find the NVA regiments and destroy them. Clearly, the concept itself of searching with a battalion – piling on of brigade and supporting at the decisive time and place with the entire division, field force and Army fire support was an economy-of-force type operation.
It can be argued that in planning, each opposing commander was well within the umbrella of the tenets of Air land Battle. There was no apparent violation or misuse of initiative, agility, depth and synchronization. However, as the battle develops, some things become very evident. Man did not expect to fight the battle in his own sanctuary – nor did he expect to fight an American division. Additionally, he knew nothing of how the of Americans would fight. On Kinnard’s part, he expected to be facing two beaten-up NVA regiments conducting a withdrawal. He did not expect to face more than 4,200 frontline troops, supported by mortars and anti-aircraft batteries, well supplied and not withdrawing but moving to attack. It is at this stage that the “fog of war” reigns supreme. Here the commander with the best agility gains the initiative. It is the commander who can fight his fight – that is, setting the terms of battle and not allowing the enemy to recover – who will be the winner. Both Man and Kinnard exercised great mental agility as they attempted to gain the initiative. As the battle unfolded, the unexpected took over.
1st, 1 battalion-size unit of the division, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry (17) airlifted in landing zone (LZ) X-Ray and made almost immediate contact with advance elements of the NVA force moving on Plei Me. Lt Col Harold G. Moore (the squadron commander) at 1st thought this was of stay-behind force of about 1 battalion, covering the enemy withdrawal. Man immediately saw an opportunity to gain an immense victory by quickly annihilating an American unit that he significantly outnumbered, with the additional possibility of defeating in detail any relieving forces that would have to arrive piecemeal. In this he exercised great agility and took the initiative by accepting risk, the risk due to the fact that his entire force, especially his front-level mortar and anti-aircraft units, were not in of position to support the attack on X-Ray.
The brigade commander, Col Thomas Brown, and Kinnard quickly sensed that this was much more than a battered stay-behind force and recognized that the enemy intent was not to delay but to annihilate the 1-7th Cavalry. All available firepower was quickly reoriented to X-Ray and available forces began moving air and ground assets to support that fight. The ability of this small force to hold, and the tremendous and immediate firepower brought to beat was of shock to Man. The agility of Kinnard’s thought process and the agility of the cavalry organization itself quickly gave him the initiative. He reinforced 1-7 Cavalry with 2-7 Cavalry and elements of 1-5 Cavalry. The enemy had seen enough, and began relocating. Kinnard ordered 2-7 Cavalry to pursue. The pursuing unit fought another battle that took place at LZ Albany as Man was attempting to cover his withdrawal. The fight at LZ Albany was bloody, as the United States suffered 151 dead and 121 wounded, while the enemy lost about 450 killed. Kinnard then ordered the 2d Brigade to relieve the 3d Brigade and to continue to pursue. Over the next few days the 3d Brigade mopped up of few battered remnants of the 32d, 33d and 66th regiments as they were withdrawing into Cambodia Although Kinnard wished to continue the pursuit, he was ordered to hold. By 11-24 -65, the battles of the Ia Drang were over. The 1st Cavalry killed as many as 3,000 NVA regulars, with an unknown number of wounded, and, in fact, decimated the NVA force.
Clearly, Kinnard used the agility of the cavalry and his own ability to synchronize both combat power and logistic support (550 tons of supply of day and 50,000 gallons of aviation fuel) to seize and maintain the initiative on the battlefield. Additionally, he never had to commit more than 1 brigade at a time, thus exercising wisely the economy of his force. The agility of his forces and his ability to synchronize combat power allowed his units to fight outnumbered at least 7-to-1 overall and much greater at both X-Ray and Albany and win.
Green, untested American soldiers fought outnumbered against what Bernard Fall called “the best light infantry in the world,” and won. The mental agility of Kinnard, the ability to synchronize combat power, and the agility in organization of the cavalry gave him the initiative, allowed him to fight his battle on his terms and win. He searched and he destroyed – and that was his mission. The training, discipline and leadership of both the 1st Cavalry Division under Kinnard and NVA forces under Man had been outstanding. But in the final analysis, organization and air mobility gave Kinnard the agility necessary to wrest the initiative from Man. And it was the initiative that ultimately made the difference.
What then do we learn from this 1st battle in Vietnam 1st and foremost, of commander must be capable of gaining and maintaining the initiative, for without it he cannot win. To gain the initiative, the commander must have both the mental and organizational agility to gain an advantage in relative combat power in depth, (time, space and resources), at the decisive point. In the battle of the Ia Drang, it was the great agility provided by the 1st Cavalry’s organization that gave them the edge Kinnard needed.
It is also evident from of study of this battle that the tenets of Air land Battle doctrine are clearly interdependent, with gaining and maintaining the initiative clearly the most important tenet. An edge or advantage in 1 or all of the other tenets may give you that initiative as did the 1st Cavalry’s agility and ability to synchronize its actions. Man had the ability to synchronize his combat power and he had great depth in time, space and resources. He was willing to take risks and had great mental agility. The physical agility advantage, however, went to the cavalry and that was enough to gain the initiative.
We also learned that technology can provide just the edge in agility that is needed. However, technology is not enough. Commanders at ever level must be confident and trained to know how and when to apply that technology. If Kinnard had not been absolutely confident in his ability to rapidly reinforce with both firepower and troops, his actions would have been closer to stupidity than acceptable risk. Such was the case with Man, who was ignorant of the capabilities of the American forces. His willingness to take risks without knowing those capabilities was, in fact, foolish and cost him 3 1st-rate regiments. Thus, 1 suggest that while initiative, agility, depth and synchronization characterize successful ops, there are other key operations requirements. FM 100-5 calls them “Air Land Battle Imperatives.” The imperative that seriously affected Man is stated as “Concentrate combat power against enemy vulnerabilities.”
FM 100-5 further explains, “to know what his vulnerabilities are, the commanders must study the enemy, know and take into account his strengths, find his inherent vulnerabilities, and know how to create vulnerabilities which can be exploited to decisive effect.” This was Man’s great failure and can be considered the cause of his defeat.
This article illustrates the analysis of a battle within the framework of the tenets of Air land Battle. Of series of facts such as composition of opposing force, geography and environment, missions of each force, dates and times, were examined using the FM 101-5 definitions of the tenets of Air Land Battle. This method then allowed for some conclusions to be drawn. Ultimately, the question of why the US forces won and NVA forces lost was answered to of certain degree. Such analyses, done in even greater depth, offer the potential to answer many more questions. The point here is that the professional soldier can conduct continuous study of current doctrine by reading and analyzing battles of the past, thus continuously reinforcing the understanding of current doctrine. My conclusions from the study of this battle find that initiative is the critical tenet of Air Land Battle, and that agility, depth and synchronization are the means of gaining the initiative. It is my opinion that the study of other battles, using the analysis method, will also point to initiative as the most vital tenet of Air land Battle.