2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division (United States) - History - Vietnam

Vietnam

The division was reorganized and activated as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), the Army’s first Air Assault division. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara shocked many observers when he announced that this new Air Assault division would be combat ready in only eight weeks. The 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) exceeded that demanding goal by reaching REDCON-1 status on 28 July 1965 and deploying to Vietnam in mid-August, only six weeks after the division’s organization. The men of 2nd Brigade boarded the USNS Buckner on 16 August 1965, en route to Vietnam and what would be their greatest challenge yet.

On 14 September 1965, the 2nd Brigade disembarked the USNS Buckner and marched onto Vietnamese shores at Qui Nhon. 2nd Brigade continued its tradition of firsts by becoming the first brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) to reach Vietnam. The brigade, consisting of 1–5 Cavalry, 2–5 Cavalry, and 2–12 Cavalry, loaded into helicopters and flew in-land to the division base camp at An Khe.

In addition to being the first brigade into Vietnam, the 2nd Brigade would also become the first brigade in the division to see combat when on 18 September 1965 the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment would be OPCONed to 101st Airborne Division to participate in Operation GIBRALTAR. The 2nd Brigade would next see combat in Operation SILVER BAYONETE, where under the order of General Westmoreland the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) air assaulted into the Pleiku Province to pursue and destroy the enemy over 2,500 square miles (6,500 km2) of jungle.

Operation SILVER BAYONETE, also known as the Pleiku campaign, was a 35 day campaign in which the division maintained almost constant contact with the enemy and experienced some of the fiercest fighting of the Vietnam War. The division saw its first contact on 1 November 1965, when a troop from 1–9 Cavalry, the division’s reconnaissance Squadron, overran an enemy aid station belonging to the 33rd North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiment. After landing to exploit the site, they were engaged by a battalion sized element of enemy, in fighting which was too close to allow for artillery or tactical air reinforcement. 1–12 Cavalry, 2–8 Cavalry, and 2nd Brigade’s 2–12 Cavalry rushed to the embattled troop’s aid, air assaulting into the fight amidst intense ground fire. They quickly decimated the NVA battalion and inflicted hundreds of enemy casualties. On 9 November 1975 3rd Brigade took control of Operation SILVER BAYONETE and continued the search for the three enemy regiments suspected to be operating in the Pleiku region. On 14 November elements of 3rd Brigade’s 7th Cavalry Regiment air assaulted onto landing zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley to conduct a reconnaissance in force in search of the enemy regiments. Soon after securing the LZ, the 7th Cavalry Soldiers began taking intense small arms, mortar, and rocket fire from an enemy force that vastly outnumbered them. The chaotic fighting that followed would be among the most intense of the Vietnam War. After sustaining heavy casualties, 1–7 Cavalry was able to reorganize their units and establish a hasty battalion security perimeter around LZ X-Ray. One of their platoons, however, was cut off from the rest of the battalion, pinned down and trapped amidst a battalion sized enemy force. The pinned unit, 2nd Platoon of Bravo Company, had suffered heavy casualties, and like the rest of 1–7, would endure multiple enemy attacks throughout the night. 1–7 Cavalry made three separate attempts to rescue the cut off platoon, but all three attempts were met with failure. It was in these dire circumstances that 2nd Brigade’s 5th Cavalry Regiment would be called in to help turn the tide of the battle.

Early on 15 November, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment air assaulted onto LZ Victor, approximately 3 km south east of the battle. On foot, they fought their way to LZ X-Ray, where after coordinating with 1–7 Cavalry, they pressed forward in search of the lost platoon. The 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment rescued the platoon, which had been devastated with casualties, and enabled their recovery back to LZ X-Ray. 2nd Brigade’s 2–5 Cavalry and elements of 1–5 Cavalry tied into the defense perimeter at LZ X-Ray and played a vital role in repelling and counter-attacking the enemy force over the next two days.

On 16 November, the battle at LZ X-Ray was effectively over. The enemy had taken thousands of casualties and was no longer capable of sustaining a fight. 1–7 Cavalry returned to Camp Halloway while 2–5 Cavalry, 2–7 Cavalry, and a company from 1–5 Cavalry maintained the perimeter at X-Ray. On the following day, all of the remaining units were ordered off of LZ X-Ray in preparation for a heavy bombing campaign in the area. 2nd Brigade’s 2–5 Cavalry marched without incident to LZ Columbus. 2–7 Cavalry, with a company of 2nd Brigade’s 1–5 Cavalry attached, marched to LZ Albany, where they were destined to see fighting every bit as fierce as that encountered at LZ X-Ray just days before.

2–7 Cavalry marched towards LZ Albany in a column, with 1–5’s A Company bringing up the rear. Almost immediately after reaching the LZ, the head of the 2–7 Cavalry column was engaged by a massive L-shaped ambush staged by two battalions of enemy fighters. The ensuing close-quarters battle was fierce and bloody, with both sides taking devastating casualties. After the initial chaos subsided, hasty security perimeters were formed, with 2–7 Cavalry hunkered down on LZ Albany, while A Company 1–5 Cavalry set a small perimeter 700 meters away. The situation was dire for the Soldiers at LZ Albany. They were low on ammunition and water, and the intense fire and close proximity of the enemy disrupted resupply and casualty evacuation efforts, as well as indirect fire and air support.

2nd Brigade’s B Company, 1–5 Cavalry rushed to the aid of the Soldiers at LZ Albany, landing at LZ Columbus and deploying to the battle on foot. Bravo Company fought their way to the A Company, 1–5 Cavalry perimeter and immediately got to work. They established and secured an LZ from which resupply and evacuation efforts could finally proceed. 2nd Brigade’s men continued to repulse enemy attacks throughout the night. On the morning of 18 November 1965, after 16 hours of continuous contact, the enemy force, devastated with casualties, finally withdrew. The firefights at LZ X-Ray and LZ Albany would come to be known as the Battle of Ia Drang. It was a battle marked by both great sacrifice and triumph for the Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division. While sustaining heavy casualties, the 2nd and 3rd Brigades dealt a striking blow to the enemy, killing more than 3500 enemy fighters and destroying two full regiments of a North Vietnamese division. For its actions during Operation SILVER BAYONETE, the 1st Cavalry Division earned the first Presidential Unit Citation awarded to a unit in Vietnam.

On 4 January 1967, 2nd Brigade participated in Operation MATADOR. Along with 1st Brigade, they air assaulted within the Binh Dinh Province to conduct a search and destroy mission against the Vietnamese Yellow Star Division. During this operation the units witnessed enemy soldiers fleeing into Cambodia, confirming for the first time the enemy’s use to sanctuaries in the neighboring country.

On 7 February 1967, 2nd Brigade took part in Operation WHITE WING, where they again conducted a search and destroy mission targeting the Yellow Star Division. All three regiments of the 2nd Brigade deployed to the Iron Triangle, a well fortified defensive position thought to be the regimental headquarters of the enemy in the Binh Dinh region. On 6 March 1967 Operation WHITE WING concluded as a major tactical success. 2nd Brigade maintained constant contact with the enemy over the entirety of the operation. Five of the Yellow Star Division’s nine battalions were rendered combat ineffective and the NVA temporarily lost its grip on the Binh Dinh Province. On 16 May 1967, 2nd Brigade took part in Operation CRAZY HORSE, a search and destroy mission against the 2nd Viet Cong Regiment in the jungle covered hills between Soui Ca and the Vinh Thanh Valleys. For his heroic actions in support of Operation CRAZY HORSE, 2nd Brigade’s SSG Jimmy G. Stewart was awarded the Medal of Honor.

2nd Brigade next participated in Operation PAUL REVERE II, where the first and second battalions of the 5th Cavalry Regiment inflicted heavy casualties on an enemy battalion at the Battle of Hill 534.

On 13 September 1966, 2nd Brigade participated on Operation THAYER I, a search and destroy campaign in the Binh Dinh Province which would involve one of the largest air assaults ever attempted by the 1st Cavalry Division. 2nd Brigade’s PFC Lauffer was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in support of Operation THAYER I.

On 31 October 1966, 2nd Brigade launched Operation PAUL REVERE IV, a search and destroy campaign focusing on Chu Pong, the Ia Drang Valley, and the Cambodian border area. Once again demonstrating 2nd Brigade’s devotion to the mission, even in the midst of tremendous hardship, C Company, 1–5 Cavalry engaged in a fierce battle with an enemy force vastly outnumbering them. C Company endured catastrophic casualties, but succeeded in driving the enemy from the area and inflicting hundreds of casualties to an NVA regiment.

Following Operation PAUL REVERE IV, 2nd Brigade engaged in Operation Thayer II, a search and destroy campaign in the Binh Dinh Province. When the campaign concluded in early 1967, the 1st Cavalry Division had destroyed two enemy regiments and inflicted more than 1500 enemy casualties. The 2nd Brigade distinguished itself next in Operation PERSHING, which initiated on 13 February 1967. Operation PERSHING was a massive search and destroy mission in the northern Binh Dinh Province, in which the 1st Cavalry Division committed all three of its brigades to the same area for the first time in Vietnam. In April 1967, while in support of Operation PERSHING, 2nd Brigade conducted Operation LEJEUNE in the Marine-controlled Quang Ngai region. The operation was conducted to free up Marines in the Quang Ngai area of operations and facilitate their movement further north. It was almost immediately apparent that the enemy in the Quang Ngai region was not prepared for the challenges posed by a brigade of air cavalry troopers. The enemy dispersed and hid, and only little and sporadic contact was initiated until 16 April 1967. Operation LEJEUNE concluded successfully on 22 April 1967, and the 2nd Brigade returned to the Binh Dinh Province to continue rooting out the deeply entrenched enemy forces there. On 21 January 1968, Operation PERSHING was concluded. In 11 months of fighting the division engaged in 18 major battles and numerous minor skirmishes, inflicting over 7000 enemy casualties. Four 2nd Brigade Soldiers, Specialist Fifth Class Charles Hagemeister, Specialist Fourth Class George Ingalls, Specialist Fifth Class Edgar McWethy, Jr., and Specialist Fourth Class Carmel Harvey were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions in support of Operation PERSHING.

On 22 January 1968, the 1st Cavalry Division relocated to the Quang Tri region to participate in Operation JEB STUART. As a result of the division’s relocation for Operation JEB STUART, it was in excellent position to respond to the Tet Offensive.

On 31 January 1968, in what would come to be known as the Tet Offensive, the enemy conducted a widespread and well-coordinated assault into Southern Vietnam. Thousands of enemy fighters overran the Imperial City of Hue, while five battalions of enemy attacked Quang Tri City. 2nd Brigade’s 1–5 Cavalry, alongside the 1–12 Cavalry, quickly responded and moved into the village of Thon an Thai, just east of Quang Tri City. They launched a heavy aerial rocket attack against the enemy fighters, forcing them to break off the Quang Tri attack and disperse. Quang Tri City was liberated within the next ten day days. 2nd Brigade’s 2–12 Cavalry, alongside elements from the Marines and the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, were tasked with liberating the city of Hue. 2nd Brigade again suffered heavy casualties, but in fierce block-by-block fighting, succeeded in liberating the city by the end of February. During the battle for Hue, the enemy was dealt more than 8000 casualties.

While the 1st Cavalry Division was repelling the Tet Offensive, the 26th Marine Regiment was taking heavy bombardment and ground attacks in the Khe Sanh region of Vietnam. On 1 April 1968, the 2nd Brigade, alongside other 1st Cavalry Division elements, conducted Operation PEGASUS in order to relieve the Marines at Khe Sanh. The 1st Cavalry Division completed to the relief of the Marine units on 10 April and assumed responsibility for the Khe Sanh area of operations. When Operation PEGASUS was concluded several days later, more than 1200 enemy fighters had been killed. On 27 June 1968, 2nd Brigade took the lead in Operation JEB STUART III, a search and destroy mission in the Quan Tri Province. They decimated an enemy infantry battalion at the village of Binah An, inflicting over 200 casualties.

On 1 May 1970, the First Cavalry Division conducted a search and destroy mission in the Fish Hook region of Cambodia, in what had previously been an untouched enemy stronghold. On 8 May, the 2nd Brigade discovered Rock Island East, a munitions dump where they secured more than 6.5 million anti-aircraft rounds, 500,000 rifle rounds, and thousands of rockets. The operation was a dramatic success, and when it concluded on 30 June, the enemy had taken enough casualties to field three divisions.

On 5 May 1971, the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division’s colors were moved from Vietnam to Fort Hood, Texas, bringing the 2nd Brigade’s actions in the Vietnam War to a close. During 68 months of almost constant contact with the enemy, the 2nd Brigade distinguished itself through its lethal proficiency and unwavering dedication to the mission, even in the most arduous of circumstances.

Read more about this topic:  2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division (United States), History

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