PLEI ME - THE 82nd RANGER


        The CIDG camp Plei Me (A-255) located 50 kilometers in southern of Pleiku city, the largest city in the central highland, where the headquarters of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) Military Region II (MR-II) based. US Special Forces built this camp in October 1963.  On the 31st of October 1970, the camp was transferred to the Army Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and converted into the 82nd Border Ranger battalion.

        In late 1965, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) under the command of General Chu Huy Man, deployed the 33rd regiment to seize the CIDG camp Plei Me in the night of 19th of October.  At the same time, the 32nd regiment moved into the blocking and ambush position then waited for the RVN reinforcements.  This tactic “Be-seize the outpost, ambush the reinforcements” worked very well during the fight with the French in the early years of 1950s.  Opening for the battle, the communists bombarded the camp heavily then infantry of the 33rd regiment mounted attacks on the camp.  The CIDG men fought courageously and held the ground, pushing back many waves of attacks.  As predicted, the relief column of the RVN forces fell into ambush setting up by the 32nd regiment.  Until the 23rd, the RVN column broke through and moved toward camp Plei Me. The NVA 33rd regiment had to pull out of the battlefield, after one week of unsuccessful attacks.

        Early November, the RVN Airborne combined with the American 1st Air Cavalry swept the NVA batter units of the 32nd, 33rd and the fresh 66th regiments in the surrounding areas near camp Plei Me, in the Ia Drang valley, and Chu Pong ridges.  The battle of Plei Me was considered the greatest victory in 1965. In commemoration of the victory, the RVN named the fort which housed the HQ of MR-II in Pleiku “Fort Plei Me”.

        Again, in June 1974, from the communist controlled region near CIDG camp Duc Co, the NVA 320th division began scouting and planning to attack camp Plei Me. Its organic regiments 48th, 64th and one artillery battalion, one AAA battalion started moving closer to Plei Me in preparing for the attack.  The RVN MR-II reacted quickly, reinforced fire support base (FSB) 711 with regiment 42nd from the 22nd infantry division and directed the Air Forces to bomb the suspected assembly areas of the NVA forces.  That reaction caused the 320th to delay their attack, but directed the 48th regiment to stay close to Plei Me.  When the MR-II decided to release the 42nd regiment back to Binh Dinh province, the enemy B3 Front did not let the opportunity slipping away... the NVA 320th division struck camp Plei Me immediately.

        The duty of defending Plei Me was given to the 82nd ranger battalion with its four riffle companies and a company (2nd) of the 81st ranger battalion attached.  The rangers spread out to defend the main camp and two out posts, the Chu Ho and hill 509.  The sudden attack caught company 2nd while it was searching in the area outside of the main camp.  This company fought gallantly and retreated back to the camp, only 22 of its men got back inside the camp before the communists encircled and cut off all the routes to the out side.

        In the battle, the 320th deployed at least four battalions of its 9th and 48th regiments.  The enemy force was also reinforced with the 26th separated regiment of the B3 front and later received in addition to the battlefield the 64th regiment to crush 410 men of the 82nd battalion and the reinforcements for the be-seized camp.  Fires supports for the 320th had at least two 130mm field artillery guns, three 120mm guns and a number of 82mm mortars, 75mm recoilless guns.  The AAA battalion had twelve 12.7mm guns positioned around the area of Plei Me. They chased the RVN air planes away and fired directly into the camp.

        Under enemy artillery bombardments and direct fires from 75mm recoilless guns, all the bunkers inside camp Plei Me collapsed, but the rangers still hang on to fight from the trenches.  On the barbwires, the NVA dead corpses scattered everywhere in the battlefield, after many waves of attacks.  The RVN artillery fired from FSB 711 supporting the defenders effectively.  Also artillery from Phu Nhon fired on the south and eastern flanks of camp Plei Me.  After six days and nights of intense fighting, the out post Chu Ho fell into communist hand. It was the 10th of August, five days later the out post on hill 509 also lost communication with the headquarters of the battalion.  Some survivors from those two out posts said that they had to flee into the forest because running out of ammunitions and they did not have foods and water for days of fighting.

        After taken the two out posts Chu Ho and hill 509, the NVA concentrated their fires power on the main sector of camp Plei Me.  Even the rangers had been isolated for almost a month and did not receive any logistic supplies, some wounded rangers died because without evacuation.  The rangers of the 82nd fought valiantly until the 2nd of September, when the RVN reinforcement combined units of Infantry, Rangers and Cavalry reached camp Plei Me.  The NVA 320th division began to pull out of the battlefield after 20 times unsuccessful attacks and spent more than ten thousands of artillery shells on the camp.  After receiving new logistic supplies, the 82nd regrouped and moved out of the camp to retaliate on the retreating NVA units.  The battle of Plei Me was considered ended when the rangers regained the control of the two out posts Chu Ho and 509.

        Before the 82nd ranger battalion was sent to Duc My (Rangers training center) for refreshment and refitting, retraining.  The battalion was greeted and decorated in the city of Pleiku.

        From the books:
                - Col. William Le Gro, Vietnam from cease fire to capitulation, Washington D.C., 1981.
                - Francis J. Kelly, The Green berets, Brassey’s Inc., New York, 1991.
                - Will Fowler, The Vietnam story, New Jersey, 1983.

        Dallas, Texas 06-24-1995

        Hieu D. Vu

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