Artillery in the Ia Drang Valley

By Robert Barker

The 3d Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmoble) arrived in Qui Nhon, RVN on September 18, 1965, after thirty days on board the USNS Rose. The brigade combat units were 1st and 2nd Battalions, 7th Cavalry Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment. All three units were transported to the division base camp at An Khe.

A few weeks later, the brigade began conducting combat operations. These operations helped prepare us for the intense combat operation beginning 14 November 1965. On the evening of November 13, I was informed that C Battery, 1-21FA, which I commanded as a captain, was given the mission of direct support to the 1-7th Cav.

Early in the morning of the 14th, I made an aerial reconnaissance of  LZ Falcon, which was about 5000 meters east of LZ X-Ray. In the meantime, C Battery personnel were preparing the battery for the air assault into LZ Falcon. This airlift would require nine CH-47 Chinook helicopters to lift the entire battery at one time. However, only two Chinooks were allocated. Not only did C Battery have to move, Alpha Battery commanded by Captain Don Davis, was to move to Falcon in a reinforcing mission to C Battery. Shuttling the batteries would be the operational means to get Charlie and Alpha batteries into LZ Falcon.

Using two Chinooks, coupled with having to internal load six 105millimeter howitzers with crews, ammunition, two jeeps with trailers and the battery mess and ammunition sections, would take several hours for two batteries. An interesting side issue is the fact that we sling-loaded ammunition and howitzers during training at Ft. Benning. For some unknown reason, slings were not available until after the Ia Drang campaign.

Shuttling Charlie and Alpha Batteries took time, so the preparatory fires into LZ X-Ray were delayed, which also delayed the infantry assault into the landing zone. However, once the fight started in X-Ray, hundreds of 105mm high explosive ammunition went down range and into the targets around X-Ray. Don Davis and I split time in a H-13 observation helicopter relaying fire missions to the battery fire direction centers.

Late in the afternoon of 14 November, Colonel William Becker, 1st Cav Division Artillery CO arrived in Falcon. He asked about ammunition status and my response was that if fire missions continue as they have all afternoon, both batteries will require continuous re-supply. Colonel Becker responded by saying you got it.

Shortly thereafter, the first Chinook, with 100 rounds weighing 4500 lbs., landed in the LZ. The mix of ammunition included high-explosive, illumination, white phosphorus and smoke. The re-supply went on during the entire battle to include the fight at LZ Albany. At no time was there a shortage of ammunition of any type.

Several times from 14–16 November, Charlie Battery went into sustained fire and exceeded the maximum rate of fire for 105 mm howitzers. Those fire missions were at night and provided a steel curtain around the infantry units in X-ray. Two howitzers were out of action due to over heating and damaged recoil mechanisms. However, the 27th Maintenance Battalion repair crews came to Falcon and repaired the howitzers.

What really made all this artillery fire support come together during the entire battle at X-Ray, Albany, and other targets during the Ia Drang battle?

Part of the answer is dedicated cannoneers like PFC Joe Scarborough; gun section chiefs SSGT. Fineburg, SSGT Phillips, and SFC Fininin as well as other gun chiefs; the gunners like Cpl. Pike and the assistant gunners; and the ammunition handlers who unloaded thousands of rounds from the Chinooks. Also, the battery fire direction personnel worked tirelessly for days on end.

The Battery Executive Officer 1st Lieutenant Arthur McPherson and Battery Fire Direction Officer 1stLieutenant Ralph Fisher both insured that fire missions were on time and on target.

On the afternoon of  November 16, LTC Hal Moore and the 1-7th Cav flew into LZ Falcon enroute to Pleiku. LTC Moore asked Cpt. Davis and I to stand down our battery personnel for a few minutes so that he could talk to them about the events in X-Ray. I don’t remember all that he said except he was highly complimentary of all the artillerymen who had done their duty during the battle in X-Ray. November 17, both batteries provided support to the 2-7th Cav when the battalion was in a fight for their lives near LZ Albany.

Charlie Battery was detached from the 1-21FA on November 19 and attached to the 1st Battalion, 77thFA Regt, joining LTC Bob Tulley’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry at LZ Crook. The mission was direct support to the 2-5th Cav. Charlie Battery remained there until November 23, when the battery was detached from the 1-77th FA and airlifted to Pleiku. On the 24th, Charlie Battery road marched from Pleiku to An Khe and arrived later in the afternoon. Lots of mail was waiting for us to include a letter from my mother announcing the birth of my youngest daughter. She and my wife were healthy and doing well.

ROBERT BARKER,  LTC (Ret, USA), commanded C Battery, 1-21FA , which supported the 1-7th Cav and 2-7th Cav at the LZ X-Ray and LZ Albany battles of Ia Drang. He retired from active duty in May 1980 and began his second career manufacturing consumer products. He retired a second time in April, 1999. He and his wife, Carolyn, live near Hemphill, TX.