America’s First Battles in Korean and Vietnam Wars

The investigation that has been carried out is aimed at studying the root factors affecting the readiness of the United States Army to perform its primary function during the initial stages of military conflict. The paper also includes the roles of non-commissioned soldiers in preparing soldiers to conduct combat operations. The research is based on the analysis of two military operations, conducted by the United States Army at the beginning of Korean and Vietnam campaigns. The main thesis was that the role of non-commissioned officers was often underestimated and that it resulted in the failure of the operation.

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There is a widely held opinion among the majority of war historians that the success of any military operation depends on a great number of factors, such as for instance, the accuracy of intelligence data, the equipment, and naturally the level of readiness. The last factor seems to be the most important one.

It is believed, that this transition period from training to the actual battleground can determine the outcome of every battle. It is of crucial importance that soldiers are able to get through this transition period as soon as possible, because otherwise, it may result in the failure of the operation.

As regards this aspect, we can say that the importance of non-commissioned officers or NCOs cannot be overestimated. Overall, judging from the history of the United States Army, we can say that there are many examples proving that they can be very useful especially, if we are speaking about senior non-commissioned, usually play the role of advisors. Sometimes, these people may have practically no authority; however, junior officers pay attention to their instructions because NCOs have practical experience that cannot be disregarded (Heller, p 22).

Perhaps, it would be more prudent to substantiate this statement with several examples. The first military operation that we are going to discuss is the Battle of Osan, conducted by Task Force Smith on 5 July 1950, which resulted in the failure of American troops.

Some historians ascribe it to the fact that American soldiers were ill-equipped and outnumbered, however, there is quite a different opinion as to this issue. Naturally, we cannot disagree with the fact that the equipment of this unit left much to be desired; it was more appropriate for World War II. It is estimated that in this battle American troops sustained heavy casualties, 180 men to be more exact.

The primary target of Task Force Smith was to delay the advance of North Korean Troops. Overall, it is quite possible to say that the unit did not fulfill its combat mission because the enemys troops were delayed only for seven hours. The question arises, what is the reason for such failure. Charles Heller believed that the true cause of this failure was the inability of the American soldiers to get through the transition period from training to the battleground. This argument can be substantiated by the following facts: first only one-sixth of this unit had any combat experience.

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Secondly, the overwhelming majority of the soldiers had practically no idea of North Korean troops; they believed that they would easily gain victory over their enemy and probably delay their advance. At the very beginning of the operation, American soldiers were cheerfully saluted by the crowd in Pusan. This inevitably led to self-confidence, which proved so disastrous for them. In point of fact they did not even view this operation as a battle in the opinion it was some kind of a “policy action” Perhaps, it can also be ascribed to the fact that the intelligence failed to provide the exact data about the fighting efficiency of North Korean troops (Heller, p 188).

Moreover, the officers did not have any contingency plan and therefore their actions were practically random and lead to no results. Logisticians may also say the supply plan did not provide for the possibility of retreat and the troops did not receive the necessary equipment.

Another aspect is that the American soldiers were very poorly trained, irrespective of their military experience. These people were deployed in a very sporadic fashion; the only possible outcome of such preparation was a failure. Now it seems to be quite logical.

If we speak about non-commissioned officers, we can say that their role in this conflict was downgraded, and the commanders of Task Force Smith, who were mostly inexperienced, desperately needed such non-commissioned advisors, who could be of great service in a situation like that.

Thus, we may arrive at the conclusion that American forces paid a very high price for this lack of preparation and self-confidence that turned to be fatal for many of them.

Another military operation that we are going to discuss is the Battle of la Drang. Many historians consider it the first relatively important military operation that the United States Army had in Vietnam. This event took place on November 14, 1965. Overall, this military operation can be viewed as the succession of armed engagements between the American and Vietnamese troops (Heller, p 201).

This armed conflict has always been a subject of thorough historic analysis because it had a very strong impact on the development of military strategies in both countries. Nevertheless, the main reason is that this battle resulted in heavy casualties that the American troops sustained.

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At that moment, it seemed to be quite unexpected for several reasons: first, the US forces were better equipped, and secondly, it was believed by many American militaries that the American army excelled its opponent in the fighting capacity.

Perhaps, it would be more prudent to give an account of the la Drang Battle and its main peculiarities. It is estimated that 412 American soldiers were left dead and approximately 355 were injured. We cannot say that the forces did not cope with the task set before them, but many casualties could have been averted if the movement of the troops had been better coordinated.

It is worth mentioning that the Peoples Army of Vietnam managed to set an ambush for the American troops and it resulted in a close hand-to-hand fight. Probably, this is the main reason for such heavy casualties. Many historians believe that these losses could have been averted if the American Air Forces had not dropped napalm, because it killed not only the soldiers’ Pawn Soldiers but also members of the Second Battalion.

If we try to draw parallels between these two military operations, we can arrive at the conclusion that they have many common features. First, the underestimation of the opponent proved to be a very difficult obstacle for the American troops. Overall, we can say that an average American soldier did not have any idea of his would-be adversary. It seemed that the Vietnamese would yield in no time, but contrary to all expectations Peoples Army of Vietnam turned to be very dangerous especially in the conditions of the jungle combat (Heller, p 192).

The second reason is that American soldiers were not properly trained and the period of adaptation to the new conditions took too long and that place the soldiers at disadvantage. Additionally, the overwhelming majority of the American forces had never been in combat and this factor had a very strong influence on the development of the La Drang Battle.

However, the main reason for such heavy casualties is the lack of coordination between various regiments. This lack of coordination was the major reason why the Second Battalion and the Seventh Cavalry ran into an ambush, which resulted in many victims.

As far as the role of non-commissioned officers is concerned, we can say that it would have been more successful if the government had made better use of them. The main problem was that the officers, who really had authority preferred to deal with their subordinates in other words soldiers, with no regard to the instructions of the NCOs, whose instructions could really be very helpful.

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that even among NCOs there were very few officers, who really had some experience in the so-called “jungle combat”, which was terra incognito for the American troops.

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Overall, we can say that the Battle of la Drang, shaped military strategies adopted by the United States troops and the People Army of Vietnam. American command placed emphasis on artillery fire and air mobility, whereas Vietnamese preferred close combat and frequent ambushes, which were very efficient in the Battle of La Drang (Heller, p 200).

Thus, having analyzed these two military operations, conducted by the United States Army, we can draw a conclusion that the major reason for their failure was the lack of preparation and underestimation of the opponent. As regards, non-commissioned offices, it is quite possible for us to say that the American military command did not take full advantage of them, even despite the fact that their assistance could be of great help.


Charles E. Heller, William A. Stofft. (1986). America’s First Battles, 1776-1965. University Press of Kansas.

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