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Weapons of the Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army


Written by Sakhal

In contrast with the costly arsenal of a thousand millions of dollars deployed by American and South Vietnamese troops, who had at their disposal the most sophisticated warlike means in the world, the Communist armies of North Vietnam (the People's Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong) employed a motley collection of weapons.

Type 56 assault rifle

A single sniper equipped with this rifle could held a well placed position against an entire company due to its effectiveness. This rifle is a Chinese copy of the Soviet models AK-47 and AKM, whilst the Type 56-1 was a copy of the AKS-47 fitted with folding steel buttstock. Circa 1968 the largest part of the most powerful units of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong were equipped with it. Both the Type 56 and Type 56-1 were rifles of caliber 7.62 x 39 millimeters and their curved magazine could contain up to 30 rounds.

M-46 field gun

This artillery piece had a caliber of 130 millimeters and fired 33.4-kilogram shells to distances of up to 31 kilometers. The M-46 was usually used by the North Vietnamese Army against the American fire support bases. Its range considerably surpassed that of the American M-102 105-millimeter howitzer, which allowed its gunners to act with almost total impunity.

RPG-7 portable rocket-launcher

This rocket-launcher of Soviet origin replaced the RPG-2 in service with the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. Compact, light and of great power, this one was for them an ideal weapon. The grenade of the RPG-7 was fired by percussion, but after having flown ten meters the rocket engine was ignited, propelling the grenade about 500 meters afar. The explosive head could perforate a 320-millimeter armor plate at the normal range of 50 to 100 meters. Aiming was quite precise with calm air, but less reliable with a certain amount of wind.

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M16 rifles captured from the American

Despite the frequent supplies coming from the countries of the Communist Bloc and their own, albeit limited, production, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong were always somewhat scarce of weapons. In the illustration, two women from the Viet Cong gather the M16 rifles abandoned in the field after an encounter with the enemy.

Main battle tank T-55

The North Vietnamese forces used this Soviet tank - operated by a crew of four - for the first time in the attack to An Loc in 1972. This tank weighing 35.9 tonnes was armed with a D-10T 100-millimeter cannon and two PKT 7.62-millimeter machine guns. It had an operational range of 500 kilometers and a maximum speed of 48 kilometers/hour. Armor thickness ranged from 20 to 203 millimeters. Initially, the North Vietnamese were inept regarding the handling of the T-55, but they soon learnt from their own mistakes.

K-50M submachine gun

This 7.62-millimeter submachine gun of Chinese origin was a copy of the Soviet PPSh-41. Many of these were delivered from origin to the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, but this latter produced its own version, the K-50M, in their workshops in the jungle. The solid wooden buttstock of the original model was replaced - in the French style - by a metallic sliding bar and a pistol grip was added; the cover of the barrel was shortened and the muzzle brake removed. This weapon weighed 4.09 kilograms and had a curved magazine containing up to 35 rounds.

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PT-76 amphibious tank

In 1967, the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam with these amphibious tanks operated by a crew of three. They made apparition for the first time the 7th February 1968, during the Tet Offensive, when they were used to seize the American special forces camp in Lang Vei, near Khe Sanh. This tank weighing 13.78 tonnes was armed with a D-56T 76-millimeter cannon and a SGMT 7.62-millimeter machine gun. It had an operational range of 250 kilometers at a maximum speed of 44 kilometers/hour on land, and 100 kilometers at a maximum speed of 10 kilometers/hour on water. Armor thickness ranged from 11 to 14 millimeters.

Type 52 recoilless cannon

Recoilless cannons were popular among the members of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong because they were powerful and lightweight at the same time. The Type 52 75-millimeter recoilless cannon was a weapon of Chinese origin but copied from the outdated American cannon M20 whose prestations - effective range of 6675 meters with high-explosive projectile and 8000 meters with armor-piercing projectile - were more suitable for the requirements of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong.

MAT-49 submachine gun

The Communists captured from the French many of these submachine guns of caliber 9 x 19 millimeters. They were adapted to the Soviet pistol cartridge of caliber 7.62 x 25 millimeters by fitting them with a longer 7.62-millimeter barrel.

81-millimeter mortar

This mortar of caliber 81 millimeters manufactured in North Vietnam was a copy of the American mortar M1 of the same caliber. These mortars were popular weapons in the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong due to their easy disassembly and carried by a group of three men.

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The Vietnam War constituted a testing bench of the modern defense systems perfected after the end of the Second World War. The massive employment of guided missiles against combat aircraft allowed to test on the field the effectiveness of the new methods against the enemy aerial raids.

Anti-aircraft optical sight

The illustration shows an elementary optical system that was attached to the machine guns supplied by China and captured to the Viet Cong in the province of Long An, in South Vietnam, in November 1963. Surprisingly for the experts, the fire from small arms and machine guns was so effective against the American aircraft, that in the late 1964 the pilots attacking targets in North Vietnam replaced the tactics at low altitude and high speed by dive bombings from 4000 to 6000 meters of altitude.

M 38/39 twin anti-aircraft cannon

This weapon of Soviet origin appears mounted on a four-wheel carriage. Usable only for visual shooting, it had a caliber of 37 millimeters and fired 725-gram projectiles at an effective range of 1500 meters, with a rate of fire of 180 rounds per minute. Elevation angle ranged from -5 to +85 degrees.

Type 24 heavy machine gun

The first line of defense of the North Vietnamese Army was constituted by the weapons of the infantrymen, of which the heavy machine guns were the most effective ones. The illustration depicts the Type 24 model of Chinese manufacture, which was a copy of the German 08 Maxim from the First World War. Its caliber was 7.92 millimeters and it was cooled by water - preferably kept in circulation by a pump - contained inside the voluminous casing around the barrel. Weight: 17.7 kilograms; total length: 1398 millimeters; barrel length: 610 millimeters; barrel rifling: four dextro-rotatory grooves; operating principle: recoil; ammunition: 250-round belt; theoretical rate of fire: 400 rounds per minute; muzzle speed: 885 meters/second.

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SA-2 Guideline anti-aircraft missile

This Soviet medium-range surface-to-air missile was shown in public for the first time in 1957 and since then it was widely used. It was the most profusely used missile in the Vietnam War, particularly in North Vietnam. It was transported by a ZIL-157 all-terrain truck and launched from a rotatory launcher, as seen in the illustration. These missiles were launched either one by one or by salvos. Firstly a single missile was launched to force the enemy pilot to perform an evasive maneuver and in that moment a salvo was fired to shoot him down. The booster engine fitted with four fins was ignited during four or five seconds. Two of the fins had gyroscopic rudders for the initial moments of the flight. The engine, fed by nitric acid and a liquid hydrocarbon - probably kerosen -, continued its combustion during 22 seconds. This radio-guided missile had cruciform delta-shaped wings and fins which served as rudders. Propulsion system: solid-fuel booster engine and liquid-fuel sustentation engine; warhead: 130 kilograms of high explosive; total length: 10.7 meters; range: 40-50 kilometers; ceiling: 18000 meters.

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The first emplacements of SA-2 missiles appeared in North Vietnam in July 1965 and their number grew fast until 1972, when about 300 emplacements were registered as existing in the country and even south of the demilitarized area. The United States Air Force counteracted the situation by destroying missile batteries, by performing violent evasive maneuvers, by avoiding close formations, by diversifying tactics and by using electronic countermeasures (ECM). In a typical SA-2 emplacement we would find several missiles ready in their launchers (A), about 50 meters afar from their command post (B). Roads connecting the missiles allowed access for the required tasks and reload vehicles (C). Carpets made of bamboo (D) covered and protected the electric cables while reinforcing the pavement in the event of bad weather. The Spoon Rest A radar (E) was in charge of giving the alert of incoming enemy aircraft. The guidance of the missiles was entrusted to the Fan Song radar (F), which tracked the target and passed the data to a computer. The commands from the computer were transmitted to the missile by an UHF link which directed the missile towards the target.

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ZIL-151 truck

The Soviet ZIL-151 2500-kilogram 6 x 6 truck, in its version of storage vehicle, was used as maintenance vehicle in the SA-2 emplacements.

ZIL-150 truck

The illustration depicts the basic version of the ZIL-150 3500-kilogram 4 x 2 truck fitted with a trailer, used to transport the SA-2 missiles toward their launchers throughout North Vietnam.

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Booby traps, a specialty of the Viet Cong.

Despite of their name, booby traps are a fearsome weapon and the Viet Cong made them their specialty during the Vietnam War. The most complex components of these contraptions were grenades and mines and, of course, the great skill deployed to dissimulate the triggering mechanism. The largest part of them produced an explosion very close to the victim, to whom severe damage in the flesh and other organic tissues was caused, besides the embedding of earth and other wastes which exposed the wounded to massive infections. The injuries almost always forced an operation to evacuate the casualties, which caused the entire unit to lose a precious time, or to move slower and with more caution due to the fear of other similar traps hidden in the surroundings. This article shows examples of some of the wittiest modalities employed in the two Vietnam wars.

Canned grenades

The Viet Cong often used grenades for the crafting of these traps. In the illustration it is shown one of the simplest triggering mechanisms. The grenades were placed, with their safety pins removed, inside empty cans of an adequate size. Pulling the cable drew the grenades out of the can; with the subsequent movement and the falling the grenade was activated and exploded. Placing a grenade in each end of the cable increased the effectiveness of the trap.

Spiked balls

In some occassions it was used this artifact worthy of the most ferocious tribal fights. It consisted of a heavy ball made of clay or mud with attached - and well sharpened - punji stakes, tied to a tree by what resembled an inoffensive wild vine. When triggered by pulling the lower cable, the terrible ball quickly descended along its trajectory until hitting its victim.

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Grenade in the stream

Frequently, specially in the Mekong Delta, American and South Vietnamese patrols had to move along streams, creeks and swamps. Many times the places which offered an easier wading were sowed with traps. In the illustration the trap consists of a grenade firmly attached to one of the sides of the riverbed, with a well tensed cable going from the trigger to the opposite flank of the riverbed.

Bow and arrow

This contraption was used by the aboriginal tribes of the mountains to hunt animals. The Viet Cong adapted it to the necessities imposed by the war. It consisted of a concealed cavity in which a bow was placed with its ends fixed to the sides of the cavity. An arrow was placed in the string of the bow, which was tensed by a cable. The simple launching mechanism was activated when someone stumbled with the triggering cable, laid on the route that a patrol should follow, thus releasing the string of the bow.

Stakes in a pit

Members of the Viet Cong installed a series of traps based in stakes, called in their argot punji traps. The punji were simple stakes sharpened in one of the ends. They were used by the indigenous since remote times to hunt wild animals. The Viet Cong used them to hunt humans instead. Sometimes they used large steel nails fixed to a wooden board, but bamboo canes, either in their natural state or hardened by fire, had almost the same degree of effectiveness. In the simplest version this kind of traps were composed of a shallow pit in whose bottom the stakes were buried by their blunt end up to half of their length, more or less. The dimensions of the pit should be such to allow it to be concealed by means of small branches and foliage, thus achieving an innocent appearance. Regarding depth, it should be enough to make the foot of the victim to fall with enough force to have the sole of the boot pierced by the stakes. A more refined version, which made more difficult to extract the foot, consisted of a larger pit which besides the stakes in the bottom had additional stakes, with their spikes pointing downward, attached to its side faces.

Hidden mines

Apart from traps crafted with stakes and grenades, many mines were used in Vietnam. The favorite place to hide them was the vicinity of a fallen tree or a trunk crossed in the way.

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Between January 1967 and June 1970, booby traps and mines caused an 11 percent of the dead and a 15 percent of the wounded - with punji stakes causing a 2 percent of the wounded - among the personnel of the United States Army; similar numbers should be taken into consideration regarding the South Vietnamese Army and other combatant forces. The 11 percent of the killed in action would represent around 4000 men during the given period. Therefore, the simple and cheap booby traps demonstrated to be the most effective weapon regarding their cost.

Categories: Infantry - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-12-13

Article updated: 2019-01-07


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