During the early war years, the VC relied on a mix of weapons from various sources; captured French and Japanese weapons, US made .30 caliber M-1 (semi-automatic) and M-2 (semi- and full automatic) carbines and the .45 caliber Thompson M1928A1 as well as other SMG's such as the 9mm MAT-49 and the 7.62mm PPSh-41. Many of these weapons came by way of capture as well as international arms sales. However, as supplies from the North began to filter down into RVN, new weapons from the Russians and Chinese began to make their appearance.
Synonymous with the NVA regulars and Vietcong Mainforce units, the basic infantry weapon was the Soviet 7.62mm AK-47 assault rifle, or the Chicom copy Type 56. Whilst the Chicom Type 56 was the predominant rifle, the weapon was referred to generically as the AK-47 irrespective of the country of origin. Capable of firing semi- or full automatic at the flip of a switch the AK-47 was issued in several different configurations.
Almost as equally widespread as the AK-47 was the Soviet 7.62mm SKS carbine or Simonov, a semi-automatic rifle which was especially common amongst the regional and local VC forces.
By the time of the Tet offensive in 1968, the NVA and Main Force VC were almost universally armed with modern Soviet or Chicom weapons although the regional and local VC forces still carried weaponry of mixed vintage. Main Force VC units around 1965 - 1966 were generally armed in the same manner as their NVA counterparts and there is much evidence which exists to suggest that Main Force VC consisted of substantial numbers of early war NVA regulars.
Apart from the increasing availability of the AK-47 and the SKS as the war progressed, another more important consideration prompted their adoption as the standard infantry weapons - that of ammunition. Both weapons use the Soviet 7.62mm M43 or Chicom Type 56 cartridges. Other weapons, whilst reasonably prolific, nonetheless presented logistical problems in that not only did they comprise a mix of calibers but even weapons of the same or similar caliber required separate ammunition types.
Standardization around the 7.62mm M43 also suited the NVA/VC in their choice of squad support weapons since the excellent Soviet 7.62mm RPD light machine gun (Degtyarev) and it's Chicom counterpart, the light machine gun Type 56, used the same M43 ammo load as the AK-47 and SKS carbine.
Larger caliber machine guns, such as the 7.92mm Chicom Type-24 heavy machine gun, were, for the most part, employed in defensive positions and used as anti-aircraft weapons as well as in a ground support role. Many of these weapons were mounted on metal or rubber wheels in order to aid their crews in deployment while others were carried by one man or a crew of two or more. These weapons were considered as particularly high priority for Allied Gun Ships attempting ground suppression and as a consequence were often employed in operations quite near to the border so that they could be extracted from an AO reasonably rapidly.
A mark of rank amongst the NVA and VC (indeed as in most armies) pistols and revolvers were carried by officers, political staff and occasionally by senior NCOs. The two most common weapons were the 7.62mm Soviet TT-33 Tokarev and the 9.5mm Makarov automatic pistols.
Although VC and NVA units carried infantry anti-tank weapons they were used more in the role of anti-personnel than anti-armor. The most common were the Soviet RPG-2 and the Chicom copy Type-56. A more modern weapon, the Soviet RPG-7 (Chicom copy Type-69) was also widely used and particularly effective against the aluminum hulled US M-113.
All of these weapons were 40mm and capable of penetrating up to 6" of armor at ranges of 100 - 500 meters. Ammunition however differed, with the RPG-2 round being fin-stabilized while the RPG-7 round was finless. One interesting feature of these weapons is that they could only be shoulder fired right-handed since the vent for the blast was located on the right hand side of the weapon itself close to the firing mechanism housing which would be lethal to a left-handed user.
Both the VC and the NVA were renowned for their skill with mortars. These varied from 60mm to 160mm but by far the most common were the Soviet 82mm M-1937 and the Chicom copy Type-53. Both of these had a range of just over 3kms. Comprising a sight, tube, bipod and base plate (total weight of 123lbs) the weapon required a crew of three, usually with a fourth crew member acting as an additional ammo carrier.
Another popular mortar was the French made Stokes-Brandt 60mm M-1935 and various copies of this weapon including the US 60mm mortar M-2 and the Chinese 60mm Type-31. All three of these fired any type of 60mm ammunition and with a total weight of around 40lbs could be ported by a single man, however a crew of two was normal.
Irrespective of the weapon carried and it's source, NVA units infiltrating into RVN were, by 1965, adequately armed for confrontation with Allied infantry. By 1967 the VC were also carrying a substantial number of modern arms. Where both the NVA and the VC lacked firepower was in their absence of supporting fire from artillery, air and armor and these particular systems the US had in abundance.
AK-47 7.62mm ASSAULT RIFLE
Easily recognized with its high front sights, large selector/safety switch on the right side and the long, curved banana magazine, this is the Soviet version with a conventional wooden buttstock. The AK-47 is a gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle which has a semiautomatic ROF of 40 rounds (effective range about 400 meters), increasing to 100 rounds on fully automatic (effective range about 300 meters). It has a 30 round detachable box magazine. Renowned for it's durability, the AK-47 is shorter and heavier than the M-16 but with a lower ROF and muzzle velocity.
SIMONOV 7.62mm SELF-LOADING RIFLE (SKS)
A 7.62mm semi-automatic carbine with an effective range of 400 meters, the SKS has a 10 round integral magazine and an ROF of 30-35 rounds per minute. The SKS resembles a conventional bolt action rifle but is equipped with an integral folding bayonet under the muzzle. Used extensively by the VC, it weighed 3.86kg, had a length of 1020mm and a muzzle velocity of 735m per second.
The standard infantry squad support weapon, the RPD was analogous to the US M-60 and fired a 7.62mm slug from a 100 round belt which was usually contained in a drum mounted below the gun. The drum itself could be changed in a matter of seconds by an experienced gunner and protected the ammo from dirt and hence jamming. With a maximum rate of cyclic fire of about 150 rounds per minute, an effective range of 800m and rapid reload time, this light and uncomplicated weapon was capable of laying down sustained heavy fire. The gunner was usually accompanied by an assistant acting as an ammo carrier, loader and capable of taking over as the primary gunner in the event of the main gunner becoming a casualty. The RPD was approximately 1036mm in length (521mm barrel ) and had a muzzle velocity of 700m per second.
PPSh-41 7.62mm SMG
The weapon had a fire-rate selector lever positioned just in front of the trigger, allowing the rate of fire to be changed rapidly without the weapon moving off the point of aim. The two-piece bolt handle allows the bolt to be locked in either the forward or the rear position. The original weapon had two different magazines; a 71-round drum or a 35-round box. The drum magazine seems to have fallen out of favor, and most of this type of weapon seen in Vietnam used the box. This may have been a result of the Chinese connection. The PRC Type 50 SMG differed only slightly from the PPSh41, mainly in that it only fitted the 35-round box magazine. The most interesting variant of the weapon was the K50M, which was a Vietnamese modification of the Type 50. The Vietnamese removed the wooden butt stock and replaced it with a wooden pistol grip and a French-style sliding wire butt stock similar to that on the MAT49. At the front end of the weapon, they shortened the perforated barrel jacket, left off the muzzle brake, and attached the foresight to the barrel, giving the gun a shape strongly reminiscent of the MAT49. The K50M ended up being about 500 g (1.1 lb) lighter than the PPSh41 at 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) as opposed to 3.9 kg (8.6 lb). The weapons were all blowback operated and had an effective range of about 150 m (164 yd).
MAT49 modified 7.62mm SMG
Produced by the Manufacture d’Armes de Tulle (MAT) in 1946 and using the 9mm Parabellum cartridge this SMG was adopted by the French Army in 1949 (hence the designation MAT49). The weapon was widely used by French forces in Indo-China and many found their way into the hands of the Vietminh and eventually the Viet Cong.
The Vietnamese modified the weapon to fire the Soviet 7.62mm x 25P ammunition and it’s PRC equivalent by fitting a longer 7.62mm barrel. However, they did keep all the essential features of the MAT49 except for replacing the 32-round box with a 35-round magazine.
One of the remarkable features of the weapon was the sliding wire butt stock which could be pushed forward out of the way for carrying and pulled to the rear if it was to be used in firing. The magazine housing on the receiver could be rotated forward through 90-degrees (even with the magazine fitted) to lie along the barrel. These features made the MAT49 particularly suitable for troops who required compactness in carriage.
At the back part of the pistol grip was a grip safety, which was operated by the action of squeezing the pistol grip when firing a round. This released the safety catch. When the grip safety was not squeezed, it locked the bolt in the forward position, and locked the trigger when the weapon was cocked. The lock was released by the pressure of the palm of the hand. The weapon could not be accidentally discharged. The Vietnamese modification increased the cyclic rate of fire from 600-rounds per minute to 900-rpm.
Chicom Type-56, 7.62mm ASSAULT RIFLE
The Chinese copy of the original Soviet AK-47, the Type-56 has a folding metal stock.
Type-24, 7.92mm HEAVY MACHINEGUN
A Chinese copy of the German WWI vintage Maxim machine gun often used in an air defense role.
RPG-7 ROCKET LAUNCHER
The RPG-7 (CHICOM Type-69) is a muzzle loaded, shoulder fired antitank grenade launcher. The VC and NVA used the RPG7V, a Soviet produced short-range, anti-armor, rocket-propelled grenade, from 1967 against armored vehicles, defensive positions, personnel and even helicopters. This smoothbore, recoilless weapon consists of a launcher tube fitted with a simple iron sight or a more sophisticated telescopic range-finding sight, and a HEAT rocket grenade projectile with a caliber of 40mm. The RPG-7 has an effective range of 300 meters against moving targets and up to 500 meters against stationary targets. The projectile explodes either on impact or at its maximum range of 920 meters.
TOKAREV TT33 7.62mm AUTOMATIC PISTOL
First introduced in the 1930’s and utilizing the self-cocking design from Colt, the Tokarev TT33 was used extensively by Soviet forces in WWII and was produced in nearly all Warsaw Pact countries and the PRC.
The Chinese Type-54 could be distinguished from the Soviet TT33 by the serrations on the slide and by the Chinese ideograms on the pistol grip (the Soviet weapon had a star in the center of the pistol grip). The Soviet TT33 had alternate narrow and wide vertical cuts, whereas the Type-51 and Type-54 had uniform narrow markings, to aid gripping the slide when manually cocking the weapon. There was no safety mechanism but the hammer could be locked at half-cock and the weapon was normally carried around with a round in the chamber.
Production of the weapon in the USSR stopped in 1954, but continued in other Communist countries, notably the PRC. The pistol was widely used by VC and NVA officers. The Tokarev TT33 fired the Soviet 7.62-mm x 25 Type-P pistol cartridge. It operated on a recoil single action and was semi-automatic, feeding ammunition from an 8-round box magazine. Maximum ROF was 32-rpm and with a maximum effective range out to about 50-meters. The pistol was quite heavy, weighing about 1-kg (2.2-lbs) when loaded and was 196-mm (7.72-inches) in length.
MAKAROV PM 9.5mm AUTOMATIC PISTOL
The Pistolet Makarov (PM) replaced the Tokarev in the early 1950’s in the Warsaw Pact countries and was produced in the PRC as the Type-59. Originally copied from the West German Walther PP (police pistol) of the 1930’s the Makarov was chambered for the 9-mm round rather than the 7.65-mm cartridge of the original pistol and used Soviet 9-mm x 18 ammunition rather than the original NATO 9-mm x 19. Following it's introduction the Makarov became the standard pistol in most Euro-Asian Communist forces.
The pistol was operated by a blowback, self-loading double action, and loaded from an 8-round box magazine. It measured 160-mm (6.3-inches) in length and weighed 800-grammes (1.8-lbs) when loaded.
The pistol grip was slightly bulky, making firing it a little uncomfortable. Soviet manufactured weapons had a star in the center of the pistol grip. There was a simple safety catch at the rear of the slide, and a slide stop on the outside of the receiver, both of which could be operated by the firer’s thumb if right handed.
Characteristics of NVA and VC Mortars
Easily portable and simple to operate, the mortar was ideally suited to the terrain of South Vietnam and the tactics of the NVA and, in particular, the Viet Cong. Ever conscious of US firepower, a well trained mortar team could set up a mortar position out of the sight of the enemy, loose off a number of rounds at maximum range and, due to the mortar rounds long flight time, be moving away from the firing site before the first rounds impacted on the target. Such maneuverability severely restricted allied counter-mortar fire or retaliation by air.
The mortar was particularly suited for attacking standoff targets such as US firebases or installations where its greater accuracy over the rocket allowed it to be used against point targets. The VC and NVA deployed a wide variety of mortars, ranging in size from the small 50mm to the breech-loaded 160mm. However, the most common types were: the light Chicom Type 63 60mm mortar, Soviet M1937 and M1943 82mm mortars and the Soviet M1938 and M1943 120mm mortars.
NVA mortar positions were often cynically sited near to inhabited areas in order that the crew could seek refuge from air attack after firing a few rounds. The mortar position itself was generally a hole approximately 1.7-meters deep and 2-meters in diameter, invariably excellently camouflaged, with only the mortar tube fire path uncovered during firing. These mortars were frequently sited to fire along the long axis of the target in order to take advantage of their small deflection error.
The lightweight 60mm mortar, weighing only 45-lbs when assembled for firing, was an ideal standoff weapon. The crew could fire it, then pick it up and move with it. With a maximum range of nearly two kilometers and a minimum range of only 90-meters, it also made for an excellent infantry support weapon.
LIGHT MORTARS: 60mm mortar (CHICOM Type 31 and Type 63, Soviet M40 series)
The Type 31 was a copy of the American M2 60 mm, and both were modeled on the French Stokes-Brandt M1935. These mortars had a square baseplate with a spade underneath for stability after bedding in. The front bipod could be screwed up and down for ranging. There was a handcrank at the end of the elevating screw housing. The Type 31 had a firing weight (mortar with bomb) of just over 20 kg (44 lb), and the M2 of 19 kg (41.8 lb). The maximum range was 1,530m (1,673yd) for the Type 31 and 1,820m (1,990yd) for the M2. Both were drop-fired weapons, in other words there was a fixed firing pin at the base of the barrel inside and when the bomb was dropped down the tube its own weight drove the ballistite cartridge on to the pin with enough force to fire the cartridge.
The Type 63 was really an updated version of the Type 31, with emphasis on portability for use in irregular and guerrilla warfare. It was much lighter in the firing position at 12.3 kg (27 lb) and had the same range as the Type 31. The basic features were the same except that there were angle plates at the rear corners of the baseplate for bedding in, rather than a rectangular spade. The Type 63 had one recoil cylinder, where the Type 31 had two. The weapon folded together for carriage, with the baseplate and bipod being placed under the barrel. Using the carrying handle on the top of the barrel, one man could easily carry it in rough country with the Number 2 mortarman carrying the ammunition. A consequence of this was that the mortar could be set up, sighted and ready to fire in a very short time. It had a slightly slower rate of fire at 15-20 rpm compared with 20-30 rpm for the Type 31 and M2, Its barrel length was also slightly shorter at 610 mm (24 in) as opposed to 675 mm (26.6 in) for the Type 31 and 726 mm (28.6 in) for the M2. All these mortars fired HE rounds, but the M2 also had an illuminating bomb, the M83.
· Model : M40
· Caliber : 50mm
· Weight : 11.5kg
· Barrel Length : 78.8cm
· Elevation : +45º and +75º
· Traverse (total) : 5 ½º
· Range : 807m at 45º and 129m at 75º
· Crew : 2-3
The Soviet light mortars (M38, M39, M40 and M41) were of 50 mm caliber. The M41 50 mm did away with the bipod and shock absorber of the earlier models and used a supporting yoke which was mounted on the baseplate for elevation, traverse and cross level. Gases from the firing were ducted away from a gas regulator by a pipe under the barrel. This system was used utilized for range adjustment by rotating a sleeve in the base of the mortar which opened or closed a number of gas ports. To extend the range, the ports were all opened and to achieve the minimum range the ports were all closed. Its firing weight was 10 kg (22 lb) and it had a barrel length of nearly 600 mm (23.6 in). It fired HE rounds only and had a range of 800 m (875 yd).
82mm mortar (CHICOM Type 20 and Type 53, Soviet M1936, M1937, M1941 and M1943)
Whilst the 82mm mortar was the standard caliber for communist forces the PRC and North Vietnam did produce 81 mm mortars mostly as copies of the American M1, with the PRC manufacturing 81mm fragmentation projectiles based on the American M43A1 ammunition. 82mm mortars (classified as 'medium' mortars) proved very popular as they combined high portability with firepower. Apart from the North Vietnamese copy of the M1, 82mm weapons in use were the Chicom Types 20 and 53 and the Soviet M36, M37, M37 New, M41 and M43.
Soviet 82mm Mortar M1937
· Model : M1937
· Caliber : 82mm
· Barrel Length : 122cm
· Base-plate Dimensions : 50cm diameter
· Barrel Weight : 19.6 kg
· Bipod Weight : 20.1 kg
· Baseplate Weight : 21.3 kg
· Weight in Firing Position : 56 kg
· Range : 3040 meters (minimum 100 meters)
· Rate of Fire : 15-25 rpm
· Operation : Automatic
· Sight : MPM-44
· Ammunition : HE (3.05 kg) and Smoke
· Crew : 5
With a range of over two miles, the 82mm mortar could be considered as an ideal standoff weapon. However, weighing over 100-lbs when fully assembled, when used for standoff attacks, the crew would have to drop the rounds in rapidly and then move since counter-battery fire by US aircraft was too effective and it took time to break the mortar down into three or four carrying loads. For this reason the medium mortars were often used from established positions and the mortar either camouflaged or dismantled and hidden after use.
This was a conventional muzzle-loaded, drop-fired, smoothbore weapon. The M1937 consisted of three basic components: tube, bipod, and baseplate. The recognizable features of this mortar were the baseplate, which is circular with a flat surface across the back edge, and the bipod, which has a turnbuckle type of cross-leveling mechanism between the right leg and the elevating screw housing.
HEAVY MORTARS: 107mm (Soviet M107 and M38)
120mm (Soviet M1938 and M1943, Chicom Type 55)
160mm (Soviet M1943)
Heavy mortars, of calibers above 100 mm, were not much used by the VC as they were not as portable as medium and light mortars, but they were used by the NVA. They were all moved on a two-wheeled carriage. The USSR had weapons of 107mm (the M107/M38), two designs of 120mm (M38 and M43) and one of 160 mm (M43). The PRC Type 55 120 mm was a version of the Soviet M43. The M38 107 mm was a scaled-down version of the M38 120 mm for use by Mountain Divisions. Both could be broken down into three loads for animal pack transport, or could be moved complete on their two-wheeled carriages, towed behind any suitable vehicle. The 107mm M38 has a five-man crew, and the M107 a six-man crew. All these types could be drop fired (automatic) on to a protruding firing pin, or manually fired using a trigger device and lanyard. With the exception of the M43 160 mm they were all muzzle loaded. The 160 mm mortar was breech loaded and as a result could only be fired by lanyard and trigger. The barrel was swung upwards from the base, being pivoted on trunnions located not far from its centre point. The bomb was inserted and the breech closed. The barrel was then swung back down to the firing position. The shock from firing was absorbed by shock absorbers and a disc-shaped baseplate.
All these weapons had surprisingly short ranges when compared with NATO mortars: The M43 160mm had a maximum range of 5,150 m (5,645 yd) and a minimum of 630 m (689 yd); the M43/Type 55 120 mm had a range of 5,700 m (6,234 yd) maximum and 460 m (503 yd) minimum; M38 120 mm had the same ranges as the M43 120mm; and the M38/M107 107mm mortars had a maximum range of 6,300m (6,890yd) and a minimum of 800m (875 yd). The minimum ranges made for problems of sighting in the close country of Vietnam, and the maximum ranges left a lot to be desired - nevertheless the NVA did spectacular damage with these weapons.
107mm mortar (Soviet M107)
This mortar was a scaled down version of the 120mm M1938, reduced in weight and size to suit its normal role as the regimental mortar of mountain units in the Soviet army. Ideally suited to the NVA and VC operating in difficult terrain, the mortar could be broken down into barrel, bipod and base-plate for man-packing or else folded together for towing on a two-wheeled carriage.
· Caliber : 107mm
· Barrel Length : 167cm
· Base-plate Dimensions : 94cm diameter
· Weight in Firing Position : 170 kg
· Carriage Weight : 340 kg
· Range : 6300 meters (minimum 800 meters)
· Rate of Fire : 12-15 rpm
· Operation : Manual or Automatic
· Sight : Optical
· Ammunition : HE (9 kg), Smoke and Chemical (7.9 kg)
· Crew : 6
120mm mortar (Soviet M1938, M1943 and CHICOM type 55)
The M1943 replaced the earlier M1938 which, when first developed, had a unique design: it consisted of four components (tube, base-plate, bipod and carriage) that could be quickly broken down for movement over short distances. For normal travel the whole weapon folded together and could be towed on its two-wheeled carriage or, if necessary man-packed in it's four component parts.
The only differences between the two weapons are that the newer M1943 had much longer shock absorber cylinders and the elevating and traversing gear was more sophisticated. Apart from these changes, the ballistic and performance details, as well as the methods of handling, remained the same.
The Chicom Type 55 was a direct copy of the Soviet M1943. This was a conventional, muzzle-loaded, smoothbore mortar that could be either drop-fired or trigger-fired. An anti-double-loading device could be attached to the muzzle.
· Model : M1943
· Caliber : 120mm
· Barrel Length : 185cm
· Base-plate Dimensions : 100cm diameter
· Weight in Firing Position : 170 kg
· Carriage Weight : 340 kg
· Range : 5700 meters (minimum 400 meters)
· Rate of Fire : 12-15 rpm
· Operation : Manual or Automatic
· Sight : MP-41/MP-42
· Ammunition : HE (15.4 kg), Smoke (16 kg), Incendiary (16.7 kg)
· Crew : 5 or 6