Weapons of the Vietnam War
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This article is about the weapons used in the Vietnam War, which involved the army of the Republic of South Viet Nam (ARVN) (South Vietnamese Army); the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), commonly known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA); the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF), better known as the Viet Cong (VC); all services of the U.S. military; the armies of South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines; and a variety of irregular troops.
Nearly all allied forces including the ARVN and Australians were armed with U.S. weapons, some of which, such as the M1 Carbine, were substitute standard weapons dating from World War II. The Australian army employed the 7.62 mm FN FAL under the licence of L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle as their service rifle, with the occasional US M16.
The NVA, although having inherited a miscellany of American, French, and Japanese weapons from World War II and the First Indochina War (aka French Indochina War), were largely armed and supplied by the People's Republic of China, the Soviet Union, and its Warsaw Pact allies. In addition, some weapons—notably anti-personnel explosives, the K-50M (a PPSh-41 copy), and “home-made” versions of the RPG-2—were manufactured in Vietnam. By 1969 the US Army had identified 40 rifle/carbine types, 22 machine gun types, 17 types of mortar, 20 recoilless rifle or rocket launcher types, 9 types of antitank weapons, and 14 anti-aircraft artillery weapons used by ground troops on all sides. Also in use, primarily by anti-communist forces, were the 24 types of armored vehicles and self-propelled artillery, and 26 types of field artillery & rocket launchers.
- 1 Communist forces
- 2 US weapons
- 3 Weapons of the ARVN, US, South Korean, Australian, and New Zealand Forces
- 3.1 Small arms
- 3.2 Infantry support weapons
- 3.3 Artillery
- 3.4 Combat aircraft
- 3.5 Support aircraft
- 3.6 Aircraft ordnance
- 3.7 Aircraft weapons
- 3.8 Vehicles
- 3.9 Combat vehicles
- 3.10 Naval craft
- 4 Weapons of the PAVN/NLF
- 5 Substitute standard weapons used by irregular forces
- 6 Other ways of obtaining weapons
- 7 Citations and notes
- 8 See also
Communist forces were principally armed with Chinese and Soviet weaponry though some Viet Cong guerrilla units were equipped with Western infantry weapons either captured from French stocks during the first Indochina war or from ARVN units or requisitioned through illicit purchase.
The ubiquitous Soviet AK-47 was widely regarded as the best assault rifle of the war and it was not uncommon to see U.S. special forces with captured AK-47s.
The American M16 rifle, which replaced the M14, was lighter and considered more accurate than the AK-47 but was prone to jamming. Often the gun suffered from a jamming flaw known as "failure to extract," which meant that a spent cartridge case remained lodged in the chamber after a bullet flew out the muzzle. According to a congressional report, the jamming was caused primarily by a change in gunpowder which was done without adequate testing and reflected a decision for which the safety of soldiers was a secondary consideration.
The heavily armored, 90 mm M48A3 Patton tank saw extensive action during the Vietnam War and over 600 were deployed with US Forces. They played an important role in infantry support though there were few tank versus tank battles. The M67A1 flamethrower tank (nicknamed the Zippo) was an M48 variant used in Vietnam. Artillery was used extensively by both sides but the Americans were able to ferry the lightweight 105 mm M102 howitzer by helicopter to remote locations on quick notice. With its 17-mile (27 km) range, the Soviet 130 mm M-46 towed field gun was a highly regarded weapon and used to good effect by the NVA. It was countered by the long-range, American 175 mm M107 Self-Propelled Gun.
The United States had air superiority though many aircraft were lost to surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. U.S. air power was credited with breaking the siege of Khe Sanh and blunting the 1972 Communist offensive against South Vietnam. At sea, the U.S. Navy had the run of the coastline, using aircraft carriers as platforms for offshore strikes and other naval vessels for offshore artillery support. Offshore naval fire played a pivotal role in the Battle for the city of Hue, providing accurate fire in support of the U.S. counter-offensive to retake the city.
The Vietnam War was the first conflict that saw wide scale tactical deployment of helicopters. The Bell UH-1 Iroquois was used extensively in counter-guerilla operations both as a troop carrier and a gunship. In the latter role, the "Huey" as it became affectionately known, was outfitted with a variety of armaments including M60 machineguns, multi-barreled 7.62 mm Gatling guns and unguided air-to-surface rockets. The Hueys were also successfully used in MEDIVAC and search and rescue roles.
Weapons of the ARVN, US, South Korean, Australian, and New Zealand Forces
Pistols & revolvers
- Browning High Power pistol - used by Australian and New Zealand forces. Also used on an unofficial basis by US Reconnaissance and Special Forces units.
- Smith & Wesson Mark 22 Mod.0 "Hush Puppy" - Suppressed pistol used by SEALs, among others
- Colt M1911A1 - It was the main side arm of the US Army and other countries except the ones in the Commonwealth.
- Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless - Carried by General Officers, but it was replaced by the Colt Commander in the Mid-60s
- Colt Commander - Replaced the Colt M1903 pistol in the mid-60s
- Smith & Wesson Model 15 (USAF M15) - carried by USAF Security Police Units
- Smith & Wesson Model 12 - Given to helicopter pilots
- M1917 revolver - Used by the South Vietnamese and US forces during the beginning of the war alongside the Smith & Wesson Model 10
- High Standard HDM - It was replaced by the Smith & Wesson Model 39 as the main suppressed pistol because of its caliber
- Walther PPK
- L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle - Used by Australian and New Zealand soldiers in Vietnam
- M1 Garand - Was used by the Marine Corps during the early stages of the war. Also used by the South Vietnamese, South Koreans and Laotians
- M1 carbine and M2 Carbine- Were widely used by the South Vietnamese Military, Police and Security Forces, the Viet Cong, and the US Military.
- M14 rifle It was issued to most troops from the early stages of the war until the late 1960s when it was replaced by the M16.
- M16 and M16A1 - The M16 was issued in the late 1960s, but due to reliability issues, it was replaced by the M16A1 which added the forward assist and chrome-lined barrel to the rifle for increased reliability.
- XM177E2 - Shortened version of the M16 rifle very popular with MACV-SOG units
- Heckler & Koch HK33 - It was used by Thai forces that were not armed by the United States. It was chambered for the same cartridge as the M16 assault rifle used by American troops.
- T223 - which is a copy of the Heckler & Koch HK33 Assault Rifle under license by Harrington & Richardson used in small numbers by Navy SEAL teams. Even though the empty H&R T223 was 0.9 pounds (0.41 kg) heavier than an empty M16A1, the weapon had a forty-round magazine available for it and this made it attractive to the SEALS.
- Thompson submachine gun - It was used in small quantities by artillery and helicopter units. Even though it was replaced in the end of the Korean war after serving in WW2, it was still used by many American troops and South Vietnamese troops in the Vietnam war. The Viet Cong were armed with the Chinese copy.
- M3 Grease gun - The M3 "Grease gun" was issued to troops all over Vietnam was the main submachine gun, but many others were used such as the Thompson which was replaced later on.
- Swedish K - It was used by Navy SEALs in the beginning of the war, but was later replaced by the Smith & Wesson M76 in the late 1960s. Many South Vietnamese soldiers were armed with this weapon and used it until the end of the war.
- Smith & Wesson M76 - A copy of the Swedish K, it replaced that gun as the main submachine gun of the Navy SEALs in 1967.
- Madsen M-50 - It was supplied by mercenaries from Denmark and a lot were bought by the United States for the South Vietnamese Army.
- MP 40 (CIDG)
- Uzi (SOG recon teams) The Uzi submachine gun was supplied in from Israel and given to special forces troops in the field.
- Owen Gun (Australian submachine gun) It served the Australian Army through WWII, Korea, Malaya and now into the Vietnam War as the main submachine gun. It was later replaced by the F1 submachine gun that resembled it.
- F1 submachine gun (Australian, replaced Owen Gun)
- Sterling submachine gun a variant of the British Sterling used by the SASR for prisoner extraction also used with Suppressor/Silencer.
- Sten submachine gun - This weapon was used by Special Forces troops with silencers attached to the weapon's barrel.
The shotguns were used as an individual weapon during jungle patrol; infantry units were authorized a shotgun by TO & E (Table of Organization & Equipment). Shotguns were not general issue to all infantrymen, but were select issue, such as one per squad, etc.
- Winchester Model 1912 pump-action shotgun was used by the Marines during the early stages of the war.
- Ithaca 37 pump-action shotgun replaced every other shotgun in the field and armed the United States Marine Corps throughout the war.
- Remington Model 870 pump-action shotgun used by the Marines
- Special Operations Weapon a modification for a Remington 1100 which made it fully automatic
- Remington 11-48 semi-automatic shotgun used by the Marines in small quantities
- Winchester Model 1897 used by the Marines during the early stages of the war, but was later replaced by the Ithaca 37
- Stevens Model 77E, pump-action shotgun used by Army and Marine forces in Southeast Asia. Almost 70,000 Model 77Es were procured by the military for use in SE Asia during the 1960s
- L2A1 AR - Full-automatic capable version of the L1A1 SLR used by ANZAC forces
- Stoner M63a Commando & Mark 23 Mod.0 - used by U.S. Navy SEALs and tested by Force Recon
- M60 machine gun GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) It was the main machine gun of the US army at the time and many of them were put on helicopters
- M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle - Issued to troops during the early stages of the war, but was replaced by the Stoner 63 and M60 machine guns.
- M1917 Browning machine gun - A .30cal heavy machine gun issued to some machine gunners in the South Vietnamese Army and also in limited use by the US Army.
- M1919 Browning machine gun - Was used on platforms such as boats, Jeeps, and tanks early in the war, but was replaced by the M2 .50cal.
- Browning M2HB .50cal Heavy Machine Gun
Grenades and mines
- Mark 2 Fragmentation Hand/Rifle Grenade
- M61 Fragmentation Hand Grenade
- M34 white phosphorus grenade is a smoke grenade that uses white phosphorus, which, when in contact with air ignites and creates white smoke. The white phosphorus was also a useful way to dislodge the Viet Cong from tunnels or other enclosed spaces as the burning white phosphorus absorbs oxygen, causing the victims to suffocate or suffer serious burns.
- M18 grenade Smoke Hand Grenade
- Claymore M18A1 - An anti-personnel mine
- M67 grenade
M79 Grenade Launcher, a single shot grenade launched that uses the 40mm grenade used against vehicles or material. It is break action similar to a shotgun it had leaf iron sights and was accurate up to 150 yards. The China Lake Grenade Launcher, a pump action weapon, also saw action in the Vietnam War albeit in very small numbers.
Infantry support weapons
- M18 recoilless rifle 57 mm,
- M20 recoilless rifle 75 mm
- M67 recoilless rifle 90 mm
- M40 recoilless rifle 106 mm
- M19 Mortar 60 mm
- M29 Mortar 81 mm
- 4.2 inch mortar 107 mm commonly referred to as the "four deuce"
- M20 Super Bazooka used mainly by U.S. Marine Corps before introduction of M72 LAW
- M72 LAW Light Anti-Tank Weapon
- FIM-43 Redeye MANPADS (Man-Portable Air-Defence System)
- 105 mm Howitzer M2A1
- 105 mm Howitzer M102
- 155 mm Howitzer M114
- M53 Self-propelled 155mm gun
- M55 Self-propelled 8-inch howitzer
- M107 howitzer Self-propelled 175 mm gun
- M108 Self-propelled 105 mm howitzer
- M109 Self-propelled 155 mm howitzer
- M110 Self-propelled 8-inch howitzer
- 75mm Pack Howitzer M1
- L5 pack howitzer 105 mm pack howitzer used by Australia
Artillery ammunition types
- Beehive rounds
- White phosphorus (marking round) "Willy Peter"
- HE, general-purpose (High Explosive)
- A-1 Skyraider ground attack aircraft
- A-3 Skywarrior carrier based bomber
- A-37 Dragonfly ground attack aircraft
- F-5 Freedom Fighterlight-weight, low-cost fighter used in strike aircraft role
- A-4 Skyhawk carrier borne strike aircraft
- RA-5C Vigilante carrier borne reconnaissance aircraft
- A-6 Intruder carrier borne all weather strike aircraft
- A-7 Corsair II carrier borne strike aircraft
- AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter
- A-26 Invader light bomber
- AC-47 Spooky gunship (four) with the 1st Air Cavalry Division
- AC-130 "Spectre" Gunship
- AC-119G "Shadow" Gunship
- AC-119K "Stinger" Gunship
- B-52 Stratofortress heavy bomber
- B-57 Canberra medium bombers - used by the U.S. Air Force
- Canberra B.20 Royal Australian Air Force medium bomber
- F-4 Phantom II carrier and land based fighter-bomber
- F-8 Crusader carrier and land based fighter-bomber
- F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber
- F-100 Super Sabre fighter-bomber
- F-101 Voodoo (RF-101) fighter-bomber/reconnaissance plane
- F-102 Delta Dagger fighter
- F-104 Starfighter fighter
- F-111 Aardvark medium bomber
- OH-6 Cayuse Transport/ Observation helicopter
- OH-58 Kiowa Transport/ Observation helicopter
- OV-10 Bronco, light attack/observation aircraft
- UH-1 "Huey" gunship role (various models)
- C-123 Provider tactical cargo aircraft
- C-130 Hercules tactical cargo aircraft
- C-141 Starlifter strategic cargo aircraft
- UH-1 Iroquois helicopters in several configurations
- CH-47 Chinook medium lift helicopter
- C-5 Galaxy strategic lift cargo aircraft
- C-7 Caribou tactical cargo aircraft - used by the U.S. Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force
- CH-46 Sea Knight rescue helicopter
- H-2 Seasprite helicopter
- H-3 Sea King rescue and recovery helicopter
- H-34 Choctaw Transport/Cargo helicopter
- CH-53 Sea Stallion medium lift helicopter
- CH-54 Skycrane heavy lift helicopter
- H-43 Huskie Transport/cargo helicopter
- O-1 Bird Dog, observation aircraft
- O-2 Skymaster, observation aircraft
- OV-1 Mohawk battlefield surveillance and light strike aircraft
- BLU-82 Daisy cutter
- Bomb, 250 lb, 500 lb, 750 lb, 1000 lb, HE (high explosive), general-purpose
- Rocket, aerial, HE (High Explosive), 2.75 inch
- M61 Vulcan, 20 mm (aircraft mount)
- M39 cannon, 20 mm (aircraft mount)
- Minigun, 7.62 mm (aircraft and helicopter mount)
- M197 Gatling gun, 20 mm
- M60 machine gun, 7.62mm (helicopter mount)
- AIM-4 Falcon
- AIM-7 Sparrow
- AIM-9 Sidewinder
- AGM-12 Bullpup
- AGM-62 Walleye
- AGM-45 Shrike
- AGM-78 Standard ARM
- M38A1 1/4 ton jeep
- Ford M151 MUTT 1/4 ton Military Utility Tactical Truck (jeep)
- Dodge M37, 3/4 ton truck
- Kaiser-Jeep M715 1¼ ton truck
- Truck, cargo/troops, 2½ ton (deuce and a half)
- Truck, cargo/troops, 5 ton
- M520 Goer Truck, Cargo, 8-ton, 4×4
- Land Rover short and long wheelbase - Australian and New Zealand forces.
- M135 troop/Cargo trucks, 2 1/2 ton
- M211 Cargo/troop truck, 2 1/2 ton
- M41 Walker Bulldog light tank - Used by South Vietnamese Army ARVN
- M48 Patton medium tank - Used by the US Army, USMC, and ARVN forces until replaced by the M60 Patton.
- M551 Sheridan airborne reconnaissance assault vehicle/light tank - Used by the US Army
- Centurion main battle tank - used by the Australian Army
- M60 Patton Main battle tank that replaced the M48 Patton
Other armored vehicles
- M113 APC (Armored Personnel Carrier)
- M113 ACAV Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle
- M8 Greyhound Used by ARVN forces
- LVTP5 Landing craft
- M50 Ontos Self-propelled 106 mm recoilless rifle carrier used by the USMC
- Cadillac Gage V-100 Commando
- Mark I PBRs (Patrol Boat River)
- AMTRAC'S, amphibious tractors used by US Marine Corps
- M114 Reconnaissance vehicle
- M42 Duster (M41 light tank based hull, with a twin 40 mm antiaircraft gun mounted on an open turret)
- LCVP Landing craft vehicle personal
- LCM Landing craft mecanised
Often, non-combat logistical vehicles were armored and adopted to carry several machine guns to be used for convoy escort duties
- Gun trucks, 2½ and 5 ton cargo trucks with quad .50 cal machine guns mounted in the back
- M3 halftracks with quad .50 cal machine guns in the back
- Jeeps with mounted M60 machine guns
- Land Rovers with single and twin M60 machine guns mounted used by Australian and NZ forces
- Monitor, heavily gunned riverine craft
- Swift Boat, (PCF) Patrol Craft Fast
- ASPB, Assault Support Patrol Boat, (known as Alpha boats)
- PBR (Patrol Boat River) - All-fiberglass boats propelled by twin water jets, used by the US Navy
- APA 27, USS George Clymer. Troop transport.
Weapons of the PAVN/NLF
NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and the Southern communist guerrillas NLF, or Viet Cong as they were commonly referred to during the war, largely used standard Warsaw Pact weapons. Weapons used by the North Vietnamese also included Chinese Communist variants, which were referred to as CHICOM's by the US military.
- ZPU-4 quad 14.5 mm anti-aircraft machine gun
- ZU-23 twin 23 mm anti-aircraft cannon
- M1939 37 mm anti-aircraft gun
- S-60 57 mm anti-aircraft gun
- 85 mm air defense gun M1939 (52-K)
- 100 mm air defense gun KS-19
- 82 mm, 107 mm, 120 mm, and 160mm mortars
- 122 mm Katyusha rockets
- Type 63 multiple rocket launcher
- BM-21 Grad
- BM-25 (MRL) limited numbers
- 122 mm gun M1931/37 (A-19)
- 122 mm howitzer M1938 (M-30)
- D-74 122 mm Field Gun
- 130 mm towed field gun M1954 (M-46)
- 152 mm howitzer M1943 (D-1)
- 152 mm towed gun-howitzer M1955 (D-20)
- MiG-21 jet fighter
- MiG-19 jet fighter, used in limited numbers
- MiG-17 jet fighter
- MiG-15 jet fighter, used in limited numbers
- Shenyang J-6 jet fighter
- Shenyang J-5 jet fighter
- An-2 aircraft
- Mi-4 helicopter
- Mi-1 helicopter
- Mi-2 helicopter
- Mi-8 helicopter
- AK-47 and AKM assault rifles (from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries)
- Type 56 assault rifle (from the People's Republic of China)
- SKS semi-automatic carbine, also known as Simonov
- Vz. 58 assault rifle
- Type 99 Rifle captured from the Japanese during WWII
- SVD-63 semi-automatic marksman rifle, also known as the "Dragunov" sniper rifle
- Mosin–Nagant bolt-action rifles and carbines (from the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact countries, and the People's Republic of China)
- Mauser Kar98k bolt-action rifle (many of the Mausers used by the VPA and the NLF were from rifles captured from the French during the First Indochina War and rifles provided to them by the Soviets as military aid)
- Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle (captured by the Soviets during World War II and provided to the VPA and the NLF as military aid)
- Tokarev TT-33 - Soviet designed double/single action 7.62x25mm semi-automatic pistol. More commonly used were the Chinese variants of the T33, known as the Type-51 and Type-54. Carried by NVA and Viet-Cong officers, it accepted an 8 round single stack box magazine.
- Makarov PM - Soviet designed double/single action 9x18mm Makarov (9.5x18mm) semi-automatic pistol. Reproduced in China as the Type-59, this small and reliable pistol became the standard sidearm of communist forces in Europe and Asia. Utilizing a simple blow-back action, this self-loading pistol fed from an 8 round single stack box magazine.
- P-64 CZAK handgun
- Nagant M1895 revolver
- Mauser C96 handgun
- CZ 52 handgun
- Type 14 8 mm Nambu Pistol Pistol (Captured From The Japanese) Used By North Vietnamese officers
- K-50M submachine gun (Vietnamese edition, based on Chinese version of Russian PPSh-41, under licence)
- PPSh-41 submachine gun (both Soviet and Chinese versions)
- MAT-49 submachine gun
- PM-63 RAK submachine gun
- Type 99 LMG
- RPD light machine gun
- Degtyarev DP light machine gun
- RPK light machine gun
- MG-34 light machine gun (captured by the Soviets during World War II and provided to the VPA and the NLF as military aid)
- MG-42 light machine gun (captured by the Soviets during World War II and provided to the VPA and the NLF as military aid)
- Uk vz. 59 general-purpose machine gun
- DShK heavy machine gun
- PM M1910 heavy machine gun
- MP40 submachine gun (captured by the Soviets during World War II and provided to the VPA and the NLF as military aid)
- PPS-43 submachine gun
- F1 grenade
- RG-42 grenade
- RGD-5 grenade
- Type 63 assault rifle
- PK machine gun
- LPO-50 Flamethrower (limited use)
- PT-76 amphibious tank
- Type 62 light tank
- Type 63 amphibious tank
- BTR-40 APC
- BTR-50 APC
- BTR-152 APC
- Type 63 APC
- Type 63 anti-aircraft self-propelled systems
- ZSU-57-2 anti-aircraft self-propelled systems
- ZSU-23-4 anti-aircraft self-propelled systems
- T-34/85 medium tank, used in limited numbers
- T-54 main battle tanks
- Type 59 main battle tanks
- SU-100 self-propelled guns in limited numbers.
Substitute standard weapons used by irregular forces
- Arisaka bolt-action rifles
- M1 Garand rifle, semi-automatic
- M1 carbines, semi-automatic
- Springfield M1903 bolt-action rifles
- MAS-36 bolt-action rifles
- MAS-49 semi-automatic rifles
- MAT-49 submachine gun and local variants
- MP40 submachine guns
- PPS-43 submachine gun and local variants
- Swedish K submachine guns
- Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifles and carbines
- Mauser Karabiner 98k bolt-action rifles
- Type 99 light machine gun Used occasionally by the Viet Cong
- Nambu semi-automatic pistol
- Colt M1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol
- M72 LAW
Hand combat weapons
- M6 bayonet U.S. Used on M-14
- M1 Bayonet U.S. and ARVN Used on M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, and M-14
- M7 Bayonet U.S. Use with the M-16
- Ka-Bar Utility/fighting Knife U.S. Marines & U.S. Navy
- Gerber Mark II U.S. Armed Forces
- Other types of knives, bayonets, and blades.
Area denial weapons
- M14 Mine Used by US Forces until 1974
- MBV-78A1 Vietnamese variant of Russian POMZ AP mine
- Type 58 & Type 59 Chinese copy of Russian POMZ-2 and POMZ-2M AP mines
- OZM series of Russian bounding mines
Other ways of obtaining weapons
The Vietcong were not always able to be supplied by the PAVN. They sometimes took weapons from US soldiers after an attack or raided US or South Vietnamese weapon stockpiles. This increased the number of weapons available and gave balance against the US arsenal
Citations and notes
- Bart Hagerman, USA Airborne: 50th Anniversary, Turner Publishing Company, p.237
- Lieutenant General John J. Tolson (1989). "Vietnam Studies: Airmobility 1961–71". Department of the Army (US Government Printing Office). CMH Pub 90-4.
- "ITN news reel". Youtube. 16 July 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
- George W. Smith, The siege at Hue, Lynne Reinner Publishers(1999) p. 142-143
- Dwayne A. Day, Helicopters at War U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission
- Weapons of the Vietnam War
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