Weapons of the Vietnam War

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Vietnam era rifles used by the US military and allies

This article is about the weapons used in the Vietnam War, which involved the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) or North Vietnamese Army (NVA), National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLF) or Viet Cong (VC), and the armed forces of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), United States, Republic of Korea, Philippines, Thailand, and the Australian, New Zealand defence forces, and a variety of irregular troops.

Nearly all United States-allied forces 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 L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle as their service rifle, with the occasional US M16.

The NVA, although having inherited a variety 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.

Communist forces and weapons[edit]

Captured NVA weapons

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, such as the MAT-49, or from ARVN units or requisitioned through illicit purchase.

US weapons[edit]

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.[1][2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

The Vietnam War was the first conflict that saw wide scale tactical deployment of helicopters.[5] The Bell UH-1 Iroquois was used extensively in counter-guerilla operations both as a troop carrier and a gunship.[2] 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.[2] The Hueys were also successfully used in MEDEVAC and search and rescue roles.[2]

Weapons of the ARVN, US, South Korean, Australian, and New Zealand Forces[edit]

Pistols and revolvers[edit]

Infantry rifles[edit]

Vietnamese Rangers with M16 rifles in Saigon during the Tết Offensive
A U.S. soldier with an M14 watches as supplies are dropped in Vietnam, 1967.
  • M1 Garand – Used by the South Vietnamese, South Koreans and Laotians. Limited numbers were carried by early US advisors and USMC troops.
  • M1, M1A1, & M2 Carbine – Used by the South Vietnamese Military, Police and Security Forces, US Military, and Laotians supplied by the United States.
  • M1903A3 Springfield – Limited numbers were used by the South Vietnamese and USMC.
  • M14 rifle Issued to most troops from the early stages of the war until 1967-68, when it was replaced by the M16.[7]
  • M16, XM16E1, and M16A1 – The M16 was issued in 1963, but due to reliability issues, it was replaced by the M16A1 in 1967 which added the forward assist and chrome-lined barrel to the rifle for increased reliability.[8]
  • CAR-15 – Carbine variant of the M16 produced in very limited numbers, fielded by special operations early on. Later supplemented by the improved XM177.
  • XM177 (Colt Commando) – Further development of the CAR-15, used heavily by MACV-SOG, the US Air Force, and US Army.[6]
  • Stoner 63 – used by U.S. Navy SEALs and USMC.[6]
  • Heckler & Koch G3 – Used by Thai forces.
  • Heckler & Koch HK33 – 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.[6]

Sniper/Marksman Rifles[edit]

  • M1917 Enfield – Limited numbers were used by the South Vietnamese.
  • Lee-Enfield – Used by ANZAC Forces.
  • M1C/D Garand – Limited numbers were used by the South Vietnamese.
  • M1903A4 Springfield – Used by the USMC throughout the war, replaced by the M40.
  • M21 Sniper Weapon System – Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) used by the US Army.
  • M40 – Bolt-action sniper rifle meant to replace the M1903 Springfield rifle; used by the US Marines.

Submachine guns[edit]

  • Thompson submachine gun – Used often by South Vietnamese troops, and in small quantities by US artillery and helicopter units.
  • M3 Grease gun – Standard US Military submachine-gun, also used by the South Vietnamese[6]
  • Ingram MAC-10 – Used by US special operations forces.[6]
  • Swedish K – Used by Navy SEALs in the beginning of the war, but later replaced by the Smith & Wesson M76 in the late 1960s. Significant numbers were also utilized by the South Vietnamese,[6] and limited numbers were used in Laos by advisors, and Laotian fighters.
  • Madsen M-50 – Large numbers utilized by South Vietnamese and US forces, supplied from Denmark.[6]
  • Owen Gun – Standard Australian submachine-gun in the early stages of the war, later replaced by the F1.
  • F1 submachine gun – Replaced the Owen Gun in Australian service.
  • Sterling submachine gun – Used by Australian SASR and other special operations units.
  • Sten submachine gun – Used by US special operations forces, often with a suppressor mounted.
  • Uzi – Used by special operations forces, supplied from Israel.
  • Beretta M12 – Limited numbers were used by US embassy security units.[9]
  • MAT-49 submachine gun – captured models were used in limited numbers [6]
  • MP40 – Limited numbers were used by MACV-SOG and other irregular forces.[6]


Ithaca 37

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.

Machine guns[edit]

US Marine fires his M60 machine gun at an enemy position during the Battle of Huế.

Grenades and mines[edit]

Claymore anti-personnel mine in use in Vietnam

Grenade launchers[edit]

M79 Grenade Launcher The Primary US grenade launcher of the Vietnam war. it was used by all branches of the US military.[6]

The China Lake Grenade Launcher, a pump action weapon, also saw action in the Vietnam War albeit in very small numbers.[6]

XM148 Experimental underbarreled 40mm grenade launcher. Used by Navy SEALs and Australian SAS. Withdrawn due to safety reasons.[6]

M203 grenade launcher, The M203 is a single shot 40mm under-slung grenade launcher designed to attach to a M16 rifle. First tested in combat April 1969.[6]


American firing the RPG-2.jpeg

Infantry support weapons[edit]

A US soldier carries an M67 recoilless rifle past a burning Viet Cong base camp in Mỹ Tho, South Vietnam, 1968


Self-propelled Howitzer M109 in Vietnam

Artillery ammunition types[edit]


Bell UH-1D Iroquois
A U.S. Navy F-4B from VF-111 dropping bombs over Vietnam, 1971.
USAF F-5 Tiger II.


(listed alphabetically by modified/basic mission code, then numerically in ascending order by design number/series letter)

USS Garrett County at anchor in the Mekong Delta with two UH-1B Iroquois helicopters on deck.


(listed numerically in ascending order by design number/series letter, then alphabetically by mission code)

Aircraft ordenance[edit]

  • GBUs
  • CBUs
  • BLU-82 Daisy cutter
  • Napalm
  • Bomb, 250 lb, 500 lb, 750 lb, 1000 lb, HE (high explosive), general-purpose
  • Rocket, aerial, HE (High Explosive), 2.75 inch

Aircraft weapons[edit]

A minigun being fired from a gunship in Vietnam

Chemical Weapons[edit]

  • Agent Orange- While not developed to be used as a weapon against infantry, it was later revealed that it had the potential to cause cancer and other diseases in those who came in contact with it.
  • Napalm


  • M38A1 1/4 ton jeep
  • M151 1/4 ton 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

Combat vehicles[edit]


  • M24 Chaffee Light tank – Main ARVN tank early in the war, used at least as late as the Tet Offensive.
  • M41 Walker Bulldog Light tank – Replaced the M24 Chaffee as the main ARVN tank in 1964-1965.
  • M48 Patton medium tank – Main tank of the US Army and Marines throughout the war, and also used by ARVN forces late-war.
  • M103 Heavy Tank – Heavy tank used by the US Army and USMC. Deployed in Vietnam but never actually saw combat.
  • M67 "Zippo" – Flamethrower variant of the M48 Patton.
  • M551 Sheridan Armored Reconnaissance Airborne Assault Vehicle/Light Tank – Used by the US Army from 1969.
  • Centurion MK.V Main Battle Tank – Used by the Australian Army.

Other armored vehicles[edit]

Gun trucks[edit]

Often, non-combat logistical vehicles were armored and adopted to carry several machine guns to be used for convoy escort duties

Naval craft[edit]

Fast Patrol Craft
  • Tango, LCM 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
  • USS George Clymer (APA-27). Troop transport.


Soldier using an AN/PRC-77 radio transceiver with the KY-38 secure voice encryptor (below), part of the NESTOR system.


The geographically dispersed nature of the war challenged existing military communications. From 1965 to the final redeployment of tactical units, numerous communications-electronics systems were introduced in Vietnam to upgrade the quality and quantity of tactical communications and replace obsolete gear:[11]

  • The AN/PRT-4 and PRR-9 squad radios replaced the AN/PRC-6.
  • The AN/PRC-25 and 77 short-range FM radios replaced the AN/PRC-8-10.
  • The AN/VRC-12 series FM radios replaced the RT-66-67-68/GRC (including AN/GRC 3-8, VRC 7-10, VRC 20-22, and VRQ 1-3 sets).
  • The AN/GRC-106 AM radios and teletypewriter replaced the AN/GRC-19.

Encryption systems[edit]

Encryption systems developed by the National Security Agency and used in Vietnam included:[12]

Weapons of the PAVN/NLF[edit]

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.


North Vietnamese SAM crew in front of a SA-2 launcher.
The KS-19


Aircraft weapons[edit]

Small arms[edit]

Vietcong guerrilla stands beneath a Vietcong flag carrying his AK-47 rifle.
A U.S. Army M.P. inspects a Soviet AK-47 recovered in Vietnam in 1968.
PAVN troops with PPSh-41
NLF soldier with SKS


Automatic and semi-automatic rifles[edit]

Bolt-action rifles[edit]

  • MAS-36 rifle Captured French rifle from first Indochina War, used by NVA in earlier stages of the Vietnam War
  • 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)
  • Type 38 Rifle – (captured from the Japanese during World War II)
  • Type 99 Rifle – (captured from the Japanese during World War II)

Submachine guns[edit]

Machine Guns[edit]

  • Type 99 LMG
  • RPD light machine gun
  • RPK light machine gun
  • PK light machine gun
  • Degtyarev DP light machine gun
  • SG-43/SGM medium machine guns (including Communist Chinese copies of these guns)
  • 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 medium 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
  • ZB-53 machine gun from (Czechoslovakia)
  • DShK heavy machine gun
  • PM M1910 heavy machine gun

Grenades and other explosives[edit]

  • F1 grenade
  • Type 67 ChiCom Stick Grenade
  • RG-42 grenade
  • RGD-5 grenade
  • 9K32 Strela-2 anti-aircraft weapon
  • RPG-2 anti-tank weapon (both Soviet and locally produced B-40 and B-50 variants used)
  • RPG-7 anti-tank weapon
  • Type 69 RPG anti-tank weapon
  • SPG-9 73 mm recoilless rifle
  • B-10 recoilless rifle
  • B-11 recoilless rifle


  • LPO-50 Flamethrower (limited use)


Other armored vehicles[edit]


Substitute standard weapons used by irregular forces[edit]

Small arms[edit]

South Vietnamese Popular Force militiawomen with M1 carbines

Hand combat weapons[edit]

The KA-BAR knife was the most famous edged weapon of the war.

Area denial weapons[edit]

A wide variety of anti-personnel ordnance and booby traps were used in the Vietnam war, including punji stakes.

Other ways of obtaining weapons[edit]

The Vietcong were not always able to be supplied by the ARVN. 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[edit]

  1. ^ Bart Hagerman, USA Airborne: 50th Anniversary, Turner Publishing Company, p.237
  2. ^ a b c d Lieutenant General John J. Tolson (1989). Vietnam Studies: Airmobility 1961–71. Department of the Army. US Government Printing Office. CMH Pub 90-4. 
  3. ^ "ITN news reel". Youtube. 16 July 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  4. ^ George W. Smith, The siege at Hue, Lynne Reinner Publishers(1999) p. 142-143
  5. ^ Dwayne A. Day, Helicopters at War U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Dockery, Kevin (December 2004). Weapons of the Navy SEALs. New York City: Berkley Publishing Group. p. 382. ISBN 0-425-19834-0. 
  7. ^ http://hunting.about.com/od/guns/l/aastm14_m1aa.htm
  8. ^ http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/us-m16/
  9. ^ Gander, Jerry (2002). Jane's Infantry Weapons 2002–2003. Jane's Information Group. pp. 214, 899–906. ISBN 0-7106-2434-4. 
  10. ^ Canfield, Bruce (2007). Complete Guide to US Military Combat Shotguns. Mowbray Publishers Inc. pp. 163–164. ISBN 1-931464-28-6. 
  11. ^ Vietnam Studies—Division-Level Communications 1962-1973, Lieutenant General Charles R. Myer, U.S. Department of the Army, 1982, Chapter 10
  12. ^ http://www.governmentattic.org/18docs/Hist_US_COMSEC_Boak_NSA_1973u.pdf A History of U.S. Communications Security; the David G. Boak Lectures, National Security Agency (NSA), Volumes I, 1973, Volumes II 1981, partially released 2008, additional portions declassified October 14, 2015
  13. ^ a b http://namfacts.tripod.com/id12.html

See also[edit]