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 including the M1 Garand, M1 carbine, M-14 and M-16. The Australian and New Zealand forces employed the 7.62 mm L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle as their service rifle, with the occasional US M16.

The PAVN, 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 North 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 PAVN weapons

Communist forces were principally armed with Chinese and Soviet weaponry though some VC 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 malfunction. Often the gun suffered from a type II malfunction known as failure to extract or "brass low", 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 malfunction was caused primarily by a change of gunpowder in the ammunition, 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 gun M48A3 'Patton' tank saw extensive action during the Vietnam War and over 600 were deployed with U.S. 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 PAVN. 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. airpower was credited with breaking the siege of Khe Sanh and blunting the 1972 Easter 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 of Huế in February 1968, 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 nicknamed "Huey" was used extensively in counter-guerilla operations both as a troop carrier and a gunship.[2] In the latter role it was outfitted with a variety of armaments including M60 machine guns, multi-barreled 7.62 mm Miniguns 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, U.S., 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 U.S. advisors and USMC troops.
  • M1, M1A1, & M2 Carbine – used by the South Vietnamese Military, Police and Security Forces, U.S. military, and Laotians supplied by the U.S.
  • M14 rifle - issued to most U.S. troops from the early stages of the war until 1967-68, when it was replaced by the M16.[7]
  • M16, XM16E1, and M16A1 – 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)/GAU-5 – further development of the CAR-15, used heavily by MACV-SOG, the US Air Force, and US Army.[6]
  • Stoner 63 – used by US 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
    • T223 – a copy of the Heckler & Koch HK33 built under license by Harrington & Richardson used in small numbers by 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]

Submachine guns[edit]

  • Thompson submachine gun – used often by South Vietnamese troops, and in small quantities by U.S. artillery and helicopter units.
  • M3 Grease gun – standard U.S. military submachine-gun, also used by the South Vietnamese[6]
  • Ingram MAC-10 – used by U.S. 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.
  • Smith & Wesson M76 – copy of the Swedish K, replacing it in 1967.[6]
  • Madsen M-50 – used by the U.S. Special Forces and MACV-SOG and by South Vietnamese 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 Special Air Service Regiment and other special operations units.
  • Sten submachine gun – used by U.S. special operations forces, often with a suppressor mounted.
  • Uzi – used by special operations forces, supplied from Israel.
  • Beretta M12 – limited numbers were used by U.S. Embassy security units.[9]
  • MAT-49 submachine gun – captured models were used in limited numbers [6]
  • M50/55 Reising – 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 weapons, 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 - primary U.S. grenade launcher used by all branches of the US military.[6]
  • The China Lake Grenade Launcher - pump action weapon used in very small numbers.[6]
  • XM148 - experimental underbarrel 40mm grenade launcher, used by Navy SEALs and Australian SAS. Withdrawn due to safety reasons.[6]
  • M203 grenade launcher - single-shot 40mm underslung grenade launcher designed to attach to a M16 rifle. First tested in combat April 1969.[6]
  • M7 grenade launcher - rifle grenade launcher used with the M1 Garand, used by the South Vietnamese soldiers.


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


  • Colt Scope - Colt-manufactured 3x-magnification scope mounted on the carrying handle of the M16 and CAR-15 family.
  • Adjustable Ranging Telescope - a 3-9x adjustable magnification scope that served as the primary optic of the XM21 sniper rifle. Also mounted on the Model 655 and 656 sniper variants of the M16.
  • M82/M84 - 2.2x-magnification scope used on the M1C and M1D Garand sniper rifles.
  • Weaver Model 330/330C - 2.75x-magnification scope used on the M1903A4 sniper rifle. Also designated as the M73/M73B1 scopes.
  • Redfield Accurange - Redfield-manufactured 3-9x adjustable magnification scope that served as the primary optic of the M40 sniper rifle.
  • Unertl 10x - Unertl-manufactured 10x-magnification scope that served as the primary optic of the M40A1 sniper rifle.
  • Unertl 8x43 - Unertl-manufactured 8x-magnification scope that served as the primary optic of the Winchester Model 70 sniper rifle.
  • Single Point - a primitive occluded eye gunsight meant to be mounted on the M16 and CAR-15 family. The predecessor of the modern red dot sight.
  • AN/PAS-4 - Infrared scope mounted on the M14 rifle.
  • AN/PVS-1 Starlight Scope - night-vision scope used for night operations; replaced the AN/PAS-4. Typically mounted on the M14 rifle.
  • AN/PVS-2 Starlight Scope - successor to the AN/PVS-1. Typically mounted on the M16 rifle, but could also be mounted on the XM21 sniper rifle.
  • AN/PVS-3A Starlight Scope - successor to the AN/PVS-2. Like the AN/PVS-2, it could be mounted on the M16 and XM21.


Self-propelled Howitzer M109 in Vietnam

Artillery ammunition types[edit]


(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 ordnance[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.
  • M76 Otter - amphibious cargo carrier used by USMC
  • 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 U.S. Army and Marines throughout the war, and also used by ARVN forces late-war.
  • M67 "Zippo" – flamethrower variant of the M48 Patton.
  • M551 Sheridan – Armored Reconnaissance Airborne Assault Vehicle/Light Tank, used by the U.S. 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 - Patrol Craft Fast (PCF)
  • 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


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:[12]

  • AN/PRT-4 and PRR-9 squad radios - replaced the AN/PRC-6.
  • AN/PRC-25 and 77 - short-range FM radios replaced the AN/PRC-8-10.
  • 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).
  • 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:[13]

Weapons of the PAVN/NLF/North Korea/Soviet Union/China[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. Captured weapons were also widely used; almost every small arm used by SEATO may have seen limited enemy use. During the early '50, US material captured in Korea was also sent to the Vietminh.


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

Handguns and revolvers[edit]

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
  • vz. 24 – Used by the Vietcong Forces.

Submachine guns[edit]

Machine guns[edit]

  • 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
  • ZB vz. 26 light machine gun
  • Uk vz. 59 general-purpose machine gun
  • DShK heavy machine gun
  • PM M1910 heavy machine gun
  • FM-24/29 captured from the French in the Indochina War
  • DS-39 - used by the Vietcong Forces
  • MG 08 - used by the Vietcong Forces
  • Type 92 - captured from the Japanese during World War II
  • Type 96 - captured from the Japanese during World War II
  • Type 99 - captured from the Japanese during World War II
  • ZB vz.30 - light machine gun from Czechoslovakia
  • ZB vz.50 - heavy machine gun from Czechoslovakia
  • ZB-53 - Medium machine gun from Czechoslovakia
  • ZB vz.60 - heavy machine gun from Czechoslovakia

Grenades and other explosives[edit]



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 Viet Cong were not always able to be supplied by the NVA. 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. ^ Use of Hawk Missiles in Vietnam. // Department of Defense appropriations for 1970, pt. 5, pp. 377-378.
  12. ^ Vietnam Studies—Division-Level Communications 1962-1973, Lieutenant General Charles R. Myer, U.S. Department of the Army, 1982, Chapter 10
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ a b http://namfacts.tripod.com/id12.html

See also[edit]