Weapons of the Vietnam War

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Vietnam era rifles used by the US military & 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), [National Republic of Vietnam Military Forces], and the armed forces of the 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[2] and Soviet weaponry[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] 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 & 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 - Was used by the Marine Corps during the early stages of the war. Also used by the South Vietnamese, South Koreans and Laotians
  • M1903 Springfield Bolt-action rifle used in the early stages of the war.
  • M1 carbine and M2 Carbine- Were widely used by the South Vietnamese Military, Police and Security Forces, the Viet Cong, and the US Military.
  • M40 Bolt-action sniper rifle meant to replace the M1903 Springfield rifle; used by the US Marines.
  • M14 rifle It was issued to most troops from the early stages of the war until 1967-68, when it was replaced by the M16.
  • M21 Sniper Weapon System Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) used by the US Army.


  • M16 and M16A1 - The M16 was issued in 1963, but due to reliability issues, it was replaced by the M16A1 in 1966 which added the forward assist and chrome-lined barrel to the rifle for increased reliability.[8]
  • XM177 (Colt Commando) - Shortened version of the M16 rifle very popular with MACV-SOG units. It was replace by an newer version, the M4 Carbine in 1994.[6]
  • Stoner 63 - used by U.S. Navy SEALs and USMC.[6]
  • Heckler & Koch G3 - It was used by Thai forces
  • 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.[6]

Submachine guns[edit]

  • 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.[6]
  • MAT-49 submachine gun - captured models were used in limited numbers [6]
  • Ingram MAC-10 - Is a compact, blowback operated machine pistol, used since 1968.[6]
  • 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.[6]
    • Smith & Wesson M76 - A copy of the Swedish K, it replaced that gun as the main submachine gun of the Navy SEALs in 1967.[6]
  • Madsen M-50 - It was supplied by mercenaries from Denmark and a lot were bought by the United States for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.[6]
  • MP40 - was Used by MACV SOG, also captured examples were seen in the hands of US troops.[6]
  • Beretta M12 Seen in a news video about the Embassy Assault during the Tet Offensive.[9]
  • 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.


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.


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


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]


  • 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

Combat vehicles[edit]


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
  • 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


  • Tokarev TT-33 - Soviet-designed single-action 7.62×25mm 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.[13]
  • Makarov PM - Soviet-designed double/single-action 9×18mm Makarov (9.5×18mm) 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.[13]
  • P-64 CZAK handgun
  • Nagant M1895 revolver
  • Type 14 8 mm Nambu Pistol Pistol (Captured from the Japanese) Used By North Vietnamese officers
  • Stechkin automatic pistol is a Russian selective fire machine pistol.
  • Walther P38 German pistol captured during World War II by the Soviet Army; supplied to the Viet Cong in very limited amounts

Automatic and Semi-Automatic Rifles[edit]

  • 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)
  • Vz. 58 assault rifle (from the Czechoslovakia)
  • Type 63 assault rifle
  • Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle (captured by the Soviets during World War II and provided to the VPA and the NLF as military aid)
  • Gewehr 43 German semi-automatic rifle (captured by the Soviets during World War II)
  • SVD-63 semi-automatic marksman rifle, also known as the "Dragunov" sniper rifle
  • MAS-49 rifle Captured French rifle from first Indochina War, used by NVA throughout 1950s and up to the mid 1960s
  • SVT-40 Soviet rifle used in limited numbers, used in early stages of the war.
  • SKS semi-automatic carbine, also known as Simonov

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 99 Rifle captured from the Japanese during WWII

Submachine Guns[edit]

  • K-50M submachine gun (Vietnamese edition, based on Chinese version of Russian PPSh-41, under licence)
  • Škorpion vz. 61 sumbmachine gun from Czechoslovakia
  • PPSh-41 submachine gun (both Soviet and Chinese versions)
  • MP-40 German sub machine captured during World War II by the Soviet Army, supplied to the Viet Cong in limited amounts
  • MAT-49 submachine gun - So many were captured by the North Vietnamese that they converted many to 7.62×25mm.[6]
  • PM-63 Poland submachine gun.
  • MP-38 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

Machine Guns[edit]

  • Type 99 LMG
  • RPD light machine gun
  • Degtyarev DP light machine gun
  • SG-43/SGM medium machine guns (including Communist Chinese copies of these guns)
  • RPK light machine gun
  • PK 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 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)


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 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[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]