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]

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.[citation needed]

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]

Small arms[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.


Submachine guns[edit]


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, a single shot grenade launcher 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.

M203 grenade launcher, The M203 is a single shot 40 mm under-slung grenade launcher designed to attach to a rifle. It uses the same rounds as the older stand-alone M79 break-action grenade launcher, which utilizes the High-Low Propulsion System to keep recoil forces low. Though versatile, and compatible with many rifle models, the M203 was originally designed for the U.S. M16.In the Vietnam war U.S. Navy and Coast Guard personnel on boats would lob M203 grenades into the water (using the M79 grenade launcher), this to preemptively attack Viet Cong swimmers ("sappers") attempting to plant explosives on anchored or moored U.S. water craft [8]


Infantry support weapons[edit]

U. S. soldier carries a 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]

Aircraft weapons[edit]

A minigun being fired from a gunship in Vietnam


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

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

Pistols & revolvers[edit]

Automatic and Semi-Automatic Rifles[edit]

Bolt-Action Rifles[edit]

Submachine Guns[edit]

Machine Guns[edit]

Grenades and other explosives[edit]



Bicycles carried up to 400 pounds of weight and were thus effective transport vehicles.

Substitute standard weapons used by irregular forces[edit]

Small arms[edit]

South Vietnamese Popular Force militiawomen with M2 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. ^ http://hunting.about.com/od/guns/l/aastm14_m1aa.htm
  7. ^ http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/us-m16/
  8. ^ "M203 grenade launcher". Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  9. ^ a b http://namfacts.tripod.com/id12.html

See also[edit]