US Infantry in Vietnam; Organisation and Equipment. The recollections of a Veteran of the 1st Infantry Division, RVN


US Organisation & Equipment


Companies were always short handed.

Company HQ in the field was the CO, XO. 1 SGT, 2 RTO's for each of the 2 officers, several messengers and a medic or 2.

The weapons platoon always stayed in the NDP when in the field to serve the 81mm mortars - 4 of them per company I think is right, plus the Fire Direction Center plotting team - maybe 30 to 40 soldiers in total.

Rifle platoons were the search and combat elements. Platoon HQ was 1 LT, 1 PLT SGT, each with an RTO, and 1 medic.

Weapons squad was a squad leader (the senior in the platoon), and 2 LMG teams of 4 men; the 90mm recoilless rifles were always left in the base camp or the NDP unless they were expected to be needed. LAW's were carried instead.

Rifle squads were 2 fire teams, with an M79 each, everyone else had M-16s, maybe 10 soldiers at best, usually about 8 or 9, including squad and fire team leaders. Three rifle platoons to a company.

HQ Platoon and any one not assigned to field duty remained in the base camp - basically all the cooks, clerks, truck drivers and the NCO's of these sections. They performed perimeter guard duty for the company's area of the base camp perimeter while the company was in the field.

Wastage was high in all units due to rotation, illness, injury, wounds, death, R and R, etc. I would say most US rifle companies at best had about 150 - 170 men available for duty - in the field and at the base camp. Some were really bad off, like I said, with 90 bods available for sweeps and combat outside the NDP, plus remember, 1 company was nearly always at base camp "resting". So a battalion with 4 rifle companies only had 3 in the field as a rule.

A quickie about the RVN Airborne, Rangers, SF, Seals, and Marines. They did conduct some field operations, but it would appear a lot were kept close to the capital city. By very good, I meant in comparison with other ARVN's, not US troops. and I never operated with any of these guys until TET and then only rarely. I do know that the SEAL's in MACV thought their ARVN Seal team was a good one (this was in My Tho 1969) and a friend said the Marines were alright that he worked with.

AMMO & EQUIPMENT

When I went to the RVN,the most common weapon for the US soldier as an individual weapon was the US Rifle, M-14. The M-14 was in 2 versions, both in 7.62-mm NATO caliber, and both had just finished replacing the older M-1's in the regular US Forces by about the time we started sending troops to the RVN. It was a heavy (as compared to the M-16 rifle), longer rifle (as compared to the M16 and the AK47), very rugged, very reliable, and bore a strong resemblance to its grandpa, the M-1, but with less wood, and no stacking swivels.

The M-14 used the 7.62-mm NATO round, which is shorter, less powerful than the .30-06 US Cartridge it replaced, but slightly more powerful and I believe, slightly longer ranged then the AK round (and longer ranged, more powerful than the M-16 round in 5.56mm) Both the 7.62mm NATO and the 7.62mm AK rounds were developed by the US and German Armies based on WWI and WWII battlefield experience.

In WWII, the Germans produced a very modern assault rifle in the 7.92mm Kurz which is the grandpa of the AK47. The US developed a "hot" .30-caliber round for the US Carbines that would only work in those weapons and nothing else - it was really a very high velocity pistol size cartridge. The USA worked on a replacement for the M-1 all through the 1950's and finally settled on the 7.62mm NATO round and the M-14 in the early '60s. There was a very good UK rifle in a "bullpup" configuration using a smaller HV cartridge (similar to the later M-16 round) The US rode rough shod over this weapon/round for political reasons to get the 7.62mm adopted as the official NATO round.

The basic M-14 rifle was a magazine fed, gas operated, semi/full automatic weapon, using a detachable 20 round box magazine. This weapon was issued set for semi-automatic fire (like the UK’s FN 7.62mm SLR), but each platoon leader and every officer was issued a "key" which could "unlock" a rifle so that the soldier could fire semi or fully automatic as desired. The grunt squad was mainly armed with this weapon, both in the Army and the Marines. Army squads had two fire teams, Marines had three.

There was a squad support weapon with a heavier barrel and a bipod called US Rifle, M-14(E1)A1 which was issued in the selective fire model to replace the old BAR of WWI, Banana War, WWII, Korea, and other wars (including the RVN). It used the same 20 round heavy steel magazines as the M-14. As I remember, the M-14 was issued with 5 magazines while the M-14A1 was issued with 10 magazines. At some point, I believe the M-14A1 became an A2 also.

Both rifles had about a 750 round/minute cyclic rate of fire (full automatic fire). Both rifles were battle zeroed for 450 meters (EUROPEAN WAR). Battle zero was not the max range, just the one determined to be most useful in "real life".

Ammo was issued in cotton bandoliers from GI ammo cans. Each pocket on the bandolier held a card board box with 20 rounds of 7.62mm ball ammo, loose, with a charger that attached to the magazine for reloading stripper clips (I never saw one in 7.62mm NATO) or two loaded stripper clips of 10 rounds each. Some ammo cans had only boxes of separate rounds, or loose rounds (rare). Loose rounds had to be loaded into a magazine 1 at a time. Ammo was ball, armor piercing and tracer (red-orange).

Soldiers with rifles had a knife-bayonet issued as a secondary weapon. Ammo was carried in 2 heavy cotton web ammo pouches which held 2 magazines each, and incredible as it sounds, had provisions for attaching two M26 fragmentation grenades to each pouch…. (DUMB! STUPID! DUMB!).

Each US Army fire team (called Alpha and Bravo) also had an M-79, single shot breech loading 40mm Grenade Launcher (called Thumper or a 'thump gun' because of the distinctive "thump" it made when fired. The grenadier carried a .45-ACP caliber automatic pistol (SL Pistol to the UK types) as a back up weapon for his GL. Ammo was only HE, and Pyrotechnic (signals), but later, due to popular demand, a 40mm Anti-Personnel Canister round was added (giant shotgun shell).

Ammo came in 6 round cotton bandoliers that were removed from GI ammo cans and carried by the grenadier. Grenadiers soon acquired a claymore AP Mine bag to carry ammo in for their thumpers, and sometimes, 2 of these bags for ammo. The 40mm round would not explode until it traveled (I think) 5meters after being fired and then a twig would cause it to explode! I think the casualty radius was also 5-meters when it popped.

Three of an infantry platoons 4 squads were armed as above. The fourth had two fire teams also, each built around an M60 LMG, a truly legendary 7.62mm NATO weapon. Rugged, reliable, with a quick change barrel, using 100 round disintegrating links ammo belts of metal. Ammo was carried in 100-round steel GI ammo cans, or as linked belts worn as bandoliers by all members of a platoon.

Each gun team carried about 1200 rounds minimum, later, much more ammo. Gunner had the M-60, and a .45; assistant gunner and ammo bearers carried M-14s.

The weapons squad also had 2 each 90mm Recoilless Rifles, but these were usually left at the NDP or even the base camp as no armor was expected, and 66mm LAW's were carried instead.

All soldiers carried four M26 frags, and 4 smoke grenades in addition to their small arms and ammo as well as 1 or 2 Claymore AP mines.

Claymore bags were much in demand for use as ammo bags for loaded magazines. Some, very few, idiots also used them as toiletry kits. Hand grenades (M26) were carried in an extra canteen carrier with the cotter pins all splayed for safety. Smoke grenades were hung wherever. WP and concussion HG were special issue and not seen much in the field where I was. Why bother - the M26 was the King of HG killers and the Smokes would mark locations without raining WP flakes all over.

First thing the Army did upon arrival in country was to take the M-14's away and give them to rear area troops in 1967, replacing them with XM16s, which were lighter, but a piece of crap! We called them 'Matty Mattels', and some guys carried captured AK's or M-14's for reliability in the field until the Army threatened to court-martial the AK carriers, and again took away the M-14's that grunts reacquired for use.

The M16 was a killer, but we wondered who it killed more of - GIs or gooks. Such comments were frowned upon. It was too delicate for jungle-warfare; dirt, water, etc caused malfunctions. Badly designed magazines, buffer assemblies, and cartridge primers all aided and abetted these troubles.

It was common after the first 3 magazines or even the first magazine for malfunctions to reduce the M-16 from a high cyclic rate of fire, magazine fed weapon, to an 1860’s breech loader, after the assembled cleaning rod was run down the bore to knock loose the cooked into the chamber expended cartridge!!! This while the NVA/VC are closing with you. This was when those M-60 gunners earned those Silver Stars by taking up the slack in firepower of the whole platoon, and a lot of H-to-H and grenade fights take place .

Pistols: .45 ACP’s , .38 Spec, .357 Magnum, auto-pistols and revolvers, 9mm Browning HiPower’s, and 9mm Walthers were also in demand. I saw at least one guy who used a Very Pistol with flare ammo as a sidearm, and later had custom loaded buckshot ammo for it.


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1st Infantry Division TAOR (1969)

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