North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong Smallarms used in the Vietnam War

Page Title - NVA and VC Weapons
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Characteristics of NVA & VC Smallarms

During the early war years, the VC relied on a mix of weapons from various sources; captured French and Japanese weapons, US made .30 caliber M-1 (semi-automatic) and M-2 (semi- and full automatic) carbines and the .45 caliber Thompson M1928A1 as well as other SMG's such as the 9mm MAT-49 and the 7.62mm PPSh-41. Many of these weapons came by way of capture as well as international arms sales. However, as supplies from the North began to filter down into RVN, new weapons from the Russians and Chinese began to make their appearance.

Synonymous with the NVA regulars and Vietcong Mainforce units, the basic infantry weapon was the Soviet 7.62mm AK-47 assault rifle, or the Chicom copy Type 56. Whilst the Chicom Type 56 was the predominant rifle, the weapon was referred to generically as the AK-47 irrespective of the country of origin. Capable of firing semi- or full automatic at the flip of a switch the AK-47 was issued in several different configurations.

Almost as equally widespread as the AK-47 was the Soviet 7.62mm SKS carbine or Simonov, a semi-automatic rifle which was especially common amongst the regional and local VC forces.

In Action (left-to-right) SKS Carbine, RPD LMG, AK-47
Left to Right: SKS carbine, RPD LMG, AK-47

By the time of the Tet offensive in 1968, the NVA and Main Force VC were almost universally armed with modern Soviet or Chicom weapons although the regional and local VC forces still carried weaponry of mixed vintage. Main Force VC units around 1965 - 1966 were generally armed in the same manner as their NVA counterparts and there is much evidence which exists to suggest that Main Force VC consisted of substantial numbers of early war NVA regulars.

Apart from the increasing availability of the AK-47 and the SKS as the war progressed, another more important consideration prompted their adoption as the standard infantry weapons - that of ammunition. Both weapons use the Soviet 7.62mm M43 or Chicom Type 56 cartridges. Other weapons, whilst reasonably prolific, nonetheless presented logistical problems in that not only did they comprise a mix of calibers but even weapons of the same or similar caliber required separate ammunition types.

Standardisation around the 7.62mm M43 also suited the NVA/VC in their choice of squad support weapons since the excellent Soviet 7.62mm RPD light machine gun (Degtyarev) and it's Chicom counterpart, the light machine gun Type 56, used the same M43 ammo load as the AK-47 and SKS carbine.

Larger caliber machine guns, such as the 7.92mm Chicom Type-24 heavy machine gun, were, for the most part, employed in defensive positions and used as anti-aircraft weapons as well as in a ground support role. Many of these weapons were mounted on metal or rubber wheels in order to aid their crews in deployment while others were carried by one man or a crew of two or more. These weapons were considered as particularly high priority for Allied Gun Ships attempting ground suppression and as a consequence were often employed in operations quite near to the border so that they could be extracted from an AO reasonably rapidly.

A mark of rank amongst the NVA and VC (indeed as in most armies) pistols and revolvers were carried by officers, political staff and occasionally by senior NCO's. The two most common weapons were the 7.62mm Soviet TT-33 Tokarev and the 9.5mm Makarov automatic pistols.

Although VC and NVA units carried infantry anti-tank weapons they were used more in the role of anti-personnel than anti-armour. The most common were the Soviet RPG-2 and the Chicom copy Type-56. A more modern weapon, the Soviet RPG-7 (Chicom copy Type-69) was also widely used and particularly effective against the aluminium hulled US M-113.

All of these weapons were 40mm and capable of penetrating up to 6" of armour at ranges of 100 - 500 meters. Ammunition however differed, with the RPG-2 round being fin-stabilised while the RPG-7 round was finless. One interesting feature of RPG-2 is that they could only be shoulder fired right-handed since the vent for the blast was located on the right hand side of the weapon itself close to the firing mechanism housing which would be lethal to a left-handed user.

Both the VC and the NVA were renowned for their skill with mortars. These varied from 60mm to 160mm but by far the most common were the Soviet 82mm M-1937 and the Chicom copy Type-53. Both of these had a range of just over 3kms. Comprising a sight, tube, bipod and base plate (total weight of 123lbs) the weapon required a crew of three, usually with a fourth crew member acting as an additional ammo carrier.

Another popular mortar was the French made Stokes-Brandt 60mm M-1935 and various copies of this weapon including the US 60mm mortar M-2 and the Chinese 60mm Type-31. All three of these fired any type of 60mm ammunition and with a total weight of around 40lbs could be ported by a single man, however a crew of two was normal.

Irrespective of the weapon carried and it's source, NVA units infiltrating into RVN were, by 1965, adequately armed for confrontation with Allied infantry. By 1967 the VC were also carrying a substantial number of modern arms. Where both the NVA and the VC lacked firepower was in their absence of supporting fire from artillery, air and armour and these particular systems the US had in abundance.


AK-47 7.62mm Assault Rifle

Easily recognised with its high front sights, large selector/safety switch on the right side and the long, curved banana magazine, this is the Soviet version with a conventional wooden buttstock. The AK-47 is a gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle which has a semiautomatic ROF of 40 rounds (effective range about 400 meters), increasing to 100 rounds on fully automatic (effective range about 300 meters). It has a 30 round detachable box magazine. Renowned for it's durability, the AK-47 is shorter and heavier than the M-16 but with a lower ROF and muzzle velocity.



SKS 7.62mm carbine (Simonov)

A 7.62mm semi-automatic carbine with an effective range of 400 meters, the SKS has a 10 round integral magazine and an ROF of 30-35 rounds per minute. The SKS resembles a conventional bolt action rifle but is equipped with an integral folding bayonet under the muzzle. Used extensively by the VC, it weighed 3.86kg, had a length of 1020mm and a muzzle velocity of 735m per second.


RPD-7.62mm GPMG

RPD 7.62mm LMG

The standard infantry squad support weapon, the RPD was analogous to the US M-60 and fired a 7.62mm slug from a 100 round belt  which was usually contained in a drum mounted below the gun. The drum itself could be changed in a matter of seconds by an experienced gunner and protected the ammo from dirt and hence jamming. With a maximum rate of cyclic fire of about 150 rounds per minute, an effective range of 800m and rapid reload time, this light and uncomplicated weapon was capable of laying down sustained heavy fire. The gunner was usually accompanied by an assistant acting as an ammo carrier, loader and capable of taking over as the primary gunner in the event of the main gunner becoming a casualty. The RPD was approximately 1036mm in length (521mm barrel ) and had a muzzle velocity of 700m per second.


PPSh-41 7.62mm SMG

The weapon had a fire-rate selector lever positioned just in front of the trigger, allowing the rate of fire to be changed rapidly without the weapon moving off the point of aim. The two-piece bolt handle allows the bolt to be locked in either the forward or the rear position. The original weapon had two different magazines; a 71-round drum or a 35-round box. The drum magazine seems to have fallen out of favour, and most of this type of weapon seen in Vietnam used the box. This may have been a result of the Chinese connection. The PRC Type 50 SMG differed only slightly from the PPSh41, mainly in that it only fitted the 35-round box magazine. The most interesting variant of the weapon was the K50M, which was a Vietnamese modification of the Type 50. The Vietnamese removed the wooden butt stock and replaced it with a wooden pistol grip and a French-style sliding wire butt stock similar to that on the MAT49. At the front end of the weapon, they shortened the perforated barrel jacket, left off the muzzle brake, and attached the foresight to the barrel, giving the gun a shape strongly reminiscent of the MAT49. The K50M ended up being about 500 g (1.1 lb) lighter than the PPSh41 at 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) as opposed to 3.9 kg (8.6 lb). The weapons were all blowback operated and had an effective range of about 150 m (164 yd).


MAT49 modified 7.62mm SMG

MAT-49 9mm SMG

Produced by the Manufacture díArmes de Tulle (MAT) in 1946 and using the 9mm Parabellum cartridge this SMG was adopted by the French Army in 1949 (hence the designation MAT49). The weapon was widely used by French forces in Indo-China and many found their way into the hands of the Vietminh and eventually the Viet Cong.

The Vietnamese modified the weapon to fire the Soviet 7.62mm x 25P ammunition and itís PRC equivalent by fitting a longer 7.62mm barrel. However, they did keep all the essential features of the MAT49 except for replacing the 32-round box with a 35-round magazine.

One of the remarkable features of the weapon was the sliding wire butt stock which could be pushed forward out of the way for carrying and pulled to the rear if it was to be used in firing. The magazine housing on the receiver could be rotated forward through 90-degrees (even with the magazine fitted) to lie along the barrel. These features made the MAT49 particularly suitable for troops who required compactness in carriage.

At the back part of the pistol grip was a grip safety, which was operated by the action of squeezing the pistol grip when firing a round. This released the safety catch. When the grip safety was not squeezed, it locked the bolt in the forward position, and locked the trigger when the weapon was cocked. The lock was released by the pressure of the palm of the hand. The weapon could not be accidentally discharged.

The Vietnamese modification increased the cyclic rate of fire from 600-rounds per minute to 900-rpm.


Chicom Type-56, 7.62mm ASSAULT RIFLE

Chicom Type-56 7.62mm Assault Rifle

The Chinese copy of the original Soviet AK-47, the Type-56 has a folding metal stock.


Type-24, 7.92mm HEAVY MACHINEGUN

Chicom Type-24 HMG

A Chinese copy of the German WWI vintage Maxim machine gun often used in an air defence role.





The RPG-7 (CHICOM Type-69) is a muzzle loaded, shoulder fired antitank grenade launcher. The VC and NVA used the RPG7V, a Soviet produced short-range, anti-armour, rocket-propelled grenade, from 1967 against armoured vehicles, defensive positions, personnel and even helicopters. This smoothbore, recoilless  weapon consists of a launcher tube fitted with a simple iron sight or a more sophisticated telescopic range-finding sight, and a HEAT rocket grenade projectile with a caliber of 40mm. The RPG-7 has an effective range of 300 meters against moving targets and up to 500 meters against stationary targets. The projectile explodes either on impact or at its maximum range of 920 meters.




Tokarov Pistol

First introduced in the 1930ís and utilising the self-cocking design from Colt, the Tokarev TT33 was used extensively by Soviet forces in WWII and was produced in nearly all Warsaw Pact countries and the PRC.

The Chinese Type-54 could be distinguished from the Soviet TT33 by the serrations on the slide and by the Chinese ideograms on the pistol grip (the Soviet weapon had a star in the center of the pistol grip). The Soviet TT33 had alternate narrow and wide vertical cuts, whereas the Type-51 and Type-54 had uniform narrow markings, to aid gripping the slide when manually cocking the weapon.

There was no safety mechanism but the hammer could be locked at half-cock and the weapon was normally carried around with a round in the chamber.

Production of the weapon in the USSR stopped in 1954, but continued in other Communist countries, notably the PRC. The pistol was widely used by VC and NVA officers.

The Tokarev TT33 fired the Soviet 7.62-mm x 25 Type-P pistol cartridge. It operated on a recoil single action and was semi-automatic, feeding ammunition from an 8-round box magazine. Maximum ROF was 32-rpm and with a maximum effective range out to about 50-meters.

The pistol was quite heavy, weighing about 1-kg (2.2-lbs) when loaded and was 196-mm (7.72-inches) in length.



Makarov Pistol

The Pistolet Makarov (PM) replaced the Tokarev in the early 1950ís in the Warsaw Pact countries and was produced in the PRC as the Type-59. originally copied from the West German Walther PP (police pistol) of the 1930ís the Makarov was chambered for the 9-mm round rather than the 7.65-mm cartridge of the original pistol and used Soviet 9-mm x 18 ammunition rather than the original NATO 9-mm x 19.

Following it's introduction the Makarov became the standard pistol in most Euro-Asian Communist forces.

The pistol was operated by a blowback, self-loading double action, and loaded from an 8-round box magazine. It measured 160-mm (6.3-inches) in length and weighed 800-grammes (1.8-lbs) when loaded.

The pistol grip was slightly bulky, making firing it a little uncomfortable. Soviet manufactured weapons had a star in the center of the pistol grip. There was a simple safety catch at the rear of the slide, and a slide stop on the outside of the receiver, both of which could be operated by the firerís thumb if right handed.


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David Rosser-Owen, Vietnam Weapons Handbook, Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1986, ISBN 0-85059-838-9
J.I.H.Owen (Editor), Warsaw Pact Infantry and it's Weapons, Brassey's Publishers Ltd., 1976, ISBN 0-904609-03-0
Christopher Foss & T.J. Gander, Infantry Weapons of the World, Ian Allen Ltd., 1977, ISBN 07110-0734-9



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