NVA Standoff Attacks - Characteristics of NVA Rockets

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Characteristics of NVA and VC Rockets


The Soviet enthusiasm for multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) was not lost on the NVA and VC who readily employed rockets in the standoff role for which they were ideally suited. However, whereas Soviet systems were fully motorised, because of US fire superiority the NVA and VC had to rely almost entirely on man-packed single rocket and launcher tubes.

The Vietnamese Communists used three types of artillery rocket; the 140mm BM14-16 and the 122mm BM21 came from the USSR and the 107mm Type 63 from the PRC.

The BM14-16 was mounted on a ZIL-151 or ZIL-131 6 x 6 truck and the BM21 on a Ural-375D 6 x 6, although both could be mounted on any suitable vehicle - even American ones. The Type 63 was mounted on a rubber-tyred split-pole carriage which could be towed by any suitable vehicle, or even yoked animal transport. It could also be mounted on a 4 x 4 or 6 x 6 truck, and on the PRC K-63 APC which the NVA used. A special model for use by mountain and airborne troops was developed which weighed 281 kg (618 lb) in the firing position (as opposed to 602 kg (1,324 lb) for the standard model), and this was ideal for guerrilla use. It could be broken down into man-packable loads. It had three banks of four 107mm barrels mounted on the carriage. When in the firing position, the carriage's wheels were removed and the towing trails opened out into two legs to the rear. There were two further short legs in the front. The rockets were spin stabilized by the rifling in the barrels. The rockets could be fired from a single-round launcher as well as the 12-round assembly.

Soviet BM14 140mm MRL

The Soviet BM14-16 was a 16-round 140mm multiple-rocket system which first appeared in 1953. It was designed to be mounted on wheeled vehicles such as the ZIL-131 6 x 6 truck. It threw a 40 kg (88 lb) rocket to a range of about 6,000 m (6,562 yd), with a CEP (circular error probability - the average distance on impact that a projectile has deflected from its point of aim, some 50 per cent can be expected to land within the CEP) of 100 m (109 yd). Such CEPs made Soviet rocket systems almost into point attack weapons, rather than the area weapons that artillery systems normally are. The M14-OF rockets of the BM14 were spin stabilized by the rifling of the launcher barrels.

The 122mm BM21 was a 40-round system mounted on a Ural-375D 6 x 6 truck, although any suitable lorry could be used. The rockets were fin stabilized, and two types could be fired from the four banks of ten launcher tubes. There was a 1.9 m (2.1 yd) short rocket with a range of 11,000 m (12,030 yd), and a 3.23 m (3.53yd) long rocket with a range of 20,380 m (22,288yd).

Soviet BM21 122mm MRL

The DKZ-B anti-building and anti-personnel free-flight rocket launcher was, in fact, a single tube from a BM21 with a tripod mount especially intended for use by guerrilla-type forces- this too was used by the NVA and VC. It broke down into two loads., the 2,460 mm (96.9 in) long, 22 kg (48.4 lb) tube and the 28 kg (61.6 lb) tripod mount. It had a range of 10,900 m (1 1,920 yd) and fired a 46 kg (1 01.2 lb), 122 mm rocket measuring 1,905 mm (75 in) in length. It was both f in stabilized and spin stabilized by the rifled tube. The mount had a panoramic sight and fitted quadrant. The missile could be set to impact detonation or delayed-action detonation.

The DKZ-B single-rocket system used the short rocket. The short rocket could also be fitted with an additional motor to reach a range of 17,000 m (18,591 yd). The warhead types used included smoke, chemical, and HE-fragmentation. In Vietnam, the NVA used the HE-fragmentation type to attack FW positions. These systems appeared briefly during the 1968 Tet Offensive, later during the 1972 Easter Offensive, and again in 1975.

107mm Rocket (CHICOM Type 63)

A spin-stabilized, barrage rocket of Chinese communist manufacture equipped with a high explosive, fragmentation warhead. This rocket was employed against both point and area targets. One man could easily transport the complete round, rocket and fuse. The lightest of the rockets, it could be introduced into otherwise inaccessible launch sites. The 107mm, with an effective range of 6-8 kilometers, could be fired from launch tubes, earth banks, bamboo frames or improvised crossed sticks.

The 107mm rocket was designed to replace the CHICOM 102mm rocket. It was slightly longer, had a longer warhead, greater range and was more accurate.

  • Length with fuse - 33 inches
  • Weight with fuse - 42 pounds
  • Range - 6000 to 8000 meters
  • Fuse - super quick, short delay, long delay
  • Launcher weight - two tubes - 48.75 lbs, twelve tubes - 547.5 lbs
  • Tube length - 35.42 inches.

An NVA training document, captured on 28 October 1968, indicated that firing pads for the 107mm rocket could be made of dirt, bamboo frames or crossed stakes. It further stated:

... We can use road embankments, a dike between two rice fields, the brim of a combat trench, an earth mound, a bomb crater or an ant hill, digging a semicircular hollow in which to fit the rocket....

The main purposes of the rockets are objectives having a large area, usually 400 x 400m, such as enemy strongholds, airfields, storage points or towns. Besides, it is also used to support the infantry and to attack distant objectives that may affect the combat mission of the infantry. Each cadre should not fire over 20 rockets at a time. The average number of rockets should be six to make command and control easier....

122mm Rocket (Soviet BM-21) 

This Soviet rocket possessed the longest range, three to eleven kilometers, of any of the rockets fired at the allies and was used extensively by the NVA and VC. A fin stabilized weapon with more destructive power than any others, this rocket was lethal within a 163 square meter burst area. Although the use of launch tubes ensured greater accuracy, the 122mm could be fired from improvised launch sites with a range of three to eleven kilometers.

Soviet 122mm rocket (short version)

The 122mm rocket was fin stabilized and possessed a greater range and destructive power than either the 107mm or 140mm rocket. Without the need for a thick iron casing there can be more explosive and the 122mm rocket also has a greater punch than its equivalent 122mm howitzer shell.

  • Length - 75.4 inches
  • Weight - 101.86 lbs
  • Range with spoiler ring - 3,000 to 7,000 meters. Without spoiler ring - 6,000 to 11,000 meters
  • Warhead - 14.5 lbs explosive
  • Launcher length - 8.1 feet
  • Launcher weight with tripod - 121 lbs.

The first military installation in South Vietnam to be attacked by 122mm rockets was Camp Carroll in early March 1967. Following their initial use, these rockets were used not only against military installations, but also against urban areas, ports and bridges throughout South Vietnam.

Attacks by these rockets were usually of longer duration than attacks by 140mm rockets since more than one 122m rocket could be launched from the same launch position when using the rocket launcher. The 140mm rockets were usually launched from individual launch tubes positioned on dirt or mud launch pads. These tubes were seldom reloaded for follow-on attacks.

122mm Rocket and launcher
Artist Sketch of Soviet DKZ-B 122mm Rocket & Launcher Soviet DKZ-B 122mm Single Shot Launcher

A 122mm rocket battalion was normally assigned three companies. Each company was authorized six launchers with three rockets each. POW reports indicated that attacks could be conducted by individual companies with 18 rockets, by a battalion with 54 rockets or, in rare cases, by a platoon with six rockets.

122mm rocket crater

Prisoner of war interrogation reports also indicated that a 122mm rocket launcher site could be set up and operational in approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. Preparation consisted of digging the fire pits and backblast pits, making the cradle for the launcher tube (in the event of the tripod not being used), connecting the firing system, and loading the rockets. In the event of a misfire, two additional attempts were made, time permitting, before the rocket was discarded.

140mm Rocket (Soviet BM-14)

With a lethal area of 140 square meters the Soviet 140 was more useful against material targets. Very easy to deploy, it could be fired from a board-mounted tube or earth mounds. With an effective range of one to ten kilometers, the fin-stabilized 140mm could be fired close to its target.

Soviet 140mm rocket components
(fuse is on the right)
Soviet 140mm launcher and rocket. The launcher
is secured to a wooden plank.

The 140mm rocket  could be launched from single tubes mounted on a board or from earth mounds. Its greatest advantage was its ease of employment.

  • Length with fuse - 42.3 inches
  • Weight with fuse - 90 lbs
  • Range - minimum - 1,000 meters, maximum - 10,000 meters
  • Fuse - super quick, long delay - 1 second, short delay -.5 seconds
  • Launcher tube length - 45 inches
  • Tube weight - 22 lbs.

140mm Rocket, ground launched

This rocket was employed extensively against all types of military installations. For the most part, attacks using these rockets were of short duration, usually lasting from one to two minutes. Reports indicated that launching positions were prepared after dark and more often than not, these rockets were launched from improvised dirt mounds. Launch mounds were prepared by digging shallow trenches or holes and piling the dirt forward to serve as a launch platform. Small aiming stakes were normally placed in front of the rockets to serve as an aiming reference. These stakes were positioned during daylight hours and, if discovered, were the best indicators of a potential 140mm rocket launch site.


Sometimes the NVA launched short range 107mm or 122mm rockets with oversized warheads containing twelve to ninety kilograms of explosive. "Garbage can" rockets were very inaccurate but they could be fired from earth mounds.

107mm CHICOM/VC Over-caliber Rocket

This rocket was a modification of the standard 107mm CHICOM rocket. Unlike the overcaliber 122mm rocket, its components were machined. Though its configuration reduced its accuracy, it was a relatively effective weapon at close range.

  • Length - 54.25 inches
  • Weight - 84 lbs
  • Range - 1,500 to 2,000 meters
  • Warhead - 27.75 lbs explosive
  • Fuse - CHICOM type 1 in nose and DK 2 in base
  • Launcher - improvised trough or dirt mound.

122mm Soviet/VC Over-caliber Rocket

This was a VC modification of the standard 122mm rocket. This rocket had great destructive power but because of its apparent ballistic deficiencies, it was relatively inaccurate and best suited for harassment purposes.

  • Length 83 inches
  • Weight 281 lbs
  • Warhead 120 lbs explosive
  • Fuse DKZ-B in nose
  • Range 1,000 to 1,500 meters
  • Launcher - improvised rail type.

122mm Over-caliber Rocket (Improved Version)

These rockets were first found in a cache complex on 9 February 1969, at XT 544719, 28 kilometers southeast of Katum, Vietnam.

  • Length - 78 inches
  • Weight - 182 lbs
  • Warhead - 115 lbs HE, 82 lbs RDX explosive
  • Range 800 to 2,500 meters
  • This rocket was launched from a rail launcher.

107mm Over-caliber Rocket (Improved Version)

These rockets were found in the same cache complex as the 122mm rocket above.

  • Length - 44 inches
  • Weight - 73 lbs
  • Warhead - 42 lbs HE, 27 lbs RDX explosive
  • Range 700 to 2,000 meters
  • This rocket was launched from a rail launcher.

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Return to Standoff Attacks


US Army Military Assistance Advisory Group Vietnam (MAAG) - Lessons Learned No. 71 Countermeasures Against Standoff Attacks (March 1969)

Secrets of the Viet Cong J W McCoy, Hippocrene Books 1992, ISBN 0-7818-0028-5

Inside the VC and the NVA Michael Lee Lanning & Dan Cragg, Ivy Books 1994, ISBN 0-8041-0500-6

Vietnam Weapons Handbook, David Rosser-Owen, Patrick Stephens Limited, 1986, ISBN 0-85059-838-9

Infantry Weapons of the World, Christopher F. Foss and T.J.Gander, Ian Allen Ltd., 1977, ISBN 07110-0734-9

'The Vietnam Experience', Orbis Magazine Collection

Warsaw Pact Infantry and its Weapons, edited by J.I.H. Owen, Brassey's Publishers Ltd., 1976, ISBN 0-904609-03-0

Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army, David C. Isby, Janes Publishing, ISBN 0-7106-0089-5


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