Exotic and Unusual Weapons of the Vietnam Conflict
11 July 2005
F. C. Brown
The Vietnam Conflict was home to virtually every type of individual weapon imaginable, from crude firearms manufactured in jungle workshops to ultra-sophisticated, hi-tech pieces complete with silencers and scopes.
The one commonality they shared, however, was that all could-and did-kill and maim with devastating effectiveness.
Weapons from previous conflicts going back as far as the First World War, constituted a large share of the firepower of the Viet Cong
, particularly in the early days of the conflict. American troops and their South Vietnamese allies capture thousands of World War II Mausers, French MAT submachine guns, Japanese Arisaka rifles and the like throughout the course of the conflict. Perhaps the strangest find, uncovered during a covert US Navy SEAL
foray in to neighbouring Cambodia, was Lewis Light Machine Gun of 1916 vintage, fully operable and in active use by the communist guerrillas at the time of its liberation.
Asia enjoys a well-deserved reputation as the home of improvised and modified weaponry, and was reflected throughout the course of the Vietnam Conflict. Viet Cong forces possessed a limited in-country manufacturing capability and primarily from 1960 to about 1967, produced a large quantity of crude handguns and rifles. One of their better pieces was a pistol modelled on the US M1911-A1 .45 calibre pistol. A number of these weapons were later brought back Stateside as souvenirs by returning servicemen.
A wide variety of individual weaponry was also supplied to Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces by other communist nations, primarily China and the Soviet Union, as well as the former communist Eastern Bloc countries. These weapons usually took the form of different versions of varying array of handguns.
It is significant that communist forces in Vietnam also made wide use of weapons captured from US and South Vietnamese forces. Favourites include the M16 A1 automatic rifle, which was prized for its light weight, and the M79 grenade launcher, or 'Blooper'. Both of these weapons figured prominently in communist propaganda photos released during the conflict.
As the war progressed in the late 1960s, the quality of enemy firearms improved dramatically. Viet Cong regional and main force units become increasingly equipped with AK47s and B-40 rocket launchers, and on many occasions actually 'outgunned' South Vietnamese government troops sent against them. Their old, improvised and antiquated weapons were, in turn, passed down to village guerrillas and member of the local clandestine infrastructure. However, throughout the course of the war, the myth persisted that American and South Vietnamese troops were for the most part, engaged in a guerrilla conflict with peasants armed only with antiquated weaponry, but who still managed to prevail against their superbly equipped adversaries!
North Vietnamese units, as a rule, were better armed and equipped than their Viet Cong brethren. Most NVA combat troops carried automatic weapons and even North Vietnamese supply and transportation units were outfitted with at least CKC and SKS carbines
American forces in Vietnam employed a vast array of handguns, the government issued Colt .45 was the most popular, though some preferred other makes and models. Other servicemen brought their own handguns with them, or had them sent form home. The Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum was a favourite, as was the .38 long barrelled revolver.
Undoubtedly the most popular handgun throughout the conflict was the ChiCom K-54, a prised souvenir among GIs. Modeled on the Soviet Tokarov pistol, the K-54 was normally carried only by communist officers and select cadre. It changed hands among American combat troops at up to $200 per weapon, and among rear echelon personnel, the seller could virtually name his own price, either in cash or goods.
Americans were also fond of some of the more exotic weapons – Swedish Ks, Sterlings and even the occasional Uzi – but there was a wide variety of opinion on using captured AKs. Many Americans found the AK to be top heavy or bulky and claimed it rusted quickly in the tropical environment.Shotguns
, preferably Remington pumps, were in vogue with the US Navy riverine forces. When charged with buckshot, the 'Brown Water sailors' found them to be quite effective in dealing with enemy soldiers concealed in canal or stream side vegetation.
Both sides employed special weapons, sometimes fitted with silencers and usually used by reconnaissance personnel and covert unit operatives. Viet Cong and North Vietnamese sniper used Soviet made Mosin-Nagant rifles, fitted with silencers and scopes, against American troops on a number of occasions and several of these weatpons were captured in 1967-8. Allied intelligence also received reliable reports in 1968 that the North Vietnamese were using the Soviet Dragunov ' super sniper rifle' to engage Marines around Khe Sanh.
A number of silenced handguns , used mainly by Viet Cong assassins and undercover operatives, were also captured. Almost all had been 'sanitized,' i.e. all identifying markings removed. Some of these special purpose weapons featured built in silencers, while others had threaded barrels for detachable silencers. The quality of communist manufactured silencers varied considerably. Many of the locally manufactured models were quite ineffective, while others–particularly those supplied from abroad-were well constructed and comparable in effectiveness to the US product.
Late in the war a number of Polish Vzor machine pistols were spotted in communist hands, particularly in the III and IV Corps areas. Others ere later photographed being carried by female Viet Cong cadre during the 1975 victory parade in Ho Chi Minh City.
American Army and Marine sniper teams, using a variety of silenced weaponry, took a deadly toll of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese personnel throughout the war. On one occasion a two-man sniper team eliminated 80% of an NVA regimental headquarter staff in a matter of several minutes. Elite unit personnel, such as SEALs and Special Forces
, also employed silenced weapons in their frequent forays behind enemy lines in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam. The preferred American silencers were the Sionics models, designed by Mitch WerBell.
One of the more exotic of the improvised weapons used by American forces was a chopped down version of the M79 grenade launcher. This piece was frequently used by elite SOG
commandos, who routinely operated deep in the enemy's rear. It was most effective when fitted with beehive rounds and used at close quarters.
In summary, while the foregoing is not intended to be an all inclusive account of unusual and hybrid weapons used in the Vietnam Conflict, it is an attempt to impress upon the reader that, the AK47 and M16
notwithstanding, numerous other varieties of small arms were employed throughout the conflict as well.
This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. VietnamGear.com has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.
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