NVA and Viet Cong Infantry Weapons

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Please Note: The North Vietnamese Army (PAVN) and the Viet Cong frequently used weapons captured from US, ARVN and other Allied Forces. The weapons described below are only a partial list.

ChiCom refers to Chinese Communist (People's Republic of China).


AK-47 (ChiCom Type 56): The AK-47 was a gas-operated, selective-fire weapon. Like all 7.62mm Kalashnikov assault rifles, it fired the Soviet 7.62 x 39mm M1943 round and used a standard 30-round curved box magazine. The AK came in two versions: one with a fixed wooden stock, and another, the AKS, with a folding metal stock issued primarily to parachutist and armor troops. Except for the differences in the stock and the lack of a tool kit with the AKS, the two version were identical. The early AKs had no bayonet, but the version with the fixed wooden stock later mounted a detachable knife bayonet.

The improved model, known as the AKM, is easier to produce and operate. It weighs about one kilogram less than the AK. The reduced weight results from using thinner, stamped sheet metal parts rather than machined, forged steel; laminated wood rather than solid wood in the hand guard, forearm, pistol grip, and buttstock; and new lightweight aluminum and plastic magazines. Other improvements include a straighter stock for better control; an improved gas cylinder; a rate-of-fire control alongside the trigger; a rear sight graduated to 1,000 meters rather than 800 meters; and a greatly improved, detachable bayonet.

The AKM also has a folding-stock version, designated AKMS, intended for use by riflemen in armored infantry combat vehicles such as the BMP. Except for its T-shaped, stamped-metal, folding buttstock, the AKMS is identical to the AKM. The folding-stock model can reduce its length from 868 to 699 millimeters.

All 7.62mm Kalashnikov assault rifles fire in either semi-automatic or automatic mode and have an effective range of about 300 meters. At full cyclic rate, they can fire about 600 rounds per minute (up to 640 rounds per minute for the AKM), with a practical rate of about 100 rounds per minute automatic or 40 rounds per minute semi-automatic. Both the AK and AKM can mount a grenade launcher. Both can have passive image intensifier night sights. Both can function normally after total immersion in mud and water. The fully chromed barrel ensures effective operation even at very low temperatures.

The most serious drawback to the AK and AKM is the low muzzle velocity (710 meters per second) of the relatively heavy 7.62-mm round. This results in a looping trajectory that requires a clumsy adjustment for accuracy at ranges beyond 300 meters. The barrel overheats quickly when the weapon fires for extended periods, making the weapon hard to handle and occasionally causing a round to explode prematurely in the chamber. The exposed gas cylinder is easily dented, sometimes causing the weapon to malfunction.

Although they designed it in 1947 and thus referred to it as the AK-47, the Soviets actually adopted the AK in 1949. The AK entered service in 1951. It was the basic individual infantry weapon of the Soviet Army until the introduction of the AKM. The Soviets developed the AKM in 1959. It entered service in 1961. All 7.62mm Kalashnikov assault rifles are very dependable weapons. They produce a high volume of fire and are simple to maintain. However, the new 5.45mm assault rife, the AK-74, is replacing the 7.62mm weapons.


SKS Rifle: The SKS is a semi-automatic 7.62 x 39mm rifle. The Soviet-designed Simonov semi-automatic carbine (SKS) is a gas-operated, integral box magazine-fed rifle equipped with a folding blade bayonet, and has an effective range of 400 meters. It is now obsolete in the Russian Army, but continues to see use in many Third World countries and has appeared in almost every communist country in the world. The country of origin can usually be determined by the markings.

East Germany manufactured this rifle as the Karabiner-S. Year of manufacture and serial number are found on the receiver. The East German version has a hole through the stock which permits attachment of the lower end of the sling. Other SKSs use sling swivels, although this may not be true for early World War II versions of the Russian model. The East German SKS does not have a combination tool case in the rifle butt, nor does it have a cleaning rod. These components are carried separately.

North Korea manufactured this rifle as the Type 63 carbine. North Korean weapons have a "63" stamped into the receiver cover. Yugoslavia manufactured the SKS as the M59/66 rifle. It has a grenade launcher/flash suppressor permanently attached to the muzzle and a folding grenade launcher sight.

Caliber: 7.62x39mm  Muzzle Velocity: 735m/s (2400 fps) Aiming Range: 1000m (3280 ft) Total Weight: 3.85 kg (8.5 lbs.) Overall Length: 102.5cm (40.4 in.) Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds  Numerous sources including: http://world.guns.ru


PPSh-4 Submachine Gun (ChiCom Type-50): 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 favor, and most of this type of weapon seen in Vietnam used the box. This may have been a result of the Chinese connection. The ChiCom 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 lbs.) lighter than the PPSh41 at 3.4 kg (7.5 lbs.) as opposed to 3.9 kg (8.6 lbs.). The weapons were all blowback operated and had an effective range of about 150 m (164 yds.).


RPG 7 (ChiCom Type-69) and RPG 2 (See below): Both are muzzle loaded, shoulder fired anti-tank grenade launchers. The VC and the NVA used the RPG7V, a Soviet produced short-range, anti-armor, rocket-propelled grenade, against armored 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. The two distinctly different types of RPGs were the earlier RPG-2 and the later more advanced RPG-7. The RPG-7 which weighs 14.5 pounds has a distinctive funnel flare at the tail end and also has two hand grips instead of the one. The RPG-7 also had a mount for a scope, and was more accurate, and had a longer range. The RPG-7 also had an internal fuse burnout airburst capability. Both types of RPGs were primarily intended as a light anti-tank weapons, but in Vietnam and elsewhere, they have been used as a very effective psychological terror weapon because of the tremendous blast and noise. The rocket is a thin metal skinned shaped charge that will penetrate light armor from 6 to 14 inches in thickness. Used against ground troops and bunkers, it was effective in direct hits, but there was not much shrapnel unless one was near the point of impact.

The RPG-2 weighs 6.3 pounds and has a range of about 100 meters. The RPG-2 was also known as the B-40. The rockets were also different. The RPG-2 had fin stabilized rockets with screw-on booster charges. The RPG-7 rocket (see above) had no fins and was gas stabilized. The RPG-2 has a gas escape hole on the right side of the weapon and will cause severe injury or death if fired from the left shoulder. NVA usually carried one of these RPGs per squad with spare rounds being carried by other soldiers. A good RPG gunner could fire 5 to 6 rounds per minute.


RGD 33 (Model 1933): The Chinese Communist (Chicom) RGD 33 fragmentation grenade, stick-type, contain an explosive charge in a metal body, attached to a stick handle, designed to break into fragments upon the charge exploding. Weighing about one pound, they have a killing radius of 5 to 10 yards, and fragments are dangerous up to 30 yards. The stick-type grenade is armed by unscrewing the wooden cap on top.  It's connected by a string to the fuse igniter, so you just pull the string with the top, and let it fly. Chinese and stick-type fragmentation grenades were patterned after the Soviet RGD 33 hand grenades.

The grenade body (a.k.a. "Head" or "Pot") contained all the explosive elements, as well as a coiled and segmented internal fragmentation belt. It is a sealed unit, crimped at the base. The top hatch rotates to open a central tube where the fuse/detonator was inserted. The removable fragmentation sleeve was used as required for defensive purposes. The fuse/detonator assembly, body and handle were packaged and transported separately.

They were carried in pouch gear on the belt and/or bags slung over the shoulder. Many of the grenades were Korean War vintage and became defective from age and prolonged exposure to the dampness of South East Asia.


RGD 5: The RGD 5 consists of a two-piece sheet-steel body joined by a circumferential crimp with a hermetically sealed fuse well. An internal fragmentation liner produces about 350 fragments. It is filled with 110 grams of TNT

This was developed for maximum throwing range. A Russian grenade manual states an average throwing distance of 40-50 meters. Effective casualty radius is 15-20 meters and is hazardous out to about 30 meters. The RGD 5 reflects the modern design trend of maximum fragmentation effect within a limited blast radius. Today, molded plastic bodies and fragmentation matrixes have generally replaced cast and sheet metal designs.

The fuse is the East German DS-62 (similar to the UZRGM type) with a curved safety lever. Inert RGD-5 grenades are not common to find due to the difficulties in deactivating them. The body is a sealed unit and must be cut open to remove the filler.


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122mm  rocket: The 122mm 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. The 122mm rocket was a fin stabilized weapon with more destructive power than any other weapon. 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.

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 122mm rocket could be launched from the same launch position when using the rocket launcher.

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. Numerous sources.


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50mm Mortar (Soviet Model M40): Weight: 11.5kg  Crew: 2-3. The Soviet light mortars (M38, M39, M40 and M41) were of 50mm caliber. The M41 50mm did away with the bipod and shock absorber of the earlier models and used a supporting yoke which was mounted on the baseplate for elevation, traverse and cross level. Gases from the firing were ducted away from a gas regulator by a pipe under the barrel. This system was utilized for range adjustment by rotating a sleeve in the base of the mortar which opened or closed a number of gas ports. To extend the range, the ports were all opened and to achieve the minimum range the ports were all closed. Its firing weight was 10 kg (22 lbs.) and it had a barrel length of nearly 600mm (23.6 in.). It fired HE rounds only. It had a range of ca. 800 meters (875 yards).


60mm Mortars: (ChiCom Type 31, and Type 63): Weight 12.3 kg. tube length: 610 mm Maximum range: 1530 meters  Maximum rate of fire: 20 rounds per minute The Type 63 was really an updated version of the Type 31, with emphasis on portability for use in irregular and guerrilla warfare. It was much lighter in the firing position at 12.3 kg (27 lb) and had the same range as the Type 31. The basic features were the same except that there were angle plates at the rear corners of the baseplate for bedding in, rather than a rectangular spade. The Type 63 had one recoil cylinder, where the Type 31 had two. The weapon folded together for carriage, with the baseplate and bipod being placed under the barrel. Using the carrying handle on the top of the barrel, one man could easily carry it in rough country with the Number 2 mortarman carrying the ammunition. A consequence of this was that the mortar could be set up, sighted and ready to fire in a very short time. It had a slightly slower rate of fire at 15-20 rpm compared with 20-30 rpm for the Type 31 and M2, Its barrel length was also slightly shorter at 610 mm (24 in.) as opposed to 675 mm (26.6 in.) for the Type 31 and 726 mm (28.6 in.) for the M2. All these mortars fired High Explosive (HE) rounds, but the M2 also had an illuminating bomb, the M83. 


82mm Mortars (ChiCom Type 53, Soviet models include; M1936, M1937, M1941, M1943): Barrel Length: 122 cm Base-plate Dimensions: 50 cm diameter Barrel Weight: 19.6 kg Bipod Weight: 20.1 kg Baseplate Weight: 21.3 kg Weight in firing position: 56 kg Range: 3040 meters (minimum 100 meters) Rate of Fire: 15-25 rpm Ammunition: High Explosive (HE) 3.05 kg. and smoke.

With a range of over two miles, the 82mm mortar could be considered as an ideal standoff weapon. However, weighing over 100 pounds when fully assembled, when used for standoff attacks, the crew would have to drop the rounds in rapidly and then move since counter-battery fire by US aircraft was too effective and it took time to break the mortar down into three or four carrying loads. For this reason the medium mortars were often used from established positions and the mortar either camouflaged or dismantled and hidden after use.

This was a conventional muzzle-loaded, drop-fired, smoothbore weapon. The M1937 consisted of three basic components: tube, bipod, and baseplate. The recognizable features of this mortar were the baseplate, which is circular with a flat surface across the back edge, and the bipod, which has a turnbuckle type of cross-leveling mechanism between the right leg and the elevating screw housing.


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120mm mortar (Soviet M1938, M1943 and ChiCom Type 55): Weight in Firing Position: 170 kg. Carriage Weight: 340 kg. Range: 5700 meters (minimum 400 meters) Rate of Fire: 12-15 rpm Operation: Manual or Automatic Sight: MP-41/MP-42 Ammunition: HE (15.4 kg.), Smoke (16 kg.), Incendiary (16.7 kg.) Crew: 5 or 6.

The M1943 replaced the earlier M1938 which, when first developed, had a unique design: it consisted of four components (tube, baseplate, bipod and carriage) that could be quickly broken down for movement over short distances. For normal travel the whole weapon folded together and could be towed on its two-wheeled carriage or, if necessary man-packed in it's four component parts.

The only differences between the two weapons are that the newer M1943 had much longer shock absorber cylinders and the elevating and traversing gear was more sophisticated. Apart from these changes, the ballistic and performance details, as well as the methods of handling, remained the same. The ChiCom Type 55 was a direct copy of the Soviet M1943.

This was a conventional, muzzle-loaded, smoothbore mortar that could be either drop-fired or trigger-fired. An anti-double-loading device could be attached to the muzzle.


PK & PKM Series (General Purpose Machine Gun) and variants (ChiCom Type-80): The 7.62mm general-purpose machine gun Pulemyot Kalashnikov (PK) is a gas-operated, belt-fed, sustained-fire weapon. The Soviets based its design on the Kalashnikov assault rifle. Notable differences from the assault rifle are the gas cylinder below the barrel and the hollow-frame stock resembling that of the SVD sniper rifle. The PKM fires 7.62 x 54R rimmed cartridges using a metal nondisintergrating belt.

The PKM is an improved, lighter version (8.4 kg.) of the PK, using stamped metal components instead of machined metal. Joinable 25-round sections of nondisintergrating metallic belts feed the bipod-mounted PKM. An assault magazine attached to the rails under the receiver can carry 100 cartridges belted in this way. Either 200 or 250 round belt boxes can also feed the PKM.

The effective range of the PK-series machine guns is 1,000 meters. The have a cyclic rate of fire of 650 rounds per minute and has a practical rate of fire of 250 round per minute. Ammunition types include the following: ball, ball-tracer, armor-piercing incendiary, armor-piercing incendiary-tracer, and incendiary-ranging.

The PKS and PKMS are also infantry weapons. Used as heavy machine guns, they provide long-rage area fire. Their tripod provides a stable mount for long-range ground fire. The tripod opens quickly to elevate the gun for antiaircraft fire. The machine gun has an effective range of 600 meters against slow-moving aircraft.

The Soviets introduced the basic PK machine gun in 1964. They followed it with the PKS, PKT, PKB (1968), PKM (1971), and PKMS. Compared to the US M-60, the PK-series machine guns are easier to handle during firing, easier to care for, and lighter. They use a more powerful cartridge and have a slightly shorter effective range (1,000 meters vs. 1,100 meters for the M-60). The PK and PKM once served as squad machine guns in BMP-equipped motorized rifle squads. Source: www.sovietarmy.com (Dead link)


RPD Light Machine Gun (LMG): The RPD (Ruchnoy Pulemet Degtyarova - Degtyarov Light Machine Gun) was one of the first weapons designed to fire a new, intermediate cartridge 7.62x39mm. It was developed circa 1944 and was a standard squad automatic weapon of Soviet army since early 1950s and until 1960s, when it was generally replaced by the RPK light mg, which, in many opinions, was not a good decision. However, some RPD still can be encountered in Rsussian army reserve stocks, and these MGs were also widely exported to many pro-Soviet countries and regimes around the world. It also was manufactured in other countries, such as China, where it was known as Type 56 LMG.

The RPD can be described as a further development of the earlier Degtyarov machine guns, tracing its ancestry to DP-1927 LMG. RPD is a gas operated, full auto only weapon. Gas drive uses a long stroke piston and a gas regulator, located under the barrel. It uses a simple and robust bolt locking system seen in other Degtyarov guns, which uses two locking flaps, that are pushed out of the bolt body into recesses in the receiver walls to lock the bolt. Flaps are pushed out by the bolt carrier to lock and are withdrawn from recesses to unlock the bolt by specially shaped cams on the carrier. RPD uses belt feed. A detachable round box (drum) can be clipped under the receiver. This box can hold a 100-rounds non-desintegrating metallic belt, and loose belt also can be used. Each belt drum has its own folding carrying handle, but usually belt drums were carried in special pouches. Unlike earlier Degtyarov guns, the return spring is located inside the butt. Heavy barrel cannot be replaced quickly, but RPD still can provide a significant firepower at the ranges up to 800 meters. Rear sights are adjustable for range and drift, folding integral bipod is located under the barrel. All RPDs were issued with carrying slings and could be fired from the hip, using the sling to hang the gun on the shoulder.

Caliber 7.62x39mm Weight 7.4 kg. empty, on integral bipod Length 1037mm Length of barrel 520mm Feeding belt 100 rounds in drum-like box Rate of fire 650 rounds per minute Muzzle velocity 735 m/s. Source: http://world.guns.ru


RPK Light Machine Gun (LMG): The RPK (Ruchnoi Pulemet Kalashnikova = Kalashnikov light machinegun) was developed as a light support weapon, and had been issued in Soviet Army by one item per each infantry squad (10 men). It had been officially replaced in service by RPK-74 but in fact is still in use with many 2nd line and non-infantry troops, as well as with other Para-military organizations in Russia and other states.

Basically, the RPK is a AK-47 (AKM) assault rifle with sturdier receiver, heavier and longer, non detachable barrel, and re-contoured wooden buttstock. The sights were re-calibrated according to longer barrel, and the rear sight has a windage adjustments. The non detachable, folding bipods are mounted under the muzzle. RPK can be fed from special 40 round box or 75 round drum magazines, as well as from standard AK-47 type 30 round box magazines. The paratrooper version of the RPK, called RPK-S, had side-folding wooden buttstock.

Caliber 7.62x39mm weight 5 kg on tripod Length 1040mm Length of barrel 591mm feeding box magazine 40 rounds, drum 75 rounds rate of fire 600 rounds per minute. Source: http://world.guns.ru


DShKM Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) (12.7mm/.51 caliber): Officially adopted by Red Army in 1939, DShK "Krupnocalibernyj Pulemet Degtyareva-Shpagina, DShK" (Degtyarev-Shpagin, large caliber) has been in production up until 1980. It was used through WW II as an anti-aircraft weapon, and also as an heavy infantry support gun. DShKM was widely exported to Soviet-friendly nations and regimes. It was also manufactured in other countries, such as China, Iran, Yugoslavia and Pakistan. It was widely used in numerous "local wars", including Afghan campaigns. DSchKM was one of the most sucessful designs of its time. 12.7mm (.50) AP bullets fired from this MG, could pierce 15mm armor plate at 500 meters. DSchK is the belt-fed, air-cooled, gas operated weapon that fires only in full-auto. Gas system has the 3 positions gas regulator. Bolt is locked in the receiver via two horizontally pivoted locking flaps, attached to the bolt.

Caliber: 12.7x109mm weight: 34 kg MG body, 157 kg on universal wheeled mount length: 1625 mm length of barrel: 1070 mm feeding: belt 50 rounds Rate of fire: 600 rounds/min Source: http://world.guns.ru


Tokarev TT33 7.62mm Semi-Automatic Pistol (ChiCom Type 54): First introduced in the 1930s and utilizing 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 Peoples Republic of China. The pistol was widely used by Viet Cong and NVA officers.

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.

The Tokarev TT33 fired the Soviet 7.62mm 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 rate of Fire 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 196mm (7.72 inches) in length.


Punji Stick or Punji Stake is a type of a non-explosive booby trap. Usually it was several pointed and sharpened bamboo sticks mounted vertically in a  pit in the ground, covered with grass, brush or similar material to camouflage its location. The tip of the punji stick was frequently smeared with feces, urine or other contaminants to promote infection in the wound created by the sharpened stick penetrating the soldier's skin. The point of penetration was usually in the foot or lower leg area. Pungi sticks were not necessarily meant to kill the person who stepped on it; rather it was designed as a non-lethal weapon to wound the enemy and tie up their unit while the victim was evacuated to a medical facility. Source:  http://wikipedia.org.





Charles Ames


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