Basic VC Info
Submitted by David S. Stieghan
Until 1967, the VC militia, local force, or main force units used a wide variety of weapons. Since you've asked, I will give you my two dong's worth as an article. My sources are the RAND studies, Infantry Magazine articles, interviews with combat veterans, captured VC documents, and lists of battlefield or cache captures.
First of all, there are three types of VC (National Liberation Front/NLF) Fighters: Main Force, Local Force, and Militia. Generally, the Main Force travel outside the area they were recruited and are full-time soldiers- and were the best armed of the VC. The Local Force units remained in the vicinity of the villages where they were recruited and were not as well armed as the Main Force units. The militia was often not armed with firearms at all, or had a few obsolete firearms, since their primary means of struggle was booby traps, mines, assassination/murder, and occasional ambushes. The latter are the part-time day-farmers/night guerillas.
For specific VC weapons, it depends entirely upon the period of the Second Indochina War and the Corps Area. The NLF cadre and the regroupees that renewed armed struggle from 1959 to 1962 were armed much like the Viet Minh that fought the French a few years earlier. These weapons included many Japanese weapons, French gear captured during the First Indochina War, American and Commonwealth items captured in Korea and forwarded to the NVA and VC, and older German and Soviet weapons funneled directly from the USSR or through the Chinese Communists. Weapons seemed to be mixed down to the three-man cell level because they were uncertain of supply or what they might capture from the Government of Viet Nam (GVN) forces. The numerous weapon and equipment pocket guides published by the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) forces and the GVN are very instructive- they show the enormous variety of weapons and imported or home--made gear used by the NVA and VC.
Here is a partial list in order of chronological age of the known weapons used. As a rule of thumb, the older or more primitive firearms would be used longer by the part-time guerillas after the COMBLOCK began massive shipments of more modern weapons into the theater.
- Home-made weapons: shotguns or copies of military weapons made by the Cao Dai or VC
- Type 38 (6.5mm) or Type 99 (7.7mm) Japanese Rifles, some converted to 7.92mm x 57 or 7.62mm x 39 by the Chicom
- Type 96 or Type 99 Japanese light machine guns
- M1886/1907/1916 Lebel and Berthier French Rifles, 8mm
- M1891 and M1891/30 Mosin Nagant Russian and Soviet Rifles, 7.62mm x 54R
- GEW98/KAR98k/Czech Mausers and their Chinese-made copies, 7.92mm x 57
- M1917 US Rifles, .30"-'06, (large numbers provided to the Nationalist Chinese in WWII and captured there. Also provided to Regional Force/Provisional Force [RF/PF] or Vietnamese Civil Defense Guard units in South Vietnam)
- M1903/1903A3 US Springfields (provided to the Chinese and RF/PF by US)
- MP38/40 German machine pistols (originally brought by the French, provided by the Soviets and the US gave a number to the RF/PF)
- M26/30 ZB Czech automatic rifles
- MG08 Machine Guns (a few German captures but most made on contract for the Chinese Army in the 1930s and captured by the CHICOM)
- MG34/42 Machine Guns
- Degtyarev automatic rifle
- M1910 Maxim and M1943 Guryunov Machine Guns (Soviet or CHICOM-supplied)
- M1924/1929 MAC Chatellerault French Automatic Rifles, 7.5mm French
- Model 1936 MAS French Rifles, 7.5mm French
- MAT-49 French submachine guns or their Chicom or NVA variants in 7.62mm x 25
- PPsH41 or PPsH43 Submachine Guns, Soviet or CHICOM copies
- SMLE British Rifles
- BREN Light Machine Guns
- M1A1 Thompson
- M3A1 "Grease Gun"
- M1 Carbine
- M1 Rifle
- Browning Automatic Rifle
- SVT38/40 Soviet Rifle
- M1891/30 PE/PU Sniper
- M14 US Rifle
- M16/M16A1 US Rifle
- M60 GP US Machine Gun
- M38/M44/Type 53 Carbine
- SKS45 Rifle/Type 56 Carbine(CHICOM)/Warsaw Pact variants
- AK47/AKM/AKMS/Type 56/1 Assault Rifle (CHICOM)
- RPD/Type 56 light machine gun
- RPK47 Automatic Rifle
- Carl Gustov Swedish "K" submachine gun
- B-40/RPG-2/RPG-7 Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher
- M-35/M2/ Chicom 60mm Mortars
- M1943 82mm Mortar (Soviet or CHICOM)
- 57mm/75mm/B-10 82mm recoilless rifles
- TT33/Type 51/Type 54 Pistol
- Various captured, COMBLOC, or locally-made grenades and rifle grenades
- 107mm/122mm rockets
- DShK38/46 12.7mm heavy machine gun
- Makarov/Type 59 9mm x 18 pistol (very late)
- Dragunov SVD Sniper Rifle (very late)
The list above is by no means complete, as the NVA and VC used just about any type of weapon they could obtain during the conflict. As important an issue as portability was the ability to conceal the weapon on their person or in a cache. In fact, though weapons seem scarce, they would prefer to have many extras on hand in case they had to throw them away rather than being caught with them as they could get another fairly easily.
On deliberate assaults on enemy positions, many VC or NVA did not carry a firearm if their mission was to use a bamboo Bangalore, a satchel charge, or a directional mine. Their other buddies in their three-man cell or a security team provided security.
To develop a VC impression for air shows or film work, the "experimental archeologist" should determine what period of the war, which portion of the country, and what type of unit they are portraying. While AK47 clones and SKS are readily-available, the blanks often dry up. The Soviet and Chinese bolt action M1891-type rifles also fire available blanks. One of the best VC rifles is the MAS 1936 French Rifle. While Hollywood blanks are available at .40 cents each, IMI, FN, or the most recent star-crimp 7.62 x 51 NATO blanks work great, are readily available, and cost pennies each. For availability and expense of weapons and blanks, the SMLE, KAR98k, and US weapons can’t be beat. While the custom blanks are expensive, Japanese rifles also are a great option, especially if you can find one converted by the CHICOM to 7.92mm x 57 Mauser or 7.62mm x 39. There has to be a way to convert .30”-’06 blanks to fire in the Japanese M38, because they are so close in a 7.7mm rifle they chamber but the bolt will not close. While Sportsman’s Guide and other outlets have cheap 7.62mm x 25 blanks, few folks have the weapons that shoot them and they need custom blank-adapting. I encourage others who have put more thought into this issue than I to add to my ramblings on this forum (a little bit of self-criticism).