The military tactics and weapons used by USA and the Vietcong forces in Vietnam Essay
The military tactics and weapons used by USA and the Vietcong forces in Vietnam
Throughout the Vietnam War, many tactics and weapons were used by both VC and US forces. But the side’s whose strategies and weapons proved more effective in Vietnam were the Vietcong’s and other communist forces.
Throughout the war, the Americans relied on their modern developments to aid them in strategies and weapons, which when on the ‘level fields’ of conventional warfare, proved more superior. They had in their possession tanks, helicopters, trucks and other transport, artillery and well disciplined soldiers.
The VC used simple yet effective techniques, such as booby traps or hiding in vegetation.
The tactics of both sides were greatly different towards the end of the war compared to the ones used near to the beginning.
At the beginning of the war the US’s main objective was to at least, contain the communist North by helping South Vietnam to keep the threat at bay. One of the earliest tactics used to do this was “Search and Destroy” missions. Search and Destroy missions were when the US used Helicopters to hunt down NVA and VC units, once they found a group, troops were dropped off in the area of activity and killed as many people as they possibly could. Supply bases were built in support of this. These were basically fortified areas of land with artillery protecting and things such as ammunition, food etc. If the troops on the search and destroy missions found any evidence of VC activity, (personnel, weapons, plans, traps being made etc.) then the suspected communists were killed and villages were burnt to the ground. This most likely would have turned the S.Vietnamese against the American cause, as they had destroyed the homes they lived in and murdered their friends.
The American tactic played right into the hands of the communist, and they countered this with there own superior tactic, by rebuilding their homes and burying the dead. They also gave land left from the Indochina war back to the peasants. This helped the VC a lot because it meant new recruits for them (The VC Guerillas dressed mainly in black pajamas, looking like peasants; they were farmers by day and Guerillas by night). In recruiting, the VC were open to women fighters as well as men.
This meant that the American male soldiers were affected by the morality of killing a woman, it wasn’t morally right; this made them think twice and damaged morale by leaving the thought of killing a woman on their conscience-they became physicologically unhealthy). This shows how smart the VC were in their planning of tactics, they responded to the violence of the US by winning the hearts and minds of the peasants(which is one of the things the US aimed to do in the first place through offering humanitarian aid etc.-this is called Pacification).
The most powerful of methods used by the VC that influenced the whole Vietnam War was their Guerilla tactics and fighting methods: One of the problems instantly faced by the Americans was the Vietnamese’s tactic of having no front line, this meant that the VC could even go into stalemate as the fighting was on their homeland, and they could afford to wait for a victory. The US however couldn’t as the war was costing them money and lives, so they had to engage the enemy quickly. This was a big problem for the Americans as they were trained in the art of conventional warfare, where you can see your opponent. Guerilla warfare was a sort of ‘hit and run’ tactic.
It relied on close combat and mainly ambushing the enemy. This also meant that the US couldn’t use their tactic of having a body count; which was when they counted the amounts of people they killed. But this was useless as the Americans couldn’t see who they were fighting, there was no front line and the VC used camouflage and concealment techniques: they wore foliage and could hide in trees, fields, jungles etc. and leap out at any given time. They avoided face-to-face combat and used the jungle, which was completely anonymous to the ‘Western Invaders’. As the US couldn’t pull up any exact figures of how many they killed, their own body count mounted as one by one, they were killed off; thus denting their morale as a result.
As well as having tactics that heavily influenced the war, the VC had weapons in their possession, which instantly surpassed the Americans’ modern counterparts, as they were well suited to their terrain.
The typical US soldiers’ main weapon was the M-16 Assault Rifle. This was an American made gun, and unlike the AK-47, the M16 concentrated on semi-automatic accuracy rather than on full automatic firepower. It was lighter than the AK and was made using alluminium and plastics, this however didn’t help US troops in their fighting, as it was mainly dense jungle in the geography of Vietnam, you would have needed a durable weapon to withstand every single trip and fall.
It was tipped to be a much more reliable weapon but it often jammed, costing the lives of hundreds of Americans caught in firefights. It was said to be ‘self-cleaning’ but it wasn’t, carbon deposits built up often and it had to be cleaned after every use; and troops weren’t issued with cleaning kits. Also, one of the biggest problems was that the M16 was built for long range shooting. Adding to this, it had old style rear sights which meant that you could only aim using one eye. This means that the main use of the M16 was for accurate long-range shooting, which didn’t help the Americans again as they were constantly being ambushed by Guerillas and forced into close combat!
Unlike the M16, the AK-47 was a much sturdier weapon made out of solid wood and metals, heavier but more durable. The AK could stand the humidity of the jungle and literally never jammed or even needed cleaning(if it did, it was very easy to disassemble and clean) It was an extremely simple weapon to which anybody could be trained on (good news for the VC- they could recruit anyone and train them on this rifle, even a child; resulting in the Americans not being able to tell exactly who they were fighting and giving the VC that edge). Furthermore, the AK’s shape made it ideal for the shooter to be in the prone postition (lying down flat on the stomach), which was an ideal position for the shootouts in dense jungles. Also, briefly comparing the rounds used, the M16 had higher velocity (faster travelling) lighter, and smaller bullets: 5.56mm; making it ideal at long-range shooting.
The Russian AK however had heavier and bigger bullets: 7.62mm. This statistic gave the AK the upper hand in close combat situations where the bullet had to pass through literally anything i.e. heavy underbush in the jungle (which could deflect the lighter American 5.56mm round) or in shootouts in towns/cities, where the heavy 7.62mm bullet could go thruogh a wall and the 5.56 couldn’t. The last and final thing about the AK-47 compared to the M16 was its sights. There was a rear-sight shaped like a ‘V’, and a foresight blade at the end. This meant that you could use both eyes when shooting and didn’t have to be as accurate; making it ideal again for the VC and Guerilla fighting.
This brief comparison of these two weapons widely used throughout the war shows that the characterisitcs AK-47 surpassed that of the M16. It was a much more durable weapon that was well suited to the terrain and handling of the Vietcong and helped the VC in their fight against the US greatly.
Aswell as having just guns on their side, the US and VC had other things aswell. The US had different types of trnasport and tactics: Helicopters, they were fast and could be used to deploy troops quickly. But the VC responded to this by using their portable Rocket Launcher’s (supplied by the Soviet Union aswell) which took out the Helicopters instantly as they basically were giant hovering targets. Tanks could not be used because of the geography of Vietnam, so trucks were used, but these were easy targets aswell as being literally a car. Instead of trucks, the Americans used Armoured Personnel Carriers. These were basically open-style tanks. They were used more than the Tank and were mainly for transpot. They could be used on land and water, which gave them a bit more protection from the VC attacks; and the armour itself gave ample protection to the crew if under attck from small arms fire.
As for the VC, where were they getting all these supplies from to destroy American tactics? The answer was simple. The Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was a 1000 mile “secret” supply trail from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. It was so big that at any given time, 10,000 trucks could be on it transporting suppplies. Also, it wasn’t just one straight road, it had a 30 mile width, and in it were hundreds of paths that branched off. That way, if the part of the trail was bombed for example, them the VC could simply turn around and follow a different route.
The US knew about this (but they didn’t know the fact that it had many branched off sections- they thought it was one straight route) and this made them want to stop it. Reconnaisance photos showed little or no evidence of the trail, it was literally built under the American’s noses; but they just couldn’t find it. The American Intelligence analysts could hardly spot the trail from above because the dense jungle had different canopy levels. The VC cut the lower levels so their transport could meander through, leaving the top layer of canopy as cover from the US planes and other enemies.
But Aeroplanes weren’t only used for taking photos. As the Americans could only give a rough estimate of the position of the trail, there was still a chance of finding it, and they began use planes to bomb the Ho Chi Minh trail, but this had no effect on the VC morale or the way they used it, if one part was bombed off, then they simply switched to a different path. So, another way that the US tried to ‘sniff out’ any VC or activity along the trail was by using the planes to drop ADSID’s- or Tropical Trees. These were dropped by planes into the jungle and stuck into the ground when landing. They sensed the heat and vibrations from everything, so if something was picked up, the Americans would know; and assume it is VC personnel. To combat this, the Vietcong used an extremely simple yet practical technique that the Americans never saw coming. they moved the ADSID’s, to a remot place and put a generator next to it, and the tactic worked. The VC just watched as US warplanes flew overhead and bombed the wrong place without harming anybody.
To add to the lack of progress made by US forces, troops’ morale was droppin rapidly. One of the main causes of low morale throughout the war was the booby traps left by the VC. They had explosive traps such as deadly landmines-supplied by the Ho Chi Minh Trail-and other sorts. But the most effective were the ones that they made by hand. These were cheap and easy to make, they were so simple to make, that they could be made by anyone. It was an excellent morale builder for the VC and they used signals in the forests to tell each other where the traps were. But unfortunatly the Americans weren’t so happy.
They faced barbed wire, tied from tree-to-tree, the Punji Stake Trap( a ditch in the ground full of bamboo stakes or barbed steel spikes-sometimes even smothered in human faecies so when the victim was cut open, they suffered blood poisoning) which was disguised on the forest floor; and many more. They were all designed to mame but not kill. They were grusome yet brutally effective and severely damaged US troops’ morale. Many men watched as their friends perished in agony which added to the lowering of morale. Soon, the result of the VC booby trap tactic really came into effect: the Americans started to think Why aren’t we winning? We’re a superpower and at the moment we’re getting nowhere, Why are my friends dying all around me? So soon the mortality rate mong US soldiers began to rise.
So far through the war, US tactics have been proving useless and the VC’s tactics and weapons have been very effective. As the war intensified, the US did make a couple of hits on VC morale. They used their Warplanes in the tactic of Saturation bombing. This was when the planes emptied all there loads at once and bombed N.Vietnam and S.Vietnam in heavy loads. One of the most heavily bombed aea in South Vietnam was the suspected VC stronghold Cu Chi. It was so heavily bombed that the people living their had made the desperate descision to go underground in order to avoid the bombing. Thus The Cu Chi Tunnels were made. It was here where the villagers of Cu Chi would stay for the next 10 years, and at the height of the war, the Cu Chi tunnel sytem streched from the outskirts of Saigon all the way to the Cambodian border; approx. 250km of tunnels! The tunnels had everything to offer for the villagers to live in comfort: kitchens, beds, living areas and dining quarters, planning rooms, ammunition stores, hospital wards and even wells. Amazingly, holes connected from the ground fed the people fresh air and let out hot steam from the kitchens, and the US forces still couldn’t find them!
Tiny trap doors were designed to fit the samatotype of the Vietnamese into the forest floor, and viewpoints were made from undergroound to the surface of the forest floor which made them ideal sniping positions. The tunnels at Cu Chi were never destroyed. They were only breached on rare occasions. Since the average ‘westerner’ wasn’t able to fit comfotably into the tiny tunnel entrances, the Tunnel Rats were formed. These were volunteers from the army who had small body shapes, they could fit into the tunnels and were sent down. They were equiped with a torch, pistol and a nife and faced the dank and dark tunnels on their own. The VC often left traps in the system e.g biologcal weapons- snakes, scorpions, spiders, bats, or even trap doors that cut peoples throast or lead to Punji Pits. Most of the time the ‘Rats’ came out screeming and crying.
As a result of not being able to find the entrances to the tunnels most of the time, the Americans used chemical bombs. Napalm. It was basically jellied petrtol and was used to burn off leaves and vegetation in forests. It stuck to its victims causing horrific burns. To add to this, they also used more chemical weapons: Agents Orange and Blue- weedkillers basically. They were generously sprayed over forests to get rid of the cover, which did work. But, these chemical weapons caused horrific deaths and the wounds from Napalm would take six months to heal, leaving victims terribly scarred. The Dioxin in the Orange/Blue Agents caused deformities in children and cancer to anyone handling it. This must have had an effect on the VC morale because the environment of Vietnam, including food sources, were completely destroyed aswell. But it just made them fight harder against the invaders.
The counter to this tactic came as another VC tactic, and a huge surprise to the Americans and everyone else. On Jan 31st 1968, more than 80,000 NVA and VC soldiers simultaneously attacked Saigon and other major cities on US posts. This was called the “Tet Offensive”. This caught the US forces off-guard as they didn’t know who they were fighting as the VC looked like ordinary civillians. ‘Tet’ meant the new lunar year, and their must have been lots of festivals with people and even military forces relaxing or celebrating in the streets. The reason why they nobody saw this coming was because it wasn’t morally right e.g. People would not fight on Christmas Day? To add to the unexpectedness, the Tet Offensive was planned right under the noses of the Americans in public places.
Furthermore, the VC weren’t fighting as Gerillas, they had a change in their tactics and were fighting using conventional warfare. This is proved by the fact that more than 500 Americans were either wounded or died in the first three weeks of the major attack-much quicker death rates than ambushing. This changed the view of the war to the public of America, as they realised that the US wasn’t actually winning the war, their loved ones were dying. Thus bringing down morale in America itself, as the attack led to the media saying that the VC were growing in strength. But even though the VC had the upper hand at first, they were fighting conventionally, the way the American troops were specially traned to do, and the end of the Tet Offensive was seen a US victory as it forced North Vietnam to begin peace talks (only a few places were captured by the communists, the other posts were successfully defended).
Tet was still a successful counter-tactic by the VC as many US soldiers lost their lives. So two months later, the last tactic came in effect from the “revenge seeking” Amerians. In March later that year, a search and destroy mission to a village known as a VC stronghold resulted in the My Lai Massacre. US forces made their way to the village and there was no resistence, between 175 and 500 unarmed civilians were killed and no VC were actually found. They had escaped. The innocent villagers were brutally shot and the bodies of the women and children were photographed by a US army photographer. The deed was commited during the same year: 1968, but was made public in November 1969. In the American soldiers’ defence, they were just obeying orders; but that wasn’t justified.
Overall, these events show evidence that the VC’s tactics and weapons were much better in helping them change the tide of the war. Their simple yet ingenious “home-based” techniques evidently proved to be far more effective than the modern American’s, thus resulting in a regretfull intervention and humiliating defeat.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 September 2017
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