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The Enemy and His Tactics

©  By David Wilkins
Adjutant & OC
C Company
2nd Tour

author: David Wilkins

Enemy Weapons and Tactics

The VC and NVA relied heavily on China and Russia for arms, equipment and finance but they fought their own war. Main force units were well-trained, and armed principally with the reliable Russian-designed Kalashnikov or AK47 Assault Rifle plus a range of effective Soviet and Chicom (Chinese Communist) light and medium machine guns, and, less frequently, heavy machine guns.

AK-47 Automatic Rifle Chicom RPD Light Machine Gun
Kalishnikov AK 47 Chicom  RPD Machine Gun

A Viet Cong RPG TeamFor destroying armoured vehicles or defensive installations, the VC had highly effective rocket propelled grenades, the RPGs 2 and 7. They were often supported by special weapons platoons with heavier weapons including 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine guns, 81 and 82mm mortars and larger calibre anti-tank recoilless rifles (usually 75mm).
(Photographs of some of these weapons can be seen in the 'VC Weapons' section of this website)

Local guerrilla weapons were more basic, but their improvisation was deadly in the form of mines, booby traps, panji pits and the like.

VC preparing panji defences.

The revolutionary aims of the Liberation Front in South Vietnam could only be achieved if theyViet Cong Preparing Panji Defences gained access to the villages and re-educated the population to the North's doctrine. Such access depended on the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army having military successes on the battlefield, thereby emphasizing to the 'fence sitters' in the south the weakness of the incumbent government's authority. Consequently, one of the major tasks of any allied operation was to force and maintain a separation between the VC and the civilian population.

The NVA and VC forces fought a typical insurgents' guerrilla war. They did not hold ground, that is, there was no piece of ground they considered necessary to defend to the last man, although some sanctuaries were fiercely defended. When challenged on a piece of ground, they usually fought with a view to an orderly withdrawal from it to then occupy another. Nor did these guerrilla forces congregate for long periods in large concentrations. Rather, they dispersed in small groups and lived in the jungle and mountain environments where finding them was difficult. When they wanted to attack, they secretly concentrated their force near the objective (such as a village or military outpost), carried out the attack, then, before reinforcements arrived and before allied firepower was brought to bear upon them, they withdrew and dispersed into the jungle. They tried to choose the time and place for a battle and avoid contact at other times. They preferred night-time military operations as this made them less vulnerable to aerial observation and to our superior firepower and mobility.

Viet Cong Anti-Aircraft gunnersThe enemy favoured the use of the ambush. Their classic guerrilla tactic was to launch an attack on a defended post knowing that a relief force would be sent, then ambush that force: they "lured the tiger from the mountain" to then defeat it.

The main force units were more inclined to remain concentrated than the lower level units. From time to time they would conduct a major offensive in Phuoc Tuy province with a view to striking a psychological blow to the Australian force. For example, the 1966 battle of Long Tan to the east of Nui Dat originated from the 5 VC Division plan of drawing out a reactionary Australian force and then annihilating it in an ambush. Instead the VC suffered a major defeat. (For a very convincing alternative view that the enemy in fact intended to attack and defeat the Australians at their newly-established Nui Dat base, see Dave Sabben¹s book 'Through Enemy Eyes'). The VC and NVA also suffered a major defeat in their Tet offensive of February 1968. Later in 1968, 1RAR's FSPB "Coral" in Bien Hoa province was partially overrun by 7th NVA Division before being repulsed. Another example was our own battle of Binh Ba in June 1969 when the 33rd NVA Regiment was concentrated, apparently intent upon inflicting a major defeat on 1ATF troops.

Usually, however, instead of seeking such all-out confrontations with 1ATF troops, the NVA and VC adhered to their guerrilla hit-and-run tactics. The Australian ambushing of the enemy transit patterns generally intercepted and reduced this activity however, whilst our seeking out their bunker sanctuaries was aimed at defeating them and destroying their secure bases. The combination of our ambushing and the assaults upon their bunker systems formed the vast majority of our fighting.

The enemy main force fought aggressively from these defensive bunker systems and would often leave their protection to counter-attack our forces. As well, they adopted a "bear-hugging" tactic of following up our temporary withdrawals (where our purpose was Dustoff (helicopter medical evacuation) or to take an ammunition resupply). By keeping in close to us the enemy could sometimes avoid our mortar and artillery fire as well as any airstrike bombardment of their bunkers. Shells and bombs did not distinguish between friend and foe. During the battalion's 2nd tour we experienced the use of this tactic particularly by MR7 (an NVA Divisional HQ) in Bien Hoa and Phuoc Tuy provinces and by D67 Engineer Battalion in the Hat Dich Secret Zone.

The enemy regularly used snipers, often concealed in trees, to create confusion amongst ourVC planning an attack on a south vietnamese regional force post troops either during our assaults or as we regrouped. An example of sniper-use is described in this website's tribute to Cpl Ted Suttor who was killed when assaulting a bunker.

This type of warfare in South Vietnam meant that there were no front lines as there were in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Front lines only exist in warfare where there is a need to protect ground. So, because ground was generally not important to the guerrilla, no front lines were formed. Without front lines there were also no safe rear areas. An ambush might be sprung or a booby trap activated, anywhere.

The NVA and VC realised their guerrilla tactics were not the final solution, but a way to wear down their enemy both physically and psychologically. They believed that a time would come when they would either be strong enough to concentrate their forces and face us, or the allied force's resolve, particularly that of the USA, would be so worn down that it would give up and leave. They realized that neither of these objectives could be realized quickly and therefore developed a philosophy of patience.

Propaganda was also successfully employed in the prosecution of their objectives. Their clever use of the media in the USA to report on allied casualties, particularly just before election time, was very much instrumental in President Nixon's arranging a ceasefire agreement and announcing the "peace with honour" in 1973. Within two years of this allied withdrawal the NVA and VC had concentrated their forces and moved on Saigon, leading to the unconditional surrender by South Vietnam on 30 April 1975.