Vietnam Flashback Là Gì

During the war, a wide variety of equipment was used, far too much to cover here. Instead, you will find a few of the more important weapons used during the war and a small description of each. Additionally, the guerilla nature of the Viet Cong troops and the non-uniformity of many North Vietnamese forces makes it difficult to speak of their equipment in comparison to the United States. However, it is important to note that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong did use advanced weapon systems during the war, even if these weapons were used in a limited way and alongside more traditional weapons. 


Though one gun rarely makes the difference in a battle, for the individual soldier it can often be a matter of life or death. The Vietnam War saw the deployment of two of the most famous and most produced rifles of all time: the AK-47 and the M16. These assault rifles have continued to play a major part in modern warfare today, decades after their introduction. Additionally, the M60 machine gun proved an incredibly useful weapon for many American troops during the war and offered soldiers heavier firepower than their standard rifles could provide

In 1947, Soviet weapon designer Mikhail Kalashnikov produced a new variant of an automatic assault rifle. The Automatic Kalashnikov, model year 1947, was readily adopted by the Soviet military and was quickly used by most members of the Warsaw Pact. The AK-47 fires a 7.62 mm cartridge, and has become one of the most widely proliferated weapons in the world, thanks to its reliability under harsh conditions, cheap manufacturing cost, and the ease with which soldiers can be trained on its use. During the Vietnam War, both the Viet Cong and the People’s Army of Vietnam (the North Vietnamese Army) made heavy use of the weapon, thanks to support from the Soviet Union and from the People’s Republic of China. 


The M16 would become the standard service rifle for U.S. troops during the 1960s, seeing widespread use in Vietnam and largely replacing the M14. The weapon was in many ways revolutionary, though not without problems. Firing a 5.56 mm round and with automatic capabilities, the M16 was lighter than the M14 and more compact, which meant more ammunition could be carried by each soldier. Constructed from steel, plastics, and aluminum alloys, the M16 was a sharp visual change from the wood-based rifles which had defined warfare for centuries. The weapon developed a poor reputation for malfunctions amongst its early users, leading to an updated M16A1 version.

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Introduced at the end of the 1950s, the M60 was a belt-fed light machine gun that fired a 7.62 mm round. The M60’s operation was usually a team effort: while one solider carried the weapon, and one solider could operate as an assistant gunner, most other men in a rifle squad could carry ammunition for the M60. The gun was not without problems, though – the tropical climate of Vietnam took a toll on the weapon, and its bulky design proved troublesome for many soldiers. However, the M60 ultimately proved effective, and was used in infantry units and as a mounted gun on helicopters, patrol boats, and vehicles throughout Vietnam.

Despite the often uncooperative and non-ideal terrain, the U.S. military deployed a significant number of tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and other heavy vehicles during the war. APCs provided soldiers with protection, mobility, and increased firepower. Tanks were used in both urban and rural operations, and provided heavy support to many troops. Perhaps the two most common and most effective armored vehicles to serve in the American military during the war were the M-48 Patton tank and the M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier. The North Vietnamese also made use of Soviet manufactured armor, but their usage of tanks was heavily limited by overwhelming American airpower until the U.S. withdrew in 1973.

The Marines took a few M-48s ashore when they landed at Da Nang in March 1965, and throughout the course of the war, hundreds of Patton tanks would be deployed across South Vietnam. Though there were few tank-to-tank battles, the Pattons served well as infantry support vehicles. With a top speed of around 30 MPH, and a standard 90 mm gun (with some variant using a flamethrower), the Pattons proved capable in Army and Marine Corps service.


M-113s often worked alongside M-48s, and both were often found traveling in convoys down the roads of South Vietnam. The M-113 proved itself as a reliable workhorse, as upgraded variants of the vehicle remain in active service with the U.S. military. The M-113s were fielded in an number of different variants, including service as anti-aircraft, flamethrower, mortar, medical vehicles. However, the APC’s primary role was to move troops under protection from small-arms fire, with the capacity to carry eleven passengers inside. 

The usage of armor by the North Vietnamese should not be overstated – tanks were used in a limited fashion during most of the war, and were often destroyed by American air power before having any real effect. However, the North Vietnamese did field Soviet produced tanks during the war, which became more powerful in 1973 when the U.S. left Vietnam. One of the most commonly used tanks was the Russian T-54 (or its Chinese variant, the Type 59). With a 100 mm gun, and a top speed of around 30 mph, the T-54 helped spearhead the final collapse of South Vietnam in 1975.

Part of the cultural legacy of the war, and a very real aspect of life for many soldiers, helicopters formed an essential part of the American war effort. Air mobility, the rapid transport and insertion of troops via aircraft, formed a central part of American strategy from 1965 onward. Serving as gunships, ambulances, and transports, helicopters were some of the most effective vehicles in Vietnam. Iconic choppers like the Huey define the collective memory of the war, and helicopters like the Cobra gunship further add to the legacy of Vietnam’s air cavalry.

The most iconic helicopter of the Vietnam War, the Bell UH-1 Iroquois was originally designated the HU-1, giving rise to its popular nickname “Huey.” Adopted by the U.S. Army in the early 1960s, the Huey was the aerial workhorse of the U.S. military, serving prominently with the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. The Huey formed an essential part of the "air cavalry". Thousands of Hueys were deployed during the war, and while many were shot down, the helicopter proved invaluable to the war effort.

The Bell AH-1 cobra attack helicopter would make its first flight in 1965, and would enter service in 1967. Built using many of the components from the UH-1 “Huey”, the Cobra would see use during the Tet Offensive and through the end of the American mission in Vietnam. A highly-capable gunship, Cobra provided support for ground forces, worked in “hunter-killer” teams with scout helicopters, and guarded transports. Around 1,000 would serve in Vietnam and would continue service with the Army until being replaced by the Apache attack helicopter, while variants of the Cobra still serve with the Marine Corps.

The air war over Vietnam did lead to a few dogfights but these were relatively few and far between: the skies were dominated by American warplanes, which gave the U.S. a great advantage over the North Vietnamese. From fighters to heavy bombers, the United States wielded an array of aircraft that rained devastation, but also conducted reconnaissance, transport, medical evacuation, and supply operations. Although many warplanes served in Vietnam, the F-4 Phantom and B-52 Stratofortress remain two of the most prominent. While the North Vietnamese primarily built air defenses, planes like the MiG-21 occasionally struck at American airmen.

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The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II first flew in 1958, and would serve as the primary fighter aircraft during the Vietnam War. The two-seat, twin-engine supersonic Phantom played a large role in the war as both an interceptor and a fighter-bomber. The Navy used a carrier-borne version of the Phantom, and the Marine Corps and Air Force also adopted the aircraft. Phantoms engaged in air superiority battles with Soviet-built, Vietnamese operated MiGs, but more commonly flew ground-attack missions, reconnaissance, or “Wild Weasel” operations aimed at destroying enemy air defenses. 

A big, ugly, flying fortress, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress was designed and introduced in the early 1950s. Powered by eight turbojet engines, during the war B-52s were capable of massive aerial bombardment, frequently carrying payloads in the tens of thousands of pounds. Operating out of Guam and Thailand, B-52 strikes were carried out as part of Operations Rolling ThunderArc Light, and Linebacker I/II. Airstrikes by B-52 bombers during Vietnam remain some of the most ferocious aerial bombardments in the history of warfare. The plane itself remains active in the U.S. Air Force today, one of the longest serving aircraft in the U.S. military.

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 was a supersonic fighter designed and produced in the Soviet Union that entered into service by the start of the 1960s. The MiG-21 was the most modern fighter utilized by the North Vietnamese during the war, and its agility made it a threat to heavier American fighter-bombers. The Vietnam People’s Air Force (the air force of North Vietnam) never developed into a serious threat during the war, and was constantly outgunned and outnumbered by the combined American air forces. Nonetheless, the North Vietnamese did make successful attacks on American warplanes throughout the war, using planes like the MiG-17, MiG-19, and MiG-21, and their Chinese variants. 

It is hard to simplify the use of bombs during the Vietnam War. From grenades to mines, to 500 pound bombs and 105 mm shells, the word “bomb” can mean a number of things. It is important to note a few types of ordinance, however, which left a lasting legacy on the war. The first, napalm, is another staple of the public memory of Vietnam. The second, cluster bombs, were heavily used during the war, particularly in Laos (where they still haunt that country today). The third is a broad category: booby traps, today"s improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Developed during the Second World War and used in attacks on Japan, napalm is a jellied gasoline mixture that is extremely effective as an incendiary weapon. Napalm burns at an extremely high temperature, and can kill through this burning or through asphyxiation. The U.S. made heavy use of the weapon during the war, and though effective, the horrendous effects of napalm led many to protest its use. Napalm proved an effective physical and psychological weapon during the war, though it was and remains controversial.

Cluster bombs are a type of explosive that contain smaller bombs within, and saturate an area with these smaller munitions for increased effect. This type of explosive was heavily used by the U.S. during its aerial bombing campaigns during the war, especially in Laos. In total, the United States flew over 580,000 bombing missions over Laos during the war, dropping over 2.5 million tons of explosives on the country. Many of these smaller bombs did not explode immediately, and many remain a lethal threat within Laos today. Efforts to clear these explosives are still ongoing. 

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made IEDs part of our common terminology, but improvised explosive devices were just as common in Vietnam. While the Vietnamese did make use of punji spikes and other primitive (yet effective) traps, rigged explosives were incredibly common and were frequent killers of American troops. Grenades, mines, artillery rounds – all could be adapted for use as a trap through simple tripwires or pressure plates. Frequently, unexploded American ordinance was used to build these traps. Booby traps were a serious danger for many U.S. soldiers, and wounded or killed thousands. 

Vietnam’s long coastline and navigable waterways gave the U.S. Navy plenty of opportunities to contribute to the war effort. The U.S. Navy operated a number of aircraft carriers offshore to provide air support for troops in South Vietnam and to attack targets in the North. The heavy guns of cruisers and destroyers could provide sustained artillery fire near the shore, and in the Mekong Delta, Navy patrol craft provided security and engaged with Viet Cong forces. The U.S. Navy also provided helicopter support, medical assistance, logistical administration, and a number of other services during the war, but the role of carriers and patrol boats are worth exploring in greater detail. 

The U.S. Navy operated four classes of aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War: the WWII era Essex-class carriers, the post-war Midway-class, the Forrestal¬-class, and the Kitty Hawk-class. The three Kitty Hawks (plus the John F. Kennedy, itself a variant of the Forrestal-class) were commissioned between 1961 and 1968 and were the most modern carriers in the world. The three Kitty Hawk carriers, Kitty HawkConstellation, and America were conventionally powered, producing 280,000 shaft horsepower. At over 1,000 feet long and displacing over 80,000 tons of water when fully loaded, each could carry up to 90 planes. The carriers of the Navy flew a variety of aircraft including A-4 Skyhawks, A-7, F-8 Crusaders, and many more.

The U.S. Navy operated a number of small craft on the rivers and waterways of the Mekong Delta. The most common and most memorialized today were the Patrol Boat, River, or PBRs. These small boats served in Vietnam from around 1966 until the end of 1971 when U.S. forces were nearing the end of their mission. Patrolling the vast delta, PBR crews were involved in security and patrol operations in addition to broader coordination with land units including the insertion and extraction of special forces. PBRs typically carried twin forward mounted .50 caliber machine guns, along with a 40 mm grenade launcher and additional machine guns in the rear or on the side. While crews usually numbered around four enlisted men, the boats were a key part of the “brown water navy” that patrolled Vietnam.

Deepen your understanding and enhance your knowledge by exploring the nearly 4,000 books, photographs, programs, and other Pritzker Military Museum & Library holdings on the Vietnam War. 

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