This concise and informative book succeeds in its ambitious goal to produce a comprehensive document on the field experiences of U.S. Army infantrymen in Vietnam, presented in the form of a soldier’s manual.
Drawing on a wealth of sources, including field manuals, technical and weapons manuals, instructional booklets, infantry guidebooks, after-action reports and intelligence analyses, The U.S. Army Infantryman Vietnam Pocket Manual reconstructs the Vietnam War from the perspective of American soldiers operating in the field.
While acknowledging that “there can be some significant difference between reality and written records,” pocket manual Editor Chris McNab has painstakingly reproduced a compendium that he hopes will “provide a detailed insight into how the U.S. Army infantry was adapting to an emerging type of warfare—counterinsurgency—and doing so with a new generation of weapons and equipment.”
McNab offers a time capsule of information covering arguably all facets of infantry combat in Vietnam. The book is divided into five chapters encompassing training and orientation; equipment and weaponry; understanding the enemy; infantry tactics and operations; and airmobile combat and air/fire support.
Each chapter thoroughly covers its topic. “Chapter 3: Understanding the Enemy,” for example, details nearly all of the guerrilla warfare techniques used by the communists, including methods employed to organize resistance movements, types of ambushes and escape methods—knowledge that would be useful for soldiers learning how to defeat the Viet Cong.
The book addresses the practical aspects of an infantryman’s life in Vietnam, such as how to adapt to jungle surroundings. It also provides an introduction to Vietnamese culture to ease interactions with locals.
An especially interesting aspect of the book is its inclusion of “Lessons Learned” and information drawn from contemporary after-action reports, to which the editor has added helpful descriptions, including dates and sources, to provide context. There are gems such as infantry “patrol tips,” immediate action and maneuver techniques, as well as methods for fighting in various situations and environments.
Particularly fascinating elements include a section describing methods of fighting in rock complexes and an excerpt from an illustrated 1968 brochure explaining how to identify and destroy VC hiding places and tunnels. Also included are tips on how to launch successful ambushes and defend against commando attacks, along with methods for breakout, evasion and survival.
Additionally, the book takes an extensive look at the war’s weaponry and equipment, accompanied by diagrams and maintenance guides. It also includes information on calling in air support and artillery tactics.
Richly enhanced with photos and illustrations, the infantryman’s pocket manual is well organized and of a conveniently compact size to allow for easy storage and reading. It is a valuable research tool for general readers seeking an overview of infantry combat during the Vietnam War and is particularly useful for those who wish to gain a closer understanding of the conduct of ground operations. The book’s detailed breakdowns of tactics and analyses produced by military minds is perhaps its greatest strength, making it particularly valuable to readers with an interest in studying counterinsurgency and the fine details of infantry combat techniques. V
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This article appeared in the February 2022 issue of Vietnam magazine. For more stories from Vietnam magazine, subscribe and visit us on Facebook.