At noon on March 30, 1972, North Vietnam opened its spring offensive with a massive artillery barrage against South Vietnamese positions just south of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries. Outgunned and out-ranged in artillery, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam saw its weapons quickly silenced.
By that evening, virtually every ARVN fire support base within 20 miles of the border was surrounded and fighting for survival. South Vietnamese units trying to move came under fire as nightfall and cloud coverage limited the use of air power. The 11,000 artillery rounds and several thousand rockets fired that day were a clear demonstration that the North Vietnamese Army had improved and expanded its artillery arm.
The 122 mm D-74, a towed gun that entered Soviet service in 1955, was the most numerous gun in the NVA’s five independent artillery regiments. The D-74, with a range of 24 kilometers (15 miles), was the third longest-ranged ground artillery piece of the Vietnam War behind the U.S. M107 self-propelled 175 mm gun at 40 kilometers (25 miles) and the Soviet-supplied M-46 130 mm towed gun at 27.5 kilometers (17 miles). D-74 ammunition consisted of metal cartridge containing two propellant charges. The gun had a horizontal sliding-wedge breech block, a hydropneumatic recoil system, a muzzle brake and a split tail carriage.
Although the weapon’s horizontal movement was limited to 30 degrees either side of the sight line, the carriage had a hydraulic jack and pedestal that enabled the crew to lift and rotate the gun up to 180 degrees if required.
Like many Soviet artillery pieces of the 1930s-50s, the D-74 had sights for “direct fire” missions, those aimed at a specific target, and a shield to protect the gunner and pointer from small-arms fire and shell fragmentation.
The NVA employed the gun as the long-range component of independent artillery regiments assigned to advancing forces. Accurate, powerful, easy to maintain and repair, the D-74 remained in service with the Peoples Army of Vietnam through about 2010. V
This article appeared in the October 2021 issue of Vietnam magazine. For more stories from Vietnam magazine, subscribe and visit us on Facebook: