Despite popular perceptions, it was the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) that ultimately carried the day in Vietnam, and it did so via traditional combined arms operations with artillery playing a key role. The Marines at Khe Sanh and Army troops in the A Shau Valley can attest to the NVA’s effective employment of artillery, as can the South Vietnamese who faced the 1972 and 1975 offensives. The NVA used the M-30 122mm howitzer against strong points and troop concentrations in or near critical objectives.
It is not clear when the first M-30 units entered South Vietnam, but they played a prominent role during the Tet Offensive, delivering the bulk of the artillery fire on Khe Sanh and in key battles in the Central Highlands from 1968 onward.
One of several artillery pieces designed by Fyodor Petrov just before World War II, the M-30 entered production in 1940. As production ended in 1955, the Soviet Union began sending them to its allies and client states. China also produced the weapon, designating it the Type 54. More than 1,600 M-30s were sent to North Vietnam, with shipments reportedly starting in 1957. By 1965, the M-30 was the most numerous division artillery piece used in the NVA. Each division artillery regiment contained two battalions of three 12-gun companies, usually deployed in two- and four-gun platoons to make them harder to spot from the air.
In NVA service, the M-30 fired four types of rounds: High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), High Explosive (HE), Illumination and Smoke. The HEAT round’s lighter weight gave it a higher velocity, enabling it to penetrate 200mm of standard plate armor at 1,000 meters in direct fire mode. The M-30’s accuracy was good, delivering standard 48-pound rounds within 35 meters of the aim point at a range of 10,600 meters.
With U.S. air power an ever-present danger, the NVA artillery practiced “shoot and scoot” tactics to avoid detection. With the American withdrawal, however, the air threat lessened and the NVA employed greater concentrations of artillery after 1973. In 1975 the 84th Artillery Regiment supported the drive on Quang Tri, and two artillery divisions supported the drive through the Central Highlands and the final assault on Saigon. While the more highly acclaimed M-46 130mm gun was used against the critical targets, the M-30 delivered the bulk of the firepower to destroy South Vietnamese defensive positions and break up troop concentrations. Now considered obsolete by most military analysts, the M-30 remains in service with the People’s Army of Vietnam—and it is still a deadly weapon in the hands of a well-trained crew.
Originally published in the December 2010 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.