Soldiers of the National Liberation Front , the Viet Cong, in the early 1960s display weapons from a variety of sources, from left, a captured American M79 grenade launcher; an American M1 carbine, captured from the French or South Vietnamese or supplied by the Chinese; and a K-50M submachine gun supplied by North Vietnam. (Sovfoto)
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Vietnam has fought numerous invasions over the past two millennia, usually against China or whoever happened to have conquered China, including the formidable, ruthless Mongols. Whenever they could not defeatthe invaders, the Vietnamese armed forces eventually wore them down by simply refusing to quit.
When the United States involved itself in bolstering the South Vietnamese government against the insurgent communist Viet Cong, it did so with the expectation of crushing a guerrilla movement.
In November 1965, however, the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) fought its first major battle against North Vietnamese Army regulars, who had been infiltrating the South via the Ho Chi Minh Trail snaking along the Laotian and Cambodian borders since the early 1960s. The communists also made extensive use of South Vietnam’s rivers and, to a lesser extent, the east coast, to smuggle supplies in.
The next decade would see both sides, the Americans/South Vietnamese and NVA/VC changing and adapting their tactics against each other. Essentially the NVA was a light infantry force backed by whatever heavier support it could field, adding guerrilla tactics learned from the VC to their repertoire.
Initially the VC used whatever French, American or other weaponry they could get their hands on, but with each infusion of NVA troops came a steady flow of Soviet and Chinese arms that made their infantry the equal of their opponents. Although the North Vietnamese did not commit any air support to their ground forces—which in any event would not have had a chance against the Americans—the NVA added more artillery, tanks and anti-aircraft weaponry to its forces between 1968 and 1975. In the end, in spite of the horrendous price they paid on the battlefield, what they had proved to be enough.
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