Infantry troops in Vietnam carried deadly new weapons into combat.
Despite the massive artillery and air firepower the United States deployed in its attacks on communist forces in Vietnam, most gunfights came down to infantry weapons used at often terrifyingly close quarters. Automatic weapons had increased the carnage of war since the early 20th century, but in Vietnam a proliferation of M16 assault rifles put rapid-fire guns in the hands of every grunt, whether he was fighting in a carefully prepared ambush or a chance encounter. The U.S. infantryman’s arsenal included a dazzling array of lethal devices: machine guns, grenade launchers, advanced versions of World War II bazookas, small mortars and remotely detonated land mines. Allies sometimes had their own versions of those weapons. The Australians, for example, carried the semi-automatic L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle (SLR, or as many called it, “stupidly long rifle”) and sometimes the F1 submachine gun. The North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong came to the battlefield with weapons such as Soviet AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns and wooden-handle grenades. The Viet Cong also used whatever they could smuggle or improvise, including Thompson submachine guns, homemade firearms not far removed from matchlock muskets and mortars made from 2-inch pipes with metal strips for legs.