Viet Cong Tactics

The Viet Cong traveled light and were very mobile. They remained hidden during the day and came at night to infiltrate villages, ambush American soldiers and run other missions. In the day, the Viet Cong donned farmer clothes. American had no idea who was a farmer, who was Viet Cong, who was a Viet Cong sympathizer, and who was farmer fighting for the Viet Cong.

Former OSS officer Carelton B. Swift Jr. wrote in the Washington Post: “Consider Giap’s poor soldiers: An old woman carries a covered basket that contains arms for hiding Viet Cong. Kids try out a little English on a passing GI, learn which way his unit is moving, and pass the information on. American forces could not deal with this kind of enemy; they grew frustrated and guilty when forced to fight them.”

A former Viet Cong soldier names Nguyen Huu Vy told Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post that when he began fighting for the north he had no weapons. “his first squad armed itself with fake rifles carved from the heavy, butt end of coconut palm fronds. With them they ambushed [South Vietnamese] soldiers who were apparently too frightened to look closely at the weapons. The squad built up an arsenal by stealing the weapons of Diem’s forces, usually in ambushes. With new weapons he could expand his force to a platoon, then a company, then a battalion.

Weapons, Tricks and Booby Traps Used by the Viet Cong

The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese for the most part didn’t have the powerful heavy weapons, helicopters, high-altitude bombers and tanks that the Americans had. They often made do with AK-47s semiautomatic guns, ingenious and deadly booby traps, and mines, often made from unexploded bombs harvested after American bombing missions. Some weapons such as tanks were of relatively little use in the mountains, swamps and rain forests where much of the fighting took place. The most useful—and often most advanced—heavy weaponry the North Vietnamese possessed were its Soviet-made anti-aircraft guns and artillery. In Moscow’s Museum of Armed Forces you can see a Kalashnikov used by a North Vietnamese soldier to kill 78 Americans on April 7, 1968.

Booby traps employed with deadly effectiveness by the North Vietnamese were often inspired by traps used to catch wild animals in the forest. They included neck snares that choke animal to death when it struggles to escape; spring snares that lift the animal in the air and hold it upside down; jaw traps that clamp down to the bone; falling weight traps that crush skulls; bamboo and wooden spike traps that skewer prey; hidden pits with spikes lying at the bottom; and pits with large spike-covered plates that enclosed on victim like a giant bear trap. Continue reading


The kind of ground fighting the Americans did in Vietnam was unlike anything U.S. soldiers had been subjected to before. “In Vietnam,” Karnow wrote, “there were no front lines to advance; the war was pervasive. An apparently benign peasant could be a guerilla, a pretty prostitute a clandestine agent, the kid who delivered the laundry a secret informer, Flooded rice fields concealed spikes, booby traps permeated jungles, and barracks were vulnerable to terrorist attacks… No wonder the grunts were so paranoid and their commanders frustrated. So strategy was reduced to a basic formula: kill as many as of the enemy as possible in hopes of breaking their morale.

Col. David H. Hackworth wrote in Newsweek: “I spent five years in Vietnam between 1965 and 1971. Commanding U.S. infantry in the field and advising South Vietnamese troops. I was wounded four times, decorated often. I saw America’s young men, many entrusted to my care, march into a meat grinder.” Continue reading