Monday, August 3, 2009

Praxis: Viet Cong Logistics

"Enemy equipment captured by Marines on sweep operations in ICTZ Note US M-26 grenade in center of picture. Other grenades are locally produced using C-ration cans."

On one of my visits to the training folks at Brigade, I saw a desk presentation piece that had a Viet Cong grenade mounted on a tapered block of wood with the unit crest of all the battalions that belonged to the Brigade. I asked how I might obtain one of these. Sergeant told me that if I could get him four of these grenades, one would be mine. I really liked the desk piece. Research was needed. On my return to the battalion, I stopped off at our ammo dump. As luck would have it, the battalion had many moths before captured an entire grenade manufacturing facility located in the Rung Sat area of Vietnam. With it, the battalion had collected and returned to our ammo dump over 1,000 enemy grenades.

When I say factory, I am not talking about sophisticated machinery. These grenades were made from pot metal using a mold similar in design to the grenades used by the U.S. in World War II. The explosive itself was a yellow colored compound that filled the inner space pf the grenade. This was attached to a five-inch long wooden dowel that fit into the base of the grenade to become its throwing handle. The dowel was attached to the grenade with four copper nails, then the entire assembly was covered in paraffin wax.

To disarm these grenades, I first had to scrape enough of the paraffin away to expose the four copper nails and the area where the wooden handle connected with the grenade. Very carefully removing the four nails and slowly turning the handle clockwise and then counter clockwise along with a slight right to left movement was enough to remove the wooden handle. This was done to three more of the grenades. Removal of the explosive was easy, it was plaster-like and broke up easily in large pieces for removal.

In the exposed end of each of the handles I found what looked like a firecracker with a snall blasting cap on top. Caps were easily pulled off and I dumped all four of them into a drum of water that I knew would in short order destroy them. The grenades were basically safe but still had the fusing assembly.

This was a unique system. At the very end of the handle was a wooden plug. after scraping off more of the paraffin, I was able to remove the plug. On the end of the plug that was inserted into the hollow area of the handle was plastic black tape that helped provide an airtight seal. Inside the hollow was a paper seal that was also coated with paraffin. One had to punch through this seal with a finger to access a black heavy twine loop of string that was also attached to a three-inch piece of thin copper wire. When the loop was pulled free, the piece of copper wire activated an igniter or percussion cap that lit the end of the firecracker-loke fuse. We used similar pyrotechnics every New Year's Eve to launch streamers and such at the stroke of midnight. There is a delay burn of about three seconds then the end flashes into a hot stream of sparks that was just like a bad 4th of July firecracker that did not explode. this flash of sparks was designed to c ause the blasting cap to explode and detonate the entire grenade. I pulled each of the strings out of the handles and each worked.

Because of the heavy use of paraffin, I suspected that water or humidity greatly affected the use of these grenades. After conflicts, many of these grenades could be found in the area. Most had the finger loop pulled, but did not explode or only achieved a partial explosion. Dud ratio was too high. So much for Viet Cong quality control.

I gave the four Viet Cong grenades to the Sergeant. Within three weeks, I had my desk piece. It sits today on my desk at work. -- Vietnam Was More Than Just the Killing by Patrick H. Dockery, page 25

Replica VC improvised grenades of the type described by Patrick Dockery.

There is, tucked into the coverslip on the front side of a large three-ring binder labeled "Viet Cong Logistics," a NLF propaganda photo of an open-air VC grenade factory. In the foreground is a huge pile of Dockery's grenades. Squatted down behind the pile and partially obscured by it is a VC armorer painting the finished grenades with paraffin, which is being dipped from a small pan which is itself mostly immersed in another larger pot full of recently-boiling water. The absolutely primitive scene seems to rule out electricity as a melting agent and the the fact that only fumes in the picture are rolling off the paraffin rules out open flame. (A good thing in a grenade loading area.) Thus, boiling water tediously heated over an open flame somehwhere well away from the "factory floor" and hand-carried to the paraffin man's work station.

Behind the paraffin man are several other VC workers, men and women assembling components, inspecting finished product and handing it off to the paraffin man's assistant, who in turn hand it to him. An old Coca Cola bottle crate of wood is used to mocw the product from work station to work station on the bare earth.

The Mills Bomb warhead types were only one style of VC ingenuity. Here is a coke can grenade captured by Australian troops:

And here is an even cruder one made out of an orange soda can:
"This makeshift Viet Cong fragmentation grenade was made from a soft drink can with a short bamboo handle attached."

The purpose of this post is to bring to your attention some of the ways the Viet Cong solved their logistics problems by local manufacture. These were primarily innovations forced upon them early in the war. Later, the advent of large-scale conflict (and logistical losses to the operations of US forces in the South) forced the NVA to vastly expand supply operations along the Ho Chi Minh trail. No longer did they have to reload ammo by hand in the jungle.

This post is in no way an approving consideration of VC tactics, strategy or their way of war. There was a tendency in the militia movement of the 90s for some to advocate the precise emulation of VC organization and tactics. Had they ever been forced to fight that which they advocated, they would have been wiped out in short order.

The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a military disaster for the Cong, everywhere on the battlefield except between Walter Cronkite's ears and within the halls of Congress. Even so, their supply system prior to "the big war" has much to admire and imitate for small local forces of armed citizenry operating far from modern logistics.

On the backside of the same binder is an image of a US tunnel rat posing with a hand operated sewing machine he just fetched up from the bowels of the earth. The VC were as self-sufficient as they could be.

Here's another famous product of theirs: rubber sandals made out of US vehicle tires.
VC "slicks."

An excellent resource on VC logistics can be found here. Entitled "Viet Cong Logistics" it was written in June 1968 by L.P. Holliday and R.N. Gurfield for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense/International Security Affairs and the Advanced Research Projects Agency.

I found it so historically interesting and potentially useful that I downloaded and printed it out in its entirety. Here are some relevant excerpts on ordnance production. I urge you to go to the site and look at the tables and charts as well. Very interesting stuff. i will intersperse the narrative with photos of VC workshop rifle stocks found on war trophies brought back by US troops.


Guerrilla Logistics

"During the day I worked in the field watching buffalo and farming. At night I guarded the village and spread propaganda." -- A village guerrilla.

Before discussing guerrilla logistics, it is appropriate to define some of the types of paramilitary forces active in South Vietnam. At the bottom of the scale are the militia, or self-defense forces. The militia functions as local police and are usually found in the "combat hamlets." In addition to exercising police functions, such as arresting strangers, they supervise the construction of fortification. Sometimes they have only sticks as weapons, although they may be issued grenades (seldom rifles).

The hamlet or village guerrillas are somewhat better organized and equipped. There are two types: (1) the part-time guerrilla, who lives at home and has occasional guard duty or participates in sweeps; (2) the full-time or "concentrated" guerrilla, who may or may not live at home and is organized into squads (at hamlet level) or platoons (at village level). The full-time guerrilla circulates in his general area, protecting villages, harassing GVN forces, arresting strangers and defectors, and acting as part of an intelligence and warning screen. His equipment varies -- sometimes only one in five guerrillas has a rifle.

At district and province levels, we find independent platoons, and sometimes companies of full-time guerrillas. These are sometimes referred to as district or province units, or local forces, or as Local Forces as distinguished from (regional) Main Forces.

There is at least one more category -- secret guerrillas. These operate in cities or contested villages.

The guerrilla is often on his own, logistically speaking, after he receives his initial issue of a rifle and a small quantity of ammunition (perhaps 50 rounds). After that it may be up to him to capture weapons, ammunition, and equipment for his own use. There are not always enough rifles to go around, and those without weapons, if they go into the field, act as supply carriers, cooks, aidmen, and so on.

One of the main functions of guerrilla forces is to provide security for lines of communication. In one district, for example, the Viet Cong planned to establish guerrilla bases in three of the 16 villages, thus providing security to the commo-liason corridor through which strategic goods were moved, or along which they were hidden awaiting a favorable occasion for movement. Also, it was estimated that each village had one platoon and a blacksmith producing weapons and traps for antisweep operations.

In the same district, each village had 25 to 36 guerrillas. In another, there were 298 guerrillas and 750 hamlet self-defense members at the end of 1964. On the average, a rifle was issued to one out of five guerrillas, and three grenades were issued to each self-defense member.

From another source, the grand total for eight districts was: 894 concentrated guerrillas, 453 secret guerrillas, 1,841 hamlet guerrillas, and 6,985 self-defense militia.

The resupply of ammunition to guerrilla units has been described as follows:

A district unit was resupplied from ammunition in a different way from the regional main force unit. A Russian rifle was only equipped with 150 rounds and the fighter had to shift for himself when he has finished off his ammo. Only when the district unit approved would the fighters receive what they needed. Their main source of resupply was their military proselytizing operations, meaning their penetration agents were in charge of providing them with ammunition. From their main ammunition storage point they delivered it to the work camp, also called the rear service of the district. Then the district distributed it to the unit. The regional main forces had a transportation group which had to get in touch with the rear service at the camp place and carry the ammunition to the fight.

Ammunition was distributed to each unit up front at a determined ratio: 100 cartridges for each gun used by a province combat unit, 80m for district, 50 for village, 25 for hamlet units. Following each battle those who wanted to get a supply of ammunition were to bring in empty cases of cartridges they had fired. Empty cartridge cases were sent to the Front machine shop which transformed them into new and useful cartridges.

There was no direct supply of ammunition to the guerrillas. Each guerrilla was given 35 to 50 rounds for use according to fighting capacity. If he had used all his ammunition it took about one week to resupply him. A request was then sent to the district military affairs committee through the commo-liason agents. In general a request was made when the quantity of ammunition was reduced to one-half or one-third.

Ammunition was stored in a small depot inside the district office. It was permanently supplied by commo-liason agents and had about 500-600 rifles and grenades in wooden crates.

A weapons worksite at Chau Hoa village, Kien Hoa province, provided arms and ammunition to the local guerrillas and hamlet self-defense units. This worksite produced rifles and booby traps; repaired damaged rifles and dud mines and grenades, and supplied spikes. each cadre in the military affairs sections of various hamlets had to contribute two days of work per month at the worksite (2100 to 0200 hours) -- pp. 16-18 . . .

Ordnance: Manufacture and Resupply.


One captured document gives details of the proposed organization and manning of a number of Viet Cong ordnance worksites as shown in Table 5. The monthly production quotas do not seem to be consistent with the breakdown of manning by specialty, although this is hard to judge because of overlaps and variations in the way the production functions are described. For example, the chemical specialists, lathers, and fitters may work on several types of weapons, and the molders may take part in ammunition reloading.

The discussion of ordnance expenditure and resupply, below, includes sample data on Viet Cong weapon and ammunition stocks. When these data (and further details in Appendix A) are combined with the ordnance-worksite data of Table 5, some tentative ordnance support factors can be derived. It appears that ammunition reloading can be a substantial support requirement. . .

Unexploded bombs and shells retrieved from the GVN provide a source of explosives for the ordnance shops. Napalm filler is used for small hand bombs.

Some sample data on ordnance production may be of interest. One ordnance shop produced, each mpth -- in addition to repairing weapons and reloading 1,500 cartridges -- 1,230 grenades of various types, 175 hand grenades, and 80 mines. The 27 personnel of the shop were organized into 4 cells: molding, finishing, foundry, and administration and security. A lathe was included among the regular shop tools.

One very small shop was located in a villager's house. Its job was to fabricate antipersonnel mines and muskets, without machines and using only three workers. About 30 mines and 3 muskets were produced every month from gunpowder and sheet iron provided by the village committee. Another workshop had about 40 workers and each month produced some 200 mines and bangalore torpedoes, the latter weighing about 1.5 kg each. A province workshop with 89 workers and 20 guards had a foundry with a monthly output of about 500 mortar shells.

One captured document included a list of estimated production times for weapons and ordnance spare parts, given below in appendix A. One worksite was a region-level facility charged with the maintenance of weapons and the production of anti-tank mines, Claymore mines, anti-personnel mines, and ammunition for all types of weapons, including mortars. This site had about 20 workers and a 30-man protective force. A worksite in Long An province employing 20 men manufactured 2000 rifle rounds per day, as well as unknown quantities of grenades and mines. A large workshop in Quang Tin province supported three districts, employed 250 workers, and manufactured or repaired about 50 weapons in a 24-hour period. Explosive devices were also manufactured. This site operated only at night, from 2100 to 0400 hours. Every day a 40-man labor group went to a nearby village to purchase iron for the worksite. Tools and equipment were brought from a district town and transported part of the way by a 30-man pedicab group.

Although there is some information in captured sources on "basic loads" (amounts of ordnance allocated to a unit, some of which may be carried along and some kept in storage), there is very little on actual combat expenditures. These expenditures could possibly be deduced by comparing data on current stocks and stocks received; however, these data are only fragmentary. another approach, which may have merit for smaller units, might be to assume that one-half to two-thirds of the basic load is expended in any one engagement, since it is an established Viet Cong tactic to break off before expending too much ammunition.

Details on the manning and equipping of specific Viet Cong military units are provided in Appendix A. Included is a glossary of weapon names and descriptions.


The source material gives the impression that a Viet Cong soldier rarely runs out of ammunition while fighting; the duration of the battle is probably predetermined by his ammunition supply. When attacking, he saves enough ammunition to cover his withdrawal, if necessary.

(Note: Soldiers in the 309th Battalion, Regional Main Force, were "allowed to expend all their ammunition in the attack except for 50 rounds of each type of weapon to protect their withdrawal in a raiding operation. Ammo was not resupplied after the attack had once begun.")

A unit might run out of ammunition if attacked by surprise by a superior GVN unit, in which case, if hand-to-hand fighting were impossible, rifles might be buried or destroyed before withdrawing. One regional force unit allocated 20 shells for each 81mm mortar. When half of this was used, a one month trip through forest and mountains was required for resupply.

(MBV: There was a story told about a People Army of Vietnam porter who started out lugging three 82mm mortar shells up at the northern terminus of the Ho Chi Minh trail. The weight almost breaking his back, he walked for over a month in the rain, up and down hills and mountains and through fetid jungles, alternately freezing and burning up, soaked through with cold rain and broiled in the hot sun. His body a mass of insect bites, narrowly escaping poisonous snakes and once set upon by a band of vicious monkeys defending their territory, he slogged on, finally arriving at a mortar position engaged with the Americans. The crew ripped the pack board off his back, knocking him down in the process, and stripping the mortar shells from their packaging, fired them off, one, two, three, faster than the time it takes to tell. Then the mortar crew NCO looks at the porter, exhausted on the ground, and orders, "OK, go back and get three more. And be quick about it.")

Local resupply of ammunition was carefully planned before an attack. After fighting, an entire battalion might go to the local storage site to obtain fresh munitions. Usually it took the 514th Battalion (Dinh Tuong Province) only one day to be resupplied with ammunition after an attack, because the Rear Services unit had everything ready. Only in cases of surprise attack by the GVN was the supply of ammunition delayed; in this case it might take 2-6 days for resupply.

One directive divided reserve ammunition supplies into two categories: (1) Ammunition for small arms, and grenades. Units were to carry enough supplies to fight for the day, and replacements were to be made during the night. (2) Mortar, .50 caliber machine gun, recoilless rifle ammunition and anti-tank rifle grenades. Units were to carry at least one-third of their basic load during movement. Rear Services was to replace expenditures within the same day.

One novel way of storing weapons and ammunition was to cover the cases with grease and sink them in a river or drainage ditch.

The reception of arms and ammunition is described in another source as follows: The Province Military Affairs Committee would send a liason man to inform Rear Services that a shipment of a certain size would be delivered at a specified time and place. The shipments often came by water (in this case) and were received at a point about one-half hour's walk from the underground depot where they were to be stored. A receipt was given to the delivery party. Such shipments arrived irregularly; sometimes once every ten days, sometimes once every two or three months. A combat unit needing arms or ammunition would file a request with the Province Military Affairs Committee, which would then furnish the unit with delivery orders against which Rear Services would issue corresponding quantities from the depot. All receptions and deliveries took place at night. The largest single shipment received comsisted of 800 Russian-made rifles.

Empty cartridge cases had to be turned in to Rear Services in order to get new ammunition. These cartridge cases were then forwarded to ordnance workshops to be reloaded. -- p. 46

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