This article written by Peter Bogdasarian on the Vietnamese Armies. This is a great read for any Lock 'n Load Tactical fan.
The Marines who fought at Dai Do in 1968 later described their opponents as the “Palace Guard”for their new weapons and uniforms. Compared to the Viet Cong, the NVA certainly feel that way – they have better equipment, organization and firepower and are, in some ways, even more heavily armed than their American opponents. Still, like any force, they do have their weaknesses and it is important to recognize these, even if one is busy chortling about every squad having assault move capability and a plethora of machine guns and RPGs.
American troops first encountered NVA infantry units “in-country” in significant numbers in 1965, during the Ia Drang Valley campaign. They rapidly realized they were dealing with a very different opponent than the Viet Cong they had faced up to that point: the new troops were significantly better armed and trained – and they operated in larger formations than the Marines and Army had come in contact with to that point.
NVA infantry units carried a full range of modern infantry weapons (AK-47 rifles, hand grenades, RPG grenade launchers and RPD machine guns), along with some captured American weapons. (M-60s, M-79 grenade launchers and Colt .45 pistols) They had a TOE strength of 9 men, with each squad broken into three 3-man cells. The cell was both a battlefield and morale unit – the men were expected to rely on one another psychologically to share their burdens, which created a tightly knit group in combat.
The size and scale of the NVA commitment grew over the course of the war. North Vietnam instituted universal conscription in 1958 and, beginning in 1964, extended the term of service for recruits indefinitely. As the Viet Cong lost strength to attrition, NVA regulars began to take up the slack, either infiltrating south in entire units or replacing Viet Cong fighters in established VC Main Force units. As an example, by August 1969 76% of the 9th VC Division’s personnel were from North Vietnam and 53% of all enemy personnel in South Vietnam were NVA.
How much training the ‘typical’ NVA soldier received depended primarily on when he infiltrated to South Vietnam. The longer he spent in his home country, the more time he spent learning weapons, first aid, field sanitation and squad & platoon tactics. However, when the manpower situation began to tighten in the later war, the North Vietnamese no longer enjoyed the ability to train their soldiers in a leisurely fashion and, consequently, soldiers began to infiltrate south before they had learned all of these skills. Morale was generally high in NVA units, thanks to the cell structure and the use of political officers. The political officers ran frequent morale-building sessions that featured not only lectures, but also encouraged criticism of others in the unit and self-criticism of ones’ own faults. This regular indoctrination kept the average NVA soldier committed to his countries’ goal of liberating South Vietnam.
Having said all this, what do the NVA play like on the table? In many ways, they are the best infantry to lead in LnL. Assault move capability, high morale, strong leaders and plenty of support weapons make the typical NVA force a real problem for infantry to handle. It is only when the Americans can bring supporting arms (helicopters, armor and artillery) to bear that the field begins to even up again – and thus the NVA player needs to follow in the footsteps of his historical antecedents and consider “Grabbing the Belt.”
The tactic of “Grabbing the Belt” actually dated from the days of the First Indo China War, when the Viet Minh fought the French. In essence, the idea was to close with the enemy and thereby neutralize his ability to call in supporting arms. In LnL, these principles are best brought into effect by pressuring the Americans at close range. An RPG launcher in the right place will either force an American tank to withdraw or rack up an easy kill – and leaders attempting to call in off-board artillery can be suppressed before they are able to declare fire for effect. Basically, anything that neutralizes the American range advantage works to the NVA advantage – you want to pick your battlefield so everyone will be 5 hexes or closer.
One thing that can pay big returns when playing the NVA is to get a handle on how to properly form fire groups. In most scenarios, the NVA will be able to form 2 fairly effective fire groups out of their infantry (and a possible third with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun). My personal preference for these groups is a +1 leader, 2 infantry squads and an RPD for a starting firepower of 6. Such a group can eat up Americans in light terrain and make even stone buildings an uncomfortable place to linger. Should there be a danger of the Americans attacking into melee, the extra infantry squad can be held back to cover against the rush without significantly reducing the stacks firepower.
At first blush, a leadership zero officer is one of the least useful units in Lock ‘n Load, since he can do little to improve the chances of his men succeeding at such basic tasks as fire, rally or melee. However, with a little study, one finds that there are still a wide range of uses for such a unit.
The most obvious of these is spotting. While the leader does not have a better chance than other units, should he fail, there is no reduction in firepower due to him becoming ops complete. Lt. Thiet can thus work well with something like a heavy machine gun, where the loss of firepower due to a failed spotting attempt can be severe. Directing off-board artillery (OBA) is another place where low-value leaders shine. Unlike with on-board mortars, the scatter distance of OBA fire is not modified for the leadership value of the calling leader, so there is no “wastage” of leadership in doing so with a weak leader.
A third use for a low value leader is in taking prisoners. Frequently, in Lock ‘n Load, fire will shake a stack, whereupon the acting player must then find a way into melee with his targets before they can rally. Since no die rolls are required in such a melee, the lack of any leadership has no impact on the chances and the extra 2 movement points for using double-time movement can be of invaluable assistance in reaching the target hex.
As a bit of humor, it’s worth noting that Van Du is perhaps the most unfortunate leader in the NVA army, leaving one wondering why he is so committed to his work. The problem, ironically, is his high morale, which makes him the best leader to take risks with. Van Du inevitably finds his way into those stacks expected to take a lot of fire and stuck with the dirty business of keeping them rallied while the bullets come in.
The PT-76 entered Warsaw Pact service in 1954 and gradually found its way through the ranks of the client states to North Vietnam. They were first encountered in South Vietnam at the fall of the Lang Vei special forces camp and again in 1969 at the Ben Het special forces camp – the only time US and NVA armor met during the war. After that, the PT-76 was not seen again until the ARVN incursion into Laos during Lam Son 719, where the ARVN tankers faced both it and the T-54. It also appeared in the 1972 and 1975 invasions of South Vietnam.
On the table, the PT-76 has a mediocre gun and machine guns and armor that offers only light protection against small arms. Any hit with an ordnance weapon will destroy it, so it needs to be kept away from anti-tank capable infantry and other armored vehicles. Against helicopters, its best bet is to hide in degrading or blocking terrain until after they have activated.
The T-54 first entered production in 1947 and, after a decade or so of modifications, evolved into the T-55. Unlike the PT-76, it was a true main battle tank, and proved an unpleasant surprise to ARVN troops operating over the border in Laos in 1971. While not the equal of its NATO counterparts at the time, due to its poor armor protection and small ammunition load, it was unquestionably superior to the M-41s used by the South Vietnamese. After Lam Son, the ARVN tankers requested M-48A3s so they would have something capable of facing the T-55 across the battlefield.
The T-55 is indisputably the last thing the ARVN ever want to see headed their way. The T-55 is indisputably the last thing the ARVN ever want to see headed their way. It is loaded to the gills with firepower, thanks to its large bore cannon and heavy machineguns, and with infantry to spot for it, can be nigh unstoppable. Even unbuttoned, it is fairly well protected against small arms fire. It is best used aggressively, particularly if it can draw small arms fire away from any accompanying infantry.
One of the more taxing situations an NVA player can be forced to deal with is an American gunship. Thanks to the ½ range penalty, it can be extraordinarily difficult to keep advancing NVA elements covered against the helicopter’s 2.75in rockets and machineguns. In this situation, the 12.7mm comes into its own, since it can strike out to 7 hexes. However, the weapons team itself becomes vulnerable once it fires, which leaves the door open for the gunships to destroy it in turn.
In this situation, it’s best to use several squads in a sort of triangle around the machinegun, placing them 1-2 hexes out. This serves two purposes – first it discourages the gunships from moving adjacent to the weapon team, denying them the +2 bonus to hit, and second, it gives the squads the ability to fire at any gunship before it can move into its 3 hex short range to pummel the 12.7mm. Having said all that, it is still worth noting that the American gunships are perhaps the worst thing the NVA will ever have to face.
75mm RR (Type 52)
The 75mm recoilless rifle is a big, powerful weapon system which, in practice, turns out to be harder to use than it looks. Unlike an RPG team, it cannot be rapidly redeployed to intercept a different axis of attack and it is constrained in the terrain it can fire from. Because of these weaknesses, it is best thought of as a tool for channeling the opponent’s attack into other weapon systems, rather than a threat in and of itself.