Click to escape. Subject to Crown copyright.
Category: The Enemy

Click to go up one level

The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC): "Charlie"

NVA (North Vietnamese Army) was a term used by the U.S. Forces in Vietnam and their allies to refer to the enemy forces of North Vietnam.  The North Vietnamese knew their Army as the VPA (Vietnamese People's Army).
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
NVA Platoon Leader NVA Machine Gun Team NVA in Saigon at war's end
They called him Charlie or Victor Charles (from VC) or the nogs, or noggies or The Cong (from Viet Cong). 

But whatever they called him they respected his fighting ability and his ability to fight a war with very little in the way of equipment. 

They fought him, mostly they beat him but in the most political war ever fought his strongest weapon, the TV sets in American homes, proved unbeatable. 

The USA, having originally decided not fight the war to win then decided to withdraw so Australia did also.

The Viet Cong (called VC) were an irregular force of peasants, farmers and the like who blended into the surroundings because they lived there. They were hard (impossible?) to pick unless they were actually engaged in warlike activity at the time.

They were a tough ruthless enemy who were not afraid to use any means at all, including their women and children, to further their aims.

After the American (therefore all allied) troops withdrew the end was inevitable for the South Vietnamese forces who had no heart for the war. 

It used to be said that weapons of the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) were good value on the second hand market as they were "never fired and only dropped once".

Victor Charles eventually won. Mostly he was dead, wiped out in the Tet Offensive that was a military disaster for them, but a political gold-mine.

NVA (above right)

This bloke is a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regular soldier. Reasonably well trained, better equipped than the Viet Cong guerrillas  and more likely to be in large numbers. The NVA relied heavily on China and Russia for arms, equipment and money but they fought their own war. 

It was they that continued the battle after the Viet Cong were destroyed as a fighting force in the Tet Offensive where they lost 30,000 troops but changed the mind of Walter Cronkite, premier American TV newsreader, as to who was winning the war. President Johnson said "If I've lost Walter Cronkite I've lost Mr Average Citizen".

After the war an American colonel said to a North Vietnamese colonel "You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield"

The reply was "That may be so . . . but it is also irrelevant".


QUYET-TAN DANH-THANG GIAC MY XAM-LOC  "Determined to Fight American Aggression"The organisation detailed below is, in effect, a VC Main Force Company, although you could take elements of this organisation for Regional forces. Local forces were not organised to this level, being an assortment of combatants and arms.

Similarly, other than Main Force units, the weapons carried by Regional and Local forces would be an incredible assortment of old and relatively new. A lot of SKS carbines, old WWII vintage rifles, SMG's etc. Very few AK-47's would be evident, even in Main Force units until later in the war.

One very important point to remember when researching these units (and regular NVA) is the critically short amount of ammunition available. Every bit had to come down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Also remember that, following the Tet offensive of February 1968, the VC virtually ceased to exist as a coherent fighting force, having been almost destroyed in depth by the allies. Engagements with VC units after this date  involved confronting substantial numbers of regular NVA cadre troops within the ranks of the VC and a commensurate increase in the quality of weaponry and support fire!

VC Local Guerilla - in black pyjamasVC Local Guerrillas

These were the archetypal 'farmers by day, soldiers by night', comprising those either too old or too young to fight in the regular VC units and dressed as local peasant farmers.

Whilst their primary activities consisted of intelligence gathering, sniping and emplacing booby traps, these troops were employed in the support of VC Regional and Main Force units operating in their locality as porters, scouts and guides.

Force size was dependent on the size of the local village or hamlet and ranged from a single 3 man cell to a platoon of 3-4 squads. Generally operated at the squad level of 12 men.

VC Regional Guerrillas

The  Regional units of the Vietcong more often than not operated as independent companies but often split up and dispersed into platoons, squads and cells. These soldiers were full-timers and were better equipped and trained than the local guerrillas. The personnel of these units were often local to the area in which they served.

Generally these units operated within their home region and fought as fully formed units.

VC Main Force Guerilla with RPG


NVA Main-force Regulars                      

Known as 'hard hats' since they wore the ubiquitous pith helmet, these forces operated and were organised along traditional military lines. Organised into battalions consisting of 3 Rifle Company's and a Combat Support Company these troops were, on the whole, well trained, aggressive and well led.

On larger operations they could be organised and deployed as regiments of 2-3 battalions.


  1 x Company HQ Section
  3 x Rifle Platoons (each 1 x Platoon HQ Section, 4 x Rifle Squad)
  Combat Support Elements (Attached)

Company HQ Section
  1 x Captain
  1 x Lieutenant
  1 x RTO
  2 x Runner

Rifle Platoon HQ Section
  1 x Lieutenant
  1 x Senior Sergeant
  1 x Runner

Rifle Squad
  1 x Sergeant
  1 x Corporal
  1 x RPD 7.62mm MG
  6 x Riflemen

Combat Support
  1 x Sergeant
  2 x Corporal
  1 x .30 Cal MG (3 crew)
  1 x 60mm Mortar (3 crew)
  1 x 57mm RR (3 crew)
  3 x Riflemen

Most accounts of engagements with the VC mention almost prolific use of RPG', in particular the RPG-2 and RPG-7. 

The attached Combat Support Elements of the Company are not fixed, unlike the Weapons squads of the US Rifle Platoon and are very versatile. All VC operations were carefully planned and executed and invariably involved considerable supporting fire for the Rifle Company's involved. Main Force units would often be supported by Weapons Platoons consisting of heavier weapons such as 12.7mm AAMG's, 81/82mm Mortars and larger calibre Recoilless Rifles (normally 75mm).




BATTALION: Battalion HQ, Political Staff, 3 x Rifle Company, 1 x Combat Support Company, 1 x Signal Platoon, 1 x Recon Platoon, 1 x Sapper Platoon. As in other armies, battalions were organised into Brigades, Regiments and Divisions. The nature of the war however, with overwhelming US Artillery and Air power, precluded the fielding of large formations for any period of time longer than was necessary to carry out a particular mission. As a result units were dispersed quite widely, either in the sanctuaries of Laos and Cambodia or in Base Camps in very remote areas such as the A-Shau Valley.

This dispersal of units was one of the main reasons that allied forces were unable to bring the enemy to combat in significant numbers as predicated in the classic policy of Search & Destroy and resulted in the numerous fire fight engagements rather than pitched Divisional strength engagements.


Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces