Tag Archives: Vietnam war

Guns of the U.S. Army, 1775-2020

While you may know of today’s standard U.S. Army infantry rifles, and those of the 20th Century, how about those present at Lexington and Concord or the line of Springfield muskets from 1795 through 1865? What came after?

For all this and more, check out the easy 2,000-word primer I did for this last weekend at Guns.com.

Catching Flak

U.S Navy and Air Force tactical aircraft operating over North Vietnam in the early stages of the involvement in the South East Asian conflict in the mid-to-late 1960s faced an ever-increasing array of Soviet/Chicom-supplied air defenses ranging from eyeball-guided 12.7mm Dshk guns to the latest S75/SA-2 SAMs manned under the eye of Western experts and everything in between.

Some young aircrews even had to brave weapons their forerunners had to dodge over Western Europe in 1942-45. Specifically, among the Communist military aid delivered to Hanoi was at least 70 former German Luftwaffe/Wehrmacht 88mm Flugabwehrkanone delivered to the NVA in the mid-1950s from Moscow.

The Flaks were withdrawn in the late 1960s as the supply of ammo, out of production since 1945, dwindled. However, if you told me there was a warehouse full of these around Hanoi, perfectly preserved, I would not be surprised.

The big 88s were delivered alongside boatloads of MG42 machine guns, Kar98K Mausers, MP40 submachine guns, and Walther P-38 pistols, which came with millions of rounds of 7.92mm and 9mm ammo, all complete with funny little dirty bird markings.

For American forces facing VC irregulars and NVA regulars on the ground, 1965 seemed a lot like 1945 in some ways, with former vintage Soviet, Japanese, and French small arms often captured in secondary amounts when compared to Warsaw Pact-supplied German trophies from WWII.

A lot of former German guns captured in the hands of VC in Vietnam showed signs of being arsenal re-worked and assembled post-1945 from several different firearms and parts, such as this MP40.

New-made Chinese Type 56 AKs didn’t become the standard until the war matured.

The Gray Ghost arrives on Yankee Station

Official Caption: “The biggest and fastest guns operating in the Tonkin Gulf belong to the USS NEWPORT NEWS (CA-148). Her 8-inch/55 caliber rapid-fire guns rake North Vietnamese targets daily during Operation Sea Dragon. The NEWPORT NEWS arrived on Yankee Station in October 1967 to enter combat for the first time in her 19 years, 11 October 1967.”

Photographer, Journalist First Class Willard B. Bass, Jr. USN, Wed, Oct 11, 1967, 1127808 National Archives

Commissioned 29 January 1949, “The Gray Ghost from the East Coast,” was a 21,000-ton Des Moines-class heavy cruiser. The pinnacle of U.S. big-gun cruisers, only eclipsed by the ill-fated Alaska-class battlecruisers, Newport News and her sisters Des Moines and Salem (CA-139) carried nine 8″/55 cal Mk 16 RF guns in three 450-ton triple turrets that used automatic shell handling and loading to produce a rate of fire three times greater than that of previous 8″ (20.3 cm) guns.

They could zip out an impressive 10 rounds per minute, per gun, or 90 x 260lb shells in 60 seconds.

Oof.

Forward 8-inch main guns of the heavy cruiser USS Newport News and spent cases after a mission off Vietnam.

Newport News would fire more than 50,000 shells on her 1967 deployment including one incident on 19 December when she exchanged fire with as many as 28 separate North Vietnamese shore batteries, simultaneously, being bracketed by 300 enemy shells without taking a hit.

Newport News would return to Yankee Station two more times before she was decommissioned in 1975, the last all-gun heavy cruiser in US service. She was scrapped in 1993.

This week, however, a model of the Gray Ghost was moved into the gallery of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum by a contingent of sailors from the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG-64). The model is incorporated into a larger exhibit, “The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea: The US Navy in Vietnam, 1950-1975.”

The new exhibit opened on Wednesday.

A tale of two soles

Sometimes, an idea sounds so good that it just won’t go away no matter how bad it is.

Below, I give you a pair of overshoes designed for Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents operating in South East Asia during the Second World War. They were intended to disguise footprints to fool the Japanese as, if they saw a big ole European bootprint in the jungles of Burma, Indochina etc, it would give away the fact that the Allies were poking around in the rear. The soles did not work very well in practice, however, as they were still very big, and awkward to use, akin to snowshoes.

IWM EQU 12207

Fast forward to the MAC-V-SOG groups of U.S. Army SF guys working behind the lines in VC country in the 1960s and I give you boots designed to leave traces that look like footprints of peasants and to hide the movements of the teams. They proved instantly unpopular because they provided no heel support and made walking a jungle trail on your tip toes very awkward, especially when you are trying to avoid contact with unfriendlies.

The ‘Morg goes ‘back home’ (to Vietnam)

Morgenthau off Governors Island in New York Harbor circa 1970. Note the 5″/38 DP forward and the WTC in the background.

USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722), a 378-foot high endurance cutter, was commissioned in 1969 and, after nearly a half-century of service, including action in the Vietnam War, numerous major drug interdictions, law enforcement cases, and a variety of noteworthy rescues was taken out of U.S. service at Honolulu in April. Now, renamed CSB 8020, she was commissioned into the Coast Guard of Vietnam where she will continue her traditional mission under a red flag.

“This cutter provides a concrete and significant symbol of the U.S-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership,” said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Michael J. Haycock, assistant commandant for acquisition and chief acquisition officer, in a statement. “The Coast Guard is honored to see this vessel continue to preserve global peace and prosperity as a part of the Vietnam coast guard.”

As part of Operation Market Time, Morgenthau was very active in the Vietnam War, conducting support for coastal patrol craft, naval gunfire support, and patrol duties off the coast of Vietnam in 1970-71. During her period in Market Time, she delivered 19 naval gunfire support missions on targets ashore, inspected 627 junks and sampans, and cruised 39,029 miles on patrol. In total, she fired 1,645 rounds from her main 5-inch gun, destroying 32 structures and 12 bunkers ashore.

Her crew also sank an armed North Vietnamese SL-8 trawler in a night surface action while it was trying to infiltrate the South Vietnam coastline.

Morgenthau later made Coast Guard history by being one of the first ships to have gender-integrated crews and captured a number of drug runners on the high seas. In short, she had an extensive and celebrated career.

USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722), a 378-foot high endurance cutter, by John Wisinski

The cutter was transferred in conjunction with an additional six smaller 45-foot patrol boats this week as tensions in the South China Sea between China and her neighbors escalate and Vietnam is now counted as a key U.S. ally in the region.

New Metal Sharks headed to Vietnam

This is not the first time the U.S. has helped rebuild the navies of former enemies. Among the first ships of the new Japanese and German fleets in the 1950s in the aftermath of World War II were loaned former U.S. Navy vessels.

Moving past equipping the Vietnamese coast guard, the Southeast Asian country is looking to pick up 100~ modern fighter-bombers “to replace its antiquated fleet of 144 Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbeds and thirty-eight Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter strike aircraft.”

While some say competitors range from the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen NG, Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and South Korea’s F/A-50 lightweight fighter, how much do you want to bet they may get 100 gently refirb’d surplus F-16C/Ds fresh from the boneyard.

Heck, we are using the F-16A/Bs as target drones at this point.

A QF-16 Full-Scale Aerial Target from the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron flies over the Gulf of Mexico during its first unmanned flight at Tyndall Air Force Base Sept. 19. The 82nd ATRS operates the Department of Defense’s only full-scale aerial target program. The QF-16 will provide a more accurate representation of real world threats for testing and training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. J. Scott Wilcox).