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Guerilla Tactics and Unconventional Warfare of the Vietcong

The Vietnam War birthed some of the most successful and efficient military tactics the world had ever seen. During its nearly 20 year span in the countries of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the estimated death toll between civilians and military was 1.3 - 3.4 million. The Vietnam War was widely viewed as a tremendous failure and cost for everyone involved. The military strength supporting the North Vietnam offensive was nearly half of the military strength supporting South Vietnam, but in the end the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) would be victorious and unify North and South Vietnam following the Fall of Saigon in 1975. How could a smaller military force beat a military force with the United States who had superior weaponry, including aircraft, tanks, and artillery? That warfront is where the Vietcong became known for their incredibly successful tactics.

Example of a "Punji" trap used by the Vietcong

The Vietnam Communists, or Vietcong, were the military branch of the National Liberation Front (NLF) during the Vietnam War. The Vietcong were different than the professional military soldiers because they were mainly comprised of less confident teenagers and peasants who were motivated by idealism or just simply pressured to join up to fight the cause. They were mainly armed with Soviet and Chinese firearms to include the AK-47 and RPGs, as well as utilizing homemade booby traps and mines. One example of a primitive weapon manufactured and deployed by the Vietcong is the "Punji" trap. The Punji trap comprised of sharp spikes hidden in small pits scattered around the battlefield. Punji traps were deliberately contaminated to increase the risk of infection and quickly disable enemy soldiers.

Example of a "foxhole" used by the Vietcong soldiers

Although the Vietcong did not appear to be the most fearsome or confident soldiers with their appearance and crude weaponry, they were able to win the Vietnam War with their Guerilla tactics. Guerilla warfare is the art of using knowledge of the landscape to avoid open battle with the enemy and to launch raids and surprised attacks, before disappearing into the undergrowth. The Vietcong already had experience using these tactics during World War 2 and were already very familiar with the climate and terrain prior to the start of the Vietnam War. This would provide them with an immense advantage over any enemy. The "foxhole" was often used by the Vietcong soldiers to easily conceal themselves for surprise attacks against the enemy.

Top: Cu Chi tunnel used by Vietcong, Bottom: Vietcong soldier exiting foxhole

In 1965, Ho Chi Minh ordered the Vietcong soldiers to use the tunnel system to launch offensives and surprise attacks against enemy soldiers even if a town was taken over. The Vietcong soldiers were trained to dig up to three feet of tunnel every single day. The most well-documented tunnel system used by the Vietcong was under the base area of Cu Chi. The tunnel network spanned nearly 200 miles below ground and contained several different entrance/exit points in canals and other unconventional areas. The tunnels would contain areas to eat, sleep, store weapons, and aid the soldiers. However, they were often used for fighting with several sections of booby traps and soldiers ready to ambush.

Battlefield of the Tet Offensive of 1968

The Vietcong not only had the guerilla warfare experience, but they also had a large psychological effect on the Vietnam War. On January 31, 1968, the Vietcong changed their tactics from guerilla warfare to a full front assault during the Vietnamese New Year when the US-held areas of South Vietnam least expected it. The Vietcong were able to temporarily capture several of these areas, but overall it was a military defeat for them since they were unable to maintain control and suffered immense casualties. However, the Tet Offensive was viewed as a turning point in the war due to the loss of American soldiers and devastating damage and deaths in those areas. Over 80% of Hue was destroyed, two-thousand civilians were captured and executed by Vietcong death squads, and almost three-thousand US-South Vietnamese soldiers killed in action.

Wounded soldiers being shuttled on a tank during the battle of Hue in 1968

The Tet Offensive showed that the Vietcong were fierce and determined to win the Vietnam War. Based on their all out assault and disregard for human life, many Americans felt like they could not win a war against such a widespread enemy. The Vietnam War was the first televised war with several journalists present in the offensive, which would cause the general public around the world to see the brutality and executions by the Vietcong death squads. The American public did not support the war and would continue to protest against it back in the United States. This would cause then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to have a rapidly declining approval rating in the election year and stop bombing North Vietnam in return for peace talks in Paris, France.

Vietcong soldiers on boats

With the Tet Offensive turning the tide of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnam offensive would continue to fight and grow stronger until the Fall of Saigon in 1975 when the US-South Vietnam forces would withdraw from the war. The Vietcong with their primitive weaponry and appearance proved that wars can be won with strategy and knowledge over general military superiority. By utilizing guerilla warfare and "homefield" knowledge, they were able to defeat one of, if not, the greatest military forces the world has ever known. The Vietcong also displayed that war is full of brutality and death to the entire world. The general public would never be the same again having to witness the atrocities committed by the Vietcong and North Vietnam soldiers.

One thing that will always ring true is...

War is hell.


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Train hard. Train often. Train to win.

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