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Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. After first supporting the VC in the Republic of Vietnam in , the NVA entered into their own violent armed struggle as the war escalated. Entire divisions and vast numbers of NVA troops were sent south, conducting large-scale operations in a conventional war fought almost entirely by the NVA, and not the VC, as is often believed.

Despite limited armor, artillery and air support, the NVA were an extremely politicized and professional force with strict control measures and leadership concepts - soldiers were expected to be totally committed to the cause, and to sacrifice all to ensure its success. Gordon Rottman follows the fascinating life of the highly motivated infantryman from conscription and induction through training to real combat experiences. Covering the evolution of the forces from onwards, this book takes an in-depth look at the civilian and military lives of the soldiers, while accompanying artwork details the uniforms, weapons and equipment used by the NVA in their clash against America and her allies.

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  8. Sort order. Mar 11, Martin rated it really liked it. Great stuff. I learned great deal and I have been reading this topic since the late sixties William Paley rated it liked it Jun 25, Robert Burr rated it really liked it Apr 06, The heavy footprint of US operations can also be seen in its bombing campaign. Another 1. Overall, approximately three times the amount of bombs dropped in World War II were dropped on Vietnam as a whole, making it the most bombed country in history. Along with bombs some , tons of napalm were dropped and some Most of this amount, like that of air-delivered bombs, also fell on the territory of South Vietnam.

    For example, the force structure came with a massive logistical burden, placing most of the manpower in support formations. The result was under-strength units up front, and huge wastage and theft of weapons, equipment and supplies in the rear. One study of captured enemy documents for example, alleged that actual enemy losses were 30 to 50 percent less than what MACV claimed in official reports.

    This constant movement generated problems of its own. Not only was the enemy elusive, but some American units developed "firebase psychosis" — a reluctance to move and fight too far away from the supporting fires of fixed bases. Combat units also lacked cohesion, due to the reluctance of the Johnson administration to call up the reserves, and a rotation policy that did not secure the best trained personnel on a consistent, long-term basis for Vietnam.

    The result in many US units was an endless supply of less seasoned "green" draftees or short-training officers, "rotated" in the theater for one year. Such policies were a drag on overall stability and cohesion, and caused the loss of hard-won combat knowledge in-country. Adviser postings to the ARVN's regular or local forces for example, were not considered to be a desirable career tracks, and a one-year or six-month tour of duty left scant time to build the intimate knowledge of an area, its politics, and its people necessary to counter the clandestine Communist infrastructure.

    American advisers might just begin to see results on the ground when they were rotated out. Lively debate still surrounds the " search and destroy " attrition strategy of US General William Westmoreland in the early years of American involvement. The pacification-first approach. Supporters of the " pacification -first" approach argue that more focus on uprooting the local Communist infrastructure, and cleaning up internal problems would have denied the enemy their key population base, reduced the destructiveness of US operations, strengthened the Southern regime, and yielded better overall results.

    Resources were better spent securing key rice-producing villages under pressure by VC operatives, or training ARVN forces to be more effective. The search and destroy approach. Defenders of "search and destroy" maintain that the Communist shift to Phase 3 warfare required "big battalion" activity to remove the most pressing conventional threats to the Saigon regime. They maintain that since Westmoreland was forbidden from striking with ground forces at Communist concentrations and supply routes in the three countries surrounding the battle zone Laos , Cambodia and North Vietnam , his attritional strategy within the confines of South Vietnam was the only realistic option against an enemy that had the weak Saigon government on the ropes by Krepinevich Jr.

    Uneven progress of US pacification effort. The American pacification effort was also ineffective over several critical years, hampered by bureaucratic rivalries between competing agencies, a focus on big-unit operations, and lack of coordination between South Vietnamese civil agencies concerned with pacification, and the US military.

    However these reforms were haltingly implemented, and US forces largely continued to operate in the same way — seeking body counts and other attritional indicators, against an enemy that could always up the ante indefinitely by introducing more troops. Phases of the war and the conflicting US approaches.

    Some writers have attempted to reconcile the different schools of thought by linking activity to a particular phase of the conflict. The early stabilization battles such as the Ia Drang , the border battles, and the Tet Offensive , are examples of the efficacy of big-unit warfare.

    Some writers have questioned whether either pacification or "search and destroy" would have made any difference given dwindling American resolve, the big unit focus, other American and South Vietnamese weaknesses noted above, and the Communist strategy of attritional, protracted war. Southerners were prominent among Hanoi's war directors, and included such men as Le Duan, who argued forcefully for more confrontation and the massive introduction of northern men and material into the conflict. The role of southerners was to diminish as the war ended, not only in the northern politburo but against VC remnants in the south as well.

    The strategy to govern the war was often a matter of debate within Hanoi's upper echelons. Prominent "southern-firsters" led by Le Duan and Nguyen Chi Thanh maintained that the Diem regime was tottering on the ropes and quick victory could be assured by an aggressive push that required Main Force confrontations with both the South Vietnamese and the Americans. Debate still continues among some Western historians as to the exact line-up of Politburo personalities and issues, particularly that of Giap. Historian Douglas Pike asserts that there were 5 phases of Northern strategy.

    As the border battles of wound down, Hanoi's war directors prepared for a savage blow- the Tong Cong kich, Tong Khoi Nghia or "General Uprising" among the Southern masses, known more popularly to Westerners as the Tet Offensive. The major phase of the Tet Offensive would consist of three parts: a a series of border assaults and battles to draw US forces out to the margins of South Vietnam, b attacks within South Vietnam's cities by VC forces These infiltrating attacks would bring about a rallying of the masses to the communist cause, and wholesale crumbling and defection of the ARVN forces and Saigon government under the combined pressure of military defeat and propaganda, and c large scale set-piece battles to drive the demoralized US imperialists back into coastal enclaves as their South Vietnamese allies wilted.

    Follow-on attacks in later months would attempt to improve tactical or negotiating positions after the main assault, which was set to begin in January and end with Phase 3, some 9 months later. Tet was a definite change in strategy for the VC which largely had fought smaller-scale mobile and guerrilla warfare since the US arrival. During Tet they would stand and slug it out against the ARVN and Americans while enjoying the assistance of the aroused masses.

    The result was a military disaster, not only decimating the VC as an effective fighting force, but exposing much of their clandestine infrastructure. The severe losses are noted even in official Communist sources. It is significant that the main target of Tet was the GVN, the party tasked with pacification, the weak link in the defense of South Vietnam. Contrary to NLF dogma and expectations, the hoped for uprising of the masses never occurred.

    Nevertheless, Tet demonstrates how Communist strategy was focused on the key element in a People's War- the population — whether to control it or demoralize it, while American strategy focused on kill ratios and attrition. Little documentation from the Communist side shows influencing American public opinion as a primary or even secondary objective of the Tet Offensive. In all honesty, we didn't achieve our main objective, which was to spur uprisings throughout the south.

    Still, we inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans and their puppets, and this was a big gain for us. As for making an impact in the United States, it had not been our intention — but it turned out to be a fortunate result. Attacks on U. The main thrust was to destroy the GVN regime through demoralizing its armed forces and sparking the hoped for "General Uprising. Some writers such as Stanley Karnow question whether there was an immediate American perception of Tet as a defeat however, given the drop in public support for the war prior to Tet, and polls taken during the initial Tet fighting showing a majority of the US public wanted stronger action against Communist forces.

    Other writers such as US General Westmoreland, and journalist Peter Braestrup [77] argue that negative press reports contributed to an attitude of defeatism and despair at the very moment American troops were winning against the VC. As such they claim, Tet was a major strategic political and psychological triumph for Communist forces in the conflict. Whatever the merits of these debates or claims, it is clear that the Communist strategy of attritional conflict engendered an increasing war-weariness among their American opponents, whether the pressure was applied over time or more acutely during Tet, or whether guerrilla or conventional warfare was prominent at a particular time.

    After , the US increasingly sought to withdraw from the conflict, and the future freedom of action by US leaders such as Richard Nixon was hindered by domestic anti-war opposition. We know that despite a massive influx of , US troops, 1. We have achieved a stalemate at a high commitment. Prior to , the GVN faced near defeat with a mix of guerrilla and regular warfare.

    North Vietnamese Army Soldier 1958-75 (Warrior)

    The introduction of the US saw a similar mix. Instead, they shifted down to Phase 2 guerrilla and small unit mobile warfare to bleed their opponents, interspersed with occasional large-scale attacks when conditions and numbers were favorable. It also widened the battlespace across a broad area, enhancing maneuvering room and survivability. Even the costly urban center attacks of the Tet Offensive aided this pattern by a undermining pacification efforts as GVN troops from rural areas were diverted to defend the cities, and b luring significant US forces out to the periphery where they could be bled.

    We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponent aimed for psychological exhaustion.. The North Vietnamese used their main forces the way a bullfighter uses his cape- to keep us lunging into areas of marginal political importance. Failure to secure the population meant that the VC were able to tighten their grip- drawing a continual supply of recruits, food, intelligence, shelter and other resources to maintain their insurgency. The American concept of leaving the relatively ineffective ARVN to cope with this key other war, a task they had often failed at in several years prior to US intervention, played into the NLF's hands.

    Impressive as they seemed, big American or GVN sweeps inevitably moved on, failing to 'hold' an area and its population. They hurt the Viet Cong badly in military terms, and northern-born personnel were to increasingly dominate the Main-Force VC formations. However the critical population control and infrastructure effort continued, and the VC were still able to muster about 85, fresh recruits annually.

    Initiative also meant controlling the size and composition of forces introduced to the battlefield, and thus the quantities of supplies needed. Material requirements were comparatively light, and much was procured inside South Vietnam itself. The initiative factor, made the American attrition approach, and its elusive search for a "crossover" point where communist losses would be more than available replacements unworkable. Massive US troop sweeps and interdiction efforts while causing substantial pain to communist forces at different times and places, foundered on these realities.

    The flexible shifting of tempo and styles however was not without cost. Tens of thousands of VC and PAVN regulars were required and on several occasions when attempts were made at confrontation in remote areas, such as at the Ia Drang in and in the border battles, heavy losses were suffered from US firepower. While numerous other aspects of the Tet Offensive and the complex strategies of the Vietnam War exist, Hanoi's ability to divide the strength of their opponents and maintain its grip on the population was a key part of its protracted war strategy.

    By , the war was increasingly conventionalized, and population control became less critical as PAVN regulars took over most of the fighting. This final phase- victory by conventional forces was also part and parcel of the "people's war" approach. All of our US combat accomplishments have made no significant, positive difference to the rural Vietnamese—for there is still no real security in the countryside. Our large-scale operations have attempted to enable the development of a protective shield, by driving the NVA and the Viet Cong main force units out of South Vietnam—or at least into the remote mountain and jungle areas where they would not pose a threat to the population.

    In pressing this objective, however, we have tended to lose sight of why we were driving the enemy back and destroying his combat capability. Destruction of NVA and VC units and individuals—that is, the "kill vc" syndrome—has become an end in itself—an end that at times has become self-defeating. To accomplish the most difficult task of the war—and, really the functional reason for the US to be here—that of providing security to the Vietnamese people—we have relied on the numerous, but only marginally effective, ill-equipped and indifferently led Vietnamese paramilitary and police units.

    The Viet Cong thrive in an environment of insecurity. It is essential for them to demonstrate that the GVN is not capable of providing security to its citizens. And, they have succeeded.. Initial recruitment and training.

    Based on a wide variety of accounts, the performance of some NVA units was excellent, and at times they garnered a grudging respect among those they fought for their discipline, morale and skill. Recruitment was primarily based on the military draft of North Vietnam, and most NVA soldiers served for the duration of the conflict. There were no "rotations" back to the homeland. The typical recruit was a rural youth in his early 20s, with three years of prior compulsory training and indoctrination in various militia and construction units. Draftees were mustered at indoctrination centers like Xuan Mia, southwest of Hanoi some months before their actual movement south.

    A typical training cycle took 90 to days for the recruit, with instruction on conventional military skills and procedure. Special emphasis was placed on physical conditioning. Heavy political indoctrination was part of the package throughout the cycle, most acutely during a special two-week "study" phase. Organization into three-man cells and kiem thao "criticism and self-criticism" sessions were part of the tight training regimen. Men selected for infiltration to the South received more intense training — with more political indoctrination, weapons handling, and special emphasis on physical conditioning, particularly marching with heavy packs.

    Specialized training heavy weapons, signals, medical, explosives was given to selected individuals in courses that might last up to a year. Pay and rations for designated infiltrators was more than that given to other troops.

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    North Vietnamese Army Soldier 1958-75, Gordon L. Rottman

    While his preparation was not especially impressive by Western standards, the typical NVA soldier proved more than adequate for the task at hand. NVA training was surprisingly conventional, with little special emphasis on jungle warfare. Most of the troops' learning occurred on the job. Service and indoctrination under the communist system prior to army recruitment made the typical NVA fighter a bit older and more seasoned than his American or ARVN opponent.

    Throughout the conflict, NVA defections and surrenders were extremely low, especially compared to that of the VC, a testimony to their motivation and organization. As in any guerrilla warfare, control of the populace is the key to the guerrilla's prosperity and survival. To this end, Communist forces deployed an elaborate and sophisticated political and propaganda effort. Importance of the party cadres.

    The cadre, or team of cadres, typically were southern regroupees returning to help the insurgency. Since such persons would have some knowledge of the local area, theirs would not be a "cold call". They would enter a village, and make a careful study of its social, political and economic structure. Cadres usually downplayed communism, stressing local grievances and resentments, and national independence. All was not serious discussion. Musical groups, theater troupes and other forms of entertainment were frequently employed. The personal behavior of cadres was also vital.

    They were expected to lead austere, dedicated lives, beyond reproach. This would enable villagers to contrast their relatively restrained, non-pecuniary way of life, with the corruption of government representatives or targeted enemies. Female cadres sometimes made effective recruiters, being able to shame and goad young males into committing for the Revolution. Use of local grievances and individuals. Local grievances and resentments were carefully catalogued by cadres, and detailed information was harvested on each potential supporter or recruit for later use.

    The cadres would then hit their targets with a variety of methods — friendship, casual political discussions, membership in some community organization, sponsorship of some village festival or event, or activism related to some local grievance or issue. As targets were softened up, the pressure increased.


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    A small nucleus of followers was usually gathered, and these were used to further expand recruitment. The cadres exploited the incompetence, corruption or heavy-handedness of local government officials to stoke the fires. They also seized on perceived injustices by private parties — such as landlords. Friends and relatives of soldiers could make effective persuasive appeals while VC operatives who directed the prostelyzing remained hidden in the background.

    Creation and manipulation of front groups or infiltration of existing organizations. Integral to this process was the creation of "front" groups to mask the true VC agenda. Such entities could be seemingly innocuous farming cooperatives, or cultural groups, or anything in between. Party members either manipulated these new groups behind the scenes or infiltrated existing ones and gradually took over or influenced them towards the VC line.

    The goal was to enmesh as many people as possible in some group which could then be manipulated.

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    Thus for example a traditional, apolitical rice harvest festival would be eventually twisted into mobilizing demonstrations against a government official or policy. Members of a farming cooperative might be persuaded into signing a petition against construction of an airfield. Whatever the exact front, issue, or cover used, the goal was control and manipulation of the target population. The "parallel government" — strengthening the VC grip on the masses. As their web expanded, VC methods became more bold. Hit squads attacked and eliminated selected enemies.

    Ironically, officials who were too efficient or honest might also be liquidated since their conduct might mitigate the grievances and resentments the cadres sought to stoke. Farmers who owned "too much" land might also be fingered. Government facilities, or the private property of those on the target list might also be damaged and sabotaged. Such terror attacks not only eliminated rivals, they served as salutary examples to the villagers as to what could potentially befall them if they opposed the Revolution.

    If fully successful, the once sleepy village might be turned into a functioning VC support base. In the early stages of the Vietnam War, American officials "discovered that several thousand supposedly government-controlled 'fortified hamlets' were in fact controlled by Viet Cong guerrillas, who 'often used them for supply and rest havens'. Such "revolutionary government" would set and collect taxes, draft soldiers to fight, impress laborers for construction tasks, administer justice, redistribute land, and coordinate local community events and civic improvements.

    While a wide variety of front groups and propaganda campaigns were deployed and manipulated by VC political operatives, the VC also tapped effectively into local grievances and nationalist sentiment to attain a measure of genuine popular support in some areas. Parallel with this however, was an unmistakable track of coercion and intimidation. VC "Armed Propaganda" squads conducted a systematic campaign of assassination and kidnapping to eliminate competitors, intimidate the populace and disrupt or destroy normal social, political and economic life.

    Training of Main Force fighters. Recruits falling into the net were usually taken from the village to another location for political indoctrination and training, sometimes contradicting VC assurances that they would be able to serve near their home areas.

    Those showing promise were assigned to the Main Force Battalions, which were permanently organized military formations.

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    Other recruits were expected to serve as part-time village helpers or guerrillas. Military training, like that of the NVA was essentially conventional — marching, small unit tactics, basic weapons handling, etc. Illiteracy and lack of education was often a problem in VC ranks, and steps were made to correct this, with focus on the political task at hand.

    Specialized and advanced training, as in the NVA was given to smaller groups of men. Political indoctrination continued throughout the VC Main Force fighter's training, with nightly "criticism and self-criticism" sessions to eliminate error, and purge incorrect thought. Assessment of the VC fighter. The quality of VC training and recruitment was more uneven than that of the NVA, and varied based on the war situation. Literacy was lower and defections were several times that of their Northern counterparts.

    In the context of the protracted insurgency however, and the communist willingness to expend lives, the VC fighting man was more than adequate to fulfill the goals determined by Communist leadership. As the war progressed, southern influence weakened, and the northern grip, both military and politically via the Lao Dong Party, was strengthened.

    This development was lamented by some former VC personnel who were forced off the stage by the northerners. Operating through the PRP personnel, northern cadres and COSVN, and manipulating a variety of front groups, the communist leadership in the North forged a formidable weapon in both the military and propaganda spheres, garnering some support, both in South Vietnam and internationally from sympathetic Westerners.

    Heavily reliant on Chinese and Soviet sponsors for much of their manufactured weapons, the Northern regime, played both these communist giants against each other in the service of its own ends. This ruthless, skillful and tenacious leadership was to achieve final triumph after almost two decades of war. Military Affairs Committees were coordinating groups that liaisoned and coordinated activity with the Central Reunification Department, another coordination body for the complex effort.

    Each front was a military command but was supervised also by regional Party committees set up by Hanoi's Politburo. These zones evolved from a simpler two-front division during the early phases of the conflict. The names given below are approximate. More detailed subdivisions existed. A creature of the Northern regime, the overall Viet Cong structure was made up of three parts: [94].

    The 5-level administrative structure. Some writers suggest that COVSN was an executive committee of the PRP, the Southern Communist Party, with associated staff for coordinating the war effort, but the exact structural arrangements remain ambiguous. The Zones were split into Provinces and further subdivided into Districts.

    These likewise controlled Village and Hamlet elements. Each level was run by a committee, dominated as always by Communist Party operatives. Military structure of the PLAF. For military purposes South Vietnam was divided into 6 military regions, in turn broken down by province, district, village and hamlet. A military structure thus stood parallel with, and operated with the NLF "front" structure as cover, lending a popular gloss to the insurgency. Each level in theory was subject to the dictates of the next highest one. Indeed, party membership was required to hold most significant command positions within the PLAF, and party operatives supervised activity all the way down to the hamlet level.

    The typical NVA division had a strength of approximately 10, men grouped into three infantry regiments, with a supporting artillery regiment or battalion, and signals, engineers, medical and logistic formations. The artillery units were generally armed with mortars although they might use heavier weapons in an extended set-piece operation. The regiments were generally broken down into 3 foot-soldier battalions of — men each, along with the supporting units. Each battalion in turn was subdivided into companies and platoons, with heavy weapons units augmenting the small arms of the line troops.

    Both the VC and NVA formations operated under a "system of three" — three cells to a squad, three squads to a platoon, 3 companies to a battalion etc. This could vary depending on operational circumstances. Small-arms dominated the armament of typical infantry battalions, which deployed the standard infantry companies, logistical support, and heavy weapons sub-units of modern formations. Members of the combat support unit were also responsible for placing mines and booby traps.

    Special detachments or platoons included sappers, recon, signals, etc. Command and control was exercised via standard headquarters companies, always supervised by political cadres. While NVA formations retained their insignia, signals and logistic lines, supervision followed the same pattern, with Party monitors at every level- from squad to division. Recruitment and training as discussed above was conducted in the North, and replacements were funneled from the North, down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to designated formations.

    Where distinct NVA formations were kept intact, they remained under the control of the NVA High command, although this was, like other military echelons, controlled in turn by the Northern Lao Dong Party.