Viet Cong

Dafato Team | Jun 16, 2022

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Viet Cong (in Vietnamese Việt Cộng) was the name commonly used particularly in the Western Bloc to refer to the Vietnamese armed resistance group against the pro-U.S. regime in South Vietnam that played a key role during the Vietnam War.

The term is an abbreviation for Vietnam Communist, by virtue of the fact that the People's Revolutionary Party of Vietnam was the most important component of the resistance. The term, with derogatory connotation, appeared in Saigon newspapers in early 1956 and is a contraction of the term Việt Nam Cộng-sản. The first mention for "Vietcong" was in 1957. U.S. soldiers referred to the Vietcong using the word Victor Charlie or V-C.

Officially, the guerrilla forces fighting during the Indochina conflict were called the South Vietnam People's Liberation Armed Forces; in Vietnamese: Quân Giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam. The Viet Cong fighters depended organically on the leadership of the South Vietnam National Liberation Front (Mặt trận Dân tộc giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam), which led politically and militarily the fight against the U.S. and the nguy ("puppets," the derogatory designation for South Vietnamese loyal to the pro-U.S. regime); the most important military leaders, moreover were experienced and determined senior officers sent from North Vietnam.

They successfully fought U.S. and South Vietnamese collaborationists for nearly twenty years and remained a major military force until the end of the war in 1975 when the National Liberation Front, which became the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam in 1969, merged into the new state of reunified Communist Vietnam.

The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was the key component of the resistance movement (it included important nationalist currents and several ideological-political components, both communist and noncommunist, converged in it. In addition to the communists of the Lao Dong ("Workers' Party"), two other parties were part of the Front, the Democratic Party of Vietnam and the Socialist Party of Vietnam; there were also representatives of some religious sects persecuted by the regime and of ethnic minorities, including some tribes in the mountainous territories of central Vietnam.

The Front was officially formed on December 20, 1960, from the core group formed by the elements still present in the south of the Viet Minh organization that had directed and won the war of independence against France. There were about 10,000 Vietminh still active at the time resistance activity began, who immediately formed the most solid and reliable element of the movement. In fact, the resistance movement against the pro-U.S. dictatorial and reactionary regime of Ngô Đình Diệm had begun even earlier, in 1957, after the decision of the Hanoi leadership, spurred mainly by Lê Duẩn, to resume the revolutionary struggle against the Saigon government especially in the Mekong Delta areas.

During 1957, pro-communist guerrillas killed more than 400 government officials and began undermining the authority of Diệm's government in many peasant areas. Further directives from the Hanoi government were sent in 1959 to intensify the "armed struggle" in South Vietnam in order to politically weaken the Diệm regime. Terrorist attacks and bombings had a sharp increase and government officials killed rose from 1,200 in 1958 to 4,000 in 1960. Finally in December 1960 it was decided to create a centralized political-military body to direct the growing resistance movement and the National Liberation Front was formed.

The goals of the Liberation Front were independence, the defeat of the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem and his successors, and the establishment of a government that would rebuild South Vietnam on a democratic basis both politically and economically

The Viet Cong were basically the military fighters of the Vietnam National Liberation Front. The fighting forces, referred to globally as the "People's Liberation Forces of South Vietnam," consisted of two distinct components: irregular units, made up of village volunteers, which were primarily engaged in intelligence gathering, sabotage and supply gathering, while the regular formations, organized on a regional basis, which were militarily framed and well-armed, carried out the main attacks and military actions, being able to counter South Vietnamese army units and also U.S. troops. Regular units grew steadily in numbers during the early years: by 1965 there were about 50,000-80,000 guerrillas actually fighting.

During the war, the Liberation Front received constant political and military support from the Republic of North Vietnam and enjoyed widespread popular support; indeed, within South Vietnam, much of the population, particularly in the countryside, supported the positions and demands of the resistance movement.

Nguyễn Hữu Thọ, a non-Communist politician, was officially the chairman of the National Liberation Front, while Mrs. Nguyễn Thị Bình, who was entrusted with foreign relations, exercised an important propaganda role in the face of world opinion. The Viet Cong's main military leader was actually General Trần Văn Trà; the latter was the military head for most of the war of the so-called "Central Office for South Vietnam," known in U.S. bureaucratic terminology as the COSVN, officially Trung ương Cục miền Nam.

Trần Văn Trà was the field representative of North Vietnam: he directed the main operations of the resistance and followed the directives given by the Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of North Vietnam. Trần Văn Trà held the leadership of the Front fighting forces from 1963 to 1967 and again from 1973 until the end of the war in 1975, while from 1967 to 1973 the military chief was General Hoàng Văn Thái; other important political-military leaders of the Viet Cong over the years were General Nguyễn Chí Thanh, who from 1964 to 1967 was actually the political-military head of the COSV directly connected with the Communist Party in Hanoi and thus even more important than Trần Văn Trà, and Trần Độ, deputy military commander of the COSVN.

Relations between the Viet Cong and the Hanoi government were very controversial during the Vietnam War. Communist spokesmen and those who were against the war claimed that the Viet Cong were a resistance totally originating from South Vietnam. Anti-communists, on the other hand, regarded the Viet Cong as a mere emanation of Hanoi. Numerous communications from communist leaders in the 1980s and 1990s confirmed Hanoi's tight control over communist forces in the south. After the end of the conflict, relations between the Provisional Revolutionary Government, organized by the Front, and North Vietnam changed completely, and the communist leaders in Hanoi assumed complete direct control of the entire country.

The Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (GRP) was established on June 8, 1969, as a political-administrative structure capable of exercising power in the liberated territory of South Vietnam. The components of the Provisional Government, led by President Nguyễn Hữu Thọ and Prime Minister Huỳnh Tấn Phát, would later take part, albeit in a secondary role to the representatives of North Vietnam, in the peace talks. The Provisional Government had been founded during their time in the jungle by resistance leaders of the National Liberation Front and the so-called Communist Central Office in South Vietnam (identified by the Americans as COSVN, Central Office for South Vietnam).

After the end of the war, the Provisional Revolutionary Government was considered a hindrance by the communist leadership in North Vietnam; the future political life of South Vietnam was decided solely by the North Vietnamese leaders (who were thus in practice the real victors of the war), in fact they went directly to a forced reunification of Vietnam, in which the Provisional Government could have only propaganda utility.


Recruited from among the poor peasants of South Vietnam and led by leaders predominantly linked to communism in North Vietnam, the Vietcong proved, despite limited means and harsh conditions on the ground, to be disciplined, aggressive, resilient and extraordinarily skilled guerrilla fighters who put the South Vietnamese regime in great difficulty, forcing the United States into a massive and unsuccessful military intervention to prevent the collapse of the collaborationist government.

The activities

The fighting formations of the National Liberation Front were the so-called "People's Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam."(The enemies they faced consisted of the U.S.-trained and equipped South Vietnamese regular army and, beginning in 1965, the ultra-modern U.S. MACV ground forces, reinforced by powerful air and naval forces; in addition to these concrete adversaries, the Viet Cong also had to survive in the hostile environment of the jungle; according to some, the most dangerous enemy militarily was not so much the enemy armies as enduring the enormous hardships caused by the jungle.

Anyone who took part in the resistance struggle lost direct contact with family members (thus also lacking moral support), in some cases guerrillas did not see their families again until after the end of the war, while generally guerrillas who came from the countryside were able to see their family members on furlough by going to the countryside themselves. As for the guerrillas who came from the cities the matter was much more complicated, in fact often in these cases it was the families who came to the jungle (sometimes these visits turned out to be dramatic).

Finally, it must be said that a large part of the Vietcong fighters did not have strong ideological and political motivations, in fact there were many who joined the guerrillas only for strictly personal reasons, to improve their own and their family members' living conditions. In some cases, fighters joined the ranks of the Vietcong in revenge for the destruction of their villages by pro-U.S. forces. For this reason, some believed that the Vietcong sometimes induced the U.S. to attack a village; after suffering attacks on their outposts, the U.S. would in some cases carry out violent reprisal raids against some particular village in the area, accentuating the hatred and resentment of the local peasant populations.

Living in the jungle posed a real problem for the Viet Cong. In fact, some of the greatest military concerns of the conflict stemmed from living in the jungle: "in the jungle, the first enemy was not the Americans or the nguy ("puppets," the term they used to refer to the Saigon government and its troops), but malaria, which very few could avoid" (Truong Nhu Tang: 2008). In fact, the B-52 bombings, although they certainly did not do negligible damage, did not kill any civilian or military leaders between 1968 and 1970. The main problems were malnutrition and diseases, such as the aforementioned malaria, diarrhea or dysentery.

As for nutrition, daily rations included a few grams of rice, water, and absolute lack of meat, so the nutrition provided by the rations was lacking in both quantity and quality. To make up for this lack many guerrillas tried, if events allowed them, to raise chickens or pigs; in other cases malnutrition would lead guerrillas to seek food in the jungle, and then hunt (and eat) exotic animals such as elephants or leopards. In the luckiest cases some special supplies would arrive from Cambodia.

The presence of poisonous snakes, to whose bite the Vietcong were particularly exposed because of their light footwear, was also a serious problem. The deadliest reptile was the "cham guap" (Banded Bungarus): its venom was almost instantaneous thus requiring excellent timing in applying the antidote.

The armament

The Viet Cong resistance movement lacked the modern weaponry to compete on par with the arsenals of the U.S. armed forces and the regular army of South Vietnam, which was abundantly supplied by the United States.

Weapons and supplies for the Viet Cong arrived through clandestine channels, passing through the territory of Cambodia and Laos; weapons and equipment came from China and the Soviet Union, which supplied North Vietnam, which in turn transferred materials to the south mainly through the famous "Ho Chi Minh Trail." In addition, the Viet Cong used weapons and equipment taken from the enemy; in particular, the South Vietnamese army units did not show much combativeness and especially in the early years of the war suffered continuous defeats with the loss of large quantities of armaments that ended up largely in the hands of the Liberation Front formations. Corruption within the Saigon Army also fostered illegal transactions involving the sale of armaments from the regular forces to resistance fighters; there was a very active trade between the guerrillas and some of the highest-ranking officers in the South Vietnamese Army.

However, the Viet Cong's arsenal of weapons and equipment always remained limited in comparison with the enemy's ultra-modern armaments, but despite this obvious inferiority, the fighters always showed high morale, strong determination and great ingenuity, managing to overcome their seemingly unbridgeable shortcomings from the conventional military point of view.

In many cases, the guerrillas armed themselves as best they could, even retrieving ammunition and weapons from among fallen enemies. The guerrillas also had proper workshops for recovering unexploded bombs. The guerrillas also used unconventional weapons, particularly traps of various kinds. In addition to simple mines (sometimes made using unexploded grenades) they made traps out of bamboo that were triggered and pierced the bodies of the unfortunate men. In order to prevent the Viet Cong guerrillas themselves from falling into these traps, areas infested with hidden devices were marked with appropriate means of recognition, which varied in different territories and were not easily identified and understood by enemy troops.


As for military clashes with the Saigon Army and the U.S., the problem of air raids, artillery fire and enemy helicopter actions was felt among the Viet Cong ranks. Initially, the guerrillas found themselves in difficulty; rudimentary shelters collapsed easily even from a bomb explosion a kilometer away while massive U.S. search-and-destroy operations, supported by air assets and a large number of helicopters, caused heavy casualties not so much in direct close combat as from the devastating effect of artillery fire and aerial bombardment in the so-called "free-fire zones."

The Viet Cong were able to cope with these difficulties; the guerrillas strengthened their shelters, built complex underground networks, and trained intensively to target helicopters, which proved very vulnerable in the long run. The Viet Cong also applied the tactic they called "grabbing the enemy by the belt"; the Front fighters constantly sought close combat to limit the possibility of intervention by enemy aircraft and artillery fearful of hitting their own units, and inflict losses on the U.S. and South Vietnamese with quick and sudden attacks in which the guerrillas' individual automatic weapons would bring their firepower to bear at short range. Equipped mainly with AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns, hand grenades, mortars, recoilless guns, and rocket launchers, the Viet Cong were not outnumbered by U.S. units if they could fight short, close-range engagements by exploiting the surprise effect and better knowledge of the terrain.

From a tactical point of view, the guerrillas preferred to launch small attacks mainly at night against isolated units unaware of the enemy, followed by quick retreats to avoid the devastating reactions of U.S. firepower. In the course of these surprise attacks, the Viet Cong regularly showed extreme determination and great aggression without granting any mercy to the enemy; as a rule they sought to kill as many Americans as possible counting that increased casualties would at length shake enemy morale and cohesion. In fact, the Viet Cong's objective was not to conquer territory, which would, moreover, have been impossible to defend against the overwhelming opposing forces, but to inflict continuous local shocks and losses on the Americans and the South Vietnamese. The Viet Cong were in practice fighting the so-called "flea war" or "tiger and elephant" war-the pachyderm represented the enemy and would be slowly drained of blood by the many small wounds inflicted on it.

To achieve local success, the Viet Cong, taking advantage of the darkness of the night and surprise, concentrated numerically superior forces in the area of attack; it was required by Viet Cong tactics that the guerrillas locally have a numerical superiority of at least 5 to 1; a battalion of 500 men that would attack 100 to 200 enemy soldiers. The attack was launched at the closest possible range, with sudden mass infantry assaults using the tactic of successive human waves trying to overwhelm the opposing positions by force of numbers. At this stage the Viet Cong was willing to suffer heavy casualties in order to achieve the objective. The U.S. considered the human wave tactic a sign of the guerrillas' ideological fanaticism and their leaders' disregard for human life, but in reality the Viet Cong paid great attention to carefully planning operations, obtaining accurate intelligence and minimizing casualties.

From a theoretical point of view, the fighting method of the Viet Cong consisted of "one slow part and four fast parts." The first phase of the operation, the "slow part," was characterized by the detailed and accurate gathering of information about the enemy, its defenses and positions, provided by the irregular elements of the resistance movement present in all villages. Numerous ground reconnaissance was carried out, and preliminary theoretical exercises were carried out on models of the target of the attack; finally, before the assault, the Viet Cong would train, check the terrain, and set up advanced positions for weapons and food. After this slow part followed the "four fast parts," which instead followed each other as quickly as possible. Initially there was the transfer carried out in small groups separated from the starting bases to the target area. After the concentration of the Viet Cong units, which took place only in the imminence of action to avoid detection by the enemy, the second fast part was the attack on the objective, carried out quickly and brutally. In the third fast part, the Viet Cong would quickly leave the combat ground and especially retrieve weapons taken from the enemy and carry the wounded and bodies of their fallen to safety while trying not to leave anything for the enemy. Finally, the fourth fast part consisted of the actual retreat, which was prepared in detail from the planning stage and required discipline and perfect knowledge of the terrain and the opponent's deployment in order to be successful.

Military commanders

With the January 1961 policy resolution by the General Military Commission of North Vietnam, this position was officially named "secretary of the Military Regional Commission" with direct command responsibility over the battlefields of South Vietnam; since 1964 the area of operations was code-named "Sector B2."


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