Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Necessity was the Mother of Lethality (Part 3): Handmade Viet Cong Carbine

This slide and slam-action carbine, captured from the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, is from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) and is featured in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum's exhibit, The 10,000 Day War at Sea, the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, 1950-1975 (M.C. Farrington)
By M.C. Farrington
HRNM Historian
Zachary Smyers
HRNM Educator

For this installment of our series on some of the rather unique Viet Cong weapons featured in our current exhibit, The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea, we were not precisely sure what to call this weapon, but we decided that the safest bet is to stick with "Viet Cong Carbine." 
Viet Cong Carbine, left side. (M.C. Farrington)
Although one might be tempted to call it a rifle because of its appearance, most small arms of its type lacked rifled barrels.  It is of a very simple design, and it definitely looks like it uses slam fire action (based on the spring-loaded bolt configuration), during which a round is fired as soon as it is inserted into the chamber.  
Three-quarter view, close up of right-hand side showing exposed spring-loaded bolt. (M.C. Farrington)
Before North Vietnamese weapons shipments down the Ho Chi Minh Trail overwhelmed American and South Vietnamese interdiction efforts during the latter part of the 1960s, very few factory-made small arms were in the hands of front-line National Liberation Front fighters, known to their enemies as the Viet Cong
The trigger and guard looks as though it might have been salvaged from another weapon.  Note the NHHC accession number affixed to the inside of the guard.  (M.C. Farrington)
Left literally to their own devices during the early years of their struggle with American and Republic of Vietnam forces, Communist cadres in South Vietnam fashioned firearms from old pipes, automotive and even bicycle parts in underground workshops, of which many were literally underground.  Some were patterned after weapons captured from the Japanese when they occupied French Indochina during World War II.  Many were imitations of those captured from the French during their unsuccessful attempt to reestablish their colonies in Indochina after the war.  They also replicated German weapons captured by the Soviets during the war that were given to the Viet Cong's predecessors, the Viet Minh, to aid in their fight against the French.  An assortment of other Soviet, Chinese, and even American designs rounded out the Viet Cong insurgents' small arms stocks by the mid-1960s, but it would be unfair to characterize their efforts as merely imitative.  The guerrilla gunsmiths operating in the tunnels and swamps of South Vietnam were more than capable of creating their own designs, and the weapon featured here just might be one of them. 

The trigger and guard, as seen from below.  (M.C. Farrington)
Although it seems that a pin or bolt once held it there, by the time of the carbine's capture the upper receiver component, if you will, was attached to the stock assembly with a wire, not winning it any longevity contests.
A piece of wire holds the rear of the receiver to the carbine's stock assembly.  (M.C. Farrington)
The magazine well is not too large, and the actual cartridge that this weapon may have fired is vague.  It could have been anything from one of the small pistol calibers like the Soviet Tokarev, which is 7.62x25mm, or possibly 7.62x39 (which is what the AK-47 fired).  As with most firearms of this type, it is safe to say the weapon was designed around whatever ammunition its makers had the most of.  The capacity of the magazine is also hard to say, though it could be compatible with the 10-round 7.62x54mm Soviet World War II-era SVT-40 magazine.
Ahead of the magazine well as seen from under the carbine, the accession number appears to have originally been added shortly after its incorporation into the NHHC small arms collection. (M.C. Farrington)
All that is clear about this weapon is that it was taken off the battlefield just as the Vietnam War was really heating up, in part due to the dramatic surge and variety of weapons, the majority of them from Chinese factories, made available to the Viet Cong by the relentless logistical effort mounted by the North Vietnamese through the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  After the Viet Cong was largely decimated during the 1968 Tet Offensive, soldiers of the People's Army of Vietnam filtered into the south via the trail to replace them, many of them carrying the North Vietnamese K-50M and the Chinese Type 56, examples of which are also featured in the exhibit.  

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