M72 LAW ineffective versus PT76?
So, I just finished a fun book on Khe Sanh, "The End Of The Line: The Siege of Khe Sanh" by Robert Pisor.
As you might know one of the historical events that took place around the area of Khe Sanh was the first appearance of North Vietnamese armor.
I guess for this to make sense I have to outline kind of what lead to the event with the armor. Basically, first there were only Green Berets in the area around Khe Sanh, but then General Westmoreland decided that it would be a good thing if he could draw the NVA out into the open so that he could subsequently pulverize them with artillery and airstrikes, so he would fortify a big old hill and try to temp the NVA into attacking the hill thinking they could pull a Diembienphu. So, the Marines showed up and built a fortification on the hill, and the Green Berets got pissed because this seriously interfered with their trying to make working relationships with the locals. Eventually the Green Berets moved away from that big hill and made the most heavily fortifed special forces camp in Vietnam, Lang Vei.
So one day, the NVA attacked Lang Vei, but they had armor, PT76 units, which was basically totally unexpected. Long story short nearly all the Green Berets and their indiginous guerillas died and the Marines basically refused to help them on the grounds that anyone they sent out to help would probably be massacred en route.
According to this book, the M72 LAWs that the Green Berets fired at the PT76 units were super ineffective. Here's a quote from pg. 193
When I read that it blew my mind that nine hits with an antitank rocket apparently couldn't even disable a PT76, which has light armor, and which was replaced by the much-maligned BMP-1. According to wikipedia, the PT76 armor won't even stop .50 BMG rounds.
Colonel Schungel knelt in the middle of the camp, with green tracers from enemy machine guns criss-crossing the ground in front of him, and wildly-swinging parachute flares overhead, and fired a LAW at the lead tank. The shell hit in a great shower of orange sparks, but the tank kept rolling. He moved closer with another LAW, but this time the disposable launcher refused to fire. Now he was close enough to roll hand grenades into the tank's treads, and to fire his rifle into the eyeslits. The tank kept rolling. Another team hit one North Vietnamese tank nine times with shoulder-fired LAW rockets, and the tank kept rolling.
Are shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons actually effective against armor, or are they total crap that only works in theory, and against bunkers?
I know that the title of your post references the LAW rocket, but if you're asking about shoulder-fired anti-armour weapons in general: Yes they work, and very well.
Originally Posted by Wounded Ronin
The best example I can give you is the modern-day Javelin; but an old fashioned 90mm recoiless rifle was capable of inflicting significant damage to light and medium armor. A 90mm HEAT round would stop pretty much any light armored vehicle and most 70's and early 80's medium tanks. The 90 wasn't much good against reactive armor; that is where the Javelin is very useful.
I had some very limited exposure to the old Dragon anti-tank weapon system and it was also lethal to armor. Unfortunately, it was wire-guided. This required the gunner to remain on target throughout the flight, exposing the missile team to return fire. Again, the newer Javelin is a "fire and forget" which helps alleviate this problem.
Another weapon that I have heard is pretty good is the Carl Gustav, but I have no direct experience.
I was trained on the Javelin anti-armor system (which includes using the command launch unit [CLU]).
It is a fire and forget weapon system that uses a CLU that can be reloaded. One of its drawback is that it needs to cool down the sighting apparatus in order to acquire another target.
One of the better features of the Javelin...besides that you can lock a target from 2km, is that once fired, the projectile will track and update the target image 3 times a second until impact. It also has two modes of fire. Direct and indirect. Another cool point, is that if there is a one degree temperature difference between the target the surroundings...it can see it. The downside, is that there are points in the day where you might be unable to use that function...such as if the environment is 98.6*F and the person is 98.6*F
It really is a cool weapon system, but it's a bitch to lug around. We used the CLUs to help us at night to ensure that people weren't fucking around unseen outside of the berms.
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There's a book titled Tanks in the Wire by David Stockwell, which deals specifically with this incident. Also see http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/archive/index.php/t-8594.html.
It's been a while since I read up on this battle but I remember that the M-72s were defective on some level. The defenders had to pry open the hatches on the turrets and toss grenades in. They also called artillery in on their own position.
The M-72 served very well in other fights. There are a couple of photos of a whole column of T-55s knocked out in close combat with ARVN troops later in the war. Certainly the T-55 was a more robust vehicle than the PT-76.
From the link above:
Why is it that very frequently in war histories, you always hear stuff like that, where some officers who haven't been out looking around claim that some recon people are lying about what they saw? I remember stuff like that happening in World War I, when the recon people said the barbed wire hadn't been destroyed by shelling before the charge, and the officers said they were hysterical and decided to ignore them. And then people got caught in the barbed wire during the big charge and died.
In January, they found an empty tank park just a few kilometers across the river, which contained fresh impressions of tracked vehicles. According to one of the Special Forces NCOs leading the Mike Force the reports sent to Khe Sanh and Saigon were dismissed by the brass as exaggerated or false...."You guys are just trying to make yourself look good. The NVA haven't got tanks!"
Anyway, that's an awesome history. I just got through reading the whole thing.
Last edited by Wounded Ronin; 1/07/2010 11:39pm at .
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