The Reasons American Commandos Used AK-47s in Vietnam

The Reasons American Commandos Used AK-47s in Vietnam


History, Asia


It was a useful gun.

Key point: The AK-47 was very reliable and Americans appreciated their construction.

While the Soviet Avtomat Kalashnikova has become the iconic weapon of bad guys in Hollywood blockbusters and big-budget video games, U.S. commandos made good use of the rugged rifles in Vietnam.

By the end of the conflict, the American military had reissued captured Ak-47s, made new ammunition for them and came up with a few other surprises.

It’s often because the commandos hated their own U.S.-made guns.

“Initially, the AK-47 was available in only small numbers to the Viet Cong fighting in South Vietnam,” historian Kevin Dockery explained in his book Special Warfare Special Weapons. “This resulted in the AK-47 being something of a prestige weapon.”

This extended to the Americans.

The practice of taking enemy weapons from the battlefield as trophies was hardly new in the 1960s. But captured weapons—especially AK variants—quickly became important parts of U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. Navy SEAL Teams’ combat arsenals. These new additions offered a number of practical and psychological benefits.

For one, the American M-16 rifle was pretty crappy. The early design was a maintenance nightmare, and the guns often jammed in battle. The AK-47 was far more dependable, and had a larger 30-round magazine to boot.

An American soldier might confuse his enemies by using their own guns against them, especially in the dead of night. The AKs had a distinctive report and their tracer rounds glowed green instead of red — the standard color in Western armies.

“With the few men we had, we just didn’t have the firepower to take on an enemy unit,” Dockery wrote, quoting an unnamed SEAL officer. “An M-16 … would stand out to the VC or NVA, telling them where and possibly who we were.”

And the Pentagon’s battle plans called for American troops to scour the Vietnamese countryside for insurgents and their supplies. So there was no shortage of these foreign firearms or ammunition to go with them.

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