Lee Russell

The North Vietnamese Army

The original NVA uniforms (1964-66) were tan khaki. The shirts had two pleated pockets, closed with a pointed flap. The trousers had two side and one rear pocket, and adjusted with buttons at the waist. This uniform was worn by the original NVA troops who entered SVN, and was also worn by Main Force Viet Cong, the Pathet Lao, and Khmer Rouge troops.

The same uniform, in OD green, various shades, was gradually introduced starting in 1966. The original uniform was a darker green shade than American/SVN uniforms, but, like them, the dyes gradually faded.

The exact same uniform, but in blue, grey, purple or brown cloth, even white, were worn by the North Vietnamese Militia. Around the time of Tet '68, a lot of these militia uniforms, showed up in NVA units sent to Vietnam.

All these uniforms seemed to be "cottage industry" produced. They were made to one pattern (and apparently, "one size fits all"), but with very non-factory stitching.

The NVA also had another kind of a shirt, sort of like an "Ike" jacket, with a banded bottom. This was much rarer. Some GI's thought is was supposed to be a field jacket. It was of heavier cloth than the standard shirt.

A sweatshirt was issued for cold-weather wear.

The trouser belt was like a cheap version of the American belt, with an aluminum buckle.

It should be mentioned that few NVA had more than one or two extra clothing items to their name.

Dress Uniforms

The NVA had two dress uniforms. The Winter Dress uniform was Russian-style (they may have been Russian uniforms), with an olive-drab tunic and slacks. This was worn with a shirt and tie, and a round Russian-looking service hat. This uniform seemed only to be issued to Generals and honor guards, and was worn with medals, on State occasions.

The NVA Summer Dress uniform was a white cotton shirt and trousers, and a white Service Hat. I have only seen it in one photograph, of honor guards being inspected by a Eastbloc visitor. As with the Winter Uniform, the honor guards had fastened the chinstrap.

NVA officers who had trained in China apparently were issued Chinese uniforms, the typical "Mao Suit" jacket with the four pocket "bush jacket" styling. Some of these uniforms even made their way to South Vietnam


NVA headgear was the phenolic (plastic-impregnated cardboard) sun-helmet. This was also a cottage industry product (I have a photo of an North Vietnamese shop making them) and came in two patterns, depending on the height of the crown. These helmets were also made in tan early on, during the NVA "tan" period. Some sun helmets in white (apparently NVA Navy issue) also showed up in SVN during the post-Tet '68 period.

Besides the sun-helmet, the major item of NVA headgear was a round hat, sort of like the American "boonie" or jungle hat. It also had a chinstrap, which was inevitably fastened.

The NVA also had a cap which was very much like the WW II Japanese Dress Uniform cap.

Very occasionally, the NVA issued steel helmets. These mostly went to anti-aircraft personnel, and were generally of Soviet or Eastbloc patterns. East German "mushroom" helmets were reportedly recoved from NVA depots in Cambodia in 1970. The NVA even issued old French Adrian helmets dating from WW I.


The NVA originally issued a tennis shoe sort of jungle boot, but these simply could not stand up to the climate and terrain, and many NVA soldiers were barefoot by the time they had reached the South. Locally-made "Ho Chi Minh Freedom Sandals", made from old truck tires, were the usual replacement. These featured soles cut from the tires themselves, and straps cut from inner tubes.

During the 1975 Offensive, the NVA had captured so many ARVN combat boots from depots that they actually could issue them, themselves.

Personal Equipment

The NVA issued a wide variety of personal equipment, seemingly, whatever was in the box that day. Chinese or "Eastbloc" items predominated, but captured or even civilian items were also used.

It is easiest to describe this equipment in the order it was put on:

The equipment belt was made of canvas, with a square aluminum buckle. There was a star cut into this buckle. Some NVA soldiers painted it red. This was a prize souvenir of US troops. There were several types of buckles, and officers had their own version, on a leather belt. (As the NVA didn't wear rank insignia, US troops assumed that anyone with a leather belt was an officer.) Some of these belts were of Chinese origin, and there were even, reportedly, recycled French captures. Occasionally, the original belt material was replaced by US webbing. cut from shot-down US helicopters.

On this belt went the canteen pouch, grenade pouches (with a strap to go over the opposite shoulder) and, if the wearer was an officer, his pistol holster and spare magazine pouch.

The grenade pouches were also "cottage industry" production. NVA grenades were usually "homemade" (the guerilla origins of the NVA showing here), and were usually of the "stick" type. The typical pouch held two of these, with the handles secured by ties. However pouches holding much larger numbers of grenades were also found.

The NVA issued two kinds of canteens. The most common was a aluminum type, originally painted olive drab. These were Chinese copies of WW II Japanese canteens. Many NVA soldiers scraped away at the paint, to create "trench art", or cut their names into the metal. It seemed to be to the NVA soldier what the GI's helmet liner was to him.

The second common type of helmet was a cheap plastic type with an embossed star. These were also of Chinese origin, made for the Young Pioneers. a Communist Youth organization.

The NVA officer's pistol rig was inevitably of Chinese origin, for the Type 54 pistol, a licence built version of Soviet Tokarev TT-33. A Sam Browne-type strap came with this rig, but seemed little worn in the South.

To carry his ammunition, the NVA soldier usually had a Chinese rig. This went on like a shop apron, loops over your head and tied in back. The AK rig, sometimes called a "chest pouch", gave you three magazine pouches and four smaller pockets for boxed cartridges. The SKS rig gave you ten (?) pouches for ammunition in stripper clips. A slightly larger version existed to carry clips for the Chinese M-53 (licence-built Soviet Moisen-Nagant M44 bolt-action carbine)

All of these Chinese-made ammunition carrying rigs shared a common feature. All the pouch closures were made with a loop and peg, a type of closure for clothing common in the Far East.

An alternative ammo pouch for the AK was an Eastbloc ammo pouch that held 4-5 mags. This would be a bag that went on your belt, with a shoulder strap.


The NVA issued a "standard" rucksack, with a central compartment, and three external pockets. It seemed to be based on French rucksacks from the Indochina War. It was a crude, but servicable item. The original versions had buckles to secure the various compartments. Later ones had the "loop and peg" system. Some versions had a hidden compartment to hold, one theory, maps, or, second theory, a plain piece of wood to make a packboard to carry heavy items.

There was a special rucksack for RPG gunners, that held three rounds plus their "booster" charges, externally.


The NVA issued a thin "rain poncho", of about the weight of one of those "fold up and keep in your purse/pocket" items sold here.

Copyright © 1997 Lee Russell All Rights Reserved

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