Soviet PT-76s along with T-54s, T-55s, and Chinese Type 59s, Type 62 tanks formed the bulk of the People’s Army of Vietnam armored forces.

Introduce

In a war, tanks play an extremely important role in attacking and supporting infantry. During the Vietnam War, the topography of this Southeast Asian country was dominated by mountains and forests, which was not very suitable for the deployment of tank corps. Therefore, appearing in the Vietnam battlefield were mainly light tanks.

As for the North Vietnamese army, they were equipped with the PT-76 tank from the Soviet Union. This is a light tank, strong firepower, high speed, and good maneuverability on hilly terrain, very suitable for the North Vietnamese army’s concealment and guerrilla attack strategy.

Sebastien Roblin, an American military researcher once commented on The National Interest: “The PT-76 seems like a minor oddity of the Cold War — a Soviet amphibious light tank with thin armor and an unimpressive gun. Certainly it seemed bound for rough treatment on modern battlefields full of heavy weapons and heavier tanks.”

But during the Vietnam War, the PT-76 demonstrated exceptional combat and survival capabilities, which amazed US military experts.

Vietnam War PT-76
Vietnam War PT-76

PT-76 light tank

The Soviet PT-76 light tank was introduced in the early 1950s and soon became the standard reconnaissance tank of the Soviet Army and the other Warsaw Pact armed forces. It was widely exported to other friendly states, like India, Iraq, Syria, North Korea and North Vietnam. Overall, some 25 countries used the PT-76.

As a light tank, the PT-76 weighs only 14.6 tons, has a length of 7.63 m (25 ft), a width of 3.15 m (10.3 ft), and a height of 2.32 m (7.6 ft).

The PT-76 has a typical tank layout: the steering compartment at the front, the combat compartment in the center and the engine compartment at the back. The tank has a three-man crew, with the commander also acting as the radio operator and gunner.

The main firepower of the tank is a 76.2 mm D-56T gun, with a reserve of 40 rounds. The second weapon is a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun with 1000 rounds.

PT-76 is equipped with a V-6 diesel engine, capacity of 240 horsepower. It can reach a maximum road speed of 44 km/h.

The PT-76 is also capable of amphibious. It has a flat, boat-shaped hull which is hermetical and ensures minimal resistance when the tank is afloat. The tank can swim at up to 10.2 km/h and has a range of 100 km. It can cross most water obstacles and can also swim in the sea.

PT-76 debuted at the Battle of Lang Vay

During the early period of the US military intervention in Vietnam, there were practically no armored vehicles in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam equipment system. The situation changed with the help of the Soviet Union and China. Soviet PT-76s along with T-54s, T-55s, and Chinese Type 59s, Type 62 tanks formed the bulk of the People’s Army of Vietnam armored forces.

PT-76’s first action during the war in Vietnam was on the night of February 6, 1968 at the battle of Lang Vay. This was the garrison of a unit of US special forces. Thirteen PT-76s, of the NVA 202nd Armored Regiment spearheaded an assault against approximately 24 Green Berets, 500 Vietnamese irregulars and 350 Laotian Royal soldiers.

For the first time on the Indochina battlefield, the US army and the Saigon forces had to deal with the enemy tank force, they were shocked by the attack.

From 3 directions, the Army Liberation tank appeared, broke through the minefield, crushed the barbed wire fence and obstacles. The 76 mm gun bombarded the enemy’s fire points, crushing the enemy’s resistance, creating conditions for infantry to overflow into the base, destroying the target.

The American soldiers used the M40 106 mm recoilless rifles to knock out three vehicles. The U.S. commandos began firing off their disposable M72 66-millimeter anti-tank rockets at short range. The weapons should have easily penetrated the light tanks, but instead repeatedly misfired, missed or failed to have any effect when they did hit. One team reportedly hit the same tank with nine rockets to no result.

Another tank hunting group finally managed to set a PT-76 on fire with a hit to the rear armor  –  the fourth and last one destroyed in the battle.

All of the American’s counter-attacks have failed. They requested support from nearby Khe Sanh, which was unable to help, as it was also under siege.

The First tank Battle

The Battle of Ben Het was the only tank battle held by the North Vietnamese and American Army during the Vietnam War. The opponents of the PT-76 were the US M48 Patton medium tanks. It was a pretty formidable opponent with a 90 mm gun and 175 mm of turret armor.

March 3, 1969, the Special Forces camp at Ben Het was attacked by the NVA 202nd Armored Regiment. One of the PT-76s had detonated a land mine, which not only alerted the camp, but also lit up the other PT-76s attacking the firebase. Flares had been sent up, thus exposing adversary tanks, but sighting in on muzzle flashes, one PT-76 scored a direct hit on the turret of a M48, killing two Patton crewmen and wounding two more. A second Patton, using the same technique, destroyed a PT-76 with their second shot. At daybreak, the battlefield revealed the wreckage of two PT-76s and one BTR-50 armored personnel carrier.

For a long time, the two sides avoided a collision. But once, an observation plane spotted a PT-76 crew washing their vehicle in the Ben Hai River. The plane radioed the tank’s coordinates to an M48 of the U.S. Marine 3rd Armored Battalion at Con Thien, which raised its gun barrel high up into the air to attack with indirect fire. The third high explosive shell landed squarely on the tank, causing the crew to abandon the vehicle, which was later hit by an F-4 Phantom air strike.

In 1972, the North Vietnamese army again used the PT-76, but unfortunately the tank fell into fire from the UH-1B helicopter. After losing five vehicles, the Liberation Army Command realized that using a light armored vehicle without coordination with the T-54/55 main battle tank was too risky. This was adjusted during the Ho Chi Minh Campaign, 1975.

So far, the Vietnamese military maintains hundreds of upgraded PT-76s in its inventory, as well as Chinese-made Type 63s.

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