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Chinese Tactics, Techniques and Doctrine

Related Pages:

  • One Point, Two Faces - The Overwhelming Attack
  • The Tiger and the Elephant - Viet Minh strategy and tactics overview

  • Although it concerns Chinese tactics, techniques and doctrine used in the Korean War, this US Army study is included because it provides a very accurate picture of the tactics and techniques employed by Viet Minh regulars in mobile warfare. This is hardly surprising since all major Viet Minh regular units underwent extensive training in China and were accompanied in the field by officers of the Chinese Military Advisory Group whose most prominent members are shown in the group photo above.. Furthermore, whathever formal training was received by Viet Minh officers in Vietnam was closely modelled on Chinese practices. As a result, one simply needs to substitute "VM" for "CCF" and "CEFEO" for "UN" while reading this page.

    Section A - The Attack

    I – General

    In order to establish a pattern of CCF attack doctrine and tactics, a large number of prisoners of war have been interrogated, captured enemy documents and after-action reports have been studied, and a study has been made of UN after-action reports. 

    A more prolonged and intensive study will be required to fill in completely all the details. However, it is believed that in view of the consistency of the information upon which this analysis is based, it represents a fairly accurate picture of the pattern of attack employed by the CCF.

    II – Large Unit Attack Procedure

    The normal CCF procedure is to launch limited-objective attacks. The unit coming into contact with the enemy stiffens its efforts, while other elements attack the enemy flanks. The CCF also favors two-pronged assault and envelopment tactics, not only for the larger units, but for some of the smaller units.

    During the approach-march the CCF normally employs a "two up, one back" formation. Whenever possible, the following maneuver is executed (a CCF Army is used here for illustration; however, the tactics apply equally well for lower units). During the approach-march two divisions move forward with the third in reserve. When the main line of enemy resistance, or formidable enemy resistance is encountered, one division spreads out to assume the responsibility for both division sectors (i.e., the entire Army front), while the second division withdraws to the area of the reserve division. The division left on the line acts as a screening force, and immediately dispatches probing elements to confuse the enemy and to seek weak points in the enemy defenses. Often, small units will be dispatched to engage numerically superior enemy units, in order to confuse the enemy.

    Meanwhile the division which was relieved is reorganized in the rear area. The period of preparation usually takes about three days from the time the division leaves the line until the army is ready to attack. During this period the acquisition of intelligence is most important (it has been fairly well established that the CCF will not attack without the numerical superiority ratio of at least six to one). Reconnaissance units arc dispatched to ascertain the enemy strength and defense positions. Civilians from the immediate neighborhood are interrogated concerning enemy strength and dispositions. PWs have claimed that this latter method of obtaining information has proved most fruitful and reliable, and that information resulting from CCF probing attacks is given less weight than that gained through the interrogation of civilians and the patrolling by the reconnaissance elements.

    At the end of this reorganization and information-stoking period one of the two divisions in the roar is committed to a thrust on a maximum frontage of three miles, through a weak point in the enemy lines. The point selected will preferably be at the boundary separating two large enemy units (regiments or divisions) or a section of the line hold by ROK units. When this attacking division has penetrated the enemy line to a sufficient depth to enable the division to engage the enemy reserve units, five battalions engage the reserves, while two battalions attempt an encirclement of the enemy units on line.

    Meanwhile, elements of the reserve CCF division execute an envelopment of the other enemy flank in an attempt to join forces with the two encircling battalions from the penetrating division.

    During the entire engagement the CCF division on the line actively continues to occupy the enemy. When the CCF meets with initial success at any point in the maneuver, it exploits this success without regard for the presence of UN units on its flanks.

    After the ground has boen secured the army reestablishes its "two up, one back" formation.

    In the attack the Army front will not be less than 20 kilometers. The minimum division front is 10 kilometers. The reserve division is located approximately three hours marching distance from the front.

    The reserve army is generally located 40 kilometers to the rear of the attacking armies. It is so located as to be out of normal artillery range, yet close enough to the front to be available to any area upon demand.

    III – Battalion in the attack

    A. Sequence of events prior to the attack;

    During the period of regroupment and reorganization prior to an attack the CCF division occupies an assembly area which is normally 25 kilometers from enemy front lines. The exact distance depends upon three factors: (1) the range of enemy artillery, (2) the distance the enemy patrols to his front and, (3) the availability of proper terrain in which to conceal troops. A screening force is positioned in front of the assembly area, where it remains for the attack until all units are prepared. Supplies are issued, and each individual soldier receives his rations end ammunition, to be used only on order. According to PW statements, supply trucks actually enter these assembly areas to make distribution.

    The night before the attack, the regiments move forward from the division assembly area to regimental areas approximately ten kilometers from the enemy frontlines. There they dig in and occupy defensive positions. While in these positions the battalion commanders are issued their orders and their zones of attack are assigned.

    The following evening at dusk the battalions move out to attack. Usually all units halt within one to two thousand meters of the enemy lines where they take a short rest period, during which they may eat one of their combat rations. It is at this point that the company commanders are issued their orders and take over from the battalion commanders. There appears to be no flexibility permitted commanders of battalion or lower size units with respect to the method of attack or the timing thereof.

    B. Sequence of events during the attack (See Sketch No.6)

    Click on image to view larger versionThis sequence of events can best be understood by illustration. Enclosure #l is a graphic representation of a battalion in an attack.

    Following the receipt of its mission, in the regimental assembly area, to attack Hill "E" and destroy an estimated three hundred enemy, the battalion, composed of three infantry companies of three platoons each, plus an attached bazooka platoon, move out of the assembly area in a column of companies and marched toward Hill "B" to assembly point "A". At the latter point the companies were deployed within an area three hundred meters in width and approximately four hundred meters in depth. The battalion was ordered to dig in immediately with the main assault company dispersed along the reverse slope of Hill "B" and the remaining companies one hundred meters to the rear and toward the flanks. The Battalion Command Post was established three hundred meters further to the rear. An observer-sentry was posted at each end of Hill "B" and additional observation was obtained from posts along the ridge.

    The battalion remained positioned in this area until approximately 2000 hours, or shortly after dark, on the night of the attack. At this time Company "1" moved down the forward slope of Hill "B" toward Line "C", some five hundred meters distant, in three parallel platoon columns. At the same time, Companies "2" and "3" were slightly to the rear of the lead company and the Battalion CP was moved to top of Hill "E".

    Upon reaching Line "C" each platoon of the lead company formed into a column of three-man assault teams and proceeded to move forward approximately three hundred meters to Line "D".

    During this phase of the advance, the two flank companies remained abreast of Company "1". The Battalion CP was moved from the crest of Hill "B" to the base of the forward slope. The bazooka platoon remained roughly in the center of the sector in the vicinity. When all attacking elements had reached Line "D", which might well be compared to our line of departure, they remained in position until some time between 2300 and 2400 hours.

    At a given signal one twelve-man squad deployed as skirmishers and, carrying sub-machine guns (in this instance Thompsons with 5 clips of ammunition) and four hand grenades, moved forward about 200 meters to the base of Hill "E" and commenced firing on enemy positions. This was the signal for the remainder of the company, which had formed into nine columns of three-man assault teams, to begin and move up the face of Hill "E". Concurrently, the two flanking companies moved forward from Line of Departure as skirmishers in a double envelopment of the hill.

    The mission of Company "1" was to gain the crest of the hill and establish firm positions while Companies "2" and "3" completed their maneuver and joined forces. In this particular action the major portion of the ROK forces managed to withdraw from the area prior to the link-up of the encircling companies.

    IV - Discussion

    a. Time element: CCF night attacks might almost be said to have become standardized as regards tine. For the most part attacks appear to be launched between 2300 and 0100 hours. As a result of interrogation it was learned that attacking units departed from their final assembly areas shortly after dark and remained on, or in close proximity to, the Line of Departure until the assault was launched. Time of arrival of the attacking elements at the final assembly point appears to be discretionary with the commanding officer and dependent in large part on the tactical situation. In the particular case cited, the battalion arrived in Area "A" around 100 hours on the day of the attack. PWs have stated that their units arrived at final assembly areas any tine from one or two hours before moving forward, to the night preceding the attack.

    b. Distances: It became quickly apparent in the early stages of the study that distances from enemy positions to the final assembly area fell into a fairly stable pattern. In nearly all instances the Line of Departure was located two hundred meters from enemy positions; A "control line" was located 500 to 700 meters to the rear of the Line of Departure and occasionally a second "control line" was located 500 meters further to the rear, Or just forward of the assembly point. The location of enemy assembly areas further to the enemy's rear is considered to be of a more flexible nature.

    C. Control: In the above attack it was learned that each of the three companies and battalion headquarters possessed one US Walkie-Talkie radio. The PWs stated that his regiment had a total of seven of these captured radios; that one remained with each battalion; that companies received them only when they were being committed. After each engagement the radios were returned to regiment. Interrogation tended to reveal a very limited use of these Walkie-Talkie radios. It is felt that control of the attacking forces was maintained primarily through the extensive employment of assembly areas and "lines"; that movement by column was an additional measure of control.

    V - Conclusions

    a. With very few exceptions, all intermediate moves made by the enemy prior to attack are performed during the hours of darkness.

    b. The enemy shows a definite propensity for night attacks and the time that his forward units will engage UN forces will depend upon the tine required for the approach march from his final assembly area.

    c. There appears to be, insofar as can be ascertained, a flexibility permitted CCF commanders in occupying intermediate assembly areas. However, there is no flexibility permitted with respect to the tine of jump-off.

    d. No deviation is permitted company commanders with regard to their method of attack.

    e. Attacks against the flanks of friendly positions are almost certain to follow shortly behind an initial frontal assault of positions.

    f. The enemy attack will not always be immediately preceded by enemy probing CE patrolling.

    VI – Night attack

    A. General

    The Chinese and North Korean Armies favor the night time for launching their attacks and therefore vary from Western doctrine which favors the day time attack. While CCF and NK differ in their choice of the best time of the night to launch an attack, coordinated attacks by both forces follow CCF doctrine.

    The statement is credited to Lieutenant General Ma Chang, CO, 4th CCF Army (Corps), that "daylight warfare has become disastrous for the CCF because of a lack of air power, consequently night envelopment must be employed".  The actual tactics employed by the CCF in night attacks do not differ substantially from those used in other CCF assaults. The pattern of "two up, one back" and envelopment after initial engagement is not changed.

    According to General Ma, the following sequence would apply to night attacks:

    (1) Pass IP at 1900 hours or at first dark, and advance to approximately 2 kilometers from UN lines.

    (2) Initiate attack at 2100 hours.

    (3) At 2200 hours secure ground that was taken during assault, and rest.

    (4) Begin one-hour assault between 0300 - 0400 hours. After assault withdraw to positions gained during initial attack.

    B. CCF Tactics

    An analysis of CCF major attacks against UN forces reveals that, with the exception of one attack, each attack commenced on a night when moonlight could be expected to provide maximum illumination. In each case the attack was launched when the noon was in the phase between Full Moon and Last Quarter, and when moonset did not occur until after sunrise the text morning.

    The first attack against USAK troops was launched on night of 31 October – 1 November, four days after Full Moon. The second was on night of 25 - 26 November, two days after Full Moon. The third attack was on the night 31 December - 1 January, seven days after Full Moon. The CCF launched their attack on US X Corps in the Chosin Reservoir area on the night of 27 - 28 November, four days after Full Noon. The enemy may well have considered that the visibility afforded his troops by moon illumination out-weighed the disadvantage suffered as a result of UN Air action during this period of favorable air operating conditions. The details of the CCF night attack have been incorporated in the foregoing paragraphs.

    C. North Korean tactics for small unit night attacks

    Statements by North Korean Prisoners of War have consistently disclosed the following tactics to be employed in night attacks:

    (1) Soldiers to participate in the night attack are selected by the officers assigned the mission of launching the attack. Particular emphasis is placed on strength, health and character in the selection of the men.

    (2) During the day the soldiers are told of the attack scheduled for that night and are given an opportunity to rest and sleep. Two hours prior to departure time the men arc awakened.

    (3) The men are oriented on the route and method of approach to enemy positions, and the special. pass-word and signal to be used during the attack. After thorough study of the area, the assembly point for use after the attack is selected.

    (4) The approach to the attack area is through defiles, valleys, and along little-used trails with the troops in a single file formation - 10 yards between men. When a point is reached some 100 - 200 yards from UN positions, the attacking force deploys. After each man is positioned, the attackers crawl to 50 yards of enemy lines. The first shot, fired by the leader, is the signal for all men to charge and open fire on the UN forces. Each man is quipped with the PPSh sub-machine gun. Heavy and light machine guns are deployed to assist a withdrawal in the event the attack fails.

    (5) The attack will usually take place at approximately 0400 hours and seldom on moonlit nights.

    (6) Reports have been received that North Korean troops carry wooden clappers for deception purposes to simulate fire and at the same time conserve ammunition.

    (7) Local civilians are employed to spy on the enemy and obtain information concerning the terrain over which the attack will take place.


    • Enemy Tactics, Techniques and Doctrine, US Army Military History Research Collection n. 183, September 1951, Chapter II Tactics, pp. 16-21.

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