The PT-76 was an amphibious tank design developed by the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. Armed with a relatively small (for the era) 76 mm gun and intended to spearhead river crossings, it took up station with several units occupying the Warsaw Pact countries for a potential thrust into western Europe. Yet, against NATO and the Americans, thankfully, it would never be used.
Instead, it was deployed during the Vietnam War as one of a handful of tank models supplied to the North Vietnamese Army by their Soviet allies. In this environment, the mere fact that an enemy possessed a tank of any type was enough to startle many a soldier or base camp that often had to face them without any armor of their own. Additionally, if tanks could get close enough or be used at night, it was discovered that the most favored method of dealing with them, the airstrike, was rendered useless.
Such an event occurred in the battle of Lang Vei, a Special Forces camp in Quang Tri province that had the misfortune of enduring a full-on assault by several PT-76s and a mass of infantry. Here, a small group of Green Berets and the indigenous forces under their command found themselves facing a desperate last-stand scenario that culminated in a handful of them being reduced to a position a few yards in diameter, and the enemy, quite literally, on top of them while the rest of their units lay dead or taken prisoner. The following is, as accurate as possible, an account of a moment in time when, in a war by the day growing evermore unpopular, a small group of men faced death at arm’s length and through sheer will to survive, somehow overcame it.
Origins of the attack at Lang Vei began when several detachments of two divisions united after intense combat that began even before the famous Tet Offensive of January 31, 1968. These were the 24th Regiment of the 304th division, supported by the second Battalion of the 325th division, the second artillery Battalion, and most importantly the 198th Tank Battalion equipped with 22 PT 76s.