In the early morning of April 23, 1972, a North Vietnamese anti-tank missile company ambushed South Vietnamese tanks from the 20th Armored Squadron outside Dong Ha, in northern South Vietnam near the Demilitarized Zone. The 10-minute engagement destroyed three of the squadron’s M48A2 Patton tanks and several M113 armored personnel carriers. It was the Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s first encounter with the Soviet-built missile, the 9M14 Malyutka, meaning “little one,” and designated by NATO as the AT-3 Sagger.
The North Vietnamese Army received the missiles the previous year and had just enough for three Sagger companies, which were used sparingly. All three were sent to the DMZ as a precaution against a U.S. armored intervention (that never came). In spring 1972, the NVA’s anti-tank missile teams blocked several poorly supported ARVN armored counterattacks, destroying or disabling more than a dozen tanks. The ARVN was forced back, causing Quang Tri, in South Vietnam’s northernmost province, to fall on May 2, 1972.
Entering Soviet service in late 1963, the 9M14 Malyutka had a manually controlled wire guided system, in which a human operator used wires attached to the missile to transmit signals that guide it. The missile and launch cradle came in a fiberglass “suitcase” with a detachable lid that was a launch mount for the missile. The control unit could be connected to four launchers. The operator tracked the missile via a periscope sight on the controller, using a joystick to guide it to the target. The missile spooled its control wires behind it as it flew.
The anti-tank companies normally deployed in three-man teams, each carrying four Sagger missiles. They were supported by a two-man team with RPG-7 shoulder-launched rocket-propelled grenades and an infantry squad. Although the Dong Ha engagement’s significance was not appreciated at the time, that battle and later the American success with the tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile introduced in 1970 brought guided anti-tank missiles to the modern battlefield.
System weight: 67 lbs.
Missile weight: 24 lbs.
Missile length: 3ft.
Finspan: 1 ft.
Warhead: High-explosive anti-tank round
Guidance: Manual control, line-of-sight wire-guided
Speed: 254 yds. per second
Max. range: 2 miles
Min. range: 328 yds.
Optimal range: 1,000 yds.
This article was published in the April 2019 issue of Vietnam magazine.