Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Quote from American Marine diary about tracers during vietnam:

0200 hours - Heavier fire coming in. Never had seen green tracers used against us. In a way, kind of pretty to look at, red tracers going out and green coming in; deadly green.

I really wish these sources could be a bit better but honestly information on this is surprisingly weak. If anyone reading this happens to have fought in Vietnam and can confirm that american rounds are red and VC rounds were green, that would be wonderful.

(block quote above is from SciFi StackExchange answer to question What is the significance of the reversed colours of imperial and rebellion lasers compared to lightsabres?)

Is there some historical confirmation to this assumption about tracer color being uniformly consistent red/green on both sides?

share|improve this question
Hm, I do remember a story about US troops using green flamed M62 tracers in Iraq to confuse Iraqis. NATO tracers are indeed red(ish) and white, but no idea how standard that is, what the standard was in Vietnam, or if green was the standard for Warsaw Pact countries. –  Yannis Rizos Sep 13 '13 at 11:55

2 Answers 2

Here's a thread on ar15.com (a gun enthusiast forum) discussing it, and coming up with a variety of experiences both confirming and denying the NATO: red, WarPac: green mantra.
Here's a vendor selling both NATO and WarPac ammo, with both red and green tracers on both styles.
There are also other colours in use, though seemingly less common, such as white and orange, with infrared tracers becoming more common as night vision equipment becomes ever more widespread.

To make matters more confusing, the round will have a different painted tip or ring around it to identify it as a tracer, which may or may not have the same colour as the trace itself (so a red-tipped round may burn green and v.v.).

share|improve this answer
I did see that the painting on the ammo doesn't tend to match the tracer colors. In this case only the actual tracer chemical trail is relevant, but it does make it confusing in terms of naming and so on. There will definitely be tracers of the other color used by each block (for stealth missions, confusion of the enemy, etc). What I'm really looking for is what the default tracer rounds would have been for each side (I imagine there was a default, though maybe the military is less consistent than I imagine) –  Lawton Sep 13 '13 at 14:22
The question is more about VC and Vietnam war, less so about morern NATO –  DVK Sep 13 '13 at 14:25
The communists use green tracers and NATO uses red tracers (as far as I know). There's another quote in favor of it being a general rule from the AR15 forum. –  Lawton Sep 13 '13 at 14:30
@Lawton yes, in general, but not universal. Even during Vietnam the US was already experimenting with white tracer for example, and the claim seems to only talk about infantry ammo while claiming universal truth and there's things like AAA and aircraft ammo as well. –  jwenting Sep 14 '13 at 4:12
That's what I meant, yeah. –  Lawton Sep 14 '13 at 4:22

A tracer projectile is constructed with a hollow base filled with a pyrotechnic flare material, often made of phosphorus or magnesium or other bright burning chemicals. In NATO standard ammunition (including U.S.), this is usually a mixture of strontium compounds (nitrate, peroxide, etc.) and a metal fuel such as magnesium. This yields a bright red light. Russian and Chinese tracer ammunition generates green light using barium salts. Some modern designs use compositions that produce little to no visible light and radiate mainly in infrared, being visible only on night vision equipment. However, one cannot see the tracer that is heading for or near you. In modern times the majority of tracer ammunition is red/orange, with the exceptions of decades old ammunition. Note; during the Viet Nam conflict the "VC" did not manufacture their ammunition. It was purchased/issued via the USSR and or China, hence the green tracer.

share|improve this answer
Great answer - can you offer a cite for further exploration on the topic? –  RI Swamp Yankee Feb 26 '14 at 14:49

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.