Vietnamese Tunnels

Tunnel System
Picture Source: U.S. Army

The Vietnamese soldier was a very resourceful fighter. He proved himself time and time again against many of his enemies in several different wars. He was a jungle fighter and knew every inch of the terrain. He would take left over items from his enemy and turn them into lethal weapons. The Vietnamese soldiers could take materials from the jungle and also turn those into weapons. Bamboo and sticks became spears and spikes that were set into traps and sometimes coated with poisons. They would dig up American mines and take the explosive charges out of them and create bombs. Nothing was wasted, shell cases became shrapnel to be shot back at us. As resourceful as they were in creating weapons, their greatest achievement was their tunnel digging ability.

Discovering a tunnel
Picture Source: U.S. Army

In 1955 the first American advisors arrived in Vietnam. In 1965 the first American combat troops arrived. The war raged until January, 1973 when a cease fire was signed. Fifty eight thousand Americans were killed and 587,000 Vietnamese civilians were estimated killed with the total of all Vietnamese killed estimated at over 2,000,000. The war cost us over 150 billion dollars.

How did the North Vietnamese military survive? They did have heavy losses but were never destroyed and this was due in part to the fact that had dug elaborate tunnel systems from the north that went under the jungles. These tunnels had hospitals in them along with kitchens and sleeping areas. The tunnels at Cu Chi are an engineering marvel, and were used both against the French then against the Americans. The tunnels were begun in 1948 in the war with the French and extended for 30 miles and had only one level. As the war with the Americans grew more violent the tunnels were connected to each village where the villages were mostly pro North Vietnam. By the end of the war the tunnels stretched 155 miles and had 3 levels. The deepest tunnels went down 33 feet below the surface. There was room in the tunnels for over 10,000 soldiers but at their peak about 6,000 soldiers used them. Soldiers were only allowed to have knowledge about their section of the tunnel. If a soldier had to move to a different section, a guide was supplied, that way the Americans could never gain info on the entire tunnel system if a soldier was captured. Entrance ways were only about 8 X 14 inches and had leaves and sticks glued to them. When they were shut they completely disappeared into the landscape. The U.S. Army used soldiers to go into a tunnel when it was found. Some of the passageways were too small for Americans to get through since a North Vietnamese soldier might only weigh 105-110 pounds. We called these soldiers 'tunnel rats' and the Vietnamese called them 'rat soldiers'. Those who did crawl in, faced booby traps and ambushes.

Ladder leading to tunnel
Picture Source: U.S. Air Force

Some tunnels were hidden by hatches that had leaves and dirt on them but when you lifted the cover off an explosion took place right in your face. When you got into the tunnel you couldn't see too far ahead because of the way the tunnels were built. They purposely curved, limiting you vision to only 20 or 30 feet ahead. Sometime you encountered water. The water was there to detect sound as you went through it, there was usually an armed North Vietnamese soldier hiding nearby.

Inside a tunnel
Picture Source: U.S. Air Force


Today the tunnels are serving another purpose in Vietnam, another very important purpose. They are a tourist attraction. Thousands of tourists flock to see them, and to walk and crawl through them. There are ranges near them where people can fire a Kalashnikov rifle for $1.00 per bullet. And who are these tourists? You guessed it, many are Americans.

Another tunnel entrance
Picture Source: U.S. Air Force

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