Cu Chi Tunnels: A Symbol of Vietnamese spirit

Cu Chi Tunnels: A Symbol of Vietnamese spirit

Submitted by alvin on Tue, 2016-05-24 09:06 For long, I had heard of jungle warfare mounted by Vietnamese to fight the mighty Americans using guerilla tactics and booby traps. This made me to travel to Saigon to gather firsthand information about the Vietnam War. The location of several military campaigns where guerilla tactics were practiced most is a place called Cu Chi, about 70km northwest of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Cu Chi became legendary during 1960s for facilitating Viet Cong Guerillas to control a large area through a network of underground tunnels. Originally constructed in 1945 when they were fighting French in the first Indo-China war, the tunnels had lain dormant until 1960. By 1960s, the Viet Cong had a network of tunnels over 200kms long. One network of tunnels went right below the American Army Command area. They were constructed at three different levels, one meter below ground; three meters below ground; and ten meters below ground.  While some tunnels are designed to accommodate hospitals, war rooms, workshops etc., many were used as living quarters. Various types of camouflages were used to hide from the enemy and to prevent the enemy coming near.   What is amazing is the ability of the Viet Cong to dig up such huge network of tunnels only by hand and actually use them for war purposes. Considering that it was a forest area full of reptiles, dangerous animals and insects and considering that the tunnels were devoid of proper ventilation, lighting and oxygen supply, one cannot but marvel at the grit of the Viet Cong, whose fighters comprised of not only men and women but also children and the elderly. Food was scarce and people had to make do with whatever available in the forest. Because of mosquitoes and lack of potable water, the rebels were subjected to a host of health problems. Hundreds died due to diseases but still they did not give up fight. The Viet Cong Guerillas were well organized. While the able-bodied went to fight, others helped in preparing arms and ammunitions. Unexploded bombs dropped by Americans were defused, cut open and the explosive material was used to make small bombs. The steel from the exploded bombs and tanks were ingeniously used to make deadly fighting instruments like booby traps. There was a workshop for blacksmiths in the tunnel itself. What is astonishing is the ingenious way of making booby traps to trap the enemy. At least half a dozen types of booby traps had been devised. Since cooking would give rise to smoke, which is turn would alert the enemy, the guerillas had devised ways to make smoke escape from small vents (which look like ant hills) far away from their kitchens. They would actually soak rice in a wet cloth and keep the cloth bag in the sun, so that the rice would be cooked. They would survive by eating Tapioca which is available in plenty. When the American forces came to know about the presence of these tunnels, they conducted two major operations, “Operation Crimp” in 1966 and “Operation Cedar Falls” in 1967. In the Operation Crimp, B-52 bombers were used apart from using various gases to flush out the guerillas. The bombs destroyed the lush forests. Operation Cedar Falls began in January 1967 and lasted 21 days.  In this operation over 30000 American and South Vietnamese troops participated. Americans were successful in cutting off supplies to guerillas. Americans also trained some of their soldiers naming them as “Tunnel Rats” to infiltrate the tunnel system, and dealt a serious blow to the Vietcong. Despite these two operations, the Viet Cong continued to fight the enemy leading them to desperation. Today, the Cu Chi tunnel system has become a very popular tourist attraction. At the visitor reception area one can see videos of how Cu Chi warriors fought the war. The visitors can see various types of booby traps and remnants of war. They can get into some tunnels and get a feeling of how the fighters lived. The tunnel system is an intricate web and for the uninitiated it is very difficult to fathom. There are two separate tunnel systems in Cu Chi. One known as Ben Dinh tunnel and the other as Ben Duoc Tunnel. A martyr’s memorial is also erected in the area. Each year, more than one million tourists visit Cu Chi tunnels which are symbol of indomitable will of the Viet Cong troops who sacrificed themselves for the cause of liberation. Author Dr D V Guruprasad (Former DGP) is presently the Chief Executive of the Gokula Education Foundation (Medical) which works in the field of education and health care.