CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

  • 08/12/2018
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CU CHI TUNNEL were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968... CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

The tunnels of Cu Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located at Cu Chi District of Saigon, Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968.

The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to Saigon Army, USA and their Allies.

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

The tunnels of Cu Chi did not go unnoticed by U.S. officials. They recognized the advantages that the Viet Cong held with the tunnels, and accordingly launched several major campaigns to search out and destroy the tunnel system. Among the most important of these were Operation Crimp and Operation Cedar Falls.

Operation Crimp began on January 7, 1966, with Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers dropping 30-ton loads of high explosive onto the region of Cu Chi, effectively turning the once lush jungle into a pockmarked moonscape. Eight thousand troops from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment combed the region looking for any clues of PLAF activity.

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

The operation did not bring about the desired success; for instance, on occasions when troops found a tunnel, they would often underestimate its size. Rarely would anyone be sent in to search the tunnels, as it was so hazardous. The tunnels were often rigged with explosive booby traps or punji stick pits. The two main responses in dealing with a tunnel opening were to flush the entrance with gas, water or hot tar to force the Viet Cong soldiers into the open, or to toss a few grenades down the hole and "crimp" off the opening. This approach proved ineffective due to the design of the tunnels and the strategic use of trap doors and air filtration systems.

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

However, an Australian specialist engineering troop, 3 Field Troop, under the command of Captain Sandy MacGregor did venture into the tunnels which they searched exhaustively for four days, finding ammunition, radio equipment, medical supplies and food as well as signs of considerable Viet Cong presence. One of their number, Corporal Bob Bowtell, died when he became trapped in a tunnel that turned out to be a dead end. However, the Australians pressed on and revealed, for the first time, the immense military significance of the tunnels. At an international press conference in Saigon shortly after Operation Crimp, MacGregor referred to his men as Tunnel Ferrets. An American journalist, having never heard of ferrets, used the term Tunnel Rats and it stuck. Following his troop's discoveries in Cu Chi, Sandy MacGregor was awarded a Military Cross.

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

From its mistakes, and the Australians' discoveries, U.S. command realized that they needed a new way to approach the dilemma of the tunnels. A general order was issued by General Williamson, the Allied Forces Commander in South Vietnam, to all Allied forces that tunnels had to be properly searched whenever they were discovered. They began training an elite group of volunteers in the art of tunnel warfare, armed only with a gun, a knife, a flashlight and a piece of string. These specialists, commonly known as "tunnel rats", would enter a tunnel by themselves and travel inch-by-inch cautiously looking ahead for booby traps or cornered PLAF. There was no real doctrine for this approach and despite some very hard work in some sectors of the Army and MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) to provide some sort of training and resources, this was primarily a new approach that the units trained, equipped and planned for themselves.

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

Despite this revamped effort at fighting the enemy on their own terms, U.S. operations remained insufficient at eliminating the tunnels completely. In 1967, General William Westmoreland tried launching a larger assault on Cu Chi and the Iron Triangle. Called Operation Cedar Falls, it was similar to the previous Operation Crimp, however on a larger scale with 30,000 troops instead of the 8,000. On January 18, tunnel rats from the 1st BN 5th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division uncovered the Viet Cong district headquarters of Cu Chi, containing half a million documents concerning all types of military strategy. Among the documents were maps of U.S. bases, detailed accounts of PLAF movement from Cambodia into Vietnam, lists of political sympathizers, and even plans for a failed assassination attempt on Robert McNamara.

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

By 1969, B-52s were freed from bombing North Vietnam and started "carpet bombing" Cu Chi and the rest of the Iron Triangle. Ultimately it proved successful. Towards the end of the war, the tunnels were so heavily bombed that some portions actually caved in and other sections were exposed. But by that time, they had succeeded in protecting the local North Vietnamese units and letting them "survive to fight another day".

Throughout the course of the war, the tunnels in and around Cu Chi proved to be a source of frustration for the U.S. military in Saigon. The Viet Cong had been so well entrenched in the area by 1965 that they were in the unique position of locally being able to control where and when battles would take place. By helping to covertly move supplies and house troops, the tunnels of Cu Chi allowed North Vietnamese fighters in their area of South Vietnam to survive, help prolong the war and increase American costs and casualties until their eventual withdrawal in 1972, and the final defeat of South Vietnam in 1975.

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER

CU CHI TUNNEL - VIETNAMRIDER


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