They were constructed with simple hand tools, and were expanded considerably during the second Vietnam War, and gave a strategic advantage to local North Vietnamese sympathisers over the Americans. People lived, ate, slept, gave birth, studied and even married in the tunnels. However it is estimated that over 10,000 people lost their lives in the area. The Americans and their South Vietnamese allies also lost a considerable number.
Very near the capital of South Vietnam
Củ Chi, being near to greater Saigon ( Ho Chi Minh city) were used extensively by the Viet Cong (Vietnamese supporting Vietnam’s liberation from foreign domination) and the Viet Minh ( a military and political oganisation led by Ho Chi Minh) and the NVA ( North Vietnamese Army).
They were used as lines of communications and logistics, and within their complicated but organised structure were barracks, hospitals, weapons and food storage – all of which proved invaluable in the ultimate success of Vietnamese arms.
Life in the tunnels could be unpleasant
However, life within the vast complex was unpleasant -supplies of water and food were erratic and the vast majority of soldiers and civilians had major health issues – malaria and intestinal disorders being the most common and there was always a battle against the filth and vermin – rats, scorpions, poisonous centipedes and ants.
The allies launch a campaign against the tunnels
The Americans initially had no idea of how extensive the tunnel complex was but were aware of it’s existence, and they launched major campaigns to combat it’s effectiveness. Volunteers went into the tunnels to try and explore their complexities, but the internal defenses – spiked pits, booby traps were just a few of the many hazards. It was Australian troops which initially discovered part of the vast complex, which was a total surprise to the allies.
In 1966 the Americans and Australians launched Operation Crimp, which started with a heavy bombing of the whole of the Củ Chi area – creating a “moonscape” out on once lush jungle.
Another operation with over 30,000 troops proved to be as ineffectual, but trained ‘tunnel rats” – men courageous and skinny enough to go into the complex, did discover a company headquarters with much valuable information.
Continued bombing led to the abandonment of the tunnels around Củ Chi in 1969, but by that time they had served their purpose – there were plenty more around Saigon and along the Ho Chi Minh trails. The Americans left in 1972 and the Republic of Vietnam fell in 1975.
Some of the 75 mile complex has been preserved by the Vietnamese government – many have been widened and restored so tourist can explore them, and understand their significance in the struggle for Vietnamese independence.
The English born comedian Bob Hope was a regular entertainer of troops in Vietnam and his shows at Củ Chi were held directly over much of the tunnel complex, unknown to the Americans at the time.
For more information of this and other sites in South East Asia please contact DTC Travel