The Cu Chi Tunnels were part of a massive underground network of tunnels which lie underneath much of the country of Vietnam. During the Vietnam war the Viet Cong used these tunnels as hiding spots, hospitals,, supply routes, stores for food and weapons and communications. The tunnels at Cu Chi were an essential element in the Tet offensive in 1968 as the Viet Cong set up their base of operations in them.
Found in the Cu Chi district near Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon), seventy-five miles (121 kms) of preserved tunnels are now a tourist destination. On arrival you pay the entry fee and are given a stick on permit to wear. This entitles you to attend the lecture on the tunnels where a map of the system and explanation of life in the tunnels was given and then wander the grounds as well as enter some of the tunnels.
Life in the tunnels was certainly not easy for the Viet Cong as air, food and water was scarce and inhabiting the tunnels were a range of poisonous creatures such as centipedes and scorpions. The soldiers stayed underground during the day only coming out at night for food and to tend their crops and attack their enemy the US. Sometimes the men were forced to stay underground for days at times of heavy bombing and sickness was rife in the damp, cramped conditions. Malaria was the biggest cause of death after battle wounds.
The Americans knew about the tunnels and held two major campaigns to destroy them. The first Operation Crimp in 1966 was not successful. Following this an Australian team under Sandy Macgregor entered and searched the tunnels. They became known as the Tunnel Rats. Then the US began officially training a platoon of tunnel rats who entered the tunnels armed only with a gun, a knife and a piece of string. It must have terrified them as they inched forward in the cramped conditions looking for booby traps and soldiers. The second offensive, Operation Cedar Falls, in 1967 was undertaken with many more men and intensive bombing by B52s which caused a large amount of damage to the tunnels. However largely due to these tunnels the North Vietnamese were well entrenched in the area thus dragging out the war with US and Australian troops withdrawl in 1972 and eventual defeat of the South Vietnamese 1975.
How the Viet Cong and Tunnel Rats felt being in the tunnels I can only surmise but the waves of claustrophobia that overcame me as I entered and found the tunnel getting smaller and smaller was overwhelming. When we reached a part from which there would be no going back I made the retreat back, fearful of what might be in front. A few intrepid tourists continued on.
The Cu Chi tunnels are a must see if ever in Ho Ch Minh City.
18. WPC: Inside |
27. Just Snaps