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The Underground War: 10 Things To Know About Cu Chi Tunnels

The Underground War: 10 Things To Know About Cu Chi Tunnels

In order to combat better-supplied American and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, Communist guerrilla troops known as Viet Cong (VC) dug tens of thousands of miles of tunnels, including an extensive network running underneath the Cu Chi district northwest of Saigon. Soldiers used these underground routes to house troops, transport communications and supplies, lay booby traps and mount surprise attacks, after which they could disappear underground to safety. To combat these guerrilla tactics, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces trained soldiers known as “tunnel rats” to navigate the tunnels in order to detect booby traps and enemy troop presence. Now part of a Vietnam War memorial park in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), the Cu Chi tunnels have become a popular tourist attraction.

1 – Underground Digging

The Underground War: 10 Things To Know About Cu Chi TunnelsVietcong Guerrillas Tunnel (Image Source)

Men and women of all ages, in the darkness of night, dug the tunnels with a little more than rudimentary tools. The soil and excavated material would be carried out of tunnels and carefully dispersed in Bomb craters and rivers to keep the tunnel sites covert. The excavation started at ground level and slowly because of the artillery and bombings, Underground networks became more expansive and complex as hospitals, dorms, workshops, meeting rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms were created.

2 – Tunnel Levels

The Underground War: 10 Things To Know About Cu Chi TunnelsDuring the Vietnam War, the system was continuously expanded and upgraded to a 250 km system with three levels of tunnels: 6m, 8m, and 10m deep underground. (Image Source)

There were four levels with varying depths, with first level, at three to four meters below ground, using traps, ventilation shafts, and firing posts, second level had kitchens and sleeping chambers, third level gave way to aid stations, storage, and tunnel connections, withstanding mortar attacks at 6 to 7 meters. The fourth level tapped into the tunnel’s water sources, wells were dug and each level led to the Saigon River.

3 – Ventilation

10 Of The Most Ingenious Features Of Cu Chi TunnelsVentilation through widespread holes

To survive the extreme lack of oxygen, air was channeled through widely dispersed holes to accommodate thousands of soldiers underground, who were forced to remain there for weeks at a time.

4 – Community Life

10 Of The Most Ingenious Features Of Cu Chi TunnelsAs the tunnels grew, arms stores, hospitals, bomb shelters and even theatres to stage politically-motivating plays were added.

To survive the brutal tunnel conditions, communities were sometimes left to eat stale rice, grass, and even drink their own urine. Women, children, and men of all age contributed to the fight in the tunnels, and where there were gloom of war at one end, the Viet Cong also managed to create moments of joy to uplift the village moral.

5 – Recycled American Weaponry

10 Of The Most Ingenious Features Of Cu Chi TunnelsConsequently, the Viet Cong ingeniously fought the American forces with their own weapons.

Viet Cong diligently collected waste materials like Detonated bombs, and supplies left by the Americans to overcome the shortcomings in their  weaponry and technology. The shrapnel was sold, and earnings were used to supply food to the tunnel dwellers.

6 – Scent Concealment

10 Of The Most Ingenious Features Of Cu Chi TunnelsAt its peak the Cu Chi tunnel network covered some 250 kilometres - from the Cambodian border in the west to the outskirts of what was then Saigon.

The American and German sniff dogs were diverted and confused by placing American soap, uniforms, and belongings in ventilation holes and surrounding entranceways. To allow breathing air, and dispersing cooking smoke and burning firewood, strategic channels were designed at the base of trees, within thick grasses, and even in termite nests that are difficult to detect.

7 – Secret Entrance Ways

10 Of The Most Ingenious Features Of Cu Chi TunnelsEntrances to the tunnels were always carefully disguised

Viet Cong’s gunshots, which seemed to be coming from the edge of forests, tricked the American soldiers, also the fighters would spot Allied troops passing one location to creep up and attack from a closer passageway. The entrance ways allowed soldiers to quickly vanish below ground to safety and to sneak out at night to steal ammunition, weapons, and food.

8 – Narrow Tunnel Walls

The Underground War: 10 Things To Know About Cu Chi TunnelsPreparing to enter the Viet Cong's underground fortress

Taking advantage of their slender bodies, Viet Cong built tiny entranceways and tunnel walls, where Wide-bodied Americans and their long M1 American rifles would invariably get stuck. Even smaller-bodied “Tunnel Rats” trained within the American forces to follow the Viet Cong into their tunnels became disoriented with a series of U-turns and narrow twists.

9 – Underground Hospitals

10 Of The Most Ingenious Features Of Cu Chi TunnelsSecret Underground Hospitals (Image Source)

Overcoming major supply shortages underground, these were operated by torchlight and a patient’s own blood was bottle-collected then reintroduced into the body using the pump and a rubber hose. Herbal remedies and acupuncture were commonly administered and pharmaceutical medicine was purchased on the black market.

10 – Booby Traps

10 Of The Most Ingenious Features Of Cu Chi TunnelsOther Punji traps were not necessarily aimed to kill but rather to slow enemy troops, sometimes to a halt.

Punji traps in which, durable bamboo sticks sharpened like arrow heads were staked with sharp end up, positioned at the ground level within the tunnels, are probably the most iconic booby traps used by Viet Cong. They are camouflaged to look like tunnel floors. Some of these were also created with an aim to slow down the soldiers and not kill them.


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