Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram
 

The tunnels of Cu Chi: A network of underground tunnels used as hideouts for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War

David Goran

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground passages located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country.

Entrance sign at the tunnels. Photo Credit

Entrance sign at the tunnels. Photo Credit

 

During the war in Vietnam, thousands of people in the Vietnamese province of Cu Chi lived in an elaborate network of underground tunnels. Photo Credit

During the war in Vietnam, thousands of people in the Vietnamese province of Cu Chi lived in an elaborate network of underground tunnels. Photo Credit

The tunnels were built over a period of 25 years that began sometime in the late 1940s, during their war of independence from French colonial authority.

The Chu Chi Tunnels were also utilized and expanded during the American-Vietnamese War by incorporating effective air filtration systems.

Tunnels were often dug by hand, only a short distance at a time. Photo Credit

Tunnels were often dug by hand, only a short distance at a time. Photo Credit

The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance against the American forces and played a major role in North Vietnam winning the war.

The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, weapon caches, and food and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters.

A trap door on the jungle floor leads down into the Củ Chi tunnels. Closed and camouflaged, it is almost undetectable. Photo Credit The camouflaged trap door, now open. Photo Credit

A trap door on the jungle floor leads down into the Củ Chi tunnels. Closed and camouflaged, it is almost undetectable. Photo Credit The camouflaged trap door, now open. Photo Credit

The historical site comprises more than 120km of underground tunnels with living areas, kitchens, storage facilities, armories, hospitals, and command centers.

Most of the time, soldiers would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops, or engage the enemy in battle. The tunnels were often rigged with explosive booby traps or punji stake pits.

VC soldiers lurking in the tunnels set numerous booby traps for U.S. and South Vietnamese infantrymen. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit 2

VC soldiers lurking in the tunnels set numerous booby traps for U.S. and South Vietnamese infantrymen. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit 2

 

A booby trap with punji sticks.. Photo Credit

A booby trap with punji sticks. Photo Credit

Throughout the course of the war, the tunnels in and around Củ Chi proved to be a source of frustration for the U.S. military. The Viet Cong had been so well rooted in the area by 1965 that they were in the unique position of being able to dictate where and when battles would take place.

A local guide entering a tiny secret entrance. Photo Credit

A local guide entering a tiny secret entrance. Photo Credit

 

As they were built so deep underground, military tanks could pass overhead without causing any damage to the tunnels. Photo Credit

As they were built so deep underground, military tanks could pass overhead without causing any damage to the tunnels. Photo Credit

As the United States relied heavily on aerial bombing, North Vietnamese, and VC troops went underground in order to survive and continue their guerrilla tactics against the much better-supplied enemy. The US and Australian forces tried a variety of methods to detect and infiltrate the tunnels, but all were met with failure.

The clever design of the tunnels, along with the strategic use of trap doors and air filtration systems, rendered American technology ineffective.

 

Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days. Photo Credit

Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days. Photo Credit

To combat these guerrilla tactics, the US army began sending men called ‘tunnel rats’ down into the tunnels. The job of a tunnel rat was fraught with immense dangers.

These specialists, armed only with a gun, a knife, a flashlight and a piece of string, would spend hours navigating the cramped, dark tunnels, cautiously looking ahead for booby traps and scouting for enemy troops.

The light from the battery powered lamp wasn’t enough to pierce the darkness inside the tunnels, and there was no room to turn around and retreat. The tunnel rats, who were often involved in underground fire-fights, sustained appallingly high casualty rates.

An example of a boobytrap at Cu Chi Tunnels. These traps were originally used for bears, but during the war they were used to trap other enemy soldiers. Photo Credit

An example of a booby trap at Cu Chi Tunnels. These traps were originally used for bears, but during the war, they were used to trap other enemy soldiers. Photo Credit

By helping to covertly move supplies and house troops, the tunnels of Củ 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.

Part of the tunnel complex at Củ Chi, this tunnel has been made wider and taller to accommodate tourists. Photo Credit

Part of the tunnel complex at Củ Chi, this tunnel has been made wider and taller to accommodate tourists. Photo Credit

 

A command center where visitors can eat meals that the Viet Cong fighters had eaten. Photo Credit

A command center where visitors can eat meals that the Viet Cong fighters had eaten. Photo Credit

The 120-km long complex of tunnels at Cu Chi has since been preserved and turned into a war memorial park which offers a sneak-peek into the underground life of Vietnamese soldiers back in 1948.