The tunnel systems (where the water table permitted) had several levels, each level was separated by a watertight trap door which would seal the rest of the system against gas, flooding, etc. The trap doors themselves were virtually undetectable and could fool a person into believing that the tunnel finished in a dead end, when in reality it led into a huge system of other passages. These passages would lead to underground ammo dumps, kitchens, air raid shelters, hospitals, store rooms, workshops, latrines, and even theatres for the performances of political plays.
The VC also dragged the bodies of their dead comrades underground in order to intern them in temporary graves when it became impossible to bury them above ground due to the presence of American/Australian troops. Once they had been dragged underground they were buried in the fetus position in the tunnel walls and covered with a thin layer of clay.
The common practice to deny tunnels to the enemy in US forces was to seal the entrances or throw tear gas inside to force the occupants of the tunnels out.
When the US forces started a massive search and destroy operation against VC (Viet Cong) in the Bo Ho woods, Northwest of Saigon, they suffered serious casualties but the enemy usually disappeared when the US forces gave a chase. It then appeared that the VC used complex tunnel systems for movements and ambushes.
Sergeant Sweetheart Green of the Australian army gave the VC a chase by entering their tunnels.
Hazards troops might face in the tunnels include booby traps, pressure release bombs, punji stakes, snake traps ( VC would tie a deadly bamboo pit viper which has a hemotoxin venom to ceilings, bushes so that they bite an unaware enemy in the neck, face or hands. VC would also hide snakes in sacks, crates etc), and mines. Apart from regular ambushes, some tunnels had special holes in the walls for VC to thrust stakes through them and impale any intruder.
Sometimes VC would lay in wait on trap doors and entrances and wait for a soldier to emerge and then kill them with stakes, shots, and knives.
Some non-fatal dangers included bat swarms, spiders, and the notorious Vietnamese fire ants. Not to mention one could also get lost in the tunnels.
Upon detecting a tunnel entrance, soldiers would check the surrounding area of any booby traps and disarm them if found and a grenade would be thrown inside the tunnel entrance.
Then the point man would be lowered head first into the tunnel held by his feet by his comrades. He would be holding a pistol in his right hand and a flashlight in left hand. He would see for any enemy and feel the walls and ground for any booby traps and mines. He would be secured by a rope so that he may be pulled out in case of any emergency. The second man would then come inside.
The point man would constantly look for booby traps and enemy activity while the second man would note the soil and amount of overburden which would be later required in demolition calculations.
They would sense for the enemy and alert to movements and sounds like cocking of weapon or sound of grenade pin being pulled.
The primary mission was to kill the enemies and troops were instructed not to fire 5-6 shots in a row as it would tell the enemy that tunnel rats were about to reload.
They would then search the tunnel for S2 intelligence, maps and documents and would recover any arms and ammunition found in tunnels.
After searching the tunnel and getting out, they would get in again with C4 explosive charges which would be placed at tunnel bends and at strong points in calculated amounts. After getting out and at a safe distance, they would detonate the charges and hence demolish the tunnel.
Lonnie Robbins RA12902953 KIA September 18, 1967 in the Ho Bo woods. He is coming out of tunnel 10 minutes before he died of a booby trap.
One can’t imagine the feeling of crawling into a tiny hole, not knowing who is in there, where it leads and what dangers lie beyond each turn. We have the utmost respect and admiration for those bad a$$ enough to have been tunnel rats!
Below is an interview with a tunnel rat that quickly will help you realize the reality they faced.
If you would like to read another article on this blog relating to Tunnel Rats then click on the following link: http://wp.me/pRiEw-op
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