Tunnel warfare, also known as underground warfare, is a form of warfare that involves fighting within and around underground tunnels and other subterranean structures. It poses significant challenges and difficulties for both the attacking and defending forces. This essay will discuss the various complexities and obstacles associated with tunnel warfare, highlighting the unique nature of this type of warfare.

During my ten tours in Afghanistan, I had the opportunity to conduct tunnel warfare. I am one of the few contemporary military leaders who had the experience of going into the tunnels. I know how dangerous, complex, uncertain, and challenging tunnel warfare is. B Company 1st Battalion 3rd Special Forces cleared the tunnels superbly.

Tunnel warfare has been employed in numerous conflicts, showcasing its effectiveness and impact on military operations. From ancient times to modern warfare, various civilizations and military forces have utilized tunnel warfare as a strategic and tactical tool. This essay will discuss some historical aspects of tunnel warfare, highlighting notable examples and their significance.

One of the earliest recorded instances of tunnel warfare can be traced back to ancient China during the Warring States period (476-221 BC). The Chinese engineer and strategist Zhuge Liang famously used tunnel warfare to overcome the fortress of Chengdu. His forces secretly dug tunnels beneath the city walls, allowing them to infiltrate and capture the stronghold. This successful employment of tunnel warfare demonstrated its potential to bypass fortifications and gain a tactical advantage.

During the Middle Ages, tunnel warfare continued to breach castle walls and fortifications. Siege warfare often involved the construction of tunnels, known as saps or mines, to undermine and collapse the enemy’s defenses. Such tunnels were particularly prominent in the Crusades, where both Christian and Muslim forces employed them extensively.

In more recent history, tunnel warfare played a significant role in World War I, particularly on the Western Front. An intricate network of underground tunnels supplemented the complex trenches that stretched across the battlefield. These tunnels served various purposes, including troop movements, supply lines, and surprise attacks on enemy positions. The Battle of Messines in 1917 is a notable example, where British forces successfully detonated a series of mines placed beneath German positions, resulting in a significant offensive breakthrough.

Tunnel warfare also featured prominently in the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong, a guerrilla force fighting against the United States and South Vietnamese forces, utilized an extensive network known as the Cu Chi tunnels. These tunnels provided the Viet Cong with hiding places, storage facilities, and tactical advantages against their more technologically advanced adversaries. The Cu Chi tunnels became a symbol of the resilience and resourcefulness of the Viet Cong and showcased the effectiveness of tunnel warfare in asymmetrical conflicts.