Warning: The job of tunnel rats was not for the faint of heart.

Imagine having to crawl in this underground tunnel that extends far, far below to where your flashlight could dimly shine, with the hole just big enough to squeeze your way down. If you’re not claustrophobic and managed to actually psych yourself up and get in there, the next challenge would be keeping yourself alive and hoping that there were no booby traps along the dark way, or maybe dangerous insects and animals that the enemies purposefully put like venomous snakes and scorpions, or that no Viet Cong was waiting for you at the end of the tunnel. Yep, that’s pretty much the life of the tunnel rats during the Vietnam War. Another day, another tunnel.

Living Underground

The Vietnam War was fought between the American and South Vietnamese forces versus the communist guerilla troops called Viet Cong (VC). What the Viet Cong did to combat their enemies who had better supplies was to dig tens of thousands of tunnels, with an extensive network of them running far underground in the Cu Chi district northwest of Saigon. The Viet Cong used these underground routes as hideouts, means to transport their communications, arsenals, and other needed supplies, place their booby traps, and make surprise attacks before quickly jumping back in the tunnel and to safety.

The communists began this network of tunnels in the late 1940s during their war of independence from the French colonialists and did so by digging the tunnels by hand, a short distance at a time. They started in the jungle terrain of South Vietnam and expanded from there. When the United States military presence in Vietnam began to increase in the 1960s as a support to the non-communist South Vietnamese troops, the Viet Cong also started expanding their tunnels. At the peak of the Vietnam War, their network of tunnels in the Cu Chi district linked their support bases around a distance of 250 kilometers, running from the outskirts of Saigon up to the borders of Cambodia.