Articles

These were the terrifying dangers of being a 'Tunnel Rat' in Vietnam

If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn't dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.


Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a "Tunnel Rat" didn't have much in the way of defense.

"The most dangerous part would be psyching up to get into the tunnel," Carl Cory says, a former 25th Infantry Div Tunnel Rat. "That was the part that was most frightening because you didn't what you were getting into."

Related: This video shows the ingenuity behind the Viet Cong tunnel systems

Sgt. Ronald H. Payne, a Tunnel Rat, bravely searches a tunnel's entrance during Vietnam War. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In 1946, the Viet Minh were the Viet Cong resistance fighters who began digging the tunnels and bunkers to combat the French, whom they would eventually defeat.

By the time the Vietnam War broke out, the Viet Cong had over 100-miles of tunnels with which to spring deadly ambushes on American and South Vietnamese forces before vanishing.

The numerous spider holes (as the tunnel entrances were sometimes called) were conveniently located and well camouflaged — nearly impossible to detect.

Also Read: American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

It was the duty of the brave Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel's entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence. Due to the intense and dangerous nature of the job, many Tunnel Rats became so emotionally desensitized that entering a spider hole was just another day at the office — no big deal.

Sgt. Ronald A. Payne searches a Vietnamese tunnel armed with only a flashlight and a pistol. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

With danger lurking around every corner, the Tunnel Rat not only had to dodge the various savage booby traps set by the Viet Cong, but typically only carried 6-7 rounds of ammunition with him even though the tunnels were commonly used to house up to a few dozen enemy combatants.

With all those physical dangers to consider, the courageous troop still needed to maintain a clear and precise mental state of mind and not let the fear get the best of him.

After completing a search, many American and South Vietnamese units would rig the tunnels with C-4 explosives or bring in the always productive flamethrowers to flush out or kill any remaining hostiles.

Check out the video below to witness the dangers for yourself.

(Jeff Quitney, YouTube)
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