We don’t talk enough about the tunnel rats from Vietnam. That’s a level a bravery that’s not even human.
“Here’s a knife and a flashlight. Go into this tunnel and go kill some some guys. Watch out for the bamboo viper booby traps (they’d nail their tales to a board), the trip wires, and the bamboo shoots the VC will stick through your neck so you can’t move.”
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.
It was the duty of the Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel’s entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence.
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.
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.
Tunnel rats were generally small guys, (165 cm (5 ft 5 in) and under), who were able to maneuver more comfortably in the narrow tunnels. Tom Mangold and John Penycate, authors of one of the definitive accounts of tunnel warfare during the Vietnam War, reported that the U.S. tunnel rats were almost exclusively European (Italian, Irish) or Hispanic (Mexican Americans).
Tunnel Rats first garnered public attention in January 1966, after a combined U.S. and Australian operation against the Củ Chi tunnels in Bình Dương Province, known as Operation Crimp. The “Diehards” of the U.S. Army’s 1st Engineer Battalion, whose exploits are featured in Mangold and Penycate’s book, later claimed a special place for tunnel rats in American military history during their rotation through the Cu Chi District of South Vietnam in 1969.