The Tunnels Of Cu Chi: A Harrowing Account Of America's Tunnel Rats In The Underground Battlefields Of Vietnam

byTom Mangold, John Penycate

Mass Market Paperback | November 29, 2005

The Tunnels Of Cu Chi: A Harrowing Account Of America's Tunnel Rats In The Underground Battlefields Of Vietnam by Tom Mangold
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At the height of the Vietnam conflict, a complex system of secret underground tunnels sprawled from Cu Chi Province to the edge of Saigon. In these burrows, the Viet Cong cached their weapons, tended their wounded, and prepared to strike. They had only one enemy: U.S. soldiers small and wiry enough to maneuver through the guerrillas’ narrow domain.

The brave souls who descended into these hellholes were known as “tunnel rats.” Armed with only pistols and K-bar knives, these men inched their way through the steamy darkness where any number of horrors could be awaiting them–bullets, booby traps, a tossed grenade. Using firsthand accounts from men and women on both sides who fought and killed in these underground battles, authors Tom Mangold and John Penycate provide a gripping inside look at this fearsome combat. The Tunnels of Cu Chi is a war classic of unbearable tension and unforgettable heroes.

Praise for The Tunnels of Cu Chi

“A claustrophobic but fascinating tale.”The Wall Street Journal

“Chilling . . . what war really was and how it was fought.”The New York Times

“Gripping . . . highly recommended.”The Philadelphia Inquirer 

“Remarkable.”The Washington Post
Tom Mangold has been an investigative reporter with BBC TV and a reporter for the Sunday Mirror and the Daily Express. As a war correspondent, he covered Vietnam, two Middle East wars, and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. His first book, The File on the Tsar, was an international bestseller.John Penycate is a journalist who has rep...
Title:The Tunnels Of Cu Chi: A Harrowing Account Of America's Tunnel Rats In The Underground Battlefields...Format:Mass Market PaperbackProduct dimensions:336 pages, 6.85 X 4.21 X 0.72 inShipping dimensions:336 pages, 6.85 X 4.21 X 0.72 inPublished:November 29, 2005Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0891418695

ISBN - 13:9780891418696

Appropriate for ages: All ages

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Read from the Book

1   War Underground   He heard the tracks of the armored personnel carriers long before the malignant clouds of dust came into view. Nam Thuan lay very still, trying to count the number, but in his eyes and ears was only the fusion of squeaky steel belts and the approaching halo of dirt as the American armor moved busily out of the early morning sun and straight toward him.   As Communist party secretary of Phu My Hung village with its six small hamlets, Nam Thuan was automatically political commissar of the village defense force, a small unit already much depleted by action and promotions to the regional fighting forces. His small platoon that morning comprised a good deputy commander and a couple of village farm boys. His orders had been simple enough: He was to delay any American thrust on Phu My Hung by luring the enemy into engagement. He would destroy them if possible; if not, his diversionary battle would allow ample time for the village to be evacuated and the arms and guerrillas to be hidden.   It was August 1968; the war against the Americans was three years old. The great Tet offensive seemed to have taken many lives, yet South Vietnam had still not been reunited with the North. If anything, Thuan thought, the Americans seemed more confident and more powerful than ever. But at least they were predictable—it was a necessary consolation as the small armored column rattled nearer; the Americans always came when expected, came noisily, and came in strength.   He counted thirteen M-113 carriers. It was a larger force than he had expected. Thuan needed to move quickly if he was to draw the column toward him and toward the tunnels. To fight with he had just two remote-controlled mines which he would detonate, and a boxful of captured American M-26 grenades. In the confusion, he would retreat and escape down the tunnel, but not so quickly that the Americans would not see him.   Things went wrong from the beginning. He detonated the first DH-10 mine prematurely and it exploded harmlessly just ahead of the lead American APC. The second mine failed to go off. The column was still too far away for Thuan to hurl the grenades. He stood up, deliberately breaking cover, and began to run awkwardly toward the tunnel entrance—its position marked by the open trapdoor—hugging the box of grenades. The lead APC spotted him and changed course to follow. Thuan wondered whether the Americans would now fire the turret-mounted machine gun; even if they did, it was improbable that a bumping gun would hit a small running target. Hands reached out of the open tunnel trapdoor to take the box of grenades. Thuan vaulted into the shaft and closed the door above his head. Blinded by the sudden change from sunlight to darkness, Thuan remained still for a few moments, crouching in the three-foot-deep shaft, gathering breath, waiting for images to return to his retinas. At the bottom of the shaft in which he stood and almost at a right angle to it began a sixty-foot communication tunnel. Thuan wriggled easily into its secure embrace. He realized he could no longer hear the noisy tracks of the APCs. Control of the battle had now passed from his hands to those of an American above ground. If the carriers passed overhead it would be impossible to rechallenge them before they reached Phu My Hung. He had been ordered not to allow that to happen.   For a few moments Thuan considered his environment. He had just entered the shaft that connected with the communication tunnel. At the end of the communication tunnel was a second shaft going down another three feet and at the end of that was a second communication tunnel. If he crawled along that, he would eventually reach a similar shaft and tunnel system leading up and out. However, the exit point for this system was some 120 feet away from the place where the Americans had seen him. It was crucial to his plan that they never discover the second exit. It was only sparsely camouflaged, but he had his own man hidden there who could tell him with minimum delay what the Americans were doing above ground while Thuan was below.   The tunnel was still cool from the evening air of the night before. Thuan crawled carefully into a small alcove dug some four feet into the first communication tunnel. As he hunched inside, he heard a muffled explosion followed by a blast, and a sudden beam of dust-filled sunlight pierced the shaft. The Americans had hit the tunnel trapdoor, blowing it clean away. It was what he had prayed for. The column was bound to stop while the tunnel system was fully explored and then destroyed by the Americans. As the dust and debris stung his eyes, Thuan squinted through the gloom and picked up his AK-47 automatic rifle, hugged it to his chest, and waited quietly in the alcove.   He waited over an hour. When he heard the first American helicopter he knew there would be no attempt to explode the tunnel without exploration. As the machine clapped and whirred its noisy way to the ground, Thuan assumed that the Americans had flown in their special tunnel soldiers, trained to fight in the honeycomb of underground tunnels and caverns that spread beneath the protective clay of the district of Cu Chi.   Thuan’s observer, secreted above ground in the second hidden tunnel exit, had sent a messenger through the tunnels to Thuan in the alcove. The message was wholly predictable. The Americans had indeed brought more men by helicopter. They were small. They were tunnel soldiers.   The first GI did not even approach the open tunnel entrance for another hour. Earlier, Thuan had heard some conversation above his hiding hole, but nothing for about thirty minutes. Whatever happened, only one American could come in at a time. Both the first entrance shaft and the second long communication tunnel were only just wide enough for one thin man. The tunnel soldiers were thin; they fought well, but unlike Nam Thuan and his small village platoon of Communist guerrillas, they had not spent years inside the tunnels of Cu Chi; they had not fought many battles in their dank blackness.   Thuan could not conceive of failure. He had already been awarded one Victory Medal third class and one Victory Medal second class. He was about to earn another. Small even by Vietnamese standards, naturally slender, Thuan had never known peace in his land. His father had fought the French from similar tunnel complexes in Cu Chi when Thuan was still a child. Thuan had been allowed occasional tunnel sorties, playing soldiers with his friends. The enemy had been other village boys, ludicrously made up to look like the French soldiers, with charcoal mustaches and charcoaled arms, in an attempt to ape the perpetual wonder of hirsute Westerners.   As he grew up, it was the Americans who took the place of the French, and their hairy arms and large frames were no joke to the handful of village children who had been selected by the Communist party to receive a full education. He soon hated the Americans. A friend from Hanoi had told him the Americans called the village fighters Viet Cong, to him an insulting and derogatory term. Now, at thirty-three and still unmarried, Thuan was waiting for the call to join the regular soldiers, but the party had deliberately kept him as a village commander of the part-time self-defense force. He had fought a brave war. He was cunning and ruthless and, above all, he was one of the few cadres who knew the geography of all the eight miles of underground tunnels that the villagers had built in the area. Sometimes he was the only man who could guide the soldiers from Hanoi along the tunnels on their secret journeys through Cu Chi; the men from the North marveled at being able to travel safely under the Americans’ noses.   A small earth-fall from the exposed tunnel entrance warned Thuan that the first American tunnel soldier was descending. He had purposely ordered that the first shaft be dug just over three feet deep; it meant the American would have to descend feet first and then wriggle awkwardly into the long communication tunnel where Thuan waited, hidden in an alcove. In the past, as a GI’s feet had touched the bottom, Thuan had stabbed the soldier in the groin with his bayonet. This time, as the green-and-black jungle boots descended, Thuan leaned out of his alcove and, using the light from the tunnel entrance, shot the soldier twice in the lower body.   Above ground, the Americans were now in trouble. They could not drop grenades down the shaft because their mortally wounded comrade jammed the hole—anyway, he might still be alive. Slumped in the narrow shaft, he prevented other soldiers from making their way down to chase Thuan. He guessed it would take the Americans at least thirty minutes to get the ropes slipped under the dying man’s arms and then haul him out. The Americans’ concern for their dead and wounded remained a source of bewilderment and relief to the Communist soldiers. Anything that delayed the battle inevitably favored the weaker side and allowed reloading, regrouping and rethinking.  

Editorial Reviews

“A claustrophobic but fascinating tale.”The Wall Street Journal

“Chilling . . . what war really was and how it was fought.”The New York Times

“Gripping . . . highly recommended.”The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Remarkable.”The Washington Post