Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cu Chi Tunnels - Part 3: Resource Management

In this third installment of quotations from the book, The Tunnels of Cu Chi , we bring you some of the ingenuities employed by the Vietnamese in their fight for liberation.
(For diagrams of typical tunnel systems, see here ... here ... and here.)

One of the aspects of any fight against an oppressor throughout history has been the task of adapting elements ready at hand in the effort to gain some comparative advantage over the enemy. One particular form of this, mastered by the Vietnamese liberation fighters, was to use whatever 'garbage' the enemy left behind.

This became clear to some of the people (the Australians) fighting against the Vietnamese, but the lessons were soon overlooked or never fully appreciated by others (the Americans). As an example, the book by Mangold/Peycate points to an episode during the Operation Crimp, one of the first operations carried out by the American and Australian military personnel in the district of Cu Chi, in early January 1966.

"[The Australians] realized the value to the Viet Cong of American combat detritus, after [finding] a small tunnel workshop in which hand grenades had been made. The inner casing was made from a small discarded tomato juice tin, and the outer casing from an old beer can. The fragmentation pieces were blue metal road gravel, and the firing mechanism was from old French or American grenades. 'Because of what we found in the tunnels ... we ordered this policy of burn-bash-bury. We had twenty-four-hour ration packs with little tins on them. You never EVER left your tin around so it could be found; you never left anything the enemy could use. Your spoon, they would even use that for making weapons. We left nothing, absolutely nothing,'" (p. 44). This was the lesson that was learned by the Australians, according to the book, and not adhered to by the American GIs.

"As the war became harder on the Viet Cong, they used the waste so generously left around by the Americans more and more, and in some areas, they became dependent on it." (p. 44)

* * *

"Next to food for survival, the manufacture of ammunition and weapons had priority in the tunnels. In the early days of the American presence, there were serious shortages. 'We hardly received any supply of weapons from the North,' said Captain Linh. 'We received only mine detonators and delay fuses. We needed explosives and fortunately soon found them lying all around us on the ground.'

"One single battalion of the newly arrived 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi fired, in the course of one month, no less than 180,000 shells into the Cu Chi district, averaging 4,500 daily. In one month, throughout South Vietnam, the Americans fired about a trillion bullets, 10 million mortar rounds, and 4.8 million rockets. And this was just the beginning of the war.

"As Captain Linh noted, a great deal of this ordnance fell on Cu Chi. And considerable numbers, as is the nature of these things, failed to explode. For once it was the Viet Cong that began a course of on-the-job training. 'We tried to understand the American science,' explained Captain Linh. 'We would have teams of watchers during a bombing strike, looking for the bombs that did not explode. They would try to mark the location. Then after the raid we would hurry to the spot and try to retrieve the TNT ... [Of] a thousand shells the enemy fired at us, only about a hundred caused casualties; a percentage of the nine hundred that did not hurt [anyone] did not explode either. The Americans used their weapons to fight us and we used their weapons to fight back.'

"Captain Linh's cottage industry began to grow. 'There were unexploded shells everywhere in the Cu Chi area. We organized special workshop chambers in the tunnels and we learned to take the ordnance in there. We dismantled their detonators, fitted our own, and changed the shells into powerful weapons, of which the Americans were very afraid. We exploded them with batteries or made booby traps with them. We also found claymore or directional mines, which did not explode because the bombers did not drop them from the proper height or at the right angle. Sometimes we even had more of these mines than we could use. With each claymore mine, suitably adapted in our tunnel workshops, we could inflict casualties of up to seven American soldiers. We did not need any great technical skill. They were very dangerous to the Americans, but harmless against us when we were in the tunnels.'

"Coca-Cola cans, in an act of ironic cultural inversion, were carefully turned into hand grenades for use against the Americans by the artisans who worked by candlelight and paraffin lamp in the special tunnel workshops. First they poured used bomb fragments into the tin, then TNT was poured into the middle, and finally a homemade detonator was placed on the top. Major Quot recalled: 'At every hamlet underground in the Cu Chi tunnels we had a productive team making mines and hand grenades and repairing firearms. [...] We even organized a little assembly line -- one person specialized in taking the explosive out of the 'dud' American shells, another prepared it, and a third fitted the detonator into the mine itself.' This underground arms industry was to be far more than just a nuisance to the Americans. It was to become the primary means for denying the GIs access to the tunnels complex.

"The electrical power to run the workshops came principally from small hand or foot generators. 'The signals unit had a small gasoline-driven generator,' said Captain Linh, 'but these were rare. Usually there were pedal generators, some hand generators from China, and batteries. We were never short of electricity in Cu Chi; we even threw away dim torch batteries and used only bright ones. We were 'presented' with batteries by the Americans; they were easy to pick up.'"(p. 72-74)

"Only a few GIs ever penetrated the second or third tunnel levels. Jan Shrader ... explored one second-level section and recalled finding chambers over five meters high. 'It was incredible, all that space ... the thing we found more than anything else was arms and materiel, but in very good storage." [...] Shrader also found tunnel workshops where fairly sophisticated armaments were being copied. 'There were these workshops set up where they actually made small arms, Chinese copies of Thompson submachine guns and different French designs. They'd take a French machine gun which they'd captured ... and set up a little tunnel workshop and start turning out copies by hand. They made hand grenades, ammunition, and lots of mines.'

"Sergeant Arnie Gutierrez did discover what some of the largest underground store rooms were for. 'In the chambers, which were fifteen feet high, they were assembling artillery pieces and big mortars. They would be stripped down outside the tunnels, carried through, assembled during the night inside the tunnel, for maintenance or whatever, stripped, and then taken back through the tunnel and out again, reassembled and used. No wonder we never found their guns outside. In one set of underground chambers we found two 105 field guns. These two 105s were over forty years old and they were still in perfect condition. Can you imagine it, putting damn great field howitzers to bed every night in a tunnel?" (p. 74-75)

"In 1966, the Viet Cong managed to steal an M-48 tank from the ARVN (South Vietnam army) unit north of Lai Khe, an event which caused understandable consternation on the government side. Three years later, the Americans found it -- in a tunnel. It had been buried about six feet down and tunnels had been dug around it. The tank itself was used by the VC as a command center; the batteries, the lights and the radio were still working." (p. 75)

1 comment:

davidbaer said...

Small Business owners are largely forgotten. Thats why I only focus on them. I have experience several members of my family file bankruptcy due to small business failures. I also I suffered through 2 destroyed businesses due to failure however, in my failings I have learned some of the secrets to success. (Who can say they know it all?)