THE TUNNELS OF CU CHI: An Untold Story of Vietnam by Tom & John Penycate Mangold
Kirkus Star

THE TUNNELS OF CU CHI: An Untold Story of Vietnam

Email this review


An important contribution to the literature on the Vietnam war. Combat GIs who faced the enemy at close range often described the Viet Cong as ghosts because of the uncanny ability of the guerrillas to be making a fierce stand in a firefight one minute, in the next to have disappeared. It has long been known that the Viet Cong troops accomplished the feat through use of camouflaged fighting holes connected to escape tunnels. The U.S. military tended, however, to regard the tunnels as little more than an annoyance, used mostly by small units to escape from overwhelming American firepower. The Americans were surprised by the occasional discovery of an underground munitions dump, food cache or hospital. The authors, two English journalists, now tell for the first time the full significance of the tunnels. They were nothing less than a mjaor factor in the success the guerrillas achieved against the world's most powerful army. Although there were tunnels in strategic areas all over Vietnam, the writers limit themselves to the huge complex in the area of Cu Chi, about 20 miles northwest of Saigon. There were an incredible 200 miles of passageways, meeting rooms, operating theaters, dormitories and fighting niches carved in the walls. It was here that the 1968 Tet offensive on Saigon was planned and from where it was launched. Thousands of troops were based underground for a time. Some high-level officers lived in the tunnels for a long as six months without ever venturing above ground, enduring incredible hardship and deprivation. Entertainment troupes, the V.C.'s answer to Bob Hope, went into the tunnels to entertain by the light of candles and oil lamps. But the lights and the audience exhausted the air so rapidly that the actors and singers could perform for only five minutes. Then the lights would be doused until the oxygen was replenished and the performance could continue. Overhead the GIs were barbecuing steaks, drinking cold beer and sleeping in air-conditioned comfort. Literally overhead: when the U.S. Army chose Cu Chi for one of its large bases, they built right on top of a tunnel complex, which in the early days of the build-up gave the V.C. easy access. They used it to devastating effect. The book also tells of the development on the American side of the Tunnel Rats, small, wiry fearless Americans who went down into the tunnels to evict the enemy. There they encountered fearsome things: a booby-trap wire that released scorpions from a bottle, another that released a poisonous snake from a bamboo tube, foot-long centipedes, huge spiders, rats. Far from a dull military treatise, through interviewing the men and women on the other side who designed and lived in the tunnels, and the American Tunnel Rats who went after them, Mangold and Penycate have put together an exciting story. For anyone who wants to understand the American experience in Vietnam, required reading.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1985
Publisher: Random House