Vietnam: A Different Kind of War
In previous wars, such as the Revolutionary War, and American Civil War, soldiers accustomed themselves to order, battlefields, and rows of troops. This war is a different story. In Vietnam, soldiers are constantly fearful of hit and run attacks and ambushes.
In December, 1967, Vietnamese Leader, Ho Chi Minh ordered the North Vietnamese to have less planned battles and more surprise attacks against the U.S. soldiers (?Guerrilla Tactics: An Overview?). This war tactic is called guerrilla warfare, meaning ?little war? in Spanish. It is fighting between troops within the areas that the enemy occupies. Deception and ambush play a significant role in guerilla tactics.
The three main goals of guerrilla warfare are ambush, sabotage, and espionage. Guerrilla warfare is most successful in rugged terrain, and with a concerned population. The rugged terrain, such as jungles, mountains, etc., makes hiding and ambushes easier. A concerned or sympathetic group of people living in the country is helpful because it is easier to win over through propaganda (?Guerrilla Warfare?). Vietnam had both the right terrain and native peoples to successfully use guerrilla warfare against the United States.
Guerrillas Use Variety of Weapons in Vietnam
Guerrilla warfare is on a rise in Vietnam. Soldiers are exposed to new tactics each day. Some common weapons used by guerrillas include booby traps, pits, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and recoilless rifles.
Non-explosive booby traps include punji stakes, bear traps, crossbow traps, spiked mud balls, double-spike caltrops, and scorpion-filled boxes. The punji stake is by far the most common booby trap weapon. It is a shoot of bamboo or metal with needle-like tips that had been hardened by fire. Sometimes these tips are coated with excrement to cause infection. The spiked mud ball is suspended by vines in a jungle, and then released by a trip-wire. It then impales the victim. (?NVA and VC Booby Traps?).
Pits are also common throughout Vietnam. One must always be careful when walking through a jungle. The simplest pit was about 25cm deep. (See ?Weapons? on page 2)
The floor of this trap is covered with punji stakes, which can easily pierce the sole of a leather boot. Again, these spiked are coated in excrement to induce blood poisoning. Sometimes spikes attack the sides of the leg as well.
The swinging man pit is heavily camouflaged and located on jungle trails. It has a weight beam pivoted so that when the pressure plate is pushed down, the other spiked end swung upwards. This force then pierces the victim. The target area is the chest, ensuring a messy, fatal wound (?NVA and VC Booby Traps?).
Trip wires are commonly used in by guerrillas as well. The wire is stretched across a path in order to delay the enemy. It can also assist in ambushes.
The bamboo whip is set off by a trip wire. It is a shoot of bamboo under tension, and set with poisoned spikes at chest-high. As it whips the soldier, it leaves severe wounds in the chest area. Another weapon set off by the trip wire is the spiked ball. The trip wire released a heavy mud ball set with spikes. The height of the release and the force of gravity unite to inflict extreme pain and severe wounds, usually in the head and shoulder area.
In the thick forests of the Vietnam mountains, the bow trap was commonly used. Like the bamboo whip and the spiked ball, it was set off by a trip wire. It released a tensioned bow that was set in shallow pit in the ground. When set off, the bow pierces the flesh of the soldier?s leg. Like most other spikes and weapons, the arrow of the bow is coated in excrement or poison.
Vietnamese also use explosive booby traps. Such traps include the powder-filled coconut, mud ball mine, grenade-in-tin-can mine, bounding fragmentation mine, cartridge trap, and bicycle booby trap.
The mud ball mine was a grenade with a crusty clay coat and a removed safety pin. When one steps on the mud ball, it releases a safety lever, resulting in the explosion of the mine. The cartridge trap is a rifle buried in the ground, straight up and resting on a nail.
Pressure applied to the cartridge fired it into the foot of the victim when he walks on it.
The simplest trap is a trip wire that connects to one or two grenades. The grenades are set in bamboo shoots or tins to keep the safety lever from releasing when the pin is pulled. As a victim trips the wire, set at any given height, it pulls the grenades from their containers, causing a deadly explosion. Grenades are also set in the ground near gates so that the slightest movement of the gate would cause an explosion directly below the victims? feet.
Dud shells and bombs of the Americans were often recovered and turned into traps, mines, or another explosive device. Most often, the shell was the 105mm artillery shell. A small variation of this used a 12.7mm machine gun bullet. It is set in a bamboo shoot in long grass, with its primer resting on a nail. The tip of the bullet barely protrudes from the earth. As a foot presses down, the device is set off. The bullet explodes to shatter the enemy?s foot. Every so often, a soldier is lucky enough to be wearing the reinforced soled jungle boot. If so, then the steel or plastic plate is simply turned into shrapnel. These soldiers were often called ?toe poppers.?
The ?Bouncing Betty? is one of the most common mines, yet also the most hated. These mines are triggered by the release of pressure on the mechanism. The soldier can stand on a Bouncing Betty, hear the arming mechanism operate, and freeze. The soldier stands perfectly still knowing that if he moves his foot, the mine will jump in the air and blow up at chest height. Combat engineers discovered many spontaneous methods of saving the trapped soldiers (?NVA and VC Booby Traps?).
The mortar is ideally suited for the rugged terrain of Southern Vietnam. It was also easily portable and effortless to operate. A well-trained mortar team can set up a mortar position out of the sight of the enemy, loose off a number of rounds at the maximum range, and be moving away from the firing sight before the first rounds impacted on the target. This is because of the mortar rounds? extensive flight time (?Characteristics of NVA and VC Mortars?).
Vietnam War Infantryman, Tim O?Brien, Depicts Bouncing Betty
Tim O?Brien currently serves as an infantryman in the Vietnam War. He describes the dangers of going out on patrol and the fear of guerrilla warfare. Over ten thousand U.S. soldiers have lost limbs in this war, due to the guerrilla tactics of the Vietnamese.
In an interview with O?Brien, he reports that, ?the most feared mine was the Bouncing Betty. It was conical shaped, three prongs jutting out of the soil. When your foot hit the prong, a charge went off that shot the mine into the air, a yard high, showering shrapnel everywhere. It?s a mine that goes after the lower torso: a terrible mine? On one occasion after my company had encamped and sent out patrols there was a large explosion only 200 yards away? We raced out there and only two men were living out of a patrol of eight or so. Just a mess. It was like a stew, full of meat and flesh and red tissue and white bone (?Guerrilla Warfare?).?
Guerrilla Tactics: Complex Tunnel Systems
The Viet Cong (Communist, or Northern Vietnam) is creating extremely complex and intricate tunnel systems over vast regions of South Vietnam. These tunnels are tactics of guerrilla warfare, as well as a part of life for ordinary people.
The tunnel system was actually built over 25 years, beginning in the 1940s. They allowed the Viet Cong to control a large rural area. The tunnels are an underground city with living area, kitchens, storage, weapon factories, hospitals, and command centers. Sometimes, they are several stories deep and can house up to 10,000 people. These people live underground for years. They have wedding ceremonies underground, as well as giving birth and going to school. Essentially, the only time they come out is at night to tend their crops (?VC Tunnel Complex?).
For the troops, these tunnels were fighting bases, capable of providing continuous support.
The bases were well hidden from American spotter planes, and in the remote swamps and forests there were fewer problems (?Guerrilla Tactics: An Overview?).
Because the ground is hard clay, these tunnels are possible. Even so, the planning and construction took an incredible amount of thought and effort. People dug with hand tools (?VC Tunnel Complex?). Each villager in the region had to dig three feet of tunnel a day. There was even a handbook that specified how tunnels were to be built (?Guerrilla Tactics: An Overview?). They installed vents in order to hear approaching helicopters. Smaller vents are used for air. There are also hidden trap doors and bamboo-stake booby traps (?VC Tunnel Complex?).
The largest tunnel systems are in the Iron Triangle and the Cu Chi District, about twenty miles from Saigon. The base at Cu Chi is a massive network, with almost two hundred miles of tunnels. All facilities used by guerrillas, such as a conference room or training area, have underground access. Various hidden trapdoors lead below the Earth?s surface, past guarded chambers, to long passages. Tunnels branched off in some areas to lead back to the surface or to other secret entrances. Some entrances are even masked beneath a stream.
At deeper levels, chambers are dug out for arms factories and a well for a steady water supply. There are also storage rooms for weapons and rice, and hospitals for guerrillas. Communication tunnels connect one base with another (?Guerrilla Tactics: An Overview?).
The U.S. military knows about these tunnels. Even so, it is difficult to avoid them. The tunnels not only allow guerrilla communication, but they allow surprise attacks, even within the U.S. military bases. In response, the U.S. bombed much of the region, turning it into a defoliated and dead area (?VC Tunnel Complex?).
David Scholl Discusses the War
Bridgette Scholl: About what age were you while the Vietnam War was taking place?
David Scholl: Well, back in the olden days, the war ended when I was about 15 or 16.
BS: Did you watch the war on the news channel?
DS: We didn't have news channels back then. We had three major broadcast stations and they each had "nightly news" and other special news shows. There was no 24-hour news available.
Yes, It was on all the time. It was the first TV war, and I remember seeing it frequently on the news. I also remember the antiwar protesting, which was also prominently broadcast on the news.
BS: What was it like being able to see everything going on during the war?
DS: We turned it off during mealtime, because they showed the whole war during the news clips.
BS: What feelings did you have toward the war?
DS: I was too young to have many feelings about the war. I was glad I didn?t have to go, though!
BS: What did you know about the use of guerrilla warfare in the conflict in Vietnam?
DS: Very little at the time. I was too young to really understand tactics and strategies.
BS: What surprised you about the way the war was fought?
DS: That the US did not go into it to win, and that politics played a very prominent role in the way the war was fought. It was run by more by civilians than accomplished generals.
BS: Do you think wars should be fought with troops and battlefields, or by using guerrilla techniques?
DS: First, wars should be avoided. They have also evolved over time. Japan used kamikaze pilots against troops. Currently, Arabs are killing civilians with suicide bombs. I think this is a chicken way to fight a war, and in the end will not accomplish their goals.
Guerrilla Warfare Proves Successful
As the war continues, it seems more and more likely that the United States will need to pull out. Because of the harsh terrain in which the Vietnamese use their guerrilla tactics of ambush, sabotage, and espionage, the United States has lost innumerable soldiers. The objective of the guerrillas is to destabilize American troops through extensive, low-intensity confrontations. Besides the death of thousands of American soldiers, the cost of the war monetarily is significant, due to keeping up with guerrilla warfare (?Guerrilla Warfare?). Although it is not certain, it is likely that the United States will pull out of this conflict in Vietnam in the near future. American troops are not accustomed to surprise attacks and ambushes. Because of this war tactic, the Vietnamese have gained the lead.
Works Cited Page
?Characteristics of NVA and VC Mortars.? Gunt-Online.com. Fields of Fire ? The Online Community for Vietnam Wargamers. 13 Sep. 2005. <http://www.gruntonline.com/TheWar/Tactics/tactics7b.htm>.
?Guerrilla Tactics: An Overview.? PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. 13 Sep. 2005. <http://www.pbs.org/battlefieldvietnam/guerrilla/ index.html>.
?Guerrilla Warfare.? Spartacus. 13 Sep. 2005. <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/VNguerrilla.htm>.
?NVA and VC Booby Traps.? Gunt-Online.com. Fields of Fire ? The Online Community for Vietnam Wargamers. 13 Sep. 2005. <http://www.gruntonline.com/NVAandVC/boobytraps1.htm>.
Scholl, David. Personal interview. 15 Sep. 2005
VC Tunnel Complex.? VC Tunnels. Redlands RSL. 13 Sep. 2005. <http://www.diggerhistory.info/pages-conflicts-periods/vietnam/tunnels.htm>.