Review – Tunnel Rat in Vietnam

Tunnel Rat in Vietnam, by Gordon L. Rottman, Osprey Publishing, 2012

Soon after their involvement in Vietnam became official in 1965, American troops learned, like the South Vietnamese before them, that the Viet Cong had developed underground networks of tunnels and shelters, though neither realized how extensive they were until then. “Search and destroy” missions achieved little when the Viet Cong could fall back on underground weapons and supply caches, hospitals and communications centers. Legends of the U.S. Army’s firebase at Cu Chi having a Viet Cong military base under it proved to be not very far off the mark.

Ingeniously camouflaged and further protected by angled passageways, baffles and a variety of deadly booby traps, the Viet Cong tunnel complexes presented a special challenge, but the American soldier has always found the courage and adaptability to rise to the occasion—or, as in this case, to literally get down and dirty. Although there was no military occupational specialty for it, the evolved tactics for carrying out this daunting but necessary task is given its own special treatment in Tunnel Rat in Vietnam, veteran Gordon L. Rottman’s latest addition to Osprey’s “Warrior” series.

Volunteers for reconnoitering or clearing out tunnels could come from infantry, engineers, armored cavalry or whatever unit chanced upon a suspicious hole in the ground. Aside from knowing some fundamentals on the VC tunnel’s layout and its likely contents, the best policy for a “tunnel rat” was to keep an open mind, be ready to expect the unexpected and think fast. Generally, the tunnel rat was short of stature, agile and above all not claustrophobic—and even then, some developed claustrophobia in the process of their explorations that would lead to their “un-volunteering” with no questions asked.

Profusely illustrated with photographs and graphics by Brian Delf, Tunnel Rat in Vietnam provides an insight into the adaptation of man and equipment to an exceptional combat environment—with a concluding look at its special aftereffects. Although not a cohesive unit in themselves, the soldiers who made underground operations a regular part of their duties developed their own unofficial insignias and an unofficial motto: Non gratum anus rodentum.

—Jon Guttman

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