Tunnel Rats: Soldiers Who Crawled Into Tunnels To Capture, Kill Enemy Soldiers

 January 29, 2022

Vietnam was a rough landscape for American soldiers and fighting the Viet Cong was increasingly difficult. Just imagine being one of the many "tunnel rats."

Tunnel Clearing

Soldiers spent time clearing tunnels that had been dug out by the Viet Cong. As they worked through each of the small tunnels clearing them for explosives or other kinds of booby traps.

The soldiers carried small knives and sometimes pistols.

Three of those soldiers CW Bowman, Gerry Schooler and Art Tejeda told their stories and shed light on very little known facts about soldiers who worked in the tunnels.

Tunnel History

The tunnels began in 1946. The Viet Minh a group of resistance fighters who predated the Viet Cong started digging out the bunkers and tunnels while they were fighting French, who they defeated.

The Viet Cong had over 100 miles of tunnels to use when the Vietnam War started. From these tunnels, they launched sneak attacks on American soldiers.

The holes were well hidden under camouflage and the soldiers disappeared as quickly as they popped up. The "Tunnel rats" were tasked with clearing and closing the tunnels.

Tunnel Rat Facts

Since the tunnels were rather small, the shorter the soldier the better. Often, the soldiers chosen for the task came from Australia, New Zealand, South Vietnam, and America were under 5'7".

One would think that the military would use dogs to clear the tunnels. However, many of the canines did not work out since they could not sniff out the booby traps.

When the soldiers came across an enemy soldier, they would fire a single shot instead of multiple. They saved ammo and used the echoes of the chambers to their advantage.

It was a 50/50 shot whether or not the soldiers would don a gas mark before lowering themselves into the holes. Often, the gas mask would inhibit their vision and made it harder for them to breathe.

While it was possible for the soldiers to drop into a wall of gas, it was a chance many of them were willing to take. Most opted to go without their masks.

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10 comments on “Tunnel Rats: Soldiers Who Crawled Into Tunnels To Capture, Kill Enemy Soldiers”

  1. My dearest friend....a retired, disabled Marine.......spent hours trapped in one of those tunnels where he could hear the enemy talking right over him. He went thru a hell that no one should ever have to deal with. He died recently but spent every day being the epitome of what a Marine stood for. Even confined to a wheel chair with several other things wrong he tried to be a contributing member of society and not be a 'taker'. Thank you for your service my friend......you are missed!!

  2. We have weapons that do just that , bunker buster bombs ! And rockets that drive deep into the ground and then explode so why are we sending our troops in ? When we could ring down the mountain .

    1. Rockets didn't always hit the tunnels and bombs didn't always explode. Cannot always rely on technology and that leaves hands on. Maybe we were crazy, we did what we thought needed to be done.

    2. Those Moab’s didn’t exist during the Vietnam conflict. All you Vietnam Veterans still with us; God bless and welcome home🇺🇸

    3. Because that's 100 miles of tunnels. Imagine how many missles, rockets, etc. they would need (don't forget misses) to do the clearing. Also they would have to wait in position for the arrival of explosives. It's like clearing minefields, dirty job but has to be done by hand.

  3. Tunnel Rats had to be the bravest most mentally disciplined soldiers ever. When ever they were in the tunnels for whatever reason it was them alone in a very confined area in a life threatening situation, thank you and God Bless them for their Bravery
    Vet USMC, Army 1st Cav Korea

  4. I think Tour of DutyTV serial had a Tunnel Rat episode
    still needs a full docustory for Military History Channel & AHC

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