Communist forces began digging a network of tunnels under the jungle terrain of South Vietnam in the late 1940s; during the war of independence from French colonial authority.Tunnels were often dug by hand, and only a short distance at a time. As the North and Viet Cong troops were increased in support of the Communist supporters in the South, the United States increasingly escalated its military presence in Vietnam in support of a non-Communist regime in the early 1960s. At its peak during the Vietnam War, the network of tunnels linked VC support basis over a distance of some 250 km.

As the US relied heavily on aerial bombing, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops went underground in order to survive and continue their guerrilla tactics against the much better U.S. supplied troops in the south. In the heavily bombed areas, the Vietnamese people spent much of their lives underground in tunnels.This also began in the South, and would house an entire village underground, with living quarters, hospitals, kitchens, ordinance factories and was also used as bomb shelters. In some areas, there are tunnel systems that was wide enough to be utilized as a highway underground.

In addition to providing underground shelters, the tunnels served a key role during combat operations, including as a base for communist attacks against nearby United States Marines. The North Vietnamese and VC soldiers working in the tunnels would mount surprise attacks, then disappear underground to safety. They would also set numerous booby-traps for US and South Vietnamese infantrymen, by placing tripwires that would set off grenades or overturned boxes of scorpions and poisonous snakes into their heads of anyone not familiar with the tunnel system. 

To combat these guerrilla tactics, U.S. forces would train some Marines and soldiers to function as (Tunnel Rats). These Marines and soldiers usually of smaller stature could spend hours navigating in some of the cramped dark tunnels to detect the enemy, his supplies of food, weapons and ammunition. While in most cases, the tunnel rat only carried a flashlight, 45 pistol and a K- bar knife, as the rest of the platoon or squad would spread out within the area of the tunnels that were detected, trying to locate their exit point.

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