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Tunnel rat (military)

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Title: Tunnel rat (military)  
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Subject: Revolver, Củ Chi tunnels, Cutter John, Smith & Wesson Model 29, Iron Triangle (Vietnam), Operation Crimp, Harry Bosch, 1st Engineer Battalion (United States), Operation Cedar Falls, Chemical Corps
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Tunnel rat (military)

This article is about the team of soldiers involved in underground missions. For other uses, see Tunnel rat (disambiguation).

The tunnel rats were American, Australian and New Zealand soldiers who performed underground search and destroy missions during the Vietnam War. Later, similar teams were used by the Soviet Army during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War "tunnel rat" became a more or less official speciality for volunteer infantrymen, primarily from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Their motto was the Latin phrase "Non Gratum Anus Rodentum" - "Not worth a rat's ring".[1] Since the 1940s, during the war against the French colonial forces, the Viet Cong had created an extensive underground system of complexes. By the 1960s there were underground hospitals, training grounds, storage facilities, headquarters, and more. The Viet Cong, who were crack forces highly skilled at guerilla warfare, might stay underground for several months at a time. The tunnels were their territory.

Whenever troops would uncover a tunnel, tunnel rats were sent in to kill any hiding enemy soldiers and to plant explosives to destroy the tunnels. A tunnel rat was equipped with only a standard issue .45 caliber pistol, a bayonet and a flashlight, although most tunnel rats were allowed to choose another pistol with which to arm themselves. The tunnels were very dangerous, with numerous booby traps and enemies lying in wait.

Often there were flooded U-bends in the tunnels to trap poison gas. Underground, gas could be a very deadly weapon, and a tunnel rat might choose to go into the tunnels wearing a gasmask as it would be impossible to put one on in a narrow tunnel. But more often than not, a tunnel rat would take his chances without a gasmask, as it made even harder to see, hear, and breathe in the narrow, dark tunnels. The tunnels presented many potential threats; enemy soldiers manned holes on the sides of tunnels through which spears could be thrust, impaling a crawling intruder. Not only were there human enemies, but also dangerous creatures, such as snakes (including venomous ones - sometimes placed there as living booby traps), rats, spiders, scorpions, and ants. Black-Bearded Tomb Bats (Taphozous melanopogon) and Lesser Dawn Bats (Eonycteris spelaea) also roosted in the tunnels, though they were a harmless nuisance if awakened.

Due to the confined space, the tunnel rats disliked the intense muzzle blast of the comparatively large .45 caliber round, which would often leave them temporarily deaf, and it was not uncommon for them to use whatever handgun they might find. The Soviet-made pistols the enemy carried were particular favorites, but they were rare, and the soldiers would often have someone at home send them a civilian pistol or revolver. Among the favorites were the smaller German Luger or less-common double action Walther pistols, both chambered in 9 mm. Many of these were brought home by American troops returning from World War II. Others would trade their pistols for revolvers used by other personnel. Many used improvised suppressors on their pistols to further reduce the noise.A particularly favored weapon was a specially modified Smith & Wesson Model 29 known as the "quiet special purpose revolver". Unlike the standard Model 29, which fires a .44 Magnum cartridge, the quiet special purpose revolver instead shot a specially designed quiet captive-piston cartridge sized as a .410 shotgun shell. The cartridge resembles later Soviet efforts such as those used in the OTs-38 revolver In addition, that made the revolver lighter and more useful in a tight, confined space.

Tunnel rats were generally, but not exclusively, men of smaller stature (5'6 and under) in order to fit in the narrow tunnels.[2] Mangold and Penycate claimed that the tunnel rats were almost exclusively White or Hispanic soldiers, and the majority of American Latinos were Puerto Rican or Mexican American.[3] Such tactics came to prominence following their successful application in January 1966 during a combined US-Australian action against the Củ Chi tunnels in Binh Duong Province, known as Operation Crimp.[3]


Afghanistan has an extensive series of historic tunnels used for transporting water, the kariz, and during the 1979–1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan, such tunnels were used by Mujahideen fighters. The Soviet 40th Army had their own tunnel rats, who were tasked with flushing people out of the tunnels, then going through the tunnels to disarm booby traps and kill those who remained.[4] The United States Marine Corps and the Royal Marines are involved in similar work during the current ongoing war in Afghanistan.[5][6]



External links

  • Australian Tunnel Rats
  • Tunnel rats in Vietnam
  • The short film ]
  • The short film ]
  • The short film ]
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