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Ho Chi Minh Trail

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Ho Chi Minh Trail: The Ho Chi Minh Trail consisted of many trails, roads and foot paths that stretched for 9,940 miles along the Vietnam borders.

Definition and Summary of the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Summary and definition:
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the nickname given by Americans to the series of trails that were scattered along the Truong Song Road. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a strategic supply route used by the Communist North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong that ran from North Vietnam through the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia and into Southern Vietnam.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail consisted of many trails, roads and foot paths that stretched for 9,940 miles along the Vietnam borders. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was designed to get communist supplies and troops into South Vietnam via the jungle routes and trails that crossed Laos and Cambodia. The Americans were restricted from launching a full attack on their supply routes without escalating the Vietnam War.

Facts about Ho Chi Minh Trail
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The Vietnam War started on November 1, 1955.  Fighting began between the anti-communist, pro-American forces of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam against the communist North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong guerrillas led by Ho Chi Minh.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail grew out of a network of footpaths, trails and small roads that had been employed by Viet Minh guerrillas, led by Ho Chi Minh, during their 19461954 struggle against French colonial rule.

When the Vietnam War broke out the communist military forces of North Vietnam began employing the Truong Son Road to infiltrate men and supplies through Laos and into the U.S. backed South Vietnam.

The first US combat troops were sent to Vietnam in March 1965. The Americans nicknamed the Truong Son Road the 'Ho Chi Minh Trail' after the communist leader of the North Vietnamese.

The Geneva Accords had aimed at neutralizing Laos from the conflict as under the terms of that agreement neither the United States nor North Vietnam were permitted to conduct ground operations within Laos. The North Vietnamese ignored the agreement violating Laos's neutrality.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail became a lifeline to the communists and was essential to its military operations in South Vietnam when, in 1965, the South Vietnamese navy succeeded in cutting off the sea route from Haiphong that had supplied some 70% of the supplies to the communist forces operating in South Vietnam.

The trail was essential to the success of the North Vietnamese as the route enabled the communist forces to escalate the war below the 17th parallel dividing North and South Vietnam.

The trail was used as a sanctuary in Laos from which communist forces could attack South Vietnamese targets. The trail was also used for bases to store and shelter trucks, repair depots and for the storage of food and distribution facilities.

What was the length of the Ho Chi Minh Trail? The trail stretched for 9,940 miles through the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia and into Southern Vietnam.

The inhospitable Vietnam terrain was extremely difficult to fight in. The terrain consisted of jungles of trees with vines, bush, mountains, sharp ridges, deep valleys, river deltas, flooded paddies and plantations.

The remote trail and its off-shoots were almost impenetrable. The dense canopies of trees made it almost impossible for the pilots of high-speed, high-flying jets, and even the low-flying helicopters, to see the trail.

The security and integrity of the Ho Chi Minh Trail was of vital importance to the strategy of the North Vietnamese and was protected by anti-aircraft guns, some which were equipped with radar. Numerous scouts and troops were deployed along the trails to protect against land based enemy incursions.

The trail also had secret intricate interconnecting tunnel systems with concealed entrances that were used as underground medical and rest centers that provided shelter for the communist troops. Radio and telecommunications facilities were also available and the tunnels provided excellent hiding places for food and weapon caches.

The North Vietnamese ensured that they kept the advantage of the dense terrain and the vital trail by ensuring they were kept well hidden. Thousands of Vietnamese constantly worked on the maintenance, security and new trail constructions.

Various camouflage techniques were employed to maintain coverage of the Ho Chi Minh Trail such as weaving together treetops to hide what lay beneath. Trees and plants that were cut down during operations were re-planted to maintain coverage of the trails.

The American response to this problem was to employ chemical warfare and used defoliants, the most famous being Agent Orange, to kill off the greenery that gave cover to those using the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Between 1963-1973, B-52 bombers dropped over 388,000 tons of napalm on concentrated areas of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Napalm was a highly destructive, flammable, sticky, gasoline-based gel. The napalm cleared out over 1 million square yards of foliage.

Hundreds of classified, covert missions were made along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos in order to identify targets and calling in air strikes.

The United States introduced the Igloo White program 1966 - 1971 aimed at installing a vast network of costly sensors and remote sound surveillance systems along the trails to detect communist troops and vehicles. The operation was responsible for locating and destroying thousands of vehicles along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The sound sensors used in the Igloo White program were equipped with self-destruct mechanisms but the North Vietnamese were often able to destroy the devices or deactivate them by removing their batteries. The communists also used tape-recorded truck noises to deceive their enemy.

The Americans fought a hi-tech war in Vietnam, using B52 bombers, artillery, helicopters, napalm and defoliants but despite this were unable to defeat the guerrilla tactics employed by the communists. The impenetrable Ho Chi Minh Trail played a major role in the US decision to withdraw from the Vietnam War. The last non-combat US troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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