Eyewitness Account: North Vietnamese Trucks On The Ho Chi Minh Trail During The Vietnam War.
Above Photo: A camouflaged NVA truck moves along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
I was recently interested to come across accounts in various places detailing life and operations on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War, by a captured Pathet Lao lieutenant.
I’ve edited these accounts, added some of my own observations and included photos for illustration below.
Pathet Lao Lieutenant Manivan said the North Vietnamese built vehicle parking areas along the Trail at intervals of 10, 15, and 30 kilometers, the separation depended upon the terrain and the conditions of the road between the two parking areas. His description of the truck park area gives some understanding of why truck parks and storage areas were so difficult for US planes to find and to destroy.
There would commonly be 30 – 50 vehicle vehicle shelter areas, each one large enough for one vehicle, excavated out of a hillside. Each had an earth roof. An equal number of individual supply shelter areas (for the cargo) lay some distance away from the truck parks and away from the main route of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in that particular area.
Convoys of trucks arrived at shelter areas prior to sunrise each morning (because moving in the daytime invited destruction from US planes above).
Each truck’s cargo was first unloaded in one of the supply shelter areas, then the truck was parked for the day in the vehicle shelter area. After sunset, the cargo was reloaded on the trucks which continued on the journey. Every third to fifth shelter area had a refueling capability.
Truck drivers slept in the jungle in hammocks, 500 to 1,000 meters away from the road. Each shelter area was commanded by the North Vietnamese Army (“NVA”) officer who had responsibility for determining if a convoy could safely pass his area without being caught between shelter areas after sunrise.
The commander also controlled arrival and departure of convoys and gave assistance to disabled trucks. Each shelter area commander notified the next area commander of a convoy’s approach.
Every shelter area had from 30 to 60 NVA soldiers, depending on the size of the area of responsibility and the frequency with which that stretch of road or shelter area was bombed. These NVA soldiers were responsible for road repairs in their area and were equipped with hoes, shovels, machetes and demolition kits. Trucks with mechanical difficulties were never left on the road, and repairable trucks were towed to truck repair stations at shelter areas.
Lieutenant Manivan also discussed the command and control communications network he had seen.
The shelter areas had telephone communications connected to each other. The telephone line was strung along the route sometimes on branches and sometimes just along the ground. Each shelter area had one or more NVA telephone operators equipped with Chinese-made field telephones.
At dusk each day, the NVA operators emerged from their hiding places in the jungle, connected their telephones to the main line, and made contact with the nearest NVA operators at truck parking areas. At dawn each day, the operators disconnected their telephones and returned to their resting places in the jungle.
Manivan said trucks didn’t have radio communications and he didn’t mention radio communications in the shelter areas, although US intelligence reports indicated that some of the trucks were radio equipped. A friendly guerrilla unit leader believed he heard radio transmissions while observing a passing convoy. When aircraft appeared overhead, the guerrillas heard a driver yelling “Jets!” and the convoy stopped.
US surveillance indicated that the NVA used other methods of communications, such as gunshots and light signals, to warn drivers when American aircraft entered the area.
During the course of the war, North Vietnam’s increasing infiltration through Laos meant they also had to increase their support functions and personnel in Laos, so they sent more workers, including women, to construct more roads through the jungle.
While repairing roads and clearing new trails was done primarily by manual labor, the effort to build additional roads carried such a high priority that the North Vietnamese sent mechanical earth moving equipment into remote areas of Laos to help with Ho Chi Minh Trail construction.
The increased pressure to move troops, equipment, and supplies south brought more trucks into Laos, which required more fuel. The appearance of 1,000-gallon capacity fuel tankers on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1965 indicated that more trucks were to follow as traffic down the Trail increased year-on-year.
Traffic down the Ho Chi Minh trail was never materially impacted by US bombing or by the many countermeasures the US took to destroy the Trail as a supply route.
The US’s failure to close the Trail significantly contributed to its defeat in Vietnam by well-supplied NVA troops, most of whom had made the long march south along the Trail, enduring serious risks of death, injury and many hardships along the way.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs/MIAs in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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