The Ho Chi Minh Trail



The Gunships






Page Updated
October 10, 2011

Contact: Bill Petrie
CMSgt, USAF, Ret.

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The Ho Chi Minh Trail
The Blood Road

The famed Ho Chi Minh Trail, served as the primary artery for moving North Vietnamese supplies into South Vietnam. The trail's history as a line of communication (LOC) date back to World War II, when Vietminh bands trekked the same jungle paths. This LOC was developed from the existing footpaths into a highly organized infiltration route for men and supplies. The road network extended from Mu Gia Pass in the north, southward along the heavily forested western slopes of the Annam range, to a series of exit points stretching from just below the demilitarized zone between the two Vietnams, to the triborder region of Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam-some 500 kilometers to the south. Although the road net was initially confined to the western slopes of the Annam range, continued expansion of the system pushed additional miles of motorable routes further westward in Laos, providing the enemy an increasingly wide choice of routes along which he could channel supplies. By the summer of 1971, this labyrinth of routes and bypasses encompassed an estimated 3,500 kilometers of motorable roads.

In spite of constant improvement, the roads were still primitive by Western standards, consisting primarily of 18-foot-wide tracks carved out of the jungle. Although both gravel and corduroy surfaces were used to strengthen some sections, the roads were chiefly dirt and nearly impassable during the wet season. The roads were originally built by manual labor, but as time passed, the North Vietnamese made increased use of bulldozers, roadgraders, and other heavy . equipment. The route network was operated, maintained, and defended by an estimated 40,000-50,000 personnel organized in geographic area units called Binh Trams. Each Binh Tram had the necessary transportation, engineer, and AAA battalions to ensure movement and security of materiel and personnel in its sector.

The process by which supplies were moved southward was extremely complicated, requiring coordination between various transportation elements and numerous transfers of cargo in and out of vehicles and wayside storage areas. Almost all movement was conducted at night in a series of short shuttles, rather than by long-distance hauling. Drivers drove their trucks over the same routes night after night becoming thoroughly familiar with their assigned segments. Periods of high-moon illumination, which allowed travel without headlights, and low cloud cover were exploited to avoid detection from overhead aircraft. Truck movement began shortly after nightfall and normally trailed off about 3:00 a.m. to allow time for the unloading, dispersal, and concealment of supplies and vehicles before daylight. These tactics, developed in Korea and later refined in Laos, might be considered highly inefficient by Western standards, yet they were the most effective way of moving large quantities of supplies in a hostile air environment. Although the North Vietnamese later made limited use of waterways and pipelines, their road network and trucks remained throughout the war the heart of their logistic system. Intelligence estimates put the North Vietnamese truck inventory in Laos alone at 2,500 to 3,000 during the 1970 and 1971 dry seasons with from 500 to 1,000 moving per night, each carrying about four tons of supplies. Replacement trucks were drawn from large inventories maintained within the sanctuary of North Vietnam in the vicinity of Hanoi and Haiphong.

During the height of the interdiction campaigns, the trail alone was defended against U.S. aircraft with an estimated 600 to 700 antiaircraft guns.

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