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Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail - a shining symbol of willpower and aspirations for national independence, freedom and unification

60 years ago, under the Politburo’s Directive on opening a secret route along the Truong Son Mountain Range to support the revolution in the South, on President Ho Chi Minh’s birthday (May 19th 1959), the General Military Commission and the Ministry of National Defence (MND) decided to establish a Special Military Group (known as the Group 559) tasked with opening a trail to the South along the Truong Son Range and transporting military supplies and staff members to the Southern battlefield. Since then, the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line has been called the Ho Chi Minh Trail and unceasingly developed together with our war against America, for national salvation.

Clearly understanding the risk of the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail, the US Imperialists made every effort to wage a “preventive war” and cut off the North’s reinforcements for the South. To that end, America employed most of its strategies, tactics, and cutting-edge weapons and technical equipment at that time on the Truong Son Line. They employed aircraft of all types, from the UVAs of OV.10, L.19, and AC.130 to fighters, bombers, and even B-52 Stratofortress with the increasingly greater degree of destruction around the clock in both dry and rainy seasons in a bid to prevent our means of transportation and destroy our bridges, oil pipeline, and system of communications. They employed all possible artifices and means, such as magnetic and laser bombs, McNamara Electric Line, and toxic chemicals to destroy vegetation, effectuate rains, cause artificial blindness, make the routes boggy, and spread extremely dangerous diseases for humans. Within 10 years, from the inception of our transportation line to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, on the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line, the enemy’s air force launched 152,000 air strikes and dropped nearly 4 million tons of bombs and munitions of various types. Moreover, they conducted 1,235 surprise attacks and 120 mopping-up operations with a view to destroying the strategic transportation line of Ho Chi Minh, such as Operation Chenla 1 (1970), Operation Chenla 2 (1971), and Operation Lam Son 719 (1971) with the participation of tens of thousands of troops for months.

Transporting military supplies on the Truong Son Line Ho Chi Minh Trail through Dong Loc T-junction (Ha Tinh province) (file photo)

Needless to say the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail became the fiercest battlefield and the place for testing and asserting Vietnamese people’s willpower and determination for national unification as well as the country’s wisdom and courage.

To successfully implement the Party’s guidelines and meet the development of the situation, the force on the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail was developed and became increasingly powerful. At the inception, there was only the Battalion 301 with 440 cadres and soldiers; however, in 1970, it developed into an inter-corps with 5 regional commands (equivalent to divisions), namely 470, 471, 472, 473, and 571, nearly 30 military stations, the Infantry Division 968, and tens of regiments and battalions; at its peak (1975), there were 90,000 troops. Besides, there were hundreds of thousands of youth volunteers, front-line conscripted labourers, and ethnic locals. The Ho Chi Minh Trail gathered most of our Military’s services and arms which ensured the survival of the Trail as well as the forces in charge of the State’s traffic system, youth volunteers, front-line conscripted labourers and the people. It should be noted that those forces were deployed from the North. This proves that Truong Son Front - Ho Chi Minh Trail was really the convergence and promotion of the revolutionary heroism and the strength of national unity block unity and military-civilian unity to the utmost while encouraging the international solidarity to realize the burning desire and resolve of President Ho Chi Minh and the whole nation: “we must gain independence and freedom even if we have to burn the Truong Son Range”. 

Starting with tracks creeping through forests and high mountain passes, after 16 years (1959-1975), the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail was built into 5 systems of vertical routes and 21 horizontal routes in both Eastern Truong Son and Western Truong Son, stretching to the Southeastern battlefield, with nearly 17,000 kilometers of motorized road, over 3,000 kilometers of liaison road, nearly 1,400 kilometers of oil pipeline, thousands of river way and communications line, becoming the blood vessel that connected the North rear with the South frontline. This legendary path was not only a strategic military transportation and logistics line, but also a fierce battlefield between our forces and the enemy, thereby becoming a unique symbol of Vietnamese people’s warfare and our Party, Military and people’s iron will of “splitting Truong Son Range to save the country” and “all for defeating the US invaders”.

The foundation and development of Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line marked a turning point in the transfer of the strength from the rear to the frontline. Within the first 5 years (1959-1964), we transported over 2,500 tons of cargoes only to the Region 5. However, since 1966 we were able to transport supplies to the Central Highlands and the South. To facilitate the 1968 Tet General Offensive and Uprising, within 7 months of the dry season between 1967 and 1968, we transported 63,024 tons of cargoes to the battlefields and provided 31,054 tons of supplies for the operations of our military units. To prepare for the 1972 Strategic Offensive, in the dry season between 1971 and 1972, we transported 64,785 tons of cargoes. To prepare for the 1975 Spring General Offensive and Uprising, within 2 years, the Truong Son Strategic Line transported 413,450 tons of weapons and cargoes, including heavy weapons. In 16 years since its inception, the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail transported 1,349,060 tons of weapons and cargoes and 5,500,000 tons of oil in total while creating a favourable condition for over 1,100,00 cadres and soldiers to go to the South battlefield and bringing over 650,000 cadres and soldiers from the battlefield back to the rear, including nearly 310,000 invalids and sick soldiers, greatly contributing to the victories on the battlefields and the ultimate victory of our war against the US Imperialists.

Under the motto of “paving the way for advancement, fighting the enemy to move forward”, Truong Son Soldiers directly ensured the safety of traffic system, fought the enemy on the spot, cooperated with the active forces and local armed forces on the battlefields to thwart the “preventive war” launched by America and Saigon Army. Within 16 years, the forces on the whole Line engaged in about 2,500 battles, annihilated and injured nearly 17,000 enemy troops, captured 1,200 enemy troops, shot down 2,455 aircraft, and destroyed hundreds of thousands of tons of their weapons and means of war. At their ceremony to receive the title of Hero of the People’s Armed Forces (June 3rd 1976), Truong Son Soldiers’ feats of arms were praised: “Over the past 16 years, Truong Son Soldiers unceasingly promoted the revolutionary heroism and the spirit of determination to fight and win, resolutely, proactively, continuously attacked the enemy, overcome the fierceness and hardships of the war, bravely, successfully opened the routes, excellently fulfilled their task, and achieved miraculous feats of arms in the history of our country’s war against America, for national salvation”. To achieve those feats of arms, over 20,000 cadres, soldiers and youth volunteers bravely fell on the Line, nearly 30,000 were wounded, thousands of people were exposed to the Agent Orange/Dioxin, and numerous cadres, soldiers, youth volunteers, front-line conscripted labourers, and locals devoted their youth to maintaining the smoothness of this strategic traffic line. That was another evidence for Vietnamese people’s aspiration of “nothing is more precious than freedom and independence” and will of “we would rather sacrifice everything than lose the country and be enslaved”.

Assessing the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail, late General Vo Nguyen Giap wrote on the Golden Traditional Notebook of Truong Son Soldiers that: “…This is one of the strategic factors leading the resistance war against America for national salvation to the complete victory”. Ho Chi Minh Trail became a shining symbol of the close-knit bond between the military and the people, the North and the South; it was also a symbol of unity in the fight against the common enemy between the three countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as well as a symbol of pure support by Cuba which was half a world away from Vietnam for the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail in particular and our country in general; it was a golden page of history for Vietnamese generations to study and follow.

On the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail, the whole Party, Military and people proudly look back on the history of combat and victory of this legendary path which was a strategic, historic decision of our Party headed by President Ho Chi Minh. The initiation of Ho Chi Minh Trail was the peak of the art of logistics support in the national liberation war and a typical feature of a battlefield with various forms of warfare and the unique flexible, creative use of forces in both Vietnam and the world. It was a great feat of arms from the country’s aspirations, iron will, courage and resolve which were forged and tested during Vietnam’s thousands-of-years history as well as inherited and promoted to the utmost in the era of Ho Chi Minh. More importantly and practically, the lessons on the Truong Son Strategic Transportation Line - Ho Chi Minh Trail remain valuable and should continue to be studied and flexibly applied to today’s cause of building the Military, strengthening national defence, and protecting the Homeland.

Sr. Col., Associate Prof. Nguyen Huy Thuc, PhD

Vietnam Military History Institute

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