The Ho Chi Minh Trail
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a military supply route running from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam. The route sent weapons, manpower, ammunition and other supplies from communist-led North Vietnam to their supporters in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The trail was named after Ho Chi Minh, the president of North Vietnam. During the 1960s, the Ho Chi Minh Trail (actually a network of trails, footpaths and roadways) moved several tons of supplies each day through rugged mountain ranges and dense jungle.
U.S. military forces—aware of the amount of weaponry that the trail supplied to the Viet Cong, its enemies in South Vietnam—had the Ho Chi Minh Trail in its sights as American involvement in Vietnam increased over the 1960s.
Operation Commando Hunt
On November 11, 1968, Operation Commando Hunt was initiated by the U.S. and its allies. The goal of the operation was to interdict men and supplies on the Ho Chi Minh trail, through Laos into South Vietnam. By the end of the operation, three million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos, which slowed but did not consistently disrupt trail operations.
While the Soviets supplied the North Vietnamese with over 600 heavy trucks, the bulk of the cargo traveled on over 64,000 pack bikes. The trucks were easy targets for American bombers. Bicycles, on the other hand, were much harder to hit. Whereas a two-and-a-half ton truck would be stuck at a crater in the middle of a road, a porter could simply push his bike around the edge. Or, if worse came to worse, unload his bike and carry it and the cargo across the crater. Porters would camouflage their bikes during the day, and move at night in order to avoid detection.
Vietnam Army Relied Upon The Bicycle
On October 13, 1967, Jack Salisbury, a New York Times reporter, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying, I literally believe that without bikes they have to get out of the war. He had seen first hand in North Vietnam how both the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army relied upon the bicycle to supply their troops. Senator Fulbright responded, Why dont we concentrate on bombing their bicycles instead of the bridges? Does the Pentagon know about this? According to reports, the room erupted in laughter at the idea of American bombers hunting bicycles.
In fact, the Pentagon did know about the Vietnamese pack bikes and had commissioned a study in 1965. The study’s author, Colonel B.F. Hardaway, concluded that, Interest in the employment of bicycle troops is emerging once again, this time in Southeast Asia, where the road network is inadequate for motorized transportation, but where paths and dikes may provide an acceptable avenue for bicycle movement. Hardaway’s study was dismissed by his superiors, who were confident that hi-tech bombs and planes could overcome something so simple as a bicycle.