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The miracle of the Ho Chi Minh sea trail and lessons on promoting the will, aspiration and strength of national unity

(PTOJ) - The Ho Chi Minh sea trail is the strategic transport route connecting the North pillar with the Southern front line in the war against the US for national salvation. Overcoming many difficulties, hardships and sacrifices, in the face of fierce enemy attacks, this strategic transport route with the journeys of tens of thousands of seas has operated continuously for 14 years (1961 - 1975). It has become the legendary road, the symbol of the great unity strength and aspiration for independence, freedom and national reunification of the Vietnamese people.

The Ho Chi Minh Road at sea opens up a new and very important direction of support, bringing support from the North to the distant battlefield - Source: vnanet.vn

1. Establishing and organizing transport routes at sea - the right strategic direction of the Party

In the late 50s of the twentieth century, in the face of complicated developments from the international situation, from the reality of Vietnam’s revolution after the Geneva Agreement (July 1954), the 15th Conference of the Central Committee of the Party (January 1959) advocated changing the revolutionary strategy of the South from political struggle to combining political struggle with armed struggle, preparing for a long-term fighting war against the invading US imperialists. The Vietnamese revolution led by the Party had two strategic tasks: to carry out the socialist revolution in the North and the people’s democratic national revolution in the South. Although those two strategic tasks were different in nature, they were organically related to each other, conducted in parallel, deeply influence each other, and strongly support each other, aiming for the common direction of maintaining peace, conducting national reunification, creating favorable conditions for the whole country to move towards socialism”(1).

Implementing the Party’s policy of strategic redirection, the Southern revolutionary movement developed strongly. With the victory of the Dong Khoi climax (1960), the southern revolution changed from the position of preserving forces to the offensive position. The need to build and develop the armed forces, especially the need for weapons and equipment, was growing. The problem of finding the way to transport goods and weapons to support the compatriots, soldiers directly fighting against the US and its henchmen in the South was urgently asked. On May 19th, 1959, the General Military Commission decided to establish Delegation 5592(2), tasked with paving the way for reinforcements to the southern battlefield, first of all, to urgently transport a number of military goods according to the urgent requirements of the army.           

At this time, for the Southern battlefield, the road was not reachable. Therefore, the Politburo and the General Military Commission advocated quickly opening the strategic transport route in the East Sea to provide aid to the South, first of all to the central and southern coastal provinces. In July 1959, the Ministry of National Defense issued the decision to organize the Water Transport Battalion 603 with the task of paving the way at sea to transport weapons, goods and people for aid to the South(3). On October 23rd, 1961, the Ministry of National Defense issued the decision to establish the Military Sea Transport Delegation 759(4), marking the birth of the North-South strategic supply line at sea. Delegation 759 was responsible for purchasing vehicles and transporting supplies for the southern battlefield by sea. On January 29th, 1964, Division 759 of the General Staff changed its name to Division 125 of the Navy Command(5). From here, the southern coastal battlefields, the southernmost central region and the southern region received direct support from the North, creating great strength and confidence for the armed forces on the battlefield.

The decision to open the strategic transport route at sea and the bold process of directing and organizing its implementation, in the condition that the enemy organized a strict blockade and restriction, was a right decision, reflecting the vision and nature of the leadership and strategy of the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh. The establishment of Delegation 759 marked the important historical milestone, opening the new step in the development of the legendary strategic transport route - Ho Chi Minh sea train.

With the motto of secret and unexpected operation, using small ships, camouflaged like fishing boats, the Ho Chi Minh Road at sea opens up a new and very important direction of support, bringing support from the North to the distant battlefield. The first successful train to mark the formation of this road was carrying 28,213 tons of weapons on the wooden ship named “Phuong Dong 1” belonging to Delegation 759, departing from Van Set wharf, Do Son (Hai Phong city) on the night of October 11th, 1962, landing at Vam Lung (Ca Mau province) in the morning of October 19th, 1962(6).

To keep the secret and ensure smooth operation, the route’s mode of transport was developed more and more flexibly and creatively: the enemy blocked the inner road, we took the outer route; The enemy blocked the near sea, we went to the far sea; The enemy blockaded along the long sea route, we went in segments; skillfully combined with disguise, diversionary camouflage, clever, bold and secret countermeasures; sensitive in choosing berths and yards, taking advantage of terrain, tides, weather... Thanks to that, we overcame the strict enemy lines. Wharf K15, Do Son (Hai Phong city), the starting point of unnumbered ships, stood firm against enemy attacks and blockades during the operation of the route.  

From the original wooden ships, operating inshore, we have developed fleets of iron-hulled ships with the loading of hundreds of tons, operating far from the shore, for a long time, taking advantage of international maritime routes, public seas and your country’s sea areas, going by astronomical navigation like modern oceanic ships, and then blending in with the ships and boats of fishermen operating in the coastal areas to safely dock. In order to keep absolute secrecy, the ships had to remove all labels, ship names, ship numbers, and when coming to any sea, disguising themselves as fishing or merchant ships, writing the name of the ship, bringging the ship number appropriate to the locality water. Most of the records, itineraries, information..., right after each trip, had to be completely destroyed, not letting any data or data be in danger of being leaked or exposed.

Until 1965, dozens of wharves and weapons receiving yards were secretly built in some coastal provinces of the South and South Central. The main wharfs were: Vam Lung, Bo De, Ben Cu, Rach Kien Vang, Cai Bau (in Ca Mau and Bac Lieu provinces); Ho Long Den (Kien Giang province); Ba Dong, Khau Lau, La Ghi, Lang Nuoc, Rach Co, Ho Tau (Tra Vinh province); Vam Khau Bang, Con Rung, Eo Loi, Con Tra, Con Diep, Binh Dai (Ben Tre province); Loc An (Ba Ria - Vung Tau province), Hon Heo (Khanh Hoa province); Vung Ro (Phu Yen province); Lo Giao (Binh Dinh province); Dam Thuy (Quang Ngai province); Ho Chuoi, Binh Dao (Quang Nam Province)(7)...

From 1962 to early 1965(8), officers and soldiers of the unnumbered train secretly overcame the enemy’s control, successfully made 90 trips, carrying 5,024,428 tons of goods and weapons for the battlefield(9); from the end of 1965 to 1972, carrying 688,255 tons of goods and weapons for the battlefield(10). The success of trips carrying goods and weapons has directly contributed to promoting the people’s war, building and developing the main block in the southern and southernmost central battlefields.

Since 1967, along with direct transportation to the South Central and South Central battlefields, Zone 5, the ships of Delegation 125 also carried out thousands of transport trips from Hai Phong to the Southern Military Region 4 and Quang Tri. From October 1962 to March 1975, Delegation 125 transported 97,596 tons of military goods to support the battlefields of these areas(11). In particular, during the General Offensive and Uprising in the Spring of 1975, in response to the requirement to quickly transport heavy weapons and tens of thousands of cadres and soldiers to the West to promptly cooperate to combat with the Vietnamese forces. On the road, the Delegation 125 made 173 quick trips, transporting 8,741 tons of heavy weapons including 50 tanks and cannons and 18,741 officers and soldiers(12)

Sea transportation was very arduous and dangerous, but it had the advantage of speed, time and efficiency. The Ho Chi Minh sea trail could transport “special” goods, such as weapons, rare medical equipment, special chemicals... Along with the task of transporting military goods, the road also assumed the particularly important task, which was to safely transport hundreds of senior officials of the Party, Army and military experts to the South, such as comrades Le Duc Anh, Vo Van Kiet, Nguyen The Bon..., promptly supplemented the work of leading, directing and commanding combat on the southern battlefields, sending cadres from the South to the North to report to the Central Government and receive new instructions.

2. Lessons on promoting the will, aspiration and strength of national unity

Along with the strategic support route Truong Son - Ho Chi Minh Road, the Ho Chi Minh Sea Trail was the close coordination and cooperation between the large pillar and the large frontline. The strategic shipping route at sea has become the symbol of the strength of the Vietnam People’s War in the battle of wisdom and struggles with the enemy; where the Vietnamese nation shined with revolutionary heroism, courage, intelligence, and determination to fight America and defeat America. The two South and North conducted two revolutions in parallel, but with the same goal of fighting against the invasion war of neo-colonialism, protecting the great rear, all for the great frontline, and liberating the South, nation reunification. That guideline of the Party has met the earnest aspiration of all patriotic Vietnamese, and mobilized the resistance forces of the whole country and the whole nation. President Ho Chi Minh stated: “Thanks to great solidarity, the Vietnamese people have defeated colonialism, made the August Revolution successful, and fought the war to victory. Thanks to the great unity of the whole people, our Vietnam woull definitely be unified”(13). Understanding the strategic motto “self-reliance is the most important”, our people have mobilized the most human strength, property, talent and material resources for the battlefield. The victories of the legendary Ho Chi Minh Road on the sea were historical victories, made up of wisdom, patriotism, strength of will, and aspiration “Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom”.

The existence and development of the Ho Chi Minh Sea Trail and the successful transports of the Unnumberred Ships are the results of the command and close cooperation between the unloading, armed and combat forces, ambulance, radio communication and advisory, political, technical, logistics,... All forces operated under the unified management from the Central.

Officers and soldiers of the Unnumberred Ships always carried the spirit of “All for the South”, even though they knew that leaving was suicide, they still accepted dangers and were ready to face all difficulties and challenges. Before each trip, in the middle of the vast night, the soldiers raised their hands and swore in front of the Party and Fatherland flags, determined to complete the task and ready to sacrifice for the sacred Fatherland. In order to keep absolute secrecy, none of them were allowed to contact their relatives or friends before leaving. Some people went to the North to gather, away from home for nearly ten years, when they returned to the land to cut their umbilical cords, because of the requirement of absolute secrecy, they did not go ashore to visit their family. Someone suddenly saw his wife in the public transit to transfer weapons, had to go down to the train compartment to hide.

Each unnumbered ship was fitted with explosives at the front and rear of the ship. If unfortunately discovered by the enemy, all these explosives would be detonated, and the soldiers were always prepared to sacrifice themselves rather than let the ship fall into enemy hands. In the process of performing this special mission, hundreds of officers, soldiers, militiamen, guerrillas, arms transporters, ship guards have heroically sacrificed their lives. Therefore, despite the enemy’s dense monitoring, patrolling and blocking systems, our ships loaded with weapons still safely docked. Many newspapers in the US affirmed: “The North Vietnamese Communists have experienced crews, twenty years ahead of the Republic of Vietnam Navy. They can control the ship in any weather, any terrain”(14).

The Ho Chi Minh Sea Trail was the route of the “people’s heart” in the people’s war. In order for the transport route to be smooth, local people were always willing to contribute wealth and efforts. At the place of departure, Do Son (Hai Phong city), formerly with ten thousand fishing boats, the people here, even though they have lived for many generations, were still willing to move. At the receiving stations, when dozens of tons of weapons were transported from the North, people were mobilized to unload them. The people of the provinces, directly officials and people at the wharfs where the ships docked, such as Vam Lung, Rach Kien Vang, Ca Mau, Ba Lang An, Hon Heo, Vung Ro, Ninh Phuoc..., were all gone for the Fatherland, absolute secrecy and finished unloading weapons in the night. Robert S. McNamara, the US Secretary of Defense once admitted: “The deepest strength of one nation lies not in the spearhead of the military but in the unity of the nation”. “We underestimate the power of nationalism to motivate a nation to fight and die for its ideals and values...”(15).

The great national unity is the most precious tradition and invaluable historical lesson of the Vietnamese nation during the process of nation establishment and defense. The Ho Chi Minh Sea Trail with its feats in the fighting for national liberation and reunification has supplemented and deepened that precious tradition of the nation.

Currently, the world is undergoing unpredictable changes, putting each country to new opportunities and challenges. The trend of globalization has profound and comprehensive impact on most countries. The Asia - Pacific region, including Southeast Asia, will still be the dynamic development area, but there are still many potential destabilizing factors; disputes over sovereignty and over territories, seas and islands are increasingly complicated. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with modern means, weapons and equipment, world powers can conduct many new forms of warfare, such as electronic warfare, information technology warfare, and “non-traditional” warfare. 

In order to successfully carry out the two strategic tasks of national construction and defense, our Party advocates for the goal of building peaceful, independent, unified, territorial Vietnam, with rich people, and strong country, democracy, justice and civilization as the common point, conducting the modern solidarity of all ethnic groups, religions, classes, economic sectors, all genders, all ages, all regions and sectors of the country, the people inside and outside the Party, Vietnamese living in the country and overseas, on the basis of the solid alliance between the working class, the peasantry and the intelligentsia. Promoting the strength of the ethnic community, patriotic tradition, will to self-reliance, and national pride; respecting different opinions that are not contrary to the common interests of the nation; removing guilt, prejudice, discrimination about the past, class, and building the spirit of openness, mutual trust, and look forward to the future.

In the current context, the power of great national unity is the power of social consensus; synergy of economy, military, population, territory; the strength of historical values, traditions, culture, patriotism, hard work spirit and the will to rise, the ability to think, organize, adapt, accept the values culture, civilization and progress from outside of Vietnamese people; resources can be mobilized both at domestic and abroad;...

In international cooperation, the great national unity group has been built on the basis of ensuring first and foremost national interests in accordance with international law, equality, mutual benefit, ensuring legitimate interests and legitimate aspirations of the people. At the 13th Congress, our Party emphasized: “Strongly arouse patriotism, national self-reliance, strength of national unity and aspiration to develop into prosperous and happy country; promoting socialist democracy, the synergy of the whole political system and of Vietnamese culture and people”(16). At the same time, “Making the most of the synergy of the entire nation, of the whole political system in combination with the strength of the times, making the most of the consensus and support of the international community to firmly defend the country to secure the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Fatherland, protect the Party, State, people, socialist regime, culture and national interests”(17).

________________

Endnotes:

(1) CPV: Communist Party Document, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2002, p.62.

(2), (3), (4), (5) See: Ministry of National Defense - Vietnam Military History Institute: 60 years of the Vietnam People’s Army, People’s Army Publishing House, Hanoi, 2004, pp.181, 182, 203, 220.

(6), (9), (10), (11) See: Navy: History of Ho Chi Minh sea trail (1961 - 2011), People’s Army Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.91-93, 185, 363, 556.

(7) See: Dang Phong: 5 Ho Chi Minh trails, Tri Thuc Publishing House, Hanoi, 2008, pp.178, 184.

(8) After the fact that the ship C143 was discovered by the enemy in Vung Ro (Phu Yen province) in February 1965, the enemy increased patrols to prevent infiltration. From this point on, the work of transporting aid to the South by sea changed to a new stage with more difficulties and challenges.

(12) See: Ministry of National Defense: Ho Chi Minh sea trail: The Road of Vietnam’s Will and Creativity, People’s Army Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.45.

(13) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, vol.11, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.272.

(14) Enemy documents, No.02, File 21, archived by the Information Center, Vietnam News Agency.

(15) Robert S. McNamara: Looking Back: Tragedy and Lessons About Vietnam, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.317, 316.

(16), (17) CPV: Documents of the 13th National Party Congress, vol.I, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2021, pp.110, 155-156.

ASSOC. PROF., DR. TRINH THI HONG HANH

Institute of Party History,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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