Bikes of war (II)

American Soldiers instructed on how to neutralize bikers during the Vietnam War. Photo from the Imperial War Museum

Last week we saw the crucial role of bicycles during the independence war with the French and specially on the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu. As we know, there was almost no pause between this war and the one known as the Vietnam War in the West and the American War in Vietnam. And during that conflict, bikes also played a big role, although not as preeminent as in Dien Bien Phu.

The U.S. military were somehow aware of that, and despite the incredulity of some generals and Senators,  the Pentagon commissioned a report about this matter in 1965 to find the best way to counter them. The report seemed not to be good enough, though, with references to the use of bicycles in the past or in other Asian countries, but little information about their use during that war. The Americans ended up using the same tactics that made the French fail : bomb the routes. Their B-52 bombings were more powerful, but hardly more effective to neutralize the Vietnamese network of bike pushers along the Ho Chi Minh trail. According to Arnold Blumberg on,  more cyclists perished by tigers, elephants and bears than by bombs or bullets.

As the war progressed and North Vietnam got more help from the USSR and China, the trails improved and bicycles were gradually replaced by trucks, but they never completely disappeared from the scene. They were still more quiet, and more flexible to go to the difficult paths. Around 2,000 cyclists were engaged in moving supplies to areas of very difficult access along the trails, difficult to spot by American helicopters who were flying low to cut the supply routes. It may have been embarrassing for the most powerful army in the world to know that a simple army of bicycles could cause so much trouble.

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