Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone

The Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone was a demilitarized zone established as a dividing line between North and South Vietnam as a result of the First Indochina War.

During the Vietnam War, it became important as the battleground demarcation separating North from South Vietnamese territories.

The zone ceased to exist with the reunification of Vietnam, though the area remains dangerous due to the numerous undetonated explosives it contains.

Map of the Demilitarized Zone
17th para taken from N of river
Photo taken from the north side of the DMZ at the Route 1 crossing. The guard tower on the left is a re-creation and spires seen in the distance through the arch are a new monument.


The Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone ran from east-west near the center of present-day Vietnam (spanning more than a hundred kilometers) and was a couple of kilometers wide, about a hundred kilometers north of the city of Huế. It ran along the Ben Hai River for much of its length, and an island nearby was controlled by North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War. Although it was nominally described as being at "the 17th parallel," almost all of the zone lies to the south of the parallel, with only a small portion of the zone near the eastern end actually including the parallel.

The First Indochina War

The First Indochina War (also called the French Indochina War) was fought in French Indochina from 1946 through 1954 between France and the French-controlled State of Vietnam on the one side, and the Communist-dominated independence movement, the Viet Minh, on the other. The Viet Minh won the war, gaining effective control of all northern Vietnam except an enclave around Hanoi.

In 1954, France gave up its control of Vietnam, and the Viet Minh was recognized as the government of northern Vietnam.

Establishing the DMZ

The post-colonial conditions of Vietnam were set at the Geneva Conference of 1954; the agreement was finalized on July 21, 1954.

DMZ March, 1968
The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Vietnam, March, 1968, looking west toward Laos.

The Geneva agreement reflected the military results at that time. The northern part of Vietnam, which was almost entirely controlled by the Viet Minh became the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, under Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The southern part of Vietnam, where the Viet Minh controlled relatively small and remote areas, became the independent State of Vietnam under Bảo Đại, the last scion of the old Vietnamese imperial house. The State of Vietnam later became the Republic of Vietnam.

The boundary between these two zones was established at the Ben Hai River, which enters the South China Sea at 17 degrees 0 minutes 54 seconds N latitude. The boundary followed the Ben Hai to its headwaters, about 55 km WSW, and thence to the Laotian border.

The area within 5 km on either side of the border was declared to be a demilitarized zone. Troops of both governments were barred from this area. 3rd Marine Division intelligence estimated the combat strength of NVA and VC forces in the DMZ area in January 1968 was 40,943 troops.[1]


Exploring the Demilitarized Zone can today be comfortably achieved by joining one of various organised tours starting daily from Hué. Together with a local guide the most famous war settings, as Khe Sanh Combat Base, The Rockpile, Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail, Doc-Mieu-Station or the Vinh Moc tunnels are visited on a full-day trip.

Although the Vietnam War ended decades ago, walking outside marked tracks can still be dangerous because of numerous unexploded ordnance devices.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Pike, COL Thomas F., Military Records, February 1968, 3rd Marine Division: The Tet Offensive, p. 115, ISBN 978-1-481219-46-4. NVA and VC Order of Battle information is located on pages 114-127.
  2. ^ Lonely Planet, ISBN 978-3-8297-1595-9.

External links

17th parallel

17th parallel may refer to:

17th parallel north, a circle of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere

Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, between North and South Vietnam (1954–76) at approximately the 17th parallel north

17th Parallel: Vietnam in War, a 1968 documentary film

17th parallel south, a circle of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere

1st Searchlight Battery (United States)

1st Searchlight Battery was a United States Marine Corps unit formed during the Vietnam War to monitor the "Electronic Wall of Defense" that was set up along the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. They fell under the 12th Marine Regiment and the 3rd Marine Division.

Battle of Loc Ninh

The Battle of Lộc Ninh was a major battle fought during the Easter Offensive during the Vietnam War, which took place in Bình Long Province, South Vietnam between 4–7 April 1972. Towards the end of 1971, North Vietnamese leaders decided to launch a major offensive against South Vietnam, with the objective of destroying Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) units and capturing as much territory as possible, in order to strengthen their bargaining position in the Paris Peace Accords. On 30 March 1972, two People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) divisions smashed through the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, marking the commencement of the Easter Offensive. They quickly overwhelmed South Vietnamese units in the I Corps Tactical Zone. With the rapid collapse of South Vietnamese forces in the northern provinces of South Vietnam, PAVN and Viet Cong (VC) forces began preparing for their next offensive, targeting Bình Long Province in the rubber plantation region north of Saigon. On 4 April, the VC 5th Division opened their attack on Lộc Ninh, defended by the ARVN 9th Infantry Regiment. After three days of fighting, the vastly outnumbered ARVN forces, though well supported by American air power, were forced to abandon their positions in Lộc Ninh.

Camp Carroll

Camp Carroll was a United States Marine Corps artillery base during the Vietnam War. It was located 8 km southwest of Cam Lộ. Camp Carroll was also at the centroid of a large arc of the strategic Highway 9 corridor south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which made it a key facility.

Con Thien

Con Thien (Vietnamese: Cồn Tiên, meaning the "Hill of Angels") was a United States Marine Corps combat base located near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) about 3 km from North Vietnam in Gio Linh District, Quảng Trị Province. It was the site of fierce fighting from February 1967 through February 1968.

Demilitarized zone

A demilitarized zone, DMZ or DZ is an area in which treaties or agreements between nations, military powers or contending groups forbid military installations, activities or personnel. A DMZ often lies along an established frontier or boundary between two or more military powers or alliances. A DMZ may sometimes form a de facto international border, such as the 38th parallel between North and South Korea. Other examples of demilitarized zones are a 120-mile (190 km) wide area between Iraq and Kuwait, Antarctica (preserved for scientific exploration and study) and outer space (space more than 100 miles (160 km) from the earth's surface).

Many demilitarized zones are considered neutral territory because neither side is allowed to control it, even for non-combat administration. Some zones remain demilitarized after an agreement has awarded control to a state which (under the DMZ terms) had originally ceded its right to maintain military forces in the disputed territory. It is also possible for powers to agree on the demilitarization of a zone without formally settling their respective territorial claims, enabling the dispute to be resolved by peaceful means such as diplomatic dialogue or an international court.

Several demilitarized zones have also unintentionally become wildlife preserves because their land is unsafe for construction or less exposed to human disturbances (including hunting). Examples include the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the Cypriot Demilitarized Zone (The Green Line), & the Former Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone.

First Battle of Quảng Trị

The First Battle of Quảng Trị resulted in the first major victory for the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) during the Easter Offensive of 1972. Quảng Trị Province was a major battleground for the opposing forces during the Vietnam War. As South Vietnamese soldiers were gradually replacing their American counterparts, North Vietnam's General Văn Tiến Dũng was preparing to engage three of his divisions in the province. Just months before the battle, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) deployed its newly formed 3rd Division to the areas along the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to take over former US bases. North Vietnamese forces deployed against the inexperienced ARVN 3rd Division included the PAVN 304th, 308th and 324B Divisions.

James Edward Lykins

James Edward Lykins is a sculptor from South Charleston, West Virginia. His father was H. F. Lykins, an organic research chemist for Union Carbide, and his mother was a registered nurse named M. E. Lykins. He was interested in art from a young age, but did not like the publicity. After entering an art competition, he was offered a four-year arts scholarship to a university in Hawaii, but was too young to accept it at age 14. Three years later he joined the United States Marine Corps. He won a Purple Heart for his actions in the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone and in Laos during the Vietnam War. He suffers Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from his experiences, and his wife Robin Lykins inspired him to take up art as a hobby again as therapy. One of his better known pieces, Green Faces/Purple Hearts, has won the first prize at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. He has also sculpted memorials to Chuck Yeager, Carter G. Woodson, and a memorial to the Fallen Firefighters of West Virginia.

Khe Sanh Combat Base

Khe Sanh Combat Base was a United States Marine Corps outpost south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) used during the Vietnam War. Military Grid Reference: 48Q XD 841422 (abandoned runway 10/28).

McNamara Line

The McNamara Line was an operational strategy employed by the United States in 1966–1968 during the Vietnam War to prevent infiltration of South Vietnam by NVA forces from North Vietnam and Laos. The McNamara Line ran across South Vietnam from the South China Sea to the Laotian border along the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The eastern part included fortified field segments with Khe Sanh as linchpin, along with stretches, where roads and trails were guarded by the high-tech acoustic and heat-detecting sensors on the ground and interdicted from the air. A sophisticated electronic surveillance was backed with assorted types of mines, including so-called gravel mines, and troops at choke points. Named the barrier system by Robert McNamara, it was one of the key elements, along with gradual aerial bombing, of his war strategy in Vietnam.

Mutter's Ridge

Mutter's Ridge was the name given by U.S. Marines to the Núi Cây Tre ("Bamboo Mountain") ridge, in Quảng Trị Province. The ridge was formed by Hills 461, 484 and 400 and overlooked the southern edge of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to the north and Route 9 to the south.The ridge was contested between the Marines and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) starting with Operation Prairie in August 1966 and was named for the radio callsign of the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines which secured the ridge in September/October 1966.From 1966-1969 the Marines variously established and abandoned bases along the ridge to support operations against the PAVN, including Landing Zone Mack on Hill 484, Landing Zone Margo and Landing Zone Sierra.

National Route 9 (Vietnam)

National Route 9 (Vietnamese: Quốc lộ 9 (or abbrv. QL9) or Đường 9) runs across Vietnam roughly in line with the 17th Parallel. The route includes two segments. The segment called National Route 9A begins at Đông Hà and ends at Lao Bảo on the Vietnam-Laos border and is entirely within Quảng Trị Province. The 8 km-long segment called National Route 9B begins at Dong Ha and runs eastward to Cửa Việt Port.

Ocean View (Vietnam)

Oceanview was a U.S. Marine Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) observation post located on the coast some 10 km north of the Cua Viet River and just south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It was a very isolated spot and could be reached only by Amtrac or helicopter.

The primary reasons for its existence were to prevent infiltration of troops through the DMZ into I Corps and to direct counterbattery fire against People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) artillery. Navy ships would unload supplies at the Cửa Việt Base and these would be taken up the Cua Viet River to Đông Hà Combat Base. Typically ships would begin to unload and PAVN guns would open fire either from North Vietnam or the DMZ. The observers would calculate the PAVN artillery positions and call in the coordinates to Navy ships and then adjust the rounds onto the target.

Oceanview was defended by 32 Marines from the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion, plus 11 Army crewmen manning two M42 Dusters from 1st Battalion 44th Artillery, 108th Artillery Group at Đông Hà, assigned to the 3rd Marine Division.

The PAVN attempted to overrun the position at least twice. On 2 August 1968, several squads of PAVN infantry attacked Oceanview, but were driven off by fire from the Amtracs, Dusters and naval gunfire killing 8 PAVN. Later that day a platoon of PAVN was seen moving nearby and naval gunfire was again called in, resulting in a further 2 PAVN killed. On the night of 22 February 1969, an estimated 500 PAVN troops attacked Oceanview. The battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) was on station nearby and it fired 16 inch and 5 inch rounds over a period of 6 hours to break up the attack.

Operation Hickory

Operation Hickory, was a search and destroy operation conducted by the 3rd Marine Division in the area around Con Thien, Quảng Trị Province known as Leatherneck Square from 18 to 28 May 1967. Operation Hickory was the first authorized incursion into the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Operation Lancaster

Operation Lancaster was a U.S. Marine Corps operation that took place in northern Quảng Trị Province from November 1967 to January 20, 1968.

Operation Thor

Operation Thor was a U.S. combined arms operation against People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) positions around, Mũi Lay, North Vietnam from 1-8 July 1968.

The Rockpile

The Rockpile (also known as Elliot Combat Base) and known in Vietnamese as Thon Khe Tri, is a solitary karst rock outcropping north of Route 9 and south of the former Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Its relatively inaccessible location, reached only by helicopter, made it an important United States Army and Marine Corps observation post and artillery base from 1966 to 1969.

Vịnh Mốc tunnels

Vinh Moc (Vĩnh Mốc) is a tunnel complex in Quảng Trị, Vietnam. During the Vietnam War it was strategically located on the border of North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The tunnels were built to shelter people from the intense bombing of Son Trung and Son Ha communes in Vinh Linh county of Quảng Trị Province in the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone.

The American forces believed the villagers of Vinh Moc were supplying food and armaments to the North Vietnamese garrison on the island of Con Co which was in turn hindering the American bombers on their way to bomb Hanoi. The idea was to force the villagers of Vinh Moc to leave the area but as is typical in Vietnam there was nowhere else to go. The villagers initially dug the tunnels to move their village 10 metres underground but the American forces designed bombs that burrowed down 10 metres.

Eventually, against these odds, the villagers moved the village to a depth of 30 metres. It was constructed in several stages beginning in 1966 and used until early 1972. The complex grew to include wells, kitchens, rooms for each family and spaces for healthcare. Around sixty families lived in the tunnels; as many as 17 children were born inside the tunnels.

The tunnels were a success and no villagers lost their lives. The only direct hit was from a bomb that failed to explode; the resulting hole was utilized as a ventilation shaft.

Three levels of tunnels were eventually built.

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