The few surviving relics of one of the American War’s most intriguing revolutionary vestiges would appear to be under threat as the developers transform Đà Nẵng’s historic Ngũ Hành Sơn district.
Many Đà Nẵng visitors and residents are familiar with the old Nước Mặn helicopter base, which is situated next to the Đà Nẵng-Hội An road in Ngũ Hành Sơn district.
Part of the 1964-built US Airforce base has survived and is currently home to a cement factory, though it retains its runway and several clusters of Hardened Aircraft Shelters.
Yet relatively few people seem to be aware of the existence of a former underground resistance base which once operated little more than a stone’s throw to the west of it.
Known by the code name K20, this secret base was set up by the National Liberation Front (NLF) in 1962 in an area of 4km² beneath the former villages of Đa Phước, Nước Mặn, Mỹ Thị and Bà Đa. Still the subject of a major display in Đà Nẵng Museum, K20 functioned right down to 1975 and comprised at its height a dense network of up to 157 interconnected tunnels which were used for the storage of weapons and as a base for NLF commando units.
Most of the secret tunnels have long since disappeared and much of the area (situated immediately west of the new Đà Nẵng Women and Children’s Hospital) now resembles a large building site. Even the “K20 Traditional House,” a small museum located next to the People’s Committee Building on K20 street, has seen better days and is currently closed pending refurbishment.
However, a visit to the surviving village of Đa Mặn reveals that a few old revolutionary vestiges have survived the bulldozers.
Standing near the westernmost end of K20 street, the House of Mrs Nguyễn Thị Hải (Nhà bà Nguyễn Thị Hải) was the site of the area’s very first secret tunnel, dug in 1962 to hide revolutionary cadres. Two interconnected tunnel systems could once be accessed through hatches in the floor beneath a rear building, but the partial collapse of the structure last year has left only one small cellar accessible.
Further west, near the banks of the ancient Cổ Cò river, lies another small cluster of revolutionary vestiges.
The main focus of interest here is the House of Mr Huỳnh Trưng (Nhà ông Huỳnh Trưng), where a secret tunnel was built in 1968 and maintained in constant usage right down to 1975. The septuagenarian owner, a young cadre at the time of the American War, proudly invites visitors into his family temple, opens a secret door beneath the main shrine and leads his guests into a cramped hidden space. With a torch it is possible to locate the hole in the floor which was used to access an underground escape passageway leading out to the fields bordering the riverbank.
Underneath the nearby Mrs Nhiêu Temple (Nhà Thờ bà Nhiêu), the NLF constructed a network of six tunnels and underground rooms which once functioned as the clandestine headquarters of the Đà Nẵng Party Committee. Today the entrance has been bricked up for safety reasons to discourage visitors from descending into what remains of the tunnel network.
According to a recent article in the Báo Đà Nẵng, the Nước Mặn Air Base is currently scheduled for redevelopment as a modern helicopter and seaplane base as part of the plan to make Đà Nẵng the most modern city in Việt Nam by 2030.
In a city where many historic structures have already been lost in the headlong rush for modernity, it can only be hoped that other important heritage sites like K20 Resistance Base can be saved for future generations.
Khu ăn cứ K20, Phường Khuê Mỹ, Quận Ngũ Hành Sơn, Thành phố Đà Nẵng
Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.
A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.
Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.