Vietnam Radio Echoes

During a recent trip to Vietnam I spent 16 days on the ground visiting various sites and exploring the country, South to North. This was my first trip to Vietnam – Although I am a Vietnam era veteran (having enlisted in 1971), I had not served there since our draw down was underway at that point (and my Navy personnel detailer had other plans for me at the time).

In keeping with my overall radio communications theme, some observations and notes; mostly on radio equipment relics we saw (among other sights) during our trip.  It’s still there.

Some context and related observations:

Vietnamese Propaganda Poster

FORWARD! (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)  Similar posters with that phrase commonly seen throughout the country along with the North Vietnamese and the red “hammer and sickle” flag of the Communist Party. It seems all communist / leftist propagandists go to the same Stalinesque School of Art.

One of our first stops was the former “Presidential Palace” in Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh City if you are a Communist sympathizer). It was the symbolic seat of government of the formerly free Republic of Vietnam, AKA South Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese communists enshrined these Soviet T-54 tanks that crashed through the gates in their final assault and overthrow of the government at this building.

North Vietnamese Tanks on the Presidential Palace lawn

We were standing on the front steps of the building, 50 yards from these tanks, when one of our companions’ cell phone rang. It was his son informing us that Obama had apparently won the US presidential election. How appropriate to get that news while standing here.
You could not have planned this convergence…Que “The Twilight Zone”.

But enough of that.  Returning to the radio communications theme, we found many “Radio Relics” during our travels.  Especially here, in the basement Communications Center in the building now cynically renamed the “Reunification Palace” by the communists after the fall of Saigon.

T-368’s in the communications room of the former “Presidential Palace”

This Comm Center contains a good collection of communications gear used during the war years. It is on display in non-functional condition. Included here are 5 Heavy Metal T-368’s, Hallicrafters P-2000 power supply and a Collins 312B speaker console (ham radio equipment), a pair of Motorola Motracs and some unidentified gear. (Motorola has a large presence in Vietnam – with an Authorized Service Center on 3 Trang 2 Street across town in Saigon. They could probably get parts for this radio.)

Motrac Transceivers “USAID”

Above: The Motorola MOTRAC transceiver sporting the insignia of the USAID (US Agency for International Development) program. A civilian-type VHF mobile radio probably supplied to the South Vietnamese police, the “White Mice” in Saigon.

Interestingly, the Viet Cong and their NVA masters placed a high priority on intercepting civil communications traffic. It would have given them good insights into the structure and functioning of the government and it was easily exploitable.

The Comm Center included Gates AM Broadcast Band transmitters. Maybe they broadcast “Good Morning Vietnam”? Maybe not. Also, a General Electric FM transmitter, possibly a repeater.

More T-368’s down there.

T-368 Transmitters

These 400 Watt, continuous duty T-368’s would make excellent AM Broadcast transmitters with little or no modifications. I wonder how many others ended up in say, Provincial capital radio stations. However, in today’s Vietnam ALL radio and TV program material originates from Communist Party headquarters in Hanoi; no local program material is allowed.
Go figure.

One of the locals told us that tourists could buy almost any kind of radio or military gear on the streets, cheap, up until the 1990’s. It’s all gone now but there are many shops selling cheap reproduction “US military” gear all made in China! Dog tags, uniforms, compasses, helmets, boots, canteens, mess kits, field gear etc. All “authentic”.  No BS GI !

Below: A bunch of forlorn-looking R-390’s, and some Ham Radio equipment: a Hammarlund (HQ-180?) receiver and a Hallicrafters SR-2000 transceiver (its power supply is in the other room on top of a T-368)

Below: There was also some RATT gear there. Most likely originally paired with the T-368’s and R-390’s at one point.

RATT Equipment

Above: AN/FGC-25 RATT Radio Teletype terminals; TH-5 RATT Modems on the deck. Then up to the roof.

Antennas on roof of former Presidential Palace; Saigon

Above: Here the remains of an RC-292 VHF communications antenna. The elements rusted away over the years. Interestingly, the remains of RC-292’s were found almost everywhere around South Vietnam, on Gov buildings, air ports (Tan San Nhut, Marble Mountain MCAS, Da Nang, Hue City), non-descript buildings downtown etc.

We even saw a few HF dipoles still standing, possibly some still in use. I don’t recognize that other interesting thing. A later Soviet ground plane antenna of some sort? There’s another RC-292 up here as well.

UHF Corner Reflectors pointed NSEW

Above: Four UHF Corner Reflector antennas, possibly used with the UHF TRC-68’s for point-to-point comms. Another RC-292 skeleton off to the right. The UHF antenna horizontal polarization indicates they were not primarily used for ground to air comms. The one in the back is aimed directly at Tan San Nhut airport.

I found the antenna cable trunk down to the basement Command Center – all the coax cables from the rooftop antennas had been cut. I wonder when. Think about that.
Back to the basement Comm Center / Command Center:

TRC-68 Transceivers

Above: A couple of TRC-68 UHF transceivers along with an ARC-54 VHF Aircraft Transceiver possibly from the UH-1 “Huey” parked up on the rooftop LZ.

UH-1 “Huey” on the Presidential Palace LZ: Saigon

This UH-1 “Huey” bears the insignia of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) Air Force. (The white insignia “bars” of the otherwise-US insignia are overpainted with yellow, bordered by red, mimicking the Republic of Vietnam’s national flag). It was apparently used by the RVN President operating from here.

I couldn’t get around to the other side to see if the KY-28 was still installed behind the chin window.  I’m sure the Russians would have quickly grabbed it. Back down to the Comm Center:

GRC-106 in Saigon Comm center

In this room we find a GRC-106 Transceiver and maybe its AC power supply?  Anyone?  Also, an RT-524, some PRC-8/9/10’s, GRA-6/39 gear and two FM-5 portable transceivers, the left hand one installed in its case upside down.

Portable Transceivers

Those Hallicrafters FM-5 VHF FM portable gray transceivers are interesting with their English/Vietnamese labels on the sub-panel. Part of the “village radio” family.

The Viet Cong particularly feared what these radios represented. They were a means for isolated villages and their surrounding hamlets to communicate with larger Government organizations to report on VC subversion and activities. Many of these radios – and their operators/officials – became particular targets of the VC. Reference (3).
Also a GRA-39 RWI set.

Captured VRC-12 equipment

Above: Additional GRC-106 R/T unit, a C-1439/TRC-68 control box, RT-524’s and other R-442 receivers along with GRA-6 RWI sets and TA-43 field telephones.

Command Center map

One of many maps still on the wall in the Command Center. The final communist attack on Saigon; fade to black.

Then off to Cu Chi, the site of a major Viet Cong tunnel complex northwest of Saigon – and now a major tourist trap. Still, a very interesting place.

Cu Chi “Spider Hole”

Above: This very bored soldier must climb down that spider hole at least 100 times a day for the tourist’s photos. Cu Chi was a very active Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army base area and essentially was the southern terminous of the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and Cambodia.

War materiel from China and the USSR via North Vietnam was staged here for their attack on Saigon and environs. After many infantry sweeps of these tunnel hideouts, B-52’s eventually plowed under this entire area in 1969, there are many large bomb craters remaining.

B-52 Bomb Crater – Chu Chi

The bomb that dug this crater must have been very small. Perhaps recently dug by hand. Ahem…..

I didn’t find any “commo bunkers” or long-lost wire antennas in the jungle at Cu Chi but they were undoubtedly there at some point. I’m sure that certain tunnel sections and associated underground bunkers were connected with simple telephone systems. That would have been simple with stolen/captured TA-1/PT or TA-43 field phones and wire; we saw plenty of those in the museums.

The Cu Chi tunnel complex was extensive and well planned, going back to French colonial times. The soil is sandy with enough clay content to make it ideal for tunneling without shoring.

We crawled around in a few that had been enlarged for those big American and European tourists. I also didn’t see Charles Bronson on his railroad cart digging in any of the side tunnels either. But you can imagine.

Cu Chi AK-47 range

Those tourists who paid 350,000 Dong for a 10 round magazine to fam-fire an AK-47 (at a cardboard cutout of a water buffalo no less!) That’s about $17 Cash American if you’re counting. Here the selector set to “Full Auto” on this Russian made AK-47, not the ChiCom Type 56* usually seen.

This one was reasonably accurate in hitting close to 2-Liter plastic water bottles in semi-auto mode at 100 meters although I am sure its rifling was long-gone.  A good weapon; feels much more substantial and much heavier than an M-16.

* A side note: The Russians supplied the NVA and Viet Cong with lots of AK-47’s. These were shipped along with other war materiel via rail lines running through China. The Chinese, for their part, took the Russian AK-47’s and replaced them with their cheaper AK-47 clone, the Chicom Type 56 rifles, and sent them south. Such good friends and allies…. Forward Komrades!

AK-47 “Brass”

That’s a lot tourism dollars being spent here.  The rounds I fired were made at the Russian State Ammunition Factory in Polosk USSR in 1984 and 1986.  Headstamp “711”.  Still being made with lacquered, extruded steel casings.

Cu Chi Display

Above: Providing Aid and Comfort to the “enemy”. They had numerous displays like this one featuring very realistic mannequins and various bunkers with representative “craft” items on display. They were quite well done.

Predictably, the propaganda movie running continuous-loop about the Cu Chi area and its “peaceful flower gardeners” was sadly laughable.  They probably were before the North Vietnamese Army moved in.

That’s “Charlie” in the hammock listening to a Sony transistor radio. Good Morning Vietnam or more likely Radio Hanoi with a B-52 alert relayed from the Russian “fishing trawlers” reporting on flight Ops departing Guam. He seems to be looking up.

Bronze PRC-25

A huge bronze PRC-25 being carried in downtown Saigon; here illustrating the question: who actually “won”?
Hint: Capitalism is very much alive and well after the communists’ government-commanded economy collapsed in the mid-1980’s.

“Lean Forward” (Carrying a PRC-25)

LEAN FORWARD” just as the Democrats and MSNBC/CNN’s “election coverage” directs us to do today.

Forward Komrades! This one in front of the central post office building in Saigon.
Odd that they would memorialize a PRC-25 radio like this. Their sculpture and print propaganda pieces invariably includes the image of a woman carrying a weapon, usually wearing native garb. But I digress…………

Across town to the “War Remnants” museum:

A-1H Skyraider in Saigon

Widely used by the US and the South Vietnamese Air Forces, the A-1H Skyraider is a formidable aircraft. This example had been moved here, probably from nearby Tan San Nhut airfield. In the process, they put the propeller on backwards; close enough for government work.

Numerous aircraft such as this one had been turned over to the South Vietnamese Air Force in November 1972. Many were ultimately seized by the North Vietnamese Army during its attack on Saigon in 1975 and some are on display around here. This includes the A-37 Dragonfly seen below.

These two aircraft had been moved here some time ago and stripped of their South Vietnamese Air Force markings. This in an attempt to indicate that they were captured from the US Air Force.

They now sport freshly-painted “US” insignia roundels. They show awkwardly-done, white “U.S. Air Force” stencils, something certainly not done on USAF aircraft as seen in hundreds of online photos taken during the war. More clumsy propaganda. But hey, it’s their story; who would notice?

But Communism has always been about manipulating naïve people – and keeping them that way.

“War Remanents Museum” Saigon

Below is another photo of that same aircraft taken in 2019. A freshly re-painted propaganda piece.

The prop is still on backwards. Ya think she would notice?

We made a visit to the modest home of a “retired” Viet Cong soldier now living in the Delta area.  He showed us a photo hanging on his wall with himself (on left) as a VC soldier and another VC planning their next steps.  In this widely distributed propaganda photo his comrade is seen operating a US PRC-10 FM radio.  That appears to be an M-1 carbine propped up next to the tree.

Pham Phi Hung with PRC-10

After a brief recitation of communist “anti-war” dogma, he was very cordial and friendly; his wife served us all tea. He was wearing his uniform and a guy from of a visiting group joked with him that at least HE still fits in his uniform – laughs around.

When asked if he liked US “C Rations”, he grimaced and said something like the Vietnamese equivalent of “Yuck!”. We agreed on that. He then said the rations that the French had were quite good. Why am I not surprised?

In addition to fighting the French, the South Vietnamese and their US allies, he also fought the Khmer Rouge when Vietnam then invaded neighboring Cambodia in 1978 and overthrew its government as well.  He didn’t say if he also then fought in Laos to overthrow its government or in the 1979 border war against his Chinese Communist comrades.
He’s been around.

Pham Phi Hung

He told us that he liked the captured PRC-10 radios as seen in the photo – which he thought were quite good. He also remembered the PRC-25 which he called the “RC-25”. (The VC stole or captured so many PRC-25’s and 77’s that they were resupplied with batteries made by the Chinese. The ChiCom’s copied and manufactured those unique, specialized replacement batteries for them as the VC demands and NVA infiltration routes grew.)  An interesting visit and conversation to say the least.

Then, off to the 7th Military Zone Museum back in Saigon.  This one had some weapons and equipment used by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army.  This building was the former US Army 3rd Field Hospital. More Stalin-esque statuary out front:  FORWARD!

Stalin-esque Statuary

Here we see one display of communications equipment they used:

Blurry photo of Comm gear used by the VC and NVA

This unfortunately blurry photo shows part of the communications display. My hand is on a US GRC-9, a ChiCom Type 102E component Transmitter to its right. Many other recognizable sets are here. This includes US equipment like the PRC-6/8/9/10/25/77, RT-524, TA-43, TA-312, TA-1/PT as well as Soviet, German and other unknown telcom gear.

Radios also included lots of ChiCom and Soviet equipment. That included the K-63, R-139’s, Model 71 and Type 102 sets (a Chinese close-copy of the GRC-9) and a Soviet R-108 set. The photo also shows what appears to be US telephone multiplex/microwave equipment on the bottom row, possibly TRC-24 components. They certainly got those but I doubt they were able to use them for anything.

Vietnam Museum Radios

Vietnam Museum Radios

Above: More gear including an SB-22 and SB-86 telephone switchboard, a ChiCom hand cranked generator for the Type 102 HF set and many other unidentified portable sets mounted on the wall, plus a PRC-6 at the upper left.

These museums are filled with foreign tourists – a major venue for the government to spread its narrative.  They are also a source for tourist currency.

Viet Cong Home made HF Radio Receiver

Above: A locally-made radio in a wooden box. It looks like a 3-Band HF radio receiver, oddly displayed facing the wrong direction so it was hard to really read the hand made dial. Looks like earphone tip-jacks upper left, antenna connections on the right and maybe power wiring sticking out.

ChiCom Type 81Radio Transmitter

Above: Another dusty ChiCom Transmitter from the Type 102E radio set.  Note that the knobs are exact copies of those used on the US GRC-9.  Again oddly displayed “upside down” next to a revolver and an odd-looking .45 automatic.

Transistor Radio used by the VC

Above: In another display case a transistor radio covering AM broadcast and shortwave bands, probably an Emerson “Truetone”. These kinds of commercially available receivers were used by the Viet Cong as part of their cobbled-together, but useful radio system.

The VC used the shortwave capabilities of these simple radios to receive coded messages often transmitted from Radio Hanoi.  This beat-up radio was apparently used by the Viet Cong’s “Special Task Squad Q804” when its leader was killed in a raid according to the placard. Also displayed is a ChiCom Type K-54 pistol, a Chinese copy of a Soviet Tokarev pistol.

ChiCom “Transceiver 81”

Another interesting ChiCom radio. The placard reads “Transceiver 81 aided by Chinese equipped for 42and information battalion in 1968-1989 period”. There is an interesting portrait of a woman scratched into the paint to the right of the earphone cup along with an English language script alongside, not quite visible in this reduced image.

Moving along.  As in most developing countries, the infrastructure is somewhat informal.

Hanoi Telecom Infrastructure

Above: A not-unusual street scene with power and telephone wiring outside the Hanoi Happy Hotel. Even up north, but especially in the south you see a lot of US WD-1/TT infantry field wire recycled and still used in their telecom systems.

A local told us that if there is a problem with your service, the repair guys would usually just run new wire because the original circuit is not traceable and certainly not documented.

There were also many brand new-looking, “standard design” UHF TV – looking  antennas to be seen, especially in the countryside.  Many seemed to be pointed in random directions, many did not have feed lines attached.  Sounds like a government program….

Urban Wiring

Above: Note the foreign company advertisements and the green LED traffic signal at the very bottom.

Danger – In any language

Ya think?  Danger High Voltage – An effective Electrical Danger Symbol in any language – I like it!

A River of Bike Traffic

Almost everything in this country moves on either a sampan or a cell phone – equipped 100 cc motorbike, “flowing like a river”. Traffic signals “are a suggestion” as described to us by a local. Likewise, crossing the street “can be an adventure”.

It seems they are working to skip a hard-wired telephone system, going directly to wireless if they can find the bandwidth (and foreign capital investment). However, with very few Radio Hanoi TV stations on the air there is plenty of UHF bandwidth available for cell phones and WiFi. There apparently are vestiges of the wired telephone system originally installed by the French.

The above scene is actually very unusual – 2 cars on the same street. I would estimate there were easily 1000 motorbikes for every car we saw on the streets of Saigon. The black car in the foreground has a Government identifier sticker in the window.  It’s good to be King.

Our companions reported reasonably good cell phone and WiFi signals in the city hotels; however, we maintained Radio Silence. Uncle Ho is surely listening.

Camp Tien Sha PTF base

Above: Camp Tien Sha in Da Nang, the former South Vietnamese naval base used by the US Navy PTF boats during the war. Monkey Mountain is on the right. This crummy photo was taken from the bridge, looking north and shows a row of Soviet-supplied OSA II and probably Turya class missile patrol boats. They are “Med Moored” Soviet style at the former PTF piers to the left of the large white building.

We could not get any closer to this area since it is an active Vietnamese military base. See the “Fast Patrol Torpedo Boats” post here for more details of US Navy PTF (Patrol Torpedo Fast) boats operating from here during the war.

Then a visit to the US JPAC (Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command) Detachment in Hanoi.

Recovered helicopter instrument panel

An instrument panel from a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter crash site.

Southeast Asia aircraft crash site

Items recovered at a crash site. Note the cartridges still in the cylinder, hammer at half-cock. This one speaks for itself.

Crash Site Artifacts

Above: Additional artifacts recovered from US aircraft crash or battle sites in Southeast Asia. Here, an M-16 rifle, a H-33 radio handset and an unidentified shotgun. We are still looking to recover the remains of US military personnel missing in Southeast Asia. The government in Hanoi is cooperating.

Hanoi Hilton POW Prison

Next stop: The French-built Hoa Lo prison; the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” in downtown Hanoi. A display placard inside stated that the American prisoners called it the “Hanoi Hilton” because they felt they were being well treated and cared for while imprisoned (while being beaten and tortured).  A case of spectacularly missing the point.

Tap Code in the Hanoi Hilton

In keeping with the communications theme of this post, here is our buddy demonstrating the use of the “Tap Code” inside the Hanoi Hilton prison. This numerical code was used by captured US pilots to communicate clandestinely between themselves using something as simple as tapping the floor with a broom while sweeping. See the “Tap Code” post Tap Code in this website for details on how the code worked.
Brave people in a very sinister place; don’t be fooled by the potted plant..

Hanoi Hilton

Hanoi Hilton

Ancient Pagoda – with Cell Phone tower

Ha Long Bay – On the ancient Chinese border, on an ancient kharst formation sits an ancient Pagoda – complete with Cell Phone and microwave relay antenna tower.

We flew out of Noi Bai airport in Hanoi and taxied right past a row of revetments containing lots of Soviet MIG-21 fighter aircraft apparently still in active service. Noi Bai was a North Vietnamese MIG-21 airbase during the war. Many other interesting sights during our trip – but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

All for now………