Rạch Cát Fort, in Long An Province, is a military fort with unique architecture following the model of French, which is surrounded by high walls and has platforms for mounting cannons. The building truly became an untouchable fort of the French colonists in Indochina. From being a military fort during the war, Rạch Cát Fort today is performing its new function in peacetime, that is, to serve the education and learning of history as well as people’s need of visiting tourist attractions in the south of Vietnam.
The construction and history of Rạch Cát Fort
In 1900, at the risk of the spread of World War I, the French strengthened the defensive lines on the southwestern coast of France as well as the forts along the Germany-France border. In Vietnam, after occupying Cochinchina, in order to protect Saigon – the capital of the six provinces from other Western powerhouses, the French built a coastal defensiveline stretching from present-day Vũng Tàu to Cần Giờ (Hochiminh city) and Cần Đước (Long An) to counter the attacks from the coast to the mainland.
Long Hựu island (today belongs to Long Hựu Đông Commune, Cần Đước District, Long An Province) is located at the estuary of major river of Nhà Bè – Rạch Cát – Vàm Cỏ – Soài Rạp, plays an crucial role for economic development, waterway transport system, and defense as well as military attack. Therefore, in 1902, the French carried out a field investigation on this island and a year later (1903) started to build one of the largest military defensive works in Indochina at that time – Rạch Cát Fort (the French also called it “River Defense System”and “Cap Saint-Jacques”). According to the reports, Rạch Cát Fort was built very massively at a cost of about 7 million Francs, 3.5 times higher than the cost for construction of Hanoi Opera House.
In terms of construction, Rạch Cát Fort covered an area of 30,000m2 with a length of 300m, a width of 100 m and 5 floors include 2 above ground and 3 underground. Surrounding the fort is a solid fence with a circumference of 11,988m2. To ensure the defense, the fort is surrounded by a system of walls of 60 to 80 cm thick, with doors made of 10cm thick steel. The wide moat system around also helps to strengthen the fort’s defense.
At the top floor, there are two platforms with a diameter of 6m, on which 4 large cannons (type 605 mm) are mounted. This structure is made from cast iron of 10 cm thick. The entrance consists of a 70-cm thick, 5-m high and 84-m long gate with two rows of loopholes. The main gate of the Fort is 2.4 m high with two 1.2-m long doors at the center of the wall. To get inside the Fort, soldiers must cross a 17-m long, 2.5m wide cement bridge over the moat. Later, the French built a series of reservoirs of 2m high attached to the wall, thus sealed the loopholes below.
Below the cannon platforms is the fourth floor, which is divided into several bow-shaped rooms. This area was used as the place to supply ammunition as well as electricity power from a generator to operate the artillery system. This power source was also supplied to the underground floors. The fourth floor also has two rotating turretsto increase damages in combat. In addition to two cannons, the French also built a row of rooms of 2.5-m high with stairs leading up to the roof of the fort. Along with two iron cannons, Rạch Cát Fort’s defense was also strengthened with many blockhouses where machine guns were mounted. On the opposite of the fort’s gate, machine guns were mounted on a 1.3-m high blockhouse. And on the outer ends of this blockhouse, the French built two concrete cannon platforms to mount two cannons: the left one had the symbols of M 138, R 1927, 5500 kg and the right one had the symbols of M 138, 1924, R 1927 N4, 5500 kg. The rooms in Rạch Cát Fort were built into basements with many alleyways to ensure the safety of its residents. The entire structure of Rạch Cát Fort is to ensure the active position in attacking and safety in retreating in the event of war.
The most important part of Rạch Cát Fort was its artillery at both ends, which were considered the most modern type at that time. Each turret had two cannons with barrel diameter of up to 240 mm.
Each weighed 140 tons, and the ammunition dedicated for thesec annon weighed up to 62 kg. The maximum firing range of each cannon was 22.7 km. These cannons were mounted on a thick steel turret, designed to help rotate them at 360º angle, thus increase maneuverability during combat. With this firing range, Rạch Cát Fort can control the situation in the entire sea estuary to Vũng Tàu as well as the areas of Cần Giuộc, Gò Công, Cần Giờ, Saigon. Throughout the French domination, Rạch Cát Fort was repeatedly repaired and added artillery arrangements.
After the Japanese coup (March 9, 1045) in Vietnam, Japanese troops occupied the fort and destroyed many fortifications there. There were some weapons inside Rạch Cát Fort removed and took else where by the Japanese.
As the French re-invaded Vietnam, Rạch Cát Fort continued to be occupied by French troops and became a place where Vietnamese revolutionary patriotic soldiers were imprisoned. During the war against the US (1954-1975), the artillery at Rạch Cát Fort continued to be used by the Saigon army to sweep the lower areas of Cần Đước District, Gò Công Province, Cần Giờ District, etc. After April 30, 1975, as Vietnam was completely liberated, Vietnamese military forces took over and used Rach Cat Fort as a station to this day.
Is it worthy to visit Rạch Cát Fort?
Rạch Cát Fort is a relic of both historical and architectural values. Although the fort was built with the goal of serving the colonial regime, this relic not only had military value but also played a role in the irrigation and rice trade in Cochinchina. With over 100 years of existence, Rạch Cát Fort has gone through many different historical periods and become a special relic of Long An in particular and of Vietnam in general.
Currently, Rạch Cát Fort has been recognized as a national historic site, and is turning into a focal attraction in addition to ecotourism destinations that are built in harmony with the characteristic river landscape of the Mekong Delta.