Jungle Warfare School
The first enemy the British soldiers encountered when entering the Malayan jungle was not Communist bandits but, a large array of deadly jungle insects and other creatures that lived in the jungle, most notably the leech. Soldiers found that the leeches would get to their skin no matter how well the British soldier protected himself. The leeches were able to squeeze through the eye holes of the soldiers boots, then through the socks to get to human skin. After patrol had crossed a river or a swamp time had to be taken to remove leeches from the body, sometimes up to 30 leaches at one time. The soldiers could not just simply pull the leeches off from their skin because the leeches teeth and head would still be rooted to the skin which could lead to a deadly blood infection, among the other creatures that crawled the jungle floor looking for fresh young national serviceman flesh were pythons the size of telegraph poles and scorpions the size of lobsters! It became a ritual every night before a soldier got into his "basha" (lean-to) to check that he would have no unwanted company during the night sharing his basha.
Typical Jungle Basha
Another jungle danger was the booby traps that the Communist Terrorist's (C.T.'s) would leave along jungle foot paths to either kill or maim British soldiers. One of these booby traps was called a CHOLER by the British soldiers. This was a water vine with spikes and bamboo steaks in the ground with razor sharp edges which would seriously wound or kill anybody stepping on them.
For many young National servicemen the above dangers were nothing compared to the dark jungle with its strange and alien sounds. For a young man used to the wide open spaces of the English home counties or large cities of England the jungle seemed a very hostile environment where you were never sure who or what was watching you, the trees in the Malayan jungle were sometimes hundreds of feet high, blocking most of the day light out which created a strange and dark atmosphere. To combat the troops' nervousness about operating in the jungle and to improve their jungle craft a jungle warfare school was set up at Kota Tinngi. The school was run by Australian army officers and N.C.O's who learnt their jungle skills fighting the Japanese on the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea. The jungle school staff also included ex Chindits who had fought with General Slim in Burma. The instructors aim was to teach the young national servicemen how to survive and move about in the jungle. They also went about destroying the myth that you cannot move about the jungle at night.
Indonesian Confrontation – Borneo
Now we were off to patch up yet another crisis - confrontation (political jargon for WAR!) between the states of Malaysia and Indonesia. Borneo, is third largest island in the world, and the scene of this confrontation, one of the most difficult in which to conduct a military campaign. It consists of very mountainous country covered with nearly impenetrable tropical rain- forest. There are very few navigable roads and practically no railway lines. In fact, the only navigable routes outside the small and scattered urban areas, were the rivers. These rivers meandered muddily through mangrove swamps down to the South China Sea. How did such a conflict break out in 1963? Why should British and Australian forces be involved?
At the official conclusion of the Malay Emergency, nine years earlier, Britain granted sovereign status, as an independent nation, to Malaysia. The new Malaysia not only included the Peninsular of Malaya, but Singapore Island and the previous dependencies, which were known as British North Borneo. This was with the agreement of the Australian government who, also, had a vested interest in the commercial development of the new Malaysia. They also appreciated an awareness of its strategic importance. A deal was struck with the new Malaysian government. This stated that British and Australian interests would receive priority and would share in the development and rewards of Malaysian economic growth.
An important part of the package was that, should the newly formed state of Malaysia come under military threat, then Britain and Australia would intervene. If necessary, with military aid. This is exactly what happened in 1963. The threat came from Indonesia. President Soekarno, with his eyes on the oil rich, independent Sultanate of Brunei had invaded Eastern Malaysia. This invasion was mounted from KALIMANTON – the Indonesian part of Borneo which, geographically occupied two thirds of the island. So, how was I, a modest Lieutenant Colonel, aged 43, involved in all this? I will try to explain.
1.The British Jungle Warfare School had been established in the Emergency.
Its original remit was :
a)To train British units in simple jungle warfare drills and tactics.
b)To examine, assess and suggest alterations to these tactics based on analysis of what had been successful and what had not.
c)To physically and mentally prepare European soldiers for a campaign which would require different and demanding qualities from what they had previously experienced.
2. As part of the treaty between Malaysia, Britain and Australia was that the JWS should be sustained in Johore.
It would be a centre of excellence for training in jungle warfare and under British control. Also, that all three nations should share both its running cost and the benefits which it produced.
It was to command this establishment, at a time of great strategical importance, that I was posted. After a short embarkation leave in Weston-Super-Mare, I flew to Singapore to assess the situation - my family temporally remained behind in England, but joined me when I had settled in. This reconnaissance took five weeks and was most rewarding.
This was the situation which confronted me:-
1. The Jungle Warfare School was organised on the following lines:
a) A jungle tactics wing which ran courses of four weeks duration. They were for British, Australian and American jungle commanders ranging in rank from major to sergeant. The average intake for each course was 40 students.
b) A ‘Stap’ Wing which was, also, of four weeks duration. But, these were officers of ARVN - members of the, then, Official Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Because of communication problems, this wing also employed Vietnamese interpreters.
c) A War Dog’s Training Wing commanded by a Major in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Its remit was to train tracker dogs and their handlers and achieve a bonding between canine and human. This, if the handler correctly interpreted the dog, would enable the dogs to sniff out enemy incursions.
d) A Technical Development/Experimental ‘Cell’ under the control of a major who had qualified at the Technical Staff College at Shrivenham. I think that this ‘cell’ produced a spectacularly new ambush technique with a combination of the claymore mine and the Texas seismic detector. We christened it the ‘press button ambush’. The officer in charge of these experiments in combining technical and tactical practices was Major John Heath. (I last met him after my own retirement. This was in Sevenoaks, Kent. At that time he was a serving Colonel.)
The Jungle Warfare School had about 50 square miles of jungle real estate in which to exercise our tactical training commitments. We, also, had a sophisticated base camp. This included an air-conditioned cinema and lecture hail, excellent accommodation for students, staff and family, and a cricket and hockey pitch.
A Very Serious Afterthought I have neglected to mention that one of the greatest privileges of my military life was that, under my command, I had a demonstration Company of the Brigade of Gurkhas. I had known, and liaised with, Regiments of the Brigade of Gurkhas before. My admiration for these little, tough, courageous men is, I know, shared by every professional soldier in the world. So gentle and polite. Yet how fierce and loyal. So terribly independent. Britain owes a great gratitude to these soldiers from Nepal. Yet, in their retirement, we have shamefully and cynically neglected them! Apart from the purely military tactical training responsibilities, I, also, discovered that the job entailed other vital commitments.
1. As commandant of JWS I was, also, the British Garrison Commander of Johore Bahru -an area containing around 2,000 British expatriate families. This meant that, in the event of domestic conflict between expatriates and the indige nous population, I was expected to sort it out.
2. I was, also, responsible for the safety of British families in Johore Bahru should they be threatened by violence generated by multi- racial religious antagonisms. Such as we are all familiar with on the British mainland and in Ulster. I had a lot on my plate with which to contend!
It was my good fortune that the officer I was to relieve as Commandant/Garrison Commander was an old friend. He was Lieutenant Colonel ‘Steve’ Purcell, OBE*, the Royal Hampshire Regiment. Steve and I had first met when he was commanding a Rifle Company in 2nd Malay and I was Brigade Major. We had already established a bonding. As I have said before, the British Army was not, in numerical terms, a large one. But, it had the great advantage that it was a FAMILY and many of us had met before and established friendships, rapport and mutual respect. Steve and his Australian wife, Joy, were a big help in trying to get to grips with this new
challenge. Not least in that they hosted me in their home and offered me unstinting friendship, encouragement and the benefit of their experience in this testing situation. ‘Good on you, mates!’
Terms of Engagement
Fearing the possibilities of the conflict in Borneo escalating into a third World War, the British,Australian and Malaysian governments imposed considerable restraints on their forces operating in the field. I understand, and applaud, this action. But, it resulted in considerable frustrations for the military - the guys with the guns doing the fighting. A set of rules were circulated to military commanders called ‘The Terms of Engagement’.
These had a crippling effect on tactical flexibility because they stated that:-
1. We should only react to Indonesian incursions over the frontier and into Eastern Malaysia. We should not initiate any action which could be termed aggressive.
2. Under no circumstances should we cross the frontier and attack known Indonesian military bases in Kalimantan.
3. After a successful engagement with Indonesian forces we should only follow the retreating enemy as far as the frontier. This would allow the enemy to regroup, reinforce and have another go when it suited him so to do!
It was rather like a boxer who was only allowed to punch after his opponent had punched. Also if the opponent was groggy and staggered back to his corner, then the boxer had to wait until his opponent was sufficiently recovered to have another go. This rule, however, only applied one way. If the opponent’s punch made the boxer groggy and HE staggered back to his corner, he could expect to be punched senseless. These were the rules imposed on the British, Gurkha, Australian and Malay Battalions operating on land. Similar rules were imposed on the Royal Navy, The Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Malaysian Navy. They were only authorised to engage enemy sea forces entering Eastern Malaysian’s territorial waters.
The Allied Air Forces were strictly forbidden to overfly or engage enemy forces on Kalimantan territory or Kalimantan waters. Not only were we shackled with these political restraints but the Indonesian soldiers outnumbered ours by over 10 to 1. Remember also that the terrain under dispute was mountainous jungle country. Under these circumstances, I would defy any military staff college in the world to come up with a logical military solution how such a campaign could be successfully concluded. AND YET It was - and within a period of 18 months!
In future chapters I will attempt to explain how this was achieved and how we, JWS, made our contribution. The general situation in the Far East gave great cause for concern to the Western Powers. South Vietnam Was in imminent danger of being overrun by the Communist forces of North Vietnam. The Americans reacted quickly and ga ve massive military aid. (But were considerably handicapped by the South Vietnam military command. The ‘Boy Generals’ were more interested in planning military coups against their own government than in fighting the enemy).
And now, another nation was under threat - Malaysia through an assault on Eastern Malaysia. Should this domino piece topple, would the next one be Australia? It was highly likely as Australia and Indonesia were on each other’s doorsteps. It was natural and right that British, Australian and Malaysian strategists should react quickly to this new threat. It is a fact that Australia in 1963 was under nearly as great a threat of military invasion as Britain had been in 1940 !
This period of my military life, apart from the campaign in NW Europe, afforded me the greatest personal satisfaction in terms of a feeling of rewarding experiences, excitement, new challenges to be met and achievement in the outcome. It will always be one of the most vivid memories of my working life. Before progressing further, I would like to pay tribute to - the permanent staff of JWS! The staff was composed of Australians, British, New Zealanders, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Indians (including the Medical Officer and my charming and efficient lady secretary) and a Malayan Transport Unit. We were, in all, about 800 personnel. Different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs but we respected each other and had a common purpose. Our joint determination to make the JWS a highly renowned specialist military school - and I am confident that we did.
If what I have written sounds like self- glorification, it is NOT so intended. It was my good fortune to inherit, from Steve Purcell*, a group of people who were quite exceptional, and it was he who had welded them together. Very soon after assuming command, the necessity for teamwork and flexibility became even greater.
The reason was the escalation of confrontation with Indonesia in Borneo. As a result of which JWS, in addition to its existing commitments, was required to accept and train British battalions for a period of five weeks before they were committed to Borneo operations. It was indicated to me that this was not a ‘one-off but a permanent commitment. I was offered no additional resources to meet this exacting, additional role. As a sop I was promoted to temporary Colonel. The extra pay was welcomed by both my bank manager and me, but it did not alleviate the immediate problem. (Although, wearing a red hat and red tabs on my collar gave me an edge to thump various tables of staff officers at General Far-East HQ, Singapore!)
I was supremely confident that the chief tactical instructor, JWS, would continue to do an excellent job. He was Major Derek Organ, MC, 1st/6th Queen’s Own Gurkha Rifles - later Lieutenant-Colonel. I was also equally confident that Major Chris Batchelor - also a Gurkha - would control STAP wing with his usual efficiency. Major John Heath would continue to vet new technical appliances and place them in a suitable tactical concept - or reject them. I demanded, and after a little sucking of teeth over expenses, was granted free range to go to Borneo to assess the problems that confronted operational commanders.
Recommendations could then be made as to how new units should be trained before committal to Borneo. Reluctantly the parsimonious Treasury granted me the authority. I truly believe, as a result of this investigation, British service men’s lives were not put into unnecessary risk. I am aware that I am in danger of appearing to say ‘What a clever boy I was!’ This is not my intention. ANY officer, who had been appointed to my job, would have come up with this conclusion - or, maybe, something even better!
As I have already stated Borneo is the third largest island in the world. The Island is shared by two countries. In the north, Eastern Malaysia occupying one third of the island, in the south Kalimantan (a part of Indonesia) occupying the remaining two thirds. Eastern Malaysia is roughly the size of the British Isles and not dissimilar in shape, here though the similarity ends. The country is wild and undeveloped. It is of a mountainous nature, very similar to the Cameron Highlands. It is covered very largely with tropical rain forest, except in the eastern province, Sabah, where intensive logging over a long period has decimated the original jungle. The boundary between Eastern Malaysia and Kalimantan is clearly defined by a high mountain range. Nestling on the north coast between Sarawak and Sabah is the tiny, but immensely oil rich independent Sultanate of Brunei.
Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers @ JWS 1968
The Indigenous People
In the few small towns that there are in eastern Malaysia one encountered the normal ethnic mix of Chinese (mostly the shop keepers). Malays (mostly junior government officials, military and police).Caucasians (mostly logging managers in Sabah, but a few others of various occupations. Some of these occupations hard to identify). By far the most numerous inhabitants of eastern Malaysia however are the original tribal communities of the country:the Dyaks and Ebans. The original and much feared head hunters of Borneo. They inhabit the wild rural areas of the state and their life style had not changed greatly over the last hundred years. They live in tribal groups called Long houses. A long house was the Dyak equivalent to a highrise flat building that was constructed in the United Kingdom in the 1950’s.
Well not quite, hygiene is more primitive, family personal life is much more public, but it suits the Dyaks. A long house usually gave shelter to about a couple of dozen families.One long house was usually home to about a hundred men, women and children. The long house was always sited on the banks of a river, which were numerous, and because of the mountainous nature of the country were very fast flowing. The river not only acted as a source of human waste (a sewer) but also as a source of food supply (through fishing) a bathing facility, a laundry and a source of drinking water.To the amazement of military medical officers the Dyaks are a very healthy and physically well-built people!
The ethics and rules of conduct of the inhabitants of a long house were established by a small community of elders (both genders) and were accepted by all the inmates. In my opinion it is a better example of true democracy than I have ever encountered in our (so called) more civilised western communities.
The strengths and weaknesses of the opposing military forces.
To simplify I will tabulate: -
1. The Indonesians
i. They out numbered our forces by a daunting ten to one.
ii. Many of their soldiers were of the country, knew the terrain, and were impervious to the medical problems of pollution and other local problems, e.g. Malaria.
iii. They knew that they could in curse into our territory, but if they got into trouble, they could run back across the border, and our terms of engagement would prevent us from chasing them.
i. We, the British, Australian, Malayan military, had enormous
technological advantage, e.g. we had total control of the air, an enormous advantage, specifically in the use of helicopters.
ii. Our soldiers were better trained, better and more imaginatively led.
iii. Our communication systems were vastly superior to those of our
2. The British, Australian, Malaysian Forces
a) Strengths - As explained above under Indonesian weaknesses
We were not used to the terrain, or the health hazards, and because from birth we had not been exposed to living in such harsh and primitive circumstances, we became greater victims to these health hazards than we did to Indonesian bullets. Under these unusual circumstances the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) played a greater role in the solution of tactical problems than it ever did in conventional European warfare, where its role (important and appreciated as it was) was confined to patching up punctured human bodies. They were now involved in tactical and logistical problems as well! I think that, on the whole, they rose to the challenge very well.
Tactics and techniques employed by our own forces
A brief recap: we had to counter the formidable discrepancy of manpower that the two sides could employ in the conflict. We also had to take into account the immunity from disease, which many Indonesian soldiers enjoyed, as opposed to the Caucasian who was, for the first time, enduring exposure to diseases that he had not encountered before. On the credit side, however, we enjoyed incredible mobility’ compared to our opposition, in three ways:-
1. The helicopter - a jungle war winner
2. The ability to be re-supplied by air
3. Vastly superior wireless communications
SO - Taking all these factors into consideration - what tactical techniques did we decide upon? We reverted to the Middle Ages. We established jungle forts along the frontier, sited in positions where we could be confident that we could dominate the ground defensively even when superior numbers attacked us. Not unlike the Norman castles that William the Conqueror built between Wales and England. The tactical concept was very similar. It was not, as it might at first sight appear.A negative form of defence. On the contrary the concept was a springboard for aggressive action.Each jungle fort was the home of a company, but usually only one platoon (38 men) was at home at any one time. The other two platoons were busy in the jungle. How were they busy’? What were they doing?
Their primary task was to construct helicopter launching pads, or areas where troops could abseil down to the ground from helicopters. Each jungle fort had a helicopter pad constructed alongside it. This enabled our troops to move with considerable speed from one area of jungle to another. I would estimate that a minute airborne time was equivalent to an hour walking time. The heli-pad also acted as a DZ for air resupply.The helicopters were based and maintained on an airfield in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. The transport aircraft were based in Butterworth in Peninsular Malaya.
Another criterion in the site of a jungle fort was that it had to be adjacent to a Dyak long house complex. There were some important reasons for this, which were: -
1. The construction of a jungle fort was a complicated business requiring considerable “navvy style” manpower. In addition to the muscle power of our soldiers, the Dyak population were an enthusiastic and invaluable source of muscle power. For the first time in their lives rural Dyaks became the owners of transistor radios, expensive watches, - even mobile telephones! Part of a typical jungle fort.
2. The Dyak long house inhabitants feared and distrusted their Indonesian neighbours. They therefore welcomed, and were grateful for, the protective power that an adjacent jungle fort gave them. Their goodwill provided a tremendous tactical asset to us. It was a remarkable source of military intelligence about the enemy’s plans. How and why? Because: -
a. Dyak tribal loyalties did not acknowledge Political national boundaries. They extended to both sides of the border.
b. This meant that we had advanced warning of Indonesian aggressive intentions from the moment that they left their home base.
c. In jungle the only way to achieve success against an enemy was to ambush him. The only way to mount a successful ambush was to have fore-knowledge of the route he would follow, and the approximate time he would enter our selected killing area. All this information was available, and freely’ given to us, because the Dyak know all the likely tracks that an incursing enemy force was likely to take. Because of out’ helicopter lift ability we could be in the area well before he arrived, having sited our ambush, and waiting for him. OK - it wasn’t always as successful as that. Sometimes the intelligence was inaccurate and we ambushed the wrong track at the wrong time. There was, however, a high success rate.
History will, once again, reinforce that technological superiority will always overcome sheer numbers. There is, however, a big BUT. The but is: - That it is very unwise to think that one can sit on an every-expanding bum in a comfortable operations room, then to press buttons and win a war. It is still necessary, and will always be so, that the attainment of military success relies on the tactical skills of its officers (at all levels) and the courage and skill of the soldiers to respond to the orders they receive. Military action in the face of any aggressive enemy is a total team effort, where everyone plays his important part in the team. It is essential that everyone in a regimental team have trust in, and loyalty to, his mates.
I would be insulting the reader’s intelligence if she/he thought every jungle fort would be exactly as I have depicted. It obviously depends on the shape of the ground. There are, however, some common factors. These are:-
1.Platoon living areas are always nearest to the protective wire. The reason - in the event of an attack the riflemen need to be the first people to repel it.
2.The command post needs to be in the centre of the fort, on the highest ground, so that it has the best view of any action that is taking place, and is in the best position to pass wireless messages, should it be necessary to call for assistance.
3.All the other force amenities can be juggled around to fit the ground, which has been selected for the jungle fort.
How are jungle forts sited and constructed?
I think that the clearest way to explain this is to tabulate by stages:-
Stage 1 A commanding officer of a battalion will first select from the map the areas he thinks most tactically suitable. He has under his command four rifle companies so he will plan for four jungle forts in the area for which he is responsible.
Stage 2 The four rifle companies will then move into the jungle as a long range patrol, exactly as was practiced in the Malay emergency, their objective being the selected sites. There will be with the company an interpreter whose job will be to assist the company commander in his negotiations with the tribal elders.
Stage 3 On arrival at the selected site the first task for the company will be to create a heli-pad.
Stage 4 Into the heli-pad will be delivered by helicopter:-
i. RE experts who will plan the water supply system and the provision of electrical power to the fort, and give general engineering advice, which the company commander may require.
ii. Addition lightweight equipment, such as extra shovels, chain saws, etc, that will enable the company and their Dyak neighbours to expand the heli-pad into a formidable DZ.
Stage 5 It is at this stage that the transport aircraft based at Butterworth can start to air-drop heavier equipment, e.g. the protective wire and the six foot angle iron pickets that support the wire coils.
And so, like Topsy, the jungle fort “growed and growed”. It normally only took about three weeks before one could say that a fort was functional and operational, and that wireless communications had been established and were working. It can easily be seen that, should a battalion commander wish to mount an operation that demanded the co-ordinated involvement of more than one company he had only to select the most suitable fort for his coordinating HQ, and all the instruments of command were already in place, including maps and wireless communication. He just had to get himself a helicopter - a bit like calling a taxi!
Command and Control
The whole military effort in Borneo could only he described as a contribution by a light Division. Light, because we had no armour - it could not have functioned in the terrain -, not a great deal (if any) of artillery units, and no need for Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (we had little need for mechanical maintenance).The operation was under the command of General Sir Walter Walker (a Gurka officer) when I first became commandant of J.W.S., and later General Sit’ Peter Hunt (ex Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders). The HQ of the whole force was established on Labuan Island. The GOC was assisted and advised by the following senior staff officers, although the final decision was his. President Harry Truman put a notice on his desk: “The buck stops here”.
So it was with the GOC in Borneo, but he had the expert advice of the following staff officers:- The BGS (Brigadier General Staff) - co-ordinating Army tactics with the requests to sister services for support. SNSO (Senior Naval Staff Officer) - a past captain, Royal Navy, who was responsible for the co-ordination of the protection of nearly a thousand miles of Eastern Malaysian coast line, against a possible sea incursion. SASO (Senior Air Staff Officer) - a Group Captain, Royal Air Force. I am sure that the reader appreciates how vital was the soldiers ability to be airborne. To be provided with equipment, fed, and generally supported by air supply. The co-ordination of all these requirements requires very skillful staff work. It never failed.
The threat of Indonesian invasion of Eastern Malaysia was over in a period of only eighteen months. It was achieved because we had better led, better trained, better motivated armed forces and an enormous technological advantage. Our success, however, was not attained without professional tactical skill, imaginative leadership, physical and mental toughness, and considerable individual courage. The British armed forces are the envy of the world, as perhaps the most professional, although certainly no longer the most powerful, military units that a country/state possesses. I feel intense pride in the fact that, for the first thirty years of my working life, I was a humble cog in this magnificent military machine. An Afternote
Units that were prepared and trained at J.W.S. for operations in Borneo included battalion’s from: -
1.The Royal Green Jackets
2.The Scots Guards
3.The Royal Scots Fusiliers
4.The Parachute Regiment
5.The Royal Australian Regiment
6. The Special Air Service
*Col E.Steve Purcell became the Garrison Commander of British Forces in Cameron Highlands, that year was 1969. I was honoured to receive a scholarship to Outward Bound School, in Lumut from Colonel ES Purcell in the year 1969.I was then 15 years old and had just completed my LCE. The scholarship consisted of $300/xx for the 25 day course and of course pocket money of $50/xx, which was a fortune those days. I thank him once again for his generosity in making me realise my dreams. Bless you, sir.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army was faced with a type of warfare it had not experienced since the Indian wars of the 19th century. 'They just melted into the jungle was the constant refrain of line commanders frustrated by the elusive tactics of the VC guerrillas.
Guerrilla warfare wasn't new to Southeast Asia, of course. In the 1950s the French had vainly pitted some of their finest troops against the Viet Minh. But even the French Foreign Legion had been stumped by the Communist guerrillas. During the same period, Communist forces used identical tactics against the British on the Malay Peninsula, but the results were different. In 1949 the British governor became alarmed when several plantation owners were assassinated by terrorists well stocked with war materiel and supplies left over from the defence of the area against Japan during World War II. With the Allies committed throughout the Pacific, there had not been enough forces left to fight in the smaller Asian states. Thus, the indigenous populations had been armed to defend themselves against the Japanese.
In 1950 the British colonial governor declared a state of emergency and asked the Ministry of Defence in London for assistance, but the peacetime British military had few units that could be spared for Malaya's aid. Several of the renowned Gurkha units were ordered in, but there was little time to train or re-staff. As the violence continued, the governor requested more help.
A former Special Air Services (SAS) officer, Major Mad Mike Calvert, was dispatched to the area. After assessing the situation, Calvert proposed a two-tier defence. The first element of the plan required relocating the smaller hamlets to areas with a larger village. Small British units would live with the villagers, providing medical and other assistance while protecting them from Communist insurgents. This part of the program was dubbed Hearts and Minds, and it was so successful that American Special Forces were later taught the techniques at the British Jungle Warfare School (BJWS).
The second element of the defence strategy involved reconnaissance or hunter-killer teams. Each 10-man team was composed of two identical sub-teams, made up of a team leader, a visual tracker, a radio operator, a cover man and a dog handler with a trained Labrador retriever. These teams took the war to the enemy wherever he was hiding. They were used to find and eliminate Communist troops who were using hit-and-run tactics against unarmed civilians. The British used this technique with great success against Communist insurgents in Malaya, Borneo and Brunei, as well as in Africa, Cyprus and other parts of the world. The units, also known as Combat Tracker Teams (CTTs), became a reliable tool for stopping the same sort of terrorist and guerrilla tactics that contributed to the defeat of the French in Indochina.
This was precisely the kind of solution General William Westmoreland was seeking for the U.S. Army. American troops had been repeatedly stymied because the enemy had the ability to strike and then disappear almost at will. The general and his staff first met with British representative Robert L. Hughes to discuss the BJWS program. Westmoreland then sent a group to observe the training at Johore Bahru, Malaysia. The British system was the only successful counter being used anywhere in the world at that time to the Communist guerrilla tactics. Simply put, the British had figured out how to out-guerrilla the guerrillas. They didn't see the enemy as stronger or stealthier, but as a problem to be eliminated with the resources at hand. The conclusions drawn from the British experience offered new responses to the unorthodox warfare facing the American and allied forces in South Vietnam.
Jungle Warfare School 60's Style
The observers sent by Westmoreland were very impressed by the tactics being taught at the school. The BJWS effectively taught soldiers that no enemy was too potent or too elusive. The decision was made to offer American troops similar training — courses that would push the men to the limits of their endurance and reshape the teams through excellent instruction from the warfare school's cadre of New Zealand SAS soldiers and the combat veterans of British War Dog Training Unit Number 2 (WDTU-2).
WDTU-2 was a part of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. This particular group of instructors consisted of veteran British CTT members, brought to the warfare school to help the Americans develop their own teams. The New Zealand SAS instructors were combat veterans, trained by the British SAS at Hereford, England.
The training contract provided for 14 training groups that consisted of two or four five-man teams, each team with a Labrador retriever. The Labs were perfectly suited for the work. They were quiet in the field and even-tempered, and they also proved that they could deal with changes in handlers. In contrast, some of the other canine specialties in the Vietnam War, including sentry and scout dogs, were one-handler dogs.
The American deployment of CTTs was based on four teams per division, each team led by an officer and a senior NCO. The CTTs assigned to a brigade included two complete elements, usually led by a senior NCO and under the administrative control of the headquarters company of the respective division or brigade. The division or brigade operations or intelligence officer exercised operational control over the teams. The original 14 teams were designated CTTs 1 through 14 and were provisionally attached to divisions and brigades, as shown in the chart on page 40.
The visual element of each team consisted of a team leader, a visual tracker, a radio telephone operator and a cover man. The visual members of the team, including the officer and the senior NCO, were in training for at least 65 days. The dog handler's training was longer, at least 95 days. He was expected to learn how to observe and understand every action and reaction of his Lab before they went into combat together. In the last two weeks of training, the dog and the handler were linked up with the visual trackers.
The warfare school instructors made the Americans' training as difficult and realistic as possible. To simulate combat situations, Gurkhas were used as the enemy, directed by the New Zealand SAS instructors. More than one American trooper could be heard cursing vehemently after the enemy popped up in a mock ambush, pointing and laughing at the students, chanting the infuriating refrain, Ha! Ha! All dead! At times the frustration of the trainees was intense. But the training credo was Train hard, fight easy.
The Americans who attended the school went to Malaysia on official government passports. They were told to bring nothing with them from the U.S. Army, to travel in civvies and to use British uniforms and gear while at the school. These highly sensitive procedures had to be accomplished with the greatest discretion. The United Kingdom was officially neutral, even outwardly critical of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. It would not have done for the world to know the British were training American soldiers to fight against the VC.
On the first day of training, a British officer greeted the young Americans. They did not know his rank. In fact, names were seldom used, and all the identifying badges or patches worn by everyone involved were unobtrusive.
The welcoming address included some startling statements. The Americans were told that the problem with the U.S. Army was that it was too much like the Soviet and German armies — there was more focus on rank than knowledge. The spokesman summed up by saying: When you entered this school, I already knew everything that you know. When you leave our school, you will know everything that I know. This put the team concept on the table at the very start. It's probably fortunate that the same officer did not tell them about the final exam — a long one-day trek, during which they would have to fend off Gurkhas and New Zealand SAS members posing as the enemy. If they had been told, most of the trainees would more than likely have headed straight back to Vietnam. By the time of that final exam, however, they did exactly what was required. Had they not been able to do so, they would have been cut from the program long before then.
The primary objective of the training was to equip the Americans to re-establish contact with the enemy. The secondary objective was to train them to determine whether there had been recent enemy activity in a given area. The main skill they would acquire would be jungle craft. In the normal duration of a typical one-year tour in Vietnam, the average American soldier was at a disadvantage because of his total unfamiliarity with his surroundings. Rather than becoming disoriented by the environment of Vietnam, the Combat Tracker graduates would learn to feel at home in the bush. The alien terrain of South Vietnam would become natural to them — more so, in fact, than to the North Vietnamese.
The instructors went to great lengths to show the men how to thoroughly train even the least-able soldier. In doing so, they ensured there were no weak links in the teams. It was a different approach for all these men, many of whom would drop out before that final exam. The attrition rate was between 35 and 69 per cent. Some groups started with 73 men and finished with 23.
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The instructors themselves had used every technique they taught to their students, and most had seen combat in various parts of the world. The New Zealand SAS soldiers and the members of WDTU-2 had been handpicked to ensure the highest level of proficiency in the instruction. The instructors also did everything the students went through. This meant they routinely carried packs heavier than 100 pounds, as well as slept and ate with the trainees.
At the end of the first day's training, the Americans looked around and realized that they had survived. But more surprises were coming. At the end of the second training day, the visual trainees spent their first night in the jungle, where they were introduced to the basha, a cross between a hammock and a cocoon. But before getting bashed-up for the night, they still had to have their evening meal. It was then that improvisational culinary skills came to the fore. The Gurkhas, who were part of the training team when not playing the role of the enemy, really liked the Yanks. In an effort to bridge the cultural gap, the Gurkhas presented the trainees with various delicacies of the jungle, which might include fish caught with thunder flashes, frogs, lizards, bugs, monkeys, bats or snakes. As one trainee put it, If it walked, crawled, flew or swam, we ate it. If they were unlucky in catching their dinner on an evening, they always had the British rations to fall back on. These consisted of tea, sweet biscuits and a meat bar that none of the Americans could figure out how to eat.
Trainee Dick Burke thought the Kiwi instructors had stacked the deck. He firmly believed that instead of having to set up the night bashas, the New Zealand SAS veterans already had their bashas stashed in position, making it much easier for them at the end of the day. Others were equally convinced that the instructors were going through the exercises just the same as the trainees.
The Americans had to learn to develop a sixth sense. In the jungle, that extra bit of perception could mean life or death. Things most people would never catch a glimpse of became signs as big as outdoor billboards to the trainees. The jungle telegraph was one of the first lessons taught at school. As one American CTT vet said: No matter how steep the embankment, you could not touch any trees to prevent you from falling or to pull yourself up. The top of the trees' motion was the tip-off to the Kiwi troops. Another of the new rules was, Always basha-up in a place difficult to get to at dusk, and impossible to sneak into at night. That made for some interesting sleeping accommodations.
The days were filled with hard and realistic training. Flashers (light explosive charges) were placed in specific areas to teach the trainees what to avoid. The Kiwi SAS instructors were so determined to make the training realistic that they sometimes went overboard. One of them decided to place a cluster of flashers around a large tree adjacent to the trail that the Americans would pass during an exercise. In his determination to teach the lads well, he overdid the explosives a bit. When the trainees came to the spot, he command-detonated the charges, knocking down the tree with him in it. Fortunately, he suffered little more than a bruised ego.
One of the most important skills the trainees had to master was speed. You were not going to catch the elusive enemy if you could not move like the wind. The daily physical training was geared so that it would become second nature for the trainees to feel comfortable in the jungle. The trick was to become so at ease in the environment that you could move fast enough to overtake the enemy, yet remain so quiet that he didn't know you were coming. The tactics completely shifted the men's attitude toward the jungle.
The trainees were fitted out like proper British recruits. Tracker officer Captain Don Hendricks recalled: We were issued British PT boots, which looked like green high-top basketball shoes, and all too small for large American feet. They lasted for about five days of PT and jungle training, and would then rot off the trainees' feet.
With kind permission from gettyimages
However much the Americans scorned the boots, they loved the scarf, the slouch hat and the British machete. The scarf was made from what appeared to be camouflaged mesh mosquito netting. With the scarf worn over the head, the wearer seemed to disappear in the bush. The slouch hats also became standard with the American trackers, as did the machetes.
There were sharp differences in dog handler and visual tracker training. While the handlers had a longer time to make the transition, the visual tracking group was given a complete course in jungle survival in a month's less time.
According to Don Hendricks: We started our first day of physical training with our New Zealand SAS instructor commanding us, 'Lightly on your toes, right wheel, go!' As we all stared at one another, we were thinking that an English-to-English dictionary might be in order. Couldn't figure out what he was trying to say. It became apparent when he directed us with sign language. He was telling us to 'double-time, column right, march.' We had no clue that he had been speaking English!
During the week, after the training day ended, the young Americans could swim and relax at the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institute — the equivalent of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service) with 'alf and 'alfs. These peculiar British concoctions used beer as a base and included fruit juices or a mixture of stout and light beers. The New Zealand SAS instructors were heard going on about buying aw case aw piss (a case of beer). The staff and students often became friends, and some bonds forged at the BJWS would become lifelong.
The extreme emotional and physical demands on the trainees created some interesting situations. For example, two jump-qualified trainees were telling one of their instructors how tough and highly qualified you had to be to be in the airborne. The combat veteran instructor replied that he felt members of the airborne were stubborn and stupid. The trainees insisted that airborne soldiers always executed their orders precisely. The British sergeant said that he could respect that and promptly ordered the more outspoken of the two Americans to run headfirst into a nearby tree.
Looking puzzled at first, the American trainee realized that he had stepped in it, and he had to obey the order. He got up and ran straight into the tree, ending up on the ground, bleeding and dazed. The Kiwi sergeant just shook his head. The other airborne trooper, not to be outdone, also ran headfirst into the tree. This was the last straw for the instructor, who rolled on the ground in gales of laughter, sputtering something about the stupid, bloody, f — ing Yanks!
Yanks in Training
Oddly enough, some of the visual tracker trainees initially had no idea there would be another man and a Labrador retriever on the team. The standard comment on the first day when the members were merged into a team was, What the hell's that dog doing here? The groups were told that the dog definitely would get their egos back into perspective.
The dog actually taught his master how to track. The handler and dog generally moved out at a faster pace than the visual trackers. The Lab would catch a scent and be gone, and the handler had to be ready to go with him. The handler also had to know how to take care of the Lab and read the dog's actions, and how to give the dog medical assistance.
WDTU-2 had a different approach to the training. On the first day of one cycle, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps trainer took his new students out of their camp and across the road to a ridge. As they all sat together, still in civilian clothes, their new boss stood and pointed at a visual tracking group running below, obviously being pushed to their limits by the Kiwi instructors. The war dog trainer waved his hand in such a way as to gather the visual group along with their trainers.
Then the trainer thoroughly confused his new charges by announcing to them, They are nothing! We do not train that way. Today we will walk a distance, tomorrow a bit more, and so on. You must think of it as steps within steps and goals within goals. When you are finished here and go on to the marry-up between visual and dog handler, you will be able to run them into the ground. They are nothing!
One immediate need was for more trained Labs. There were some veteran dogs from the Malay and Borneo campaigns, but with at least 14 teams coming to the school, many more dogs had to be trained. Some of the first trainees who went through the school between October 1966 and February 1967 had to learn their own combat skills plus train the green dogs. To this day, however, no one is sure whether the British instructors were allowing their Labs to train the Yanks or the trainees to school the young dogs.
David Layne, a veteran handler who was a part of the process, said years later: Chances are when a guy said, 'This dog or that dog wasn't any good,' it was really a comment about the first handler who had the dog. Nobody else could be blamed if a dog didn't work properly. The fifth and sixth months were tough. Up and down the damned hills every single day except in the very beginning. River crossings, ants, hornets and the heat — it went on and on. Pups and teenagers trying to do something that was as foreign and distant as the unexplored planets.
Sometimes I get down because I remember those pups, Layne continued. Sometimes they just wanted to play and be a puppy. But that couldn't be, they were needed for the war, just as we were. I think that most of us who were in that particular phase will always regard the two segments of dogs and men as equals, as partners. Those 18 original dogs, those pups, they didn't DEROS — they were there for the duration. They were trained in Asia, and they grew old in Asia.
The teams were complete when they had merged to the point of being able to think in unison. They could tell what one another was thinking as they moved in absolute silence in the jungle. Even the Lab could run like the wind and not make a sound that the NVA or VC would suspect.
The attrition rate for trainees not making the grade was high, but those who did graduate were some of the most highly trained American troops of the war. One of the early teams was attached to the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles.
The Screaming Eagles normally did not let any new recruit or group go into the field until they had gone through their own finishing school. But when Tracker Team 9, which was attached in October 1967, began the process, the cadre stopped the training on the first day. The verdict from the 101st was, You don't need to go through this test course — you already know more than we could teach you.
During the course the trainees were pushed to the limit on a daily basis. They were trained to operate with a much higher level of autonomy and initiative than they would ever be granted in Vietnam. They wanted to use their skills to make a difference in a war they could now understand. But the average soldier — and unfortunately, many line officers — had no comprehension of what the tracker teams' capabilities were.
Those who did excel at the training became a breed apart. There was no special ceremony when they graduated, no article in the hometown papers. However, the men themselves were well aware of what it took to become a CTT member. The U.S. Army later established its own CTT school in Fort Gordon, Ga., under an advisory panel of four SAS soldiers and a veterinarian from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. The school used veteran U.S. Army trackers as instructors and duplicated the original training as much as possible. But the Fort Gordon school closed in 1970, after which the CTT program was phased out.
The CTT members served honourably, but they came home to a generally disdainful public and the disbelief of their own fellow vets. There had been so little documentation of the program that some former trackers had problems for years applying for benefits. In 1998 a new Web site — www.combattrackerteam.org — was established to document and record their story. In June 2000, the first International Combat Tracker reunion took place in New Orleans.
In 1968, Sampley was one of a handful of American soldiers selected to attend the British Jungle Warfare School in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. He was trained for eight weeks by British, Australian and New Zealand instructors in jungle warfare, including methods of visually tracking humans in the jungle. While in Malaysia, Sampley was required to wear a British uniform because the British at that time did not want to publicize that they were training U.S. soldiers to fight in Vietnam.
Present British Army Jungle Warfare Wing (JWW)
The Jungle Warfare Wing (JWW) is located on the island of Borneo, close to the border with Sarawak (Malaysia) and is supported by the British Army's Brunei Garrison. JWW exists to provide a jungle training facility to meet the requirement to train jungle warfare instructors for the Field Army of the United Kingdom's Land Forces.
The British Army in Brunei comprises a Gurkha Infantry Battalion (Bn) and a Bell 212 Helicopter Flight of the Army Air Corps. The climate of Brunei is suited to jungle operations and the Training Team Brunei run jungle warfare courses for all members of the British Army.
The resident battalion here in Brunei is the Second Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles. The role of the Bn is as the Army's Jungle warfare specialist Bn and the acclimatised reserve in the area. The Bn is supported by the small British Garrison which provides all logistic and administrative support.
The Training Team Brunei is the Army's jungle warfare school and runs a number of courses ranging from Jungle Warfare Instructor Courses to long range patrolling and tracking.
Jungle Warfare School
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1. Introduction. 19. Jungle Ranges.
2. Platoon Organisation & Equipment. 20. Booby Traps.
3. Silent Signals. 21. Searching Villages.
4. Immediate Action Drills. 22. Assault on Defended Village.
5. Navigation. 23. War Dogs.
6. Health. 24. Combat Tracker Teams.
7. Radio Communications. 25. The Attack.
8. Living off the Land. 26. Air Reconnaissance.
9. Poncho Shelters. 27. Air Supply.
10. Sentries. 28. Helicopters
11. Harbouring. 29. Joint Operations Room.
12. Visual tracking.
13. Movement by MT
14. Crossing Water and use of Waterways
17. Night Lighting
18. Tree Demolitions.
Jungle Training "Calvert" Style - Air guns at the Ready
Note- the fencing mask for protection.
Hearts and Minds