Saturday, May 29, 2010


The British Army, even after the sunset of empire, has been involved in a great many COIN and COIN-type small wars. They have, in recent history, taken a generally softer approach than the American Army, i.e. using a scalpel rather than a chainsaw. One of the most important aspects of their successful operations has been dismounted infantry patrolling.

Here is an American evaluation of British infantry patrolling during the Falklands War, and why it is so important.

"Two points that operations in the Falklands demonstrated are important to light infantry training are the development of patrolling skills and realistic simulation of ammunition carriage and resupply. There is no doubt that patrolling played a critical role in determining the outcome of the ground campaign. Without effective aerial reconnaissance, and with no flow of information down to the battalions from SAS and SBS patrols, the battalions were compelled to gather all their own intelligence. This could only be achieved by conducting small team reconnaissance patrols and establishing observation posts.

More importantly, by patrolling the British infantry dominated the battlefield and retained the initiative. During periods of slow build up, patrolling gave the soldiers the feeling of progress, dominance and aggression--all key to maintaining offensive spirit…patrol skills provided a measure of just how good a battalion was, and was an important part in the battle for domination and moral supremacy. New equipment harnessing the latest technology might replace some of the requirement for infantry to gather their own intelligence. However, the requirement for the infantry to dominate mentally and physically the battlefield by means of patrolling should always remain an essential infantry task. It is worth noting that the Argentineans relied upon technology to dominate the battle space and consequently did not patrol. This was a major factor in their loss of the tactical initiative and their loss of the will to fight. The Falklands demonstrated that patrolling maintains and develops an infantryman's aggressive spirit; it is a skill that places great demands upon junior leaders and soldiers and is a skill that must be practiced thoroughly."


British forces in the jungle areas of Burma are emphasizing the importance of patrolling in their combat against the Japanese. The following notes on patrolling summarize conclusions drawn by British officers, or by units, from their combat experiences in the western Burma area. These conclusions, while not official British doctrine, should prove a helpful stimulus to U.S. thought on the subject of patrolling.


A British officer recently stated that, for jungle fighting, a soldier can hardly have too much training in patrolling. The improperly trained soldier, he continued, is completely lost when he gets off paths or trails in the jungle. "He must learn to find his way about in the jungle, and not be afraid of it. The jungle is totally new to our farm-bred soldiers as well as to our city-bred soldiers, since it bears no similarity to either environment. The jungle can be a friend and protector to you, as soon as you know how to utilize it.

"You cannot utilize the jungle very well unless you are a well-trained observer. You must know all the means of detecting the presence or passage of the enemy—such as fires, ashes, cartridges, broken undergrowth, footprints, misplaced foliage, and so forth.

"When fired upon in the jungle, patrols should pause momentarily to observe and formulate plans. These should be executed promptly—the patrols must keep moving, and not pin themselves to the ground. They must be trained to get rid of obstacles quickly or to avoid them, depending on their mission."

Another British officer said, "In the past, lack of clear orders has been responsible for more bad patrolling than any other factor." He added that orders should be "crystal clear and not beyond the ability of the patrol to execute."
A large group of British officers submitted the following points for consideration in connection with giving orders to patrols.

"(1) Give the patrol leader all available information about the enemy.

"(2) Give him full information about other friendly patrols which are operating, or which may operate, in the neighborhood of this area before he returns.

"(3) State his mission in clear and unmistakable terms.

"(4) State, in general terms, the route the patrol will follow.

"(5) State the time by which the patrol is required to return, and the place to which it should endeavor to return.

"(6) Give the recognition signal for challenging friendly patrols.

"(7) State clearly what action the patrol leader will take if he meets the enemy before completing his mission, or after completing it. For instance, should he attack, withdraw, or remain in observation?

"After stating the mission to the patrol leader, have him repeat the main points."

"Don't send out more men than are necessary for accomplishing the mission. Every unnecessary man in a patrol is a hindrance and increases the chance that the patrol may be discovered."

Another group of British officers had this to say:

"A company is not a patrol, not even a large fighting patrol, but it provides the element from which patrols are produced. Whether a whole company is sent out depends upon the distance patrols will have to cover in order to carry out a mission. If the situation calls for use of a company, the latter will provide the necessary patrols and the remainder of the unit will form a mobile base from which the patrols can, if necessary, be assisted and a base to which the patrols can withdraw after completing their missions.

"It is important that the remainder of the company not take up a static position, where it can be pinned down; therefore, it must operate in a specified area, with a place of assembly having been determined in advance, in case of enemy action which necessitates its use.

"Another way in which a company may be employed in this type of warfare is to carry out an ambush based on information gained by patrols."

These officers considered the Bren gun too heavy for patrols which were to stay out more than two days. The rifle, Tommy gun, and grenade were considered the best weapons for patrolling.
During the daytime, the officers said, Japanese patrols almost invariably consisted of two or three men, who generally were led by a native guide.


A high-ranking British officer stated that the major slogan for jungle warfare against the Japanese is "Patrol! Patrol! Patrol!" A patrol, he said, must avoid taking up a static defense; it must be "offensive" in its tactics. It should stay out two or three days, sometimes up to six days, and it should be self-sufficient.

"You must outfox the Jap," this officer explained. "The main point is to confuse him as to what you are doing; then you have an even chance of inflicting casualties.

"The Japs watch and listen all the time. They attempt all sorts of ruses to deceive our patrols. We soon caught on to the enemy's tricks, and he appeared to be foxed completely....

"You can frequently catch the Jap on the loose—swimming, eating, resting, playing, and so forth. Usually when he is caught under such circumstances, he is absolutely unprotected. Once, during a recent campaign, one of our platoons caught more than 100 Japs completely off guard; the platoon killed 30 of the enemy while the others fled in confusion.

"The British patrols usually moved by day, and frequently caught the Japs unaware. At night the patrols generally hid out, away from streams, watering places, and trails."

A group of British officers made the following suggestions for getting better results from patrolling:

"a. Avoid the 'circular tour' tactics by patrols; use a larger number of smaller patrols to deal with a larger number of smaller areas.

"b. If possible, avoid entering villages or being seen by local inhabitants. More reliance should be placed on silent observation at close range.

"c. If it is impossible to avoid being seen, employ the maximum guile to conceal the route and intentions of the patrol. For example, the patrol leader might tell local inhabitants of a village that his destination is a certain place. The patrol would actually start for the place named, but later would either return close to its starting point and watch the village for, say, 24 hours, or cut through the jungle to another route.

"d. Seek to complete the mission of the patrol. The patrol must not turn away because of resistance. If its route is barred, the patrol must probe the enemy front until it finds a suitable approach route, or it must try to maneuver around a flank.

"e. Use cunning, regardless of whether the patrol's mission is to fight or strictly to reconnoiter.

"f. Patrol deep enough to get the desired information."

A Note from North Africa

The best patrolling troops we have come across are the Moroccan Goums, whose success as compared with any European unit is phenomenal. Even against the best of the Germans, they never fail. Why are they better than we are? First, because they are wild hillmen and have been trained as warriors from birth. Second, because the preparation of their patrols is done with such detailed thoroughness. No fighting patrol is sent out until its leaders have spent at least a day watching the actual post they are after, and reconnoitering exact routes and so forth. If the leaders are not satisfied at the end of the day, they will postpone sending out the patrol, and will devote another day to the preliminaries.

Some of our men are a little too inclined to think of a patrol at four or five in the afternoon, and send it out that same night, To be worth a damn, a fighting patrol must start off with an odds-on chance of two-to-one—not six-to-four or even money, but a good two-to-one bet. To make this possible, your information has got to be really good and up to date.

As regards composition of fighting patrols, there is a wide divergence of opinion. In this battalion we go on the principle of maximum fire power with minimum manpower, and our patrols have usually consisted of an officer, a noncom, and nine men—in other words, an assault group consisting of an officer, three grenadiers, and three Tommy gunners, and a support group of a noncom and three Bren gunners.

The type of reconnaissance patrol which has produced the best result is the one composed of an officer or sergeant and two men who go out at night, remain awake and observe all the next day, and return during the second night.


Extracts below are from the ATOM Manual. I felt this warranted to show a different type of squad formation (3x3) that has seemed to work well for others, such as the British in Malaya and the Red Chinese, as well as its slightly different take on things than the American manuals.


Section 1.—Introduction

1. All movement on operations in Malaya is tactical movement. The CT is cunning and ever ready to take advantage of any carelessness or relaxation by SF.
2. The formations given in this chapter are similar to those used in normal warfare, though the placing of individuals and weapons within formations may be peculiar to anti-CT operations under Malayan conditions. The factors which have affected the evolution of these formations are:--
a. The requirement to produce maximum fire power immediately on contact.
b. Battle is largely at close quarters.
c. Formations must be such that troops are capable of taking immediate counter ambush action.


1. Silence.—Silence is essential at all times. This refers both to voice and movement. With practice it is possible to move at considerable speed in comparative silence. Move steadily and carefully and part the undergrowth rather than crash through. Do not blunder forward—this will produce bruises, scratches and loss of direction besides loss of silence. Avoid treading on dry leaves, sticks, rotten wood, etc., whenever possible. Use silent hand-and-arm signals.

a. Cutting.

i. Cut only as a last resort and only to avoid excessive detours. There is nearly always a way nearby where movement is easier. Cutting has the following disadvantages:--
1. It is not silent.
2. It reduces speed of movement.
3. Fatigue is increased in the leading elements.
4. Quick handling of weapons is prejudiced.
ii. If it is necessary to cut:--
1. Make sure the machete is always kept sharp.
2. Do not slash—a sawing action is just as quick and is more silent.
3. Cut upwards—this stops pulling vines, etc., down on you
iii. In many battalions cutting on the move is forbidden.

2. Tracks and Track Discipline.

—Movement on tracks should be avoided, though it may sometimes be necessary when speed in follow-up is required, or when moving in mountainous country. Movements on tracks simplifies the problem of the CT who constantly seek SF targets on tracks as a potential source of weapons.

3. Not only should established tracks be avoided but efforts should be made to disguise or hide signs of movement to prevent the leaving of a trail even in virgin country. Some aids in this problem are:--
a. i. Wear hockey boots.
i. Have the last man brush the trail lightly with a small branch after the patrol has passed.
b. Remember track discipline. Do NOT signpost the route with litter and waste food. These should be kept and buried. Do NOT while away the time by plucking leaves, breaking twigs—this blazes a trail.
c. When crossing streams a patrol should spread out along the bank, and be ready to give supporting fire to the leading troops.
d. When crossing established tracks signs of crossing should be obliterated by the rear man.
e. When moving through close, hilly country avoids handling small saplings. The shaking of overhead branches can be seen and heard at a distance.
f. When moving through rubber estates, keep on the tracks if only by walking parallel to a track and a few feet from it.

4. Speed of Movement.—Speed of movement is dictated by the nature of the country and the task. Speed in moving from one point to another will be better obtained by intelligent route planning than by trying to push quickly and blindly forward.

5. Speed will always be limited by the necessity to avoid noise of movement and will often be painfully slow. A commander must remember that movement in the jungle is fatiguing, both physically and mentally, and that he must balance his desire for progress against the necessity for keeping his troops fresh and alert for action.

6. Halt must be frequent for observation and listening and less frequent for rest. When halted, always take up positions for all round defense. In single file formation it may be necessary to delegate responsibility for protection and lookouts down to groups. As a guide, when working out times for rest halts, start with the usual ten minutes in the hour. Do not march for longer periods. Usually the halts will be more frequent especially when traversing difficult country. After passing through swamp or climbing a steep slope it is a good plan to have a short rest. Make sure the whole party has passed through a defile before halting or only the leading elements will be rested.

7. Observation.—In jungle a man observes with all his senses. On the move he must notice every sign of movement, marks on tracks, and broken vegetation. His nose must be keen, and free from cigarette smoke, sweets, the smell of hair oil, so that he immediately notices any strange smell such as tobacco, cooking and woodsmoke. Every few minutes, depending on how close the commander suspects the CT to be, and certainly not less often than every ten minutes, a patrol must stop and listen.

8. Eyes must be trained to disregard the general pattern of foliage immediately to the front and to look through rather than at it. A better view is often obtained by looking through jungle at ground level.

9. As soon as any unusual sign or sound is noted, a patrol must ‘freeze’ silently. There should be no further movement until the commander, and his tracker, have investigated.

10. The direction of responsibility for observation by the various men in a patrol is shown diagrammatically. This method must be practiced before a patrol moves out from base.


1. Section.—Two types of section patrol formations are considered sufficient for use in the various types of terrain to be met in Malaya. They are:--

a. Single File formation

b. Open formation

2. Platoon.—The platoon normally consists of two or three sections. Each section moves in groups as illustrated in Appendices B and C. The sections may follow one another in single file formation or move in open formation, one or two up, on parallel axes.

3. When a platoon is moving in its selected formation it may be necessary for the “O” group to move behind the leading section, but in close country it may often be more important for the section commanders to be with their sections.

4. The patrol commander must continuously appreciate the ground and vary the formation of his patrol to suit it. Similarly he must continuously appreciate the tactical position of the patrol in relation to the ground so as to be able immediately to take action in the event of a contact.


1. The position of the patrol commander will normally be that shown in the diagrams.

2. The position of platoon and company commanders will be dictated by ground, tactical circumstances and formation. It should be sufficiently far forward for him to:--
a. Be in a position to influence the encounter from the outset, and although it is not desirable for him to be caught in the opening burst of fire, he should be placed where he can quickly exploit IA drills.
b. Exercise control, control his guides, read his map and air photos, give orders with regard to navigation and order halts when necessary.


1. The word ‘guide’ as used here, means somebody with an intimate knowledge of an area or someone who can lead SF to a known CT location. These may be SEPs, CEPs, Aborigines, Maylay, Chinese or Indian estate workers. They may expect to lead the patrol and have on occasions been allowed to do so, but this is wrong because:--
a. They are not trained scouts and are not part of the military team. Their function is merely to show direction.
b. If CT are encountered en route, guides may react badly and prejudice the patrol’s chance of killing.
c. Cases have occurred of troops being led into ambush.

2. The correct position for a guide is with the patrol commander. The patrol commander will make decisions as to direction and tactics, using the guide’s advice as he wishes.

3. The tracker has a different function—that of following a trail. Once a trail has been picked up, the tracker, be he man or dog, must move in the lead, otherwise faint signs of CT movement will be obliterated and confused. The tracker must be protracted by the scouts who must not be allowed to relax their alertness or be distracted by the signs of the trail. The patrol commander must appreciate that a tracker, born to the jungle and lightly equipped, may tend to outstrip the patrol. The patrol commander must ensure that contact is maintained by seeing that the tracker conforms to the speed of the patrol.

The British also worked with War Dogs quite a bit during the same era, and they were used successfully in Malaysia.

The British used dogs with considerable success. For offensive operations, they developed a tracker team that usually consisted of two dogs, each with a handler, and two human trackers from the inland Sabah tribes known as Ibans or Dayaks.

Each dog handler and each Iban had a rifleman for protection, and there was a commanding officer and a noncommissioned officer with a radio for a total strength of 10. The animals used in these units were usually Labrador retrievers. One of these teams could move fast, far, and accurately.

The British also used dogs for security around their bases and for alerting patrols to danger at night. These animals were chosen for their over-all alertness, viciousness, and sense of hearing. German shepherds were usually best for this mission.

Patrol Dogs

Patrol dogs are trained to pick up body scent, to point out the direction from which it comes, and to work in complete silence at all times. They are used only at night.

During operations the master and his dog work several paces in advance of the patrol. If the wind is coming from a direction from which opposition is expected, there is a much better chance of success. Detecting a body scent ahead, the dog points, indicating the direction. The dog's master signals the patrol leader, who can either take steps to deal with the opposition or attempt to evade it.

A U.S. Signal Corps officer reports that during a demonstration he witnessed, two of these dogs picked out men hidden in woods and ditches at distances of 100 to 150 yards, and accurately pointed the direction. The experienced trainers were able to estimate the approximate distance simply by noting the degree of excitement shown by the dogs and the eagerness with which they tugged at their leads. Another officer, after working with a night patrol which had used a patrol dog, reported that the animal was invaluable in helping the patrol to avoid opposition while carrying out reconnaissance.


Jim Fryar said...

More importantly, by patrolling the British infantry dominated the battlefield and retained the initiative. During periods of slow build up, patrolling gave the soldiers the feeling of progress, dominance and aggression--all key to maintaining offensive spirit…

This was largely credited for the success of the allied forces during the siege of Tobruk. Doing so kept up morale by giving the defenders the feeling of being on the front foot.

Bawb said...

I've got one coming up on the Aussie infantry and their methods.
And don't worry, in my bit on Tobruk, the diggers don't have to have British officer Richard Burton come hold their hands.

I recall early in WWII the Australian government and military didn't want the diggers under direct British command after what had happened in WWI at Gallipoli. Seems it happened anyway, in the ill-fated adventure to Greece and Percival's surrender of Singapore.

Then they had the Canadians too to treat like bastard step-children in the Med and to sacrifice on the beaches of Dieppe.

God only knows how many of the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry)have been slaughtered due to arrogance, incompetence, and politics on the part of their leaders. I suspect the Americans score quite high, especially in the Pacific campaign.