Sunday, May 30, 2010




In the early stages of WWII, the Japanese seemed utterly unstoppable, steam rolling over Allied forces seemingly at will...Pearl Harbor, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, Wake Island, Burma, the Philippines. During the wicked, bloody, clawing jungle fighting on New Guinea, it was the Australians who disproved the myth of the Japanese “Jungle Superman” and showed that he could be stopped and defeated. These are some of the lessons learned from those battles in hellish conditions.


“The side which wins the patrolling encounters wins the battles.”
(Quotation from Report on Milne Bay Operation)

General: Patrolling is a very wide term. In jungle warfare, where the lack of communications forces the use of smaller bodies of troops, patrolling has a wider application than ever. It is in effect the technique of moving and fighting over long distances and for periods which may extend up to ten days or even more, of bodies of troops up to one company. It is essential that
on every occasion you must produce superior forces against the enemy, so that you can destroy the enemy, dominate the battlefield, however small this may be, and remain masters of it.

Therefore, if experience shows that the Jap patrols are normally 5 or 6, then yours should be 15 or 20; if the Jap send 30 or 40, send a company. These fighting patrols have the object of gaining “ground superiority” and this they will achieve most quickly by always being the first to surprise the Japs.

Strength of Patrols: The strength of the patrol depends on its task. If it is a reconnoitering patrol it should be just as big as is required and no more. It is seldom likely to be less than one leader and two men. If, however, the patrol is likely to meet the enemy when on the move and is likely to have to defend itself it should obviously be in sufficient strength to do so.

Japanese Patrols are normally 30-50 men strong with a mortar detachment, i.e., a strong Platoon. It follows that our patrols must be as strong or stronger, or else they should be so small they can “fade” and evade the action while keeping the enemy under observation.

Planning: A patrol commander on being given his orders for his patrol must appreciate the situation and make a plan the same as for any other operation of war. He must have his object clearly fixed in his mind. He must remember that it is his duty to bring his patrol fresh to the sphere of operations.

Miscellaneous: Never send a man out from a patrol on his own more than a few yards. It is extraordinary how men get lost.

The Jungle Craft

General: The term jungle craft implies the ability of a soldier to live and fight in the jungle; to be able to move from point-to-point and arrive at his objective fit to fight; to use ground and vegetation to the best advantage; and be able to “melt” into the jungle either by freezing or intelligent use of camouflage; to recognize and be able to use native foods; and possess the
ability to erect rapidly temporary shelters to ward off tropical downpours.

Movement: There is a technique for moving in the jungle. Go slow and watch you step. The aim should be to move silently without causing any commotion of the animals. Part the jungle, don’t try to push through it. Use game trails wherever possible; take care to go where you want to go, not where the game wants you to go.

Halts and Meals: Wake at dawn, drink tea and walk a couple of hours before having a morning meal; thereafter walk until an hour before sundown, halt and cook the evening meal. Put out the fire and then move off a mile or so and rest for the night. Do not sleep near a track, game trail,
stream, or on a ridge. These are jungle highways at night and you may be disturbed.

Shooting: The rifle is the infantryman’s primary weapon. It is with this that he will achieve victory. Quick decisions and timing are as important as accuracy of aim. To exert self-control, to know when to hold one’s fire, to shoot calmly and accurately at the right moment, are matters of great importance under conditions where a second shot is most unlikely to be obtained after a miss. In the jungle 50-75 yards is a long shot.

For automatic weapons the general principles for employment are normally use single shot fire, save ammunition and don’t disclose the location of your automatic weapons; NEVER use automatic fire, unless you have a really worth while target or in the final stages of the assault; once you have disclosed your position by the use of automatic fire, take the first opportunity of moving to an alternative position to the flank or forward.

Jungle Infantry: It goes without saying that the men who fight in jungles must be well-trained and well-led and must be jungle-minded. They must move in single file but must be ready at all times to deploy and drop noiselessly out of sight. Every man must be capable, if the need arises,
of acting as an individual and being able to support himself. Jungle warfare should be regarded as a game, healthful, interesting and thrilling; the men should feel at home in the jungle and regard it as a friend. They must realize the absolute necessity for jungle training as a means to defeat the Japanese who come from one of the most highly industrialized countries in the world
and have no natural advantages as Jungle Infantry.


During WWII German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was running amuck with his Afrika Korps throughout North Africa, heading for the Suez Canal, driving a battered British army retreating before him. The only nut the combined German and Italian forces could not crack was the port of Tobruk, held primarily by the Australian 9th Infantry Division. Tobruk was besieged for 242 days but did not fall.

From the official Australian unit history: “…this operation order decreed that active infantry patrolling should be carried out in all sectors with the utmost vigour, so inaugurating that aggressive patrolling policy pursued relentlessly throughout the siege. The garrison at once asserted its mastery over no-man’s land during the night hours and never lost it, keeping the besiegers’ frontline infantry continually on the defensive.”

Another unofficial source described the patrolling a bit more colorfully:

“Tobruk patrols were of two types - fighting and reconnaissance. The job of the reconnaissance patrol was to gather information and, if possible, to secure prisoners for identification. Its members used all their bushcraft to avoid being discovered. Like stealthy shadows, they saw without being seen. But the fighting patrol went out to fight. Its aim was to do as much damage and to kill as many of the enemy as possible. Its members would creep up on an enemy post, surround it and then, at a given signal, rush in with the bayonet and kill-soundlessly. A few brief minutes of bloody, sinew-straining work and the foray would be over, with not a shot fired.

Two typical examples of AIF offensive patrols are quoted. In the first, the raiders crawled in single file for two miles through a minefield to attack an observation post, the position of which had been revealed by reconnaissance patrols on the previous day.

The patrol started on its journey after midnight and was preparing for the final assault when Very lights lit up the scene, and the enemy post opened fire with rifles and machine guns. Five of our men then charged in with bayonets, Tommy guns, and grenades. Despite a volley of hand grenades from the enemy, the patrol stormed on, killing 15 and wounding many of the estimated 50 enemy before crossfire from supporting posts forced a withdrawal. The patrol regained its own lines, suffering only slight casualties.

The second classic patrol won for its leader, Lieutenant William. Horace Noyes, the Military Cross. With an NCO, Lieutenant Noyes stalked and destroyed three light tanks and led a bayonet attack against the enemy garrison. His unit captured the post and killed or wounded the garrison of 130, as well as the crews of seven machine-guns and 11 anti-tank guns and their protective infantry. It also damaged a heavy tank.”

This in-your-face, deep, and constant patrolling not only took the initiative away from the Axis forces and kept them off-balance, it kept the Allied command precisely informed of the identity and location of the enemy forces, while at the same time denying the Germans and Italians any firsthand ground reconnaissance of the Allied forces, their strength, composition, and positions. The Axis had to rely on out-dated inaccurate old Italian maps which proved of little use. The aggressiveness of the diggers led them to believe the defenders were stronger than they really were. Between the Aussie patrols and the need for probing attacks to try to determine the defenses, the Germans telegraphed every punch, and the defenders were ready and waiting for them.

Once again, the Aussies had shown the Allies that the Axis juggernaut could be stopped, earning the respect of friend and foe alike.

Rommel himself called them, “...immensely big and powerful men, who without question represented an elite formation of the British Empire, a fact that was also evident in battle."

A German battalion commander wrote:

“The Australian is unquestionably superior to the German soldier:
1. in the use of individual weapons, especially as snipers
2. in the use of ground camouflage
3. in his gift of observation, and the drawing of the correct conclusions from his observation
4. in every means of taking us by surprise. . .”


Due to its unique size, location, and population, at the time of the Vietnam War, Australian military forces operated under a strategic and tactical doctrine consisting of five characteristics. Those characteristics sounded as if they were right out of “Proverbs of the Light Infantry”. They were: self-reliance, mobility, logistic support, austerity and resilience.

In Vietnam, the Aussies used the jungle counter-insurgency techniques they had learned in Malaya and Borneo and which had proven so successful there. Their light infantry tactics concentrated on as patrolling, searching villages without destroying them (with a view to eventually converting them), and ambush and counter ambush.

In 1966 journalist Gerald Stone described tactics then being used by Australian soldiers newly arrived in Vietnam:

The Australian battalion has been described …as the safest combat force in Vietnam… It is widely felt that the Australians have shown themselves able to give chase to the guerrillas without exposing themselves to the lethal ambushes that have claimed so many American dead…

Australian patrols shun jungle tracks and clearings… picking their way carefully and quietly through bamboo thickets and tangled foliage…It is a frustrating experience to trek through the jungle with Australians. Patrols have taken as much as nine hours to sweep a mile of terrain. They move forward a few steps at a time, stop, listen, then proceed again."

One captured Viet Cong leader commented on the effectiveness of the Australian approach to jungle fighting. "Worse than the Americans were the Australians. The Americans style was to hit us, then call for planes and artillery. Our response was to break contact and disappear if we could…The Australians were more patient than the Americans, better guerrilla fighters, better at ambushes. They liked to stay with us instead of calling in the planes. We were more afraid of their style.”

No-nonsense maverick officer Lt. Col. David Hackworth greatly admired the Australian light infantry methods and thought the American Army could have learned something from them. “The Aussies used squads to make a contact, and brought in reinforcing elements to do the killing; they planned in the belief that a platoon on the battlefield could do anything, including get out.”

Appropriate for light infantry who don't and won't have the industrial military hardware to go about "re-arranging contour lines".


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very enjoyable read. My Grandfather served in the (Aussie) infantry in both the Middle East and New Guinea in WW2. Blogs like this serve to honour all those who have served their country in it's time of need, let us never forget.

Bawb said...

Thank you. Too many Americans (those that even know about WWII these days) seem to think the American way is the only way to fight, so I like to study other countries and their methods.

Here's another quote attributed to a captured Akfrika Korps officer: "I cannot understand you Australians. In Poland, France and Belgium, once the tanks got through the soldiers took it for granted they were beaten. But you are like demons. The tanks break through and your infantry keeps fighting."

Good men, good soldiers. They should not be forgotten.

Unknown said...

Thanks for such an interesting article here. I was searching for something like that for quite a long time and at last I have found it here.

Rifles Guns in Australia