Saturday, May 29, 2010


Patrolling is probably the core light infantry skill. In countless cases, aggressive infantry patrolling has gained the initiative, then the dominance, and then the battle from the enemy; British forces in the Falklands and Malaya, the First Special Service Force at Anzio, Security Forces in Rhodesia, Aussies and LRRPs in Vietnam…

“Light infantry patrols relentlessly and aggressively ambushes the enemy. The enemy never knows where the light infantry is or when he will attack. The light infantry tracks, listens, locates, cuts off, raids and ambushes the enemy.”

“The side which wins the patrolling encounters wins the battles.”

“Efficient, aggressive patrolling, a requisite for success in battle, provides the commander with security and gives him essential intelligence. A haphazard effort in patrolling invites surprise and courts disaster.”

“The subject of patrolling is particularly important in modern warfare not only because of the security afforded troops by effective patrolling, but also because of the fact that the proper leading of a patrol under all conditions involves nearly every known principle of tactics.”

Military manuals are invaluable and have the nuts and bolts of patrolling, what you need to know, and the methods you use. Here are some links to the actual patrolling manuals:

MCWP 3-11.3 USMC Scouting and Patrolling:

Canadian Army Patrolling Manual

"I will be damned if I will permit the U.S. Army, its institutions, its doctrine, and its traditions to be destroyed just to win this lousy war."

That quote was attributed to an American Army general during the Vietnam War, and it is quite indicative. Just because we as Americans do it one way does not make it the way. Other powers, minor and major, have developed their own tactics to fit their own situations and some have proven both practical and successful. That is not to say that American doctrine and tactics are all wrong, merely that other nations and militaries have good insight to offer as well.

The American Army, with its high-tech gear and its massive firepower, has long since become an arrogant army. Korea caught us totally unprepared when it came to intelligence, equipment, and especially training. We would not take advice from the British regarding their successful counter insurgency in Malaya, nor would we learn many of the same lessons from the Australian contingent in Vietnam. Today, the lessons the Soviets painstakingly learned during their unsuccessful foray into Afghanistan were ignored by the American military, and those same lessons had to be learned all over again at the expense of the combat soldiers with boots on the ground.

So there is much more to patrolling than just the manuals. The following series will look beyond the manuals to first-hand experiences learned in battle by various forces around the world.

There is much that we, especially as light infantry, can learn from other countries. Success and failure can both be enlightening, and “foreign” methods and tactics still have much value that can be gleaned. Focus on things relevant to your tactical situations. Winnow the wheat from the chaff, us what you can. Don’t keep using the same old playbook. Think outside the box. Teach old dogs new tricks. Or just keep an open mind to what else is out there.


Out of necessity as much as anything, the Japanese developed what was probably the best large body of light infantry in the world prior to WWII. Tough, well-trained, and used to hardships and privations, when Allied forces first met the Imperial Japanese in combat, especially jungle combat, they were sent reeling and the Japanese soldier developed an almost mythical prowess in the minds of his opponents.

The IJA was particularly noted for its field craft, especially, camouflage, and at first their patrols were greatly superior to Allied patrols until the tactical lessons were learned (or re-learned) through blood, sweat and tears.

Here then are both Allied Intelligence observations of Japanese methods, as well as portions of translated Japanese manuals.

First, the Australians fought a bloody slugging match with the Japanese under horrible conditions in the awful jungles of New Guinea. This was the intelligence they passed on regarding what they had learned.


The information in this section summarizes the tactics used by the Japanese in and around Milne Bay, New Guinea. The terrain over which most of the operations took place consists, generally speaking, of a narrow coastal strip, varying from 1/4 mile or less to 1 mile in width. It is composed mainly of thick jungle and waist-deep sago-palm swamps, with occasional coconut plantations scattered about near the villages. This narrow strip is bounded on the inland side with a chain of hills and mountains, some of which rise to a height of 3,500 feet. Deep gorges cut this range at several points.

The Japanese attack was carefully planned to take advantage of the terrain, and of extremely heavy rains which were falling at the time.


The size of Japanese night patrols encountered by our forces varied from 18 upwards, while day patrols averaged from 6 to 10 men.

As a rule, these patrols moved as a body and kept on or close to roads or trails. For reconnaissance, the Japanese did not employ fighting patrols, but used scouts, who worked singly or in pairs. These scouts utilized the thick jungle to approach our defended localities or were left in hidden positions when the enemy withdrew from a night attack. The scouts lay very still while close to our troops and allowed our patrols and working parties to pass unmolested.

The Japanese on our front in New Guinea did not send out combat patrols until they were ready to make a general movement forward. However, they apparently reconnoitered with small groups to secure information for later attacks.

When the Japs sent out combat patrols, these usually consisted of 30, 60, or 120 men. Their movements were similar to those of Jap units in jungle combat.

Action Against Patrols.—In New Guinea, Japanese troops were ordered not to answer the searching-fire of hostile patrols. "One way to annul their intention (they seek to locate your positions) is to have snipers shoot the patrol," the order read. "Another method is to hide quietly, remain motionless until the patrol passes, and then knock the hostile troops out with one blow."

The British made these observations about Japanese patrol tactics in Burma.

Use of Patrols

Japanese patrols could always be counted upon to do the unexpected. They often withdrew from Japanese-held areas while these were being scouted by patrols of opposing forces. When the latter patrols reported back with the information that the enemy had fled, the Japanese would reoccupy the area with a strong force. When the opposition moved a considerable force into the area, the Japanese opened up with a murderous fire at close range.

The use of small patrols purely in a reconnaissance role has often been reported. According to the terrain and their mission, these patrols either remained in one position for observation or reconnoitered while on a march of several days. Such patrols often consisted of three to six privates led by an officer or noncom.

If roads or trails were suitable, the Japanese frequently used bicycles for patrolling.
Because they made less noise, patrols often moved during the rain at night.

When meeting a British patrol in column during the day, it apparently was a standard practice of the Japanese to split their patrol and send one group to the left of the trail and another to the right. These groups then moved through the jungle and tried to cut off our patrols from the rear.

These tactics were successful when our men tried to go back toward friendly troops over the same trail by which they had come out. The Japs usually failed, at least in a large measure, whenever our men stealthily took to the jungle to wipe out the enemy, or forged ahead on their mission, without regard to their line of communications.

These are American intelligence notes gathered from Japanese methods and tactics used on Guadalcanal.

Scouting and Patrolling

Japanese scouting patrols varied in number although they usually were small. Frequently they carried no weapons, or else concealed them in their uniforms.

Reconnaissance patrols generally consisted of 5 to 10 men, who usually moved about 5 yards apart. Some of these talked a lot, were not alert, and appeared to be stupid.

One combat patrol we sighted consisted of 25 men, none of whom stood out as a leader. When the patrol sighted us, it split into two groups. Another combat patrol that we encountered was smaller; it retreated immediately.

PLATOON SERGEANT C. C. ARNDT, H & S Company, Fifth Marines:

“I practice walking quietly over rocks, twigs, grass, leaves, through vines, etc. I practice this around the bivouac area. I received instructions in scouting and patrolling at Quantico, but I still practice this around here in the bivouac area. I believe because I practice this is the reason I am still alive. Some of the other NCO’s laughed at me because I am always seeing how quietly I can walk around and because I go out and practice on my own. But they have stopped laughing because I have been on more patrols than any man in the Regiment, and I am still alive.

When I am scouting and come to an opening in the jungle and have to cross it, I generally run across quickly and quietly. Going slow here may cost a scout his life. Different types of terrain calls for different methods.

Here is the way Japs patrol. I was out on the bank of the river with another man. We were observing and were carefully camouflaged. We heard a little sound and then saw two Japs crawl by about 7 feet away from us. These Japs were unarmed. We started to shoot them, but did not do so as we remembered our mission. Then, 15 yards later, came 8 armed Japs. They were walking slowly and carefully. We did not shoot as our mission was to gain information. When I got back, we had a lot of discussion as to why the two Japs in front were not armed. Some of the fellows said maybe it was a form of Japanese company punishment. I believe they were the point of the patrol and were unarmed so they could crawl better.”


On Bougainville Island, the Japanese usually employed two types of patrols: the reconnaissance patrol, which reconnoiters terrain, hostile positions, roads, and so on; and the so-called microphone patrol, which usually destroys communication nets as well as microphone installations. In each case, the strength of the patrol is approximately one squad (10 men), but it may vary according to the situation, mission, and the time available.

If time permits, long-range officer patrols are sent out prior to an attack. Noncom patrols usually are sent out on short and less important missions. During the last few hours preceding attacks, the microphone patrols, generally led by noncoms, are sent out repeatedly.

Patrols generally study aerial photographs before going out, and one of the main duties of patrols is to confirm information indicated on these photographs.

All patrols are equipped for combat, but are instructed to resist hostile forces only when necessary. The equipment includes a light machine gun. Just prior to an attack, most patrols stay out one day, or less, but they carry more than one day's rations.

Patrols generally march in a staggered formation, which consists of two single files on either side of a trail or road. The interval between men in each file is about 5 yards. The patrol leader and the light machine- gun operator march at the head. In a withdrawal, these two men remain in the rear until the other personnel clear the danger area.

An overnight patrol generally does not bivouac, but halts for extended periods of rest. The men usually do not sleep, and all remain on watch.

When patrols are out for several nights, they maintain sentries on watch within the bivouac area. Reliefs are made about every 2 hours.

The following is a direct translation of a captured Japanese infantry manual in regards to reconnaissance patrols:


Items which you will note while reconnoitering in the jungle include the following:

(1) The size of the jungle and the nature of the foliage around its edges;

(2) The nature of the terrain covering (density of plant growth, types and sizes of trees, and the condition of fallen trees);

(3) The nature of defiladed positions and the degree of defilade;

(4) The nature and condition of the terrain as a whole, including streams, marshes, cliffs, and other ground obstacles;

(5) The deviations on the compass, if any, and the accuracy of available maps or other reference material;

(6) The communication installations, if any; the condition of any inhabited areas; and any problems in connection with water supply;

(7) The degree of infestation by mosquitoes, flies, and other harmful or nuisance insects;

(8) Whether or not the area is occupied by enemy [United Nations] security detachments, positions, or defense installations; and

(9) Suitable routes for the advance of all columns.
During the advance, in jungle areas, make a complete reconnaissance of the enemy situation. In addition to sending out patrols, each unit will select competent personnel (those with excellent eyesight, such as fishermen and the natives of Ponape Island) for close-range reconnaissance.
In the jungle, the individual soldier on reconnaissance should constantly be on the alert for the slightest movement or sound. He should advance only a short distance at a time, making use of the terrain and foliage and crouching as much as possible. When resuming reconnaissance after resting, he should go forward and retreat a number of times. If an individual enemy is discovered, creep up and shoot him. Take particular care to guard your rear.

In the case of a small detachment patrolling in thick jungle, one man must go forward with his rifle ready to protect the others. It is also necessary to keep a sharp watch to the rear.

The Japanese manual instructing the individual soldier on movement techniques offered advice as pertinent today as it was then.

Observe from depressions, not from elevations. Never look over such objects as stones, tree trunks, bushes, hedges, or fences; always observe from the side--and be sure to choose the shaded side--or through cracks or gaps. Often the prone position is your greatest safeguard. In observing from houses, do not stand directly in front of a window; stand farther back in the room. Take the same kind of precaution when you are observing from the edge of a wood. Avoid roads and paths, even at night. Instead, choose such natural depressions as roadside ditches. Go around fields and clearings. Move only on the shaded side of boulders, trees, ravines, and so on. When you rest, lie down beside a fallen tree. Stoop low when passing through waist-high underbrush, and crawl through still lower growth. Your head must never be exposed against a light background. When you are observing, never betray your presence by restless and unnecessary movement. When you are creeping forward in any kind of wooded or partly wooded terrain, camouflage yourself still further by holding branches in front of you.

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