Jungle warfare is a term used to cover the special techniques needed for military units to survive and fight in jungle terrain. It has been the topic of extensive study by military strategists, and was an important part of the planning for both sides in many conflicts, including the Vietnam War and World War II.
The real pioneers who methodically developed it as a specialized branch of warfare -the unconventional, low-intensity, guerrilla-style type of warfare as it is understood today- were probably the British. Examples of such early jungle-warfare forces were the Chindits, V Force and Force 136, who were small bodies of soldiers, equipped with no more than small arms and explosives, but rigorously trained in guerrilla warfare-style tactics (particularly in close-quarter combat). Formed in the later stage of the Pacific War in support of conventional forces, these were the true jungle-warfare experts whose unconventional combat skills and tactics were specially developed for use in the jungle environment. The very beginning of it all probably traces back to immediately after the fall of Malaya and Singapore in 1942, when a few British officers, such as the legendary Freddie Spencer Chapman, eluded capture and escaped into the central Malaysian jungle where they helped organize and train bands of lightly armed local ethnic Chinese Communists into a capable guerrilla force against the Japanese occupiers. What began as desperate initiatives by several determined British officers probably inspired the subsequent formation of the above-mentioned early jungle-warfare forces.
After the war, early skills in jungle warfare were further honed in the Malayan Emergency, when in 1948 W.W.II guerrilla fighters of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) turned against their former British ally. Early British tactics against MCP guerrillas were unsuccessful, as W.W.II-style conventional-warfare jungle operations were ineffective against an elusive guerrilla force. The British were quick to realize that it would take unconventional means to fight an unconventional enemy in an unconventional war, and the Special Air Service, which was created for unconventional warfare in the deserts of North Africa in W.W.II, were re-activated as the Malayan Scouts. It was the post-war SAS who pioneered the special counter-insurgency tactics in the dense Malayan jungle.
By 1950 the British had a Jungle Warfare School founded by Lieutenant Colonel Walter Walker. The training given by this school was supplemented by a handbook written by Walker that was small enough to fit into a soldier's pocket and was called The Conduct of anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya. It included a history of Malaya, the Organisation of the British Armed Forces in Malaya, the organisation of their enemy the Malayan Communist Party, as well as the tactics and training to be used by British forces fighting in the jungles of Malaya. The first edition noted that it was not perfect and that the GOC in Malaya welcomed criticisms and improvements. A second edition incorporating the criticisms and improvements was issued 4 years later. A fourth edition came out in 1958. The book was not only issued to the army but to personnel in Federal Jungle Companies, the Jungle Squads, Area Security Squads and the Federal Police. The only significant changes made in the two later editions was the inclusion of more on the expanded use of helicopter in operations. General Sir Gerald Templer noted in his own copy of the book that "It is largely as a result of the publication of this handbook, and its subsequent revisions, that we got militant communism in Malaya by the throat".
In addition to jungle discipline, field craft, and survival skills, special tactics such as combat tracking (first using native trackers), close-quarter fighting (tactics were developed by troopers protected only with fencing masks stalking and shooting each other in the jungle training ground with air rifles), small team operations (which led to the typical four-man special operations teams) and tree jumping (parachuting into the jungle and through the rain forest canopy) were developed to actively take the war to the Communist guerrillas instead of reacting to incidents initiated by them. Of greater importance was the integration of the tactical jungle warfare with the strategic "winning hearts and minds" psychological, economic and political warfare as a complete counter-insurgency package. The Malayan Emergency was declared over in 1960 as the surviving Communist guerrillas were driven to the jungle near the Thai border, where they remained until they gave up armed struggle in 1989.
The British experience in counter insurgency was passed onto the Americans during their involvement in the Vietnam War, where the battle grounds were, again, the jungle. Much of British strategic thinking on counter-insurgency tactics in a jungle environment was passed on through BRIAM (British Advisory Mission) to South Vietnam headed by Sir Robert Thompson, a former Chindit and the Permanent Secretary of Defense for Malaya during the Emergency).
The Americans further refined jungle warfare by the creation of such dedicated counter-insurgency special operations troops as the Special Forces ("Green Berets"), Rangers, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) and Combat Tracker Teams (CTT). During the decade of active US combat involvement in the Vietnam War (1962-1972), jungle warfare became closely associated with counter insurgency and special operations troops. However, although the American forces managed to have mastered jungle warfare at a tactical level in Vietnam, they were unable to install a successful strategic program in winning a jungle-based insurgency war. Hence, the American military lost the political war in Vietnam even though U.S. forces, especially special operations troops, won almost every major military battle against the Viet Cong guerrillas and the North Vietnamese Army.
With the end of the Vietnam War, jungle warfare fell into disfavor among the major armies in the world, namely, those of the US/NATO and USSR/Warsaw Pact, which focused their attention to conventional warfare with a nuclear flavor to be fought on the jungle-less European battlefields. US special operations troops that were created for the purpose of fighting in the jungle environment, such as LRRP and CTT, were disbanded, while other jungle-warfare-proficient troops, such as the Special Forces and Rangers, went through a temporary period of decline, until they found their role in counter-terrorism operations in the 1980s.
The collapse of USSR in the early 1990s marked the beginning of the end of a number of proxy wars fought between the superpowers in the jungles of Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. In the euphoria at the end of the Cold War, many Western nations were quick to claim the peace dividend and reinvested resources to other priorities. Jungle warfare was reduced in scope and priority in the regular training curriculum of most conventional Western armies. During this time, the nature of major military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia saw the need to give desert and urban warfare training in both the conventional and unconventional scope a higher priority.
Books and Articles
Barber, Noel. The War of the Running Dogs: How Malaya Defeated the Communist Guerrillas, 1948-60. London: Orion Publishing Group/Cassell Military Paperbacks, 2005. Baudrier, Michael, 'Love & Terror in Malaya,' (ISBN 1-4120-5171-1) Trafford Publishing, 2005.
Chapman, Spencer. The Jungle is Neutral. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2003. (First published by Chatto & Windus in 1949.)
Forty, George, Japanese Army handbook 1939-1945. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1999.
Marchall, Brig. Gen. S. L. A. and Lt. Col. David H. Hackworth. "Vietnamprimer: Lessons Learned." Headquarters, Department of the Army, U.S. Army, 1966 (?). (Published on the Internet at: http://www.geocities.com/equipmentshop/vietnamprimer.htm)
Shortt, James G. and Angus McBride (illustrator). The Special Air Service. London: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1981.
Taber, Robert. War of the Flea: Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare. London, Granada Publishing Ltd., 1965.