Jungle warfare
Jungle warfare is a term used to cover the special techniques needed for military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 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 World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...


The jungle environment has a variety of effects on military operations. Dense vegetation can limit lines of sight and arcs of fire, but can also provide ample opportunity for camouflage and plenty of material with which to build fortifications.

Jungle terrain, often without good roads, can be inaccessible to vehicles and so makes supply and transport difficult, which in turn places a premium on air mobility. The problems of transport make engineering resources important as they are needed to improve roads, build bridges and airfields, and improve water supplies.

Jungle environments can also be inherently unhealthy, with various tropical diseases that have to be prevented or treated by medical services. Likewise the terrain can make it difficult to deploy armoured forces, or any other kind of forces on any large scale. Successful jungle fighting emphasises effective small unit tactics and leadership.

Nicaragua Guerrilla

Conventional jungle warfare

At the start of the war in the Far East the Japanese were able to advance on all fronts. In Malayan Campaign time and again they infiltrated through the jungle to bypass static British positions based on road blocks so that they could cut the British supply line and attack the British defences from all sides.

In early 1942 the fighting in Burma at the start of the Burma Campaign
Burma Campaign
The Burma Campaign in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II was fought primarily between British Commonwealth, Chinese and United States forces against the forces of the Empire of Japan, Thailand, and the Indian National Army. British Commonwealth land forces were drawn primarily from...

 took on a similar aspect and resulted in the longest retreat in British military history. Most member of the British and Indian army left Burma with the belief that in the jungle the Japanese were unstoppable. The first action to start to dispel this myth of invincibility would come from the actions of the Chindits
The Chindits were a British India "Special Force" that served in Burma and India in 1943 and 1944 during the Burma Campaign in World War II. They were formed into long range penetration groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines...


The Chindits were a special force 3,000 which in February 1942 launched a deep penetration raid, (codenamed Operation Longcloth) into Japanese occupied Burma. They went in on foot using mules to carry supplies. The operation was not a military success, but was a propaganda boost for the Allies, because it showed that Allied forces could successfully move and fight in jungle terrain well away from roads. On the back of the propaganda success, Orde Wingate, the eccentric commander of the Chindits, was given the resources to increase his command to divisional size and the USAAF supplied the 1st Air Commando Group
1st Air Commando Group
The 1st Air Commando Group is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the Army Service Forces, based at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. It was inactivated on 3 November 1945....

 to support his operations. The availability of air transport revolutionised Wingate's operational choices. In February 1944 Operation Thursday was launched, and air transport support supplied 1st Air to allow the Chindits to set up air supplied bases deep behind enemy lines from which aggressive combat patrols could be sent out to interdict Japanese supply lines and disrupt rear echelon forces. This in turn forced the Japanese 18th Division to pull front-line troops from the battle against X Force
X Force
X Force was the name given to the portion of the National Revolutionary Army Chinese Expeditionary Force that retreated from Burma into India in 1942. Chiang Kai-shek sent troops into Burma from Yunnan in 1942 to assist the British in holding back the Japanese. These Chinese forces became broken...

 which was advancing through Northern Burma to protect the men building the Ledo Road
Ledo Road
The Ledo Road was built during World War II so that the Western Allies could supply the Chinese as an alternative to the Burma Road which had been cut by the Japanese in 1942. It was renamed the Stilwell Road in early 1945 at the suggestion of Chiang Kai-shek...

. When the Japanese closed on a base and got within artillery range the base could be abandon and a new base set up in another remote location. The ability to sustain the bases that relied totally on air power and in the coming decades would prove a template for may similar operations.

After the first Chindits expedition, thanks to the training the regular forces were receiving and the example of the Chindits and new divisional tactics, the regular units of the Fourteenth Army started to get the measure of both the jungle and the enemy. When the Japanese launched their late 1943 Arakan offensive they infiltrated Allied lines to attack the 7th Indian Infantry Division from the rear, overrunning the divisional HQ. unlike previous occasions on which this had happened, the Allied forces stood firm against the attack and supplies were dropped to them by parachute. In the Battle of the Admin Box
Battle of the Admin Box
The Battle of the Admin Box took place on the Southern Front of the Burma Campaign from 5 February to 23 February 1944, in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II...

 from 5 February to 23 February, the Japanese were unable to break through the heavily defended perimeter of the box. The Japanese switched their attack to the central front but again the British fell back into defensive box of Imphal
Battle of Imphal
The Battle of Imphal took place in the region around the city of Imphal, the capital of the state of Manipur in North-East India from March until July 1944. Japanese armies attempted to destroy the Allied forces at Imphal and invade India, but were driven back into Burma with heavy losses...

, and the Kohima redoubt
Battle of Kohima
The Battle of Kohima was the turning point of the Japanese U Go offensive into India in 1944 in the Second World War. The battle was fought from 4 April to 22 June 1944 around the town of Kohima in northeast India. It is often referred to as the "Stalingrad of the East".The battle took place in...

. In falling back to the defensive positions around Imphal the leading British formations found their retreat cut by Japanese forces, but unlike previously, they took that attitude that if the Japanese where behind them then they were just as cut of as the British. The situation maps of the fighting along the roads leading to Imphal resembled a slice of marble cake as both sides used the jungle to outflank each other. Another major change by the British was that use of air support both as an offensive weapon to replace artillery, and as a logistical tool to transport men and equipment. For example the 5th Indian Infantry Division was airlifted strait from the now quieter Arakan front up to the central front and were in action within days of arriving. By the end of the campaigning season both Kohima and Imphal had been relieved and the Japanese were in full retreat.

The lessons learnt in Burma of how to fight in the jungle and how to use air transport to move troops around would lay the foundations of how to conduct large scale jungle campaigns in future wars.

Unconventional jungle warfare

Immediately after the fall of Malaya and Singapore in 1942, a few British officers, such as the legendary Freddie Spencer Chapman
Freddie Spencer Chapman
Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Spencer Chapman, DSO & Bar, ED was a British Army officer and World War II veteran, most famous for his exploits behind enemy lines in Japanese occupied Malaya...

, 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.

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 and Australians. V Force
V Force
V Force was a reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering organisation established by the British during the Burma Campaign in World War II.-Establishment and organisation:...

 and Force 136
Force 136
Force 136 was the general cover name for a branch of the British World War II organization, the Special Operations Executive . The organisation was established to encourage and supply resistance movements in enemy-occupied territory, and occasionally mount clandestine sabotage operations...

 were composed of small bodies of soldiers and irregulars, equipped with no more than small arms and explosives, but rigorously trained in guerrilla warfare-style tactics (particularly in close-quarter combat) who fought behind enemy lines. They the were joined in Burma by American lead Kachin guerrillas were armed and coordinated by the American liaison organisation, OSS Detachment 101
OSS Detachment 101
Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services operated in the China Burma India Theater of World War II. On January 17, 1946, it was awarded a Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation by Dwight Eisenhower, who wrote, "The courage and fighting spirit displayed by its officers and men in...

 that lead armed and coordinated them.

Another small force operating in the Far East was the Australian lead Z Special Unit
Z Special Unit
Z Special Unit was a joint Allied special forces unit formed during the Second World War to operate behind Japanese lines in South East Asia...

 that carried out a total of 81 covert operations in the South West Pacific theatre some of which involved jungle warfare.

British experience in the Malayan Emergency

After the war, early skills in jungle warfare were further honed in the Malayan Emergency
Malayan Emergency
The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army , the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party, from 1948 to 1960....

, when in 1948 W.W.II guerrilla fighters of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) turned against the Commonwealth. 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 from Borneo's Iban native 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 their armed struggle in 1989.

Vietnam War

The British experience in counter insurgency was passed onto the Americans during their involvement in the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

, where the battlegrounds 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
South Vietnam
South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

 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
United States Army Special Forces
The United States Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets because of their distinctive service headgear, are a special operations force tasked with six primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, and...

), 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 guerrilla 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.

Central American Crisis

Development after the Cold War

The collapse of USSR in the early 1990s marked the beginning of the end of a number of proxy wars fought between the superpower
A superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests...

s in the jungles of Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 and Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

. In the euphoria at the end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, 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 put an emphasis upon desert warfare
Desert warfare
Desert warfare is combat in deserts. In desert warfare the elements can sometimes be more dangerous than the actual enemy. The desert terrain is the second most inhospitable to troops following a cold environment...

 and urban warfare
Urban warfare
Urban warfare is combat conducted in urban areas such as towns and cities. Urban combat is very different from combat in the open at both the operational and tactical level...

 training - in both the conventional and unconventional warfare models.

Conflicts in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru

Jungle units

At present the following armies have specialised jungle units or Jungle Troops:
  • Argentina Cazadores del Monte
  • Brazilian Army
    Brazilian Army
    The Brazilian Army is the land arm of the Brazilian Military. The Brazilian Army has fought in several international conflicts, mostly in South America and during the 19th century, such as the Brazilian War of Independence , Argentina-Brazil War , War of the Farrapos , Platine War , Uruguayan War ...

     has four Jungle Infantry Brigade: 1st, 16th, 17th and 23rd Jungle Infantry Brigades and others units, divided in two division, and Jungle Warfare Training Center (CIGS).
  • British Army has a Gurkha Battalion stationed in Brunei, where it can maintain jungle skills. Army infantry and Royal Marine units routinely attend courses and training and Special Air Service.
  • Colombia Brigada de Fuerzas Especiales', Batallones de Selva.
  • Ecuador: the Ecuadorian Army
    Ecuadorian Army
    The Ecuadorian Army is the land component of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces. Its 24,135 soldiers are sensibly deployed in relation to its military doctrine...

     maintains three units composed of jungle troops: the 17th, 19th and 21st Jungle Infantry Brigades (Brigadas de Infantería de Selva). In addition, it has an independent jungle battalion with personnel recruited from the native population of the jungle: the 23rd Special Operations Training Battalion (Batallón Escuela de Operaciones Especiales 23, or BEOES 23). It has also a training school for jungle operations, the Escuela de Selva "Cap. Giovanny Calles".
  • France has the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment
    3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment
    The 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment is an infantry regiment in the French Foreign Legion. The regiment is stationed in French Guiana, protecting the Centre Spatial Guyanais.-World War I:...

     of the French Foreign Legion
    French Foreign Legion
    The French Foreign Legion is a unique military service wing of the French Army established in 1831. The foreign legion was exclusively created for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces...

    , based in [Camp Forget], Kourou
    Kourou is a commune in French Guiana, an overseas region and department of France located in South America.Kourou is the location of the Guiana Space Centre, France and ESA's main spaceport.-Geography:...

    , Guyane and various jungle postings.
  • The Indonesian Army
    Indonesian Army
    The Indonesian Army , the land component of the Indonesian Armed Forces, has an estimated strength of 328,517 regular personnel. The force's history began in 1945 when the Tentara Keamanan Rakyat "Civil Security Forces" served as paramilitary and police.Since the nation's independence struggle,...

    Kopassus is an Indonesian Army special forces group that conducts special operations missions for the Indonesian government, such as direct action, unconventional warfare, sabotage, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and intelligence gathering.Kopassus was founded on April 16, 1952...

  • The Indian Army
    Indian Army
    The Indian Army is the land based branch and the largest component of the Indian Armed Forces. With about 1,100,000 soldiers in active service and about 1,150,000 reserve troops, the Indian Army is the world's largest standing volunteer army...

     maintains an elite Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School which is used to train domestic and foreign units in methods for countering irregular warfare.
  • The Malaysian Army
    Malaysian Army
    The Malaysian Army is the land component of the Malaysian Armed Forces. Steeped in British Army traditions, the Malaysian Army does not carry the title ‘royal’ as do the Royal Malaysian Air Force and the Royal Malaysian Navy...

    • Royal Ranger Regiment
      Royal Ranger Regiment
      The Royal Ranger Regiment is an infantry regiment of the Malaysian Army. Although it is second in seniority to the Royal Malay Regiment , the RRD can trace its origins back to the mid 19th century and the establishment of The Sarawak Rangers, the peacekeeping force in the Sarawak region...

    • Royal Malay Regiment
      Royal Malay Regiment
      The Royal Malay Regiment is the premier unit of the Malaysian Army's two infantry regiments. At its largest, the Malay Regiment comprised 27 battalions. At present, two battalions are parachute trained and form part of the Malaysian Army Rapid Deployment Force...

    • 10 Paratrooper Brigade
      10 Paratrooper Brigade
      The 10 Paratrooper Brigade - commonly known as 10th Para - is an elite airborne brigade-sized unit within the Malaysian Army tasked with being rapidly deployed inside or outside the boundaries of Malaysia...

    • Grup Gerak Khas
      Grup Gerak Khas
      The Grup Gerak Khas is a special forces regiment of the Malaysian Army which conducts special operations missions for the Malaysian government, such as direct action, unconventional warfare, sabotage, counter-terrorism, and intelligence gathering...

  • The Netherlands the Korps Commandotroepen
    Korps Commandotroepen
    The Korps Commandotroepen are the elite special forces of the Royal Netherlands Army. It is one of the two principal units tasked with special operations in the Netherlands , and it is deployable anywhere in the world under any circumstance, conducting all conceivable missions from...

    , 11 Luchtmobiele Brigade
    11 Luchtmobiele Brigade
    The 11 Luchtmobiele Brigade '7 December is the elite rapid-reaction air assault unit of the Royal Netherlands Army. Its operators are trained to be deployed via helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft , and can be deployed anywhere in the world within 7 to maximally 20 days...

     and the Netherlands Marine Corps
    Netherlands Marine Corps
    The Korps Mariniers is the marine corps and amphibious infantry component of the Royal Netherlands Navy. The marines are trained to operate anywhere in the world in all environments, under any condition and circumstance, as a rapid reaction force. The Korps Mariniers can be deployed to a given...

     are jungle trained
  • Philippine Army Scout Rangers
    1st Scout Ranger Regiment
    The Scout Rangers, known officially as the First Scout Ranger Regiment, is a Philippine Army Special Operations Command unit, and specializes in anti-guerrilla warfare...

     and Philippine Army Special Forces
  • USA Special Forces ("Green Berets
    United States Army Special Forces
    The United States Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets because of their distinctive service headgear, are a special operations force tasked with six primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, and...

    "), Army Rangers, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) and Combat Tracker Teams (CTT).

External links

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