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The Jungle Environment

Section I. GENERAL

This chapter introduces jungle environments--where they are found and what they are like. Later chapters build on this information, providing guidance on fighting and living in the jungle.

Field Marshal Slim's words reflect the image of the jungle most armies carry into jungle warfare. At first, the jungle seems to be very hostile, but the hostility wanes as troops learn more about the jungle environment.

Jungles, in their various forms, are common in tropical areas of the world--mainly Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

"To our men. . . the jungle was a strange, fearsome place; moving and fighting in it were a nightmare. We were too ready to classify jungle as 'impenetratable' . . . To us it appeared only as an obstacle to movement; to the Japanese it was a welcome means of concealed maneuver and surprise . . . The Japanese reaped the deserved reward . . . we paid the penalty."

--Field Marshall Slim, Victor in Burma, World War II (Concerning the dark, early days of the Burma Campaign)



  I. General

 II. Climate and Weather

III. Terrain and Vegetation


The climate in jungles varies with location. Close to the equator, all seasons are nearly alike, with rains throughout the year; farther from the equator, especially in India and Southeast Asia, jungles have distinct wet (monsoon) and dry seasons. Both zones have high temperatures (averaging 78 to 95+ degrees Fahrenheit), heavy rainfall (as much as 1,000 centimeters [400+ inches] annually), and high humidity (90 percent) throughout the year.

Severe weather also has an impact on tactical operations in the jungle. The specific effects of weather on operations are discussed throughout this manual.

Jungle climates (high temperatures, high humidity, heavy rain) seriously affect:

  • Men
  • Clothing
  • Equipment
  • Weapons
  • Vehicles
  • Maintenance operations
  • Training
  • Tactics




The jungle environment includes densely forested areas, grasslands, cultivated areas, and swamps. Jungles are classified as primary or secondary jungles based on the terrain and vegetation.


These are tropical forests. Depending on the type of trees growing in these forests, primary jungles are classified either as tropical rain forests or as deciduous forests.

Tropical Rain Forests. These consist mostly of large trees whose branches spread and lock together to form canopies. These canopies, which can exist at two or three different levels, may form as low as 10 meters from the ground. The canopies prevent sunlight from reaching the ground, causing a lack of undergrowth on the jungle floor. Extensive above-ground root systems and hanging vines are common. These conditions, combined with a wet and soggy surface, make vehicular traffic difficult. Foot movement is easier in tropical rain forests than in other types of jungle. Except where felled trees or construction make a gap in the canopy of the rain forest, observation from the air is nearly impossible. Ground observation is generally limited to about 50 meters (55 yards).

Deciduous Forests. These are found in semitropical zones where there are both wet and dry seasons. In the wet season, trees are fully leaved; in the dry season, much of the foliage dies. Trees are generally less dense in deciduous forests than in rain forests. This allows more rain and sunlight to filter to the ground, producing thick undergrowth. In the wet season, with the trees in full leaf, observation both from the air and on the ground is limited. Movement is more difficult than in the rain forest. In the dry season, however, both observation and trafficability improve.


These are found at the edge of the rain forest and the deciduous forest, and in areas where jungles have been cleared and abandoned. Secondary jungles appear when the ground has been repeatedly exposed to sunlight. These areas are typically overgrown with weeds, grasses, thorns, ferns, canes, and shrubs. Foot movement is extremely slow and difficult. Vegetation may reach to a height of 2 meters. This will limit observation to the front to only a few meters.



These are common to all low jungle areas where there is water and poor drainage. There are two basic types of swamps--mangrove and palm.

Mangrove Swamps. These are found in coastal areas wherever tides influence water flow. The mangrove is a shrub-like tree which grows 1 to 5 meters high. These trees have tangled root systems, both above and below the water level, which restrict movement to foot or small boats. Observation in mangrove swamps, both on the ground and from the air, is poor. Concealment is excellent.

Palm Swamps. These exist in both salt and fresh water areas. Like movement in the mangrove swamps, movement through palm swamps is mostly restricted to foot (sometimes small boats). Vehicular traffic is nearly impossible except after extensive road construction by engineers. Observation and fields-of-fire are very limited. Concealment from both air and ground observation is excellent.


This is a broad, open jungle grassland in which trees are scarce. The thick grass is broad-bladed and grows 1 to 5 meters high. Movement in the savanna is generally easier than in other types of jungle areas, especially for vehicles. The sharp-edged, dense grass and extreme heat make foot movement a slow and tiring process. Depending on the height of the grass, ground observation may vary from poor to good. Concealment from air observation is poor for both troops and vehicles.


This grows in clumps of varying size in jungles throughout the tropics. Large stands of bamboo are excellent obstacles for wheeled or tracked vehicles. Troop movement through bamboo is slow, exhausting, and noisy. Troops should bypass bamboo stands if possible.


These exist in jungles throughout the tropics and range from large, well-planned and well-managed farms and plantations to small tracts cultivated by individual farmers. There are three general types of cultivated areas--rice paddies, plantations, and small farms.

Rice Paddies. These are flat, flooded fields in which rice is grown. Flooding of the fields is controlled by a network of dikes and irrigation ditches which make movement by vehicles difficult even when the fields are dry. Concealment is poor in rice paddies. Cover is limited to the dikes, and then only from ground fire. Observation and fields of fire are excellent. Foot movement is poor when the fields are wet because soldiers must wade through water about 1/2 meter (2 feet) deep and soft mud. When the fields are dry, foot movement becomes easier. The dikes, about 2 to 3 meters tall, are the only obstacles.

Plantations. These are large farms or estates where tree crops, such as rubber and coconut, are grown. They are usually carefully planned and free of undergrowth (like a well-tended park). Movement through plantations is generally easy. Observation along the rows of trees is generally good. Concealment and cover can be found behind the trees, but soldiers moving down the cultivated rows are exposed.

Small Farms. These exist throughout the tropics. These small cultivated areas are usually hastily planned. After 1 or 2 years' use, they usually are abandoned, leaving behind a small open area which turns into secondary jungle. Movement through these areas may be difficult due to fallen trees and scrub brush.

Generally, observation and fields-of-fire are less restricted in cultivated areas than in uncultivated jungles. However, much of the natural cover and concealment are removed by cultivation, and troops will be more exposed in these areas.

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