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Tactical Operations

Section I. GENERAL

This chapter deals with tactical operations in the jungle. Before reading this material, soldiers should be familiar with the appropriate level of basic tactics in:

FM 7-8, The Infantry Platoon and Squad (Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger).

FM 7-10, The Infantry Rifle Company.

FM 7-20, The Infantry Battalion (Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger).

FM 90-4, Airmobile Operations.

FM 100-5, Operations.

Although jungle operations are conducted according to the basic guides contained in these manuals, there are special techniques which help to insure success in the jungle. These techniques result from the restricted maneuver, slow tempo, close combat, and limited visibility commonly found in the jungle.

Combat in the jungle is characterized by long periods of developing the situation and looking for the enemy; and short periods of violent, and sometimes unexpected, combat.

To meet these conditions, units must have:

  • Aggressive intelligence-gathering procedures
  • Disciplined soldiers
  • Solid SOPS proven in training and updated on a continuous basis
  • Aggressive and tough-minded leadership

These four points must be emphasized when a unit is engaged in jungle operations. The need for discipline is evident when one considers the extended periods of looking, often fruitlessly, for the enemy. When contact is made, maximum advantage can only be achieved through aggressive and violent action predicated upon solid SOPs. Aggressive leadership at the small-unit (squad and platoon) level is the one element that ties together the discipline and the training.


The thick foliage and rugged terrain of most jungles limit fields of fire and speed of movement.



  I. General

 II. Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Security Operations

III. Offensive Operations

IV. Defensive Operations

 V. Retrograde

VI. Other Combat Operations


The following limitations may restrict fire and movement:

  • Lack of line-of-sight and clearance may prevent visual contact between units, interlocking fires, and the use of tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided missile (TOW) or Dragon missiles.
  • Tree limbs may block mortars, flame weapons, 40-mm grenades, and hand grenades.
  • Machineguns may not be able to attain grazing fire.
  • Adjustment of indirect fire support is difficult due to limited visibility and may have to be accomplished by sound.
  • Noise conditions differ in the jungle. There are large numbers of animals in jungle areas, and their noise (or lack of it) can give an indication of something out of the norm.
  • Sounds in the jungle do not carry as far as on the conventional battlefield due to the amount of jungle foliage. The result is that noises are closer than first believed.
  • Movement through jungle areas is also very difficult because:

Heat, thick vegetation, and rugged terrain will tire troops rapidly, especially those carrying heavy weapons or radios.

A lack of roads will hinder resupply and evacuation.

These terrain characteristics make jungle fighting different from fighting on more open terrain. To be effective jungle fighters, soldiers must learn to use these characteristics to their advantage. Potential jungle enemies train to exploit the jungle; so must the US Army.


The aspects of terrain and enemy discussed above result in fewer set-piece battles. Rather than conventional attacks conducted against conventional defenses, jungle battles are more often ambushes, raids, and meeting engagements. Battles are not fought for high ground as frequently as conventional battles. Orientation is on the enemy rather than on the terrain. Hills in the jungle are often too thickly vegetated to permit observation and fire, and therefore do not always qualify as key terrain. In the jungle, roads, rivers and streams, fording sites, and landing zones are more likely to be key terrain features.

The frequency of ambushes, raids, and meeting engagements makes it very important that units in the jungle practice immediate action drills. In the jungle firefight, the side which initiates contact and gains fire superiority in the first few seconds will normally have a decisive advantage.


Command and control are difficult in the jungle. The thick foliage allows leaders to see and control only a portion of their units.

To cope with this problem, commanders and leaders must:

  • Plan their operations carefully
  • Issue mission type orders
  • Insure that each soldier understands his part of the mission

In addition, the thick jungle foliage and heavy monsoon rains often weaken radio signals, making communications difficult. To reduce the effects of the problem, use of the helicopter as a command and control vehicle is recommended. In that the heavy monsoon rains may not allow helicopters to always fly, an alternate means of command and control must be planned for.


While an appreciation of battlefield characteristics, jungle enemies, and characteristics of jungle operations is useful, flexibility is important to any leader involved in jungle operations. Successful operations require an extraordinary command adaptability--sometimes, a departure from orthodox thinking in favor of new and often untried procedures. Soldiers must learn to live with the jungle and adapt to its initially apparent disadvantages. Having done this, the unit can concentrate on the use of concealment, covered movement, and surprise.


Commanders must stress effective security measures and aggressive intelligence-gathering techniques to prevent being surprised. The key is to give the front-line soldier an appreciation of the things to look for. Food remnants and feces can indicate how long ago an enemy unit occupied an area. Captured documents, equipment, and weapons may provide order of battle information and an idea of the enemy's logistical situation. Even an ammunition crate may yield a lot number and packing date. From this an intelligence specialist may be able to trace the enemy unit's place in the order of battle.

In the past, US forces operating in jungle warfare have generally been augmented by native scouts, attached down to platoon level. These scouts were auxiliaries, paid by the unit they supported from a fund established by higher headquarters for that purpose. Scouts familiar with the terrain and the enemy can be an extremely valuable asset. Local security regulations should provide guidance as to what friendly information can be to scouts.

Surveillance, target acquisition, and night observation (STANO) devices, especially infrared, starlight scopes, and unattended ground sensors, are quite effective in gathering information about troop movements in the jungle. Radars and given photography are not as effective because of the concealment of the foliage.

The local populace is one of the most valuable intelligence sources. Whether hostile, friendly, or indifferent, the people can provide information which, when processed, will help complete the intelligence picture.

Security prevents the enemy from gaining intelligence on US units. Active security measures, such as patrolling and the use of observation posts (OP), helps prevent US units from being ambushed or attacked by surprise. These measures do not lessen the need for passive security. Camouflage and noise and light discipline conceal US forces from enemy observation. To prevent being tracked by the enemy, bivouacs and trails must be policed. Odor discipline is also a security measure. The enemy can follow such odors as heat tabs, cigarette smoke, deodorant, and C rations.



A unit's jungle operations SOP should include actions which the unit does on a routine basis or actions that are earned out essentially the same way each time they are done. Examples of such actions include organizing for combat, resupply, bivouac and shelter preparation, movement techniques, and battle drill. Use of SOPs will save planning time.


A unit planning for jungle combat follows the same planning sequence as in any other type of combat operation. In planning the use of available time, leaders must consider that many tasks in the jungle take more time than the same tasks in other environments. More time must be allowed for movement and security. This means that units may have to begin movements earlier in order to accomplish their missions within a specified time. This may leave less time for planning and preparation.


If the unit is to be inserted by helicopter, the commander should go through the preparatory steps outlined in FM 90-4.


Prior to beginning a misssion, unit leaders should inspect their troops to insure that:

  • They have all their needed equipment
  • They have no unnecessary equipment
  • Weapons are cleaned, lubricated, and zeroed
  • Equipment and weapons are in working order
  • Everyone understands his job and the unit's SOP


Those troops who carry extra equipment should not be allowed to discard it. Captured US equipment has been used by jungle enemies in the past. In Southeast Asia and in the Pacific, recovered equipment was a major source of enemy supply.


Supervision must continue throughout the conduct of the operation. As the troops become tired after long periods of marching or digging in, they will tend to get lax and ignore good security habits. This is an especially common trend if they have not been in contact for a few days. Tight supervision is a must to insure that security patrols and OPs are dispatched and doing their jobs; that troops remain alert; and that fire, noise, and light discipline are not relaxed.



Before conducting a move in the jungle, leaders should make a map and aerial photograph reconnaissance. This reconnaissance will indicate possible danger areas, obstacles, and roads or clearings suitable for resupply.

In planning the route, leaders should consider the following:

  • Lines of drift, such as ridgelines, are easy to guide on because they avoid streams and gullies and because they are usually less vegetated.
  • Danger areas, such as streambeds and draws, are usually more thickly vegetated. They offer excellent concealment, but travel along them is slow and difficult.
  • Roads and trails should be avoided. Although they are easy to move on, they offer little concealment. These are the areas most likely to be under enemy observation. They are easy to ambush and are very likely to be mined or boobytrapped.


Units moving in the jungle should normally use the jungle movement technique, but may use traveling overwatch and bounding overwatch when necessary. The file formation should be avoided in all but the most thickly vegetated areas.

To effectively use the jungle movement technique, certain key factors must be understood. They include the following:

  • Only the platoon should employ this movement technique.
  • The lead fire team of the lead squad is always in a wedge (modified).
  • The support elements may move with the headquarters element or be attached to a squad(s) depending upon likely threats.
  • Each squad maintains an azimuth and pace.
  • Immediate action drill (SOP) is essential.
  • This technique is most effective during daylight movement.

This movement technique is basically characterized as a formation of multiple columns which are mutually supporting.

Advantages of the jungle movement technique:

  • Centralized control.
  • Rapid deployment to maneuver or reinforce.
  • Ease of movement (three routes).
  • 360-degree security during movement and at halts.
  • Multiple navigational aids (three azimuths and pace counts).
  • Flexibility of adjustment during movement (danger areas, choke points).

Disadvantages of the jungle movement technique:

  • Possibility of loss of contact at major obstacles due to multiple routes.
  • Vulnerability to effectiveness of indirect fire weapons.

In traveling overwatch, the lead element performs the mission of point security, with troops from the rest of the unit performing rear and flank security. When contact is imminent, the unit moves into bounding overwatch. Bounds, as terrain allows, are normally 50 meters or less.


The thick foliage makes ambush a constant danger. Point, flank, and rear security teams will help keep a force from being ambushed. These teams must be far enough away from the main body that if they make contact the whole force will not be engaged. They should not be so far away, however, that they cannot be supported. These security elements must be alert to signs of the enemy, and should carry as light a load as possible so they are able to maneuver. Security duties should be rotated often to avoid fatigue. Scout dogs may also be used with the security element. These dogs often detect the enemy before he is detected by humans. The jungle heat is hard on them, however, and they must be rested frequently.

If contact is broken between elements or individuals, the rear element should remain in position. Those in front should return to establish contact.


Units should plan halts on terrain which lends itself to all-round defense. During short halts, soldiers drop to one knee and face outward, their weapons at the ready. If the halt occurs at a trail crossing, security elements are sent out along the trail. The security element remains in place until the unit clears the crossing. During longer halts, units establish a perimeter defense. They run security patrols around their positions, and employ Claymore mines and early warning devices. Before an overnight halt, units should stop while there is still enough daylight to establish a secure perimeter defense, prepare ambushes, and dispatch patrols as necessary. If halted units are separated, connecting patrols should be run periodically to detect enemy infiltration.



Reconnaissance operations are always important in jungle warfare. Many offensive operations in the jungle take on the aspects of a reconnaissance operation during their early stages. This is because the success of offense in the jungle depends on ability to find the enemy. The excellent concealment found in the jungle enables the enemy to operate unobserved both by day and night. Extensive patrolling is necessary to obtain information on his locations, strength, and disposition.

Reconnaissance is a responsibility of all leaders during jungle operations. Units with the capability to conduct reconnaissance should conduct frequent short patrols during the conduct of normal missions. These patrols should be coordinated with higher and adjacent units. In some situations, reconnaissance may become the primary objective of a major jungle operation.

Planning for a jungle reconnaissance should be thorough and well coordinated. Coordination with higher and adjacent headquarters will help insure maximum results from each patrol and eliminate duplication of effort. Radio is the primary means used to control reconnaissance operations. Each reconnaissance patrol must be prepared to make contact, develop the situation, and report to its controlling headquarters.


In the jungle, these operations are accomplished by means of OPs and long-or short-range reconnaissance patrols. The value of OPs is somewhat reduced in the jungle because of the limited visibility. OPs are most effective when used along trails, roads, and streams to detect enemy movement. (Although OPs in other areas may not provide much useful information on the enemy, they still are effective in providing early warning.) Reconnaissance patrols in the jungle are normally squad-size. These patrols move in a manner to take advantage of natural concealment, and avoid becoming engaged with the enemy. The use of helicopters increases the depth behind enemy lines that such patrols can be employed. For further details on reconnaissance patrols, see section VI.


From the air, key terrain features can often be identified and the enemy detected in areas where there are gaps in the jungle canopy. Aerial photographs are important sources of information because photograph interpretation can disclose hidden enemy camps not visible to the air observer. Photographs can also be used to locate helicopter landing zones. Decoy reconnaissance flights can be used to confuse or deceive the enemy about upcoming operations.


This method may be used to gather intelligence which cannot be gained by any other reconnaissance means. Examples of such intelligence include the enemy commander's plan for committing his reserves, or the trails used by a guerrilla force.

The commander conducting the reconnaissance-in-force will normally organize his unit into a number of reconnoitering forces. These reconnoitering forces conduct movements to contact, hasty or deliberate attacks, raids, reconnaissance, or patrols. Once the unit makes contact with the enemy, the commander must react on the intelligence gained. He must be prepared to exploit success or, if necessary, extricate the forces.

The size of the unit that conducts a reconnaissance-in-force depends on the nature of the intelligence to be gained and the chance that the reconnoitering force will have to fight on unfavorable terms. For example, if a battalion commander wants to find out how an enemy commander will commit his reserve, he may conduct a reconnaissance-in-force with his companies conducting limited objective attacks. If, on the other hand, a commander wants to find the routes used by a number of small guerrilla groups, the reconnaissance-in-force mission may be assigned to a company, which in turn will have its platoons conduct movements to contact.


When using this method, the force fires on suspected enemy positions to cause the enemy to disclose his position by moving or returning fire. Reconnaissance-by-fire risks the loss of surprise. Its most effective use in the jungle is to find the flanks or gaps in enemy lines. Reconnaissance-by-fire from attack helicopters will often reveal the location of well-concealed enemy troops. Likewise, a reconnaissance-by-fire from armored vehicles firing into a wood line, either while moving cross-country or along a road, can neutralize an enemy ambush. When using reconnaissance-by-fire, commanders must consider the difficulties of ammunition resupply in the jungle.


Surveillance operations in the jungle include using all techniques for establishing a continuous, thorough watch of the battlefield. This watch must be established both over large jungle areas and at selected key points such as trails, streams, and clearings. Surveillance operations are usually planned to support other missions.


These radars are best employed in those jungle areas where vegetation and terrain do not restrict line of sight. Night observation devices are also useful in such areas during periods of darkness. Unattended ground sensors, which are not affected by poor line of sight, are very useful in watching specific key areas. These electronic devices are affected by poor weather and are difficult to move in thickly forested areas. As a result, the use of manned OPs in jungle areas should always be planned.


Surveillance of jungle areas from the air is most effective when pilots are familiar with ground operations and can recognize changes from normal patterns. Repeated flights by the same crews will attain this level of familiarity. In addition to visual surveillance, photographic coverage of an area can assist the surveillance effort. Side looking airborne radar (SLAR) is not very effective in thick foliage, but can be used for surveillance along roads, trails, or streams. Likewise, infrared detection devices are limited by fog, clouds, rain, and vegetation. Airborne personnel detector devices (sniffers) were developed during the Vietnam war to detect human odors. These devices are extremely effective in detecting base camps of nonmechanized forces, but are limited by fog, rain, and windy conditions.


Security must be a primary part of all jungle operations; therefore, specific security measures are covered as they apply to other operations throughout this chapter. Compared with operations in other types of terrain, security measures in the jungle must be intensified because of the poor observation and difficulties of control and movement. Operations must be slower than normal, and security forces must be closer to the units secured in order to provide adequate security in the jungle. Because it provides all-round security, the perimeter defense will be the defensive technique used most often by units operating independently in the jungle.

The "stand-to" is an important security technique in jungle fighting. When a unit stands-to, all of its soldiers don their fighting loads and occupy their fighting positions. The unit is 100 percent alert and ready to fight an attacking enemy. Stand-to procedures differ from unit to unit, but common stand-to times are before first light, before last light, before helicopter resupply, and before movement.



The purpose and fundamentals of the offense as outlined in field manuals for other environments generally apply as well to offensive operations in the jungle.

There are, however, factors which require the use of special offensive techniques:

  • Thick foliage makes it difficult for leaders to control their soldiers or to detect the enemy
  • Fire support is difficult to observe and adjust
  • Momentum and speed are difficult to maintain


When considering the use of special offensive techniques, commanders must remember that some offensive fundamentals acquire a new significance in the jungle.

Probably the most important and most difficult of these fundamentals is the requirement to see the battlefield. Above all else, the attacker must know the battlefield. As a result, he relies heavily on security patrols, information provided by air and ground reconnaissance, and proper movement techniques.

Key to effective operations in jungle warfare is the fundamental of using weapon systems to their best advantage. In addition to organic weapons, the ground commander must closely coordinate the employment of the supporting weapons available to him. The dense foliage found in some jungles may prevent heavy weapons from moving directly with the infantry. In those cases, TACAIR support and helicopter weapons must make up the difference. TOWs and Dragons, on the other hand, are of limited use in most jungle environments. The soldiers that man these weapons may be more effective as security forces or as reinforcements for maneuver elements. The primary jungle weapons are individual infantry small arms, supported by machineguns and mortars.

To concentrate overwhelming combat power against enemy weakness in jungle operations, the attacker must be able to bring up other elements quickly to support an element that is engaged. In determining how far he can separate his subordinate units, the commander must consider the factors of mission, enemy, terrain and weather, and troops and time available (METT). The separation may be expressed in time or in distance. The ability to provide mutual support must not be overlooked. Gaps between units should be covered by scouts and connecting patrols. Targets should be planned along the unit's route so that supporting fires can be responsive. The use of helicopters will permit even more rapid concentration of forces and provide additional firepower (chap 6).

The jungle also increases the difficulty of efforts to provide continuous support. The key is constant planning, coordination, and maximum use of helicopters. Fires must be planned along the attack route so that they can be delivered in the shortest amount of time. Procedures for calling attack helicopters must be standardized and rehearsed. Likewise, combat service support must be timely and responsive. Ammunition and water must be loaded on pallets in the trains so that they can be brought forward as soon as needed.


Because it is so hard to gather intelligence, jungle offensive tactics must be characterized by continuous reconnaissance. A unit attacking without timely information on the location of the enemy may subject its elements to enemy ambush without being able to support them. In such a situation, they may be defeated in detail.

"It is a situation that too frequently occurs in the Vietnam fighting. The forward element, losing men and becoming pinned down, compromises the position of all others. What has started out as an attack loses all form and deteriorates into a costly rescue act."

--S.L.A. Marshall, BIRD

Successful jungle attacks usually combine dispersion and concentration. For example, a rifle company may move out in a dispersed formation so that it can find the enemy. Once contact is made, its platoons close on the enemy from all directions. In this way, they move to support each other and destroy the enemy.

Operations are enemy-oriented, not terrain-oriented. Wherever the enemy is found, that is where he should be destroyed. If he is allowed to escape, he will only have to be found again, with all the risks involved.


These two forms of combat are discussed together since they account for the majority of combat actions in the jungle. The successful follow-on action to movement to contact is a violently executed hasty attack. This action capitalizes on the advantage of surprise and the confusion prevalent in the jungle. Movement to contact in the jungle differs little from the general concept described in FM 7-20. The decision to employ single or multiple columns may depend solely on terrain and foliage considerations.

For companies and battalions, multiple columns are a sound movement practice because this formation provides more firepower to the front and because it is easier to deploy troops from two or three columns than from one file. In order to speed up deployment, units should develop and rehearse SOPs and immediate action drills. Troops should try to maintain a distance of five to seven paces between men, but must maintain visual contact. All-round defense and security measures must be maintained throughout movement.

Once contact with the enemy is made, the unit's first action is to build up a large volume of fire. The commander then assesses the situation and deploys his unit to overrun the enemy's positions while they are still suppressed. In this way, he seizes the initiative. There should be no delay in the troops' movement from the march formation into assault formation. Security elements protect the rear and prevent the enemy's counterattack. These forces may be used later to exploit a success, but should not be committed until the commander understands the situation.

The slowness of jungle maneuver makes a rapid call for supporting indirect fire important. Upon making contact, fires on the enemy should be immediately requested and adjusted from planned targets. To receive effective and timely fire support, accurate and continuous land navigation is necessary. Means for controlling attack helicopters are also important; this includes both radio and visual means. Adjustment techniques should be established by SOP.

Supporting fires and TACAIR or attack helicopters can place fires on suspected withdrawal routes, placing further pressure on the enemy. The success of the hasty attack depends to a large degree on the unit's vigorous execution of unit SOPs and the leadership of the squad and platoon leaders.

As the situation is developed and an enemy position is located, a violent assault should be made over the enemy's position. Soldiers stay on the alert for hidden enemy positions, snipers in the trees, and tunnels through which the enemy might move to attack the attacker's rear. This thorough technique will also provide enough information of the enemy and security to permit the commander to use his reserve force for exploitation, if needed.

The assault should be made using fire and maneuver. Soldiers should cover each other, moving by crawls and short rushes. Fire should be well-aimed shots and short bursts of automatic fire.

In such a fast-moving situation, it might be possible, for example, for a platoon to receive a fragmentary order (FRAGO), move to a pickup zone (PZ), and conduct an air assault to an objective. In this case, the planning might take place on the PZ or even in the vicinity of the objective rally point (ORP).

After the objective is seized, it must be secured immediately with a hasty perimeter, OPs, and early warning devices. This is to detect and repel an enemy counterattack or to allow the attacker to prepare to continue the attack.


Based on information gained from reconnaissance and other sources, the commander may formulate a plan to attack a larger objective using a deliberate attack. Jungle terrain favors reduced distances and intervals between troops and units, and the deployment from movement to attack formation as far forward as possible. In thickly vegetated terrain, the use of some of the same control techniques used in a night attack may be required.

Fire support is as essential in the jungle as in other types of terrain. Unsupported troops are likely to incur heavy casualties when attacking jungle positions, especially considering the difficulties of employing organic weapons. Targets must be pinpointed by reconnaissance, and fires must be adjusted within very close range of attacking troops. During the assault, these supporting fires must continue until shifted by the assaulting commander. They are then adjusted onto targets which will assist the progress of attacking forces by blocking enemy counterattacks or withdrawal. Due to poor observation, indirect fire may have to be adjusted by sound (see app I).

Assaulting troops move over the objective using aggressive fire and movement to overcome enemy resistance. Assaulting troops again must be alert to snipers, mines and boobytraps, hidden positions, and tunnels which would permit the enemy to maneuver into the rear of attacking forces. Assaulting platoons and squads move in a single direction, with fires concentrated on enemy positions as they are located. Attacking elements must adjust their progress using base elements and phase lines. Smoke may be used to screen the flanks of the penetration from enemy observation and reduce his ability to deliver effective fires. Once an initial penetration is secured, it is exploited until the objective is taken.

After the objective is overrun, it must be secured immediately with a hasty perimeter, OPs, and early warning devices to detect and repel an enemy counterattack or to allow the attacker to prepare to continue the attack (see IV).


Jungle areas are ideal for infiltration. Dense vegetation and rugged terrain limit the enemy's ability to detect movement. As a technique to move through the enemy's positions, infiltration can be used with other offensive maneuvers to gain an advantage in the jungle. Although jungle infiltrations are normally conducted on foot, under certain circumstances helicopters or watercraft may be used.

Infiltrations are normally difficult to control. Chances for success are better if troops are well trained, well briefed, and well rehearsed. Roads, trails, and streams should be avoided because they will normally be under enemy surveillance. Movement by stealth is normally slow and exhausting. Phase lines (PL), infiltration routes, and adequate communications must be used to control the operation and to coordinate fires with movement.


Local successes should be exploited as soon as possible to cut off the retreat of isolated enemy forces. Airmobile troops are most effective to block enemy retreat in the jungle. They can also disrupt and harass enemy reserve, logistical, and command operations. Artillery, TACAIR support, and attack helicopters may also be used to block escape routes. Tanks may be used along trails or roads or in less dense areas if properly secured with infantry. During exploitations, rear areas must be secured against the actions of bypassed or infiltrating enemy.

Pursuit operations in the jungle should be conducted to maintain contact with the enemy. The precautions required to secure against ambush can slow pursuit operations considerably. Because attacking troops become more fatigued than defending troops, pursuit operations should be conducted using troops from the reserve. As is the case with most jungle offensive operations, airmobile forces, air cavalry, and attack helicopters can be used very effectively in pursuit operations.


As mentioned earlier, jungle enemies have often used strongly fortified defensive positions to protect themselves from the effects of US firepower. If it is necessary to attack such a position, troops will probably encounter bunkers, barbed wire, mines, and boobytraps. The enemy will often have to be burned or blasted out of such positions. These operations will require attacks on a narrow front, great amounts of firepower, and limited objective attacks.

Fortified enemy positions in dense jungle are often so well concealed that troops are not aware of their presence until they have physically encountered them. In these cases, the best course of action is usually to adjust forward dispositions enough to allow use of supporting indirect fires, to deploy additional forces to block possible withdrawal routes, and then to maneuver under the cover of supporting fires to defeat the fortifications in detail.

Maximum use of combat intelligence is required when attacking fortified areas. Aerial photographs, electronic intelligence, interrogation of prisoners of war (PW), and aggressive patrolling are all means of gaining the required information. Patrols also keep the enemy off balance and limit the enemy's ability to patrol.

In addition, combat engineer, and special weapons (such as flame) and equipment should be attached to the maneuver forces to assist in destroying the fortifications.

Destruction of the enemy in those types of positions takes a lot of time and effort. Other means should be used as much as possible. Here is a technique that proved successful in the past:

"The use of CS riot control gas could not be overlooked... On one occasion, a battalion made a night attack with gas masks following an aerial CS attack. A helicopter made several low passes on the windward side of the area and dispersed about 250 CS grenades. This was followed by 20 minutes of artillery fire, about half of which was VT fuze fired into the enemy positions. Behind a walking barrage of artillery fire, one company assaulted, and, once inside the objective, flareships lit up the area. Eighteen enemy were killed, while no casualties were suffered by the friendly troops."

--Report, 25th Infantry Division, Duang Nhgai Province, Republic of Vietnam



The purpose and fundamentals of the defense as outlined in field manuals for other environments also apply to defensive operations in the jungle.

There are, however, certain factors which require the use of special techniques:

  • Thick foliage makes it difficult to detect the approach of an attacking enemy
  • Slowness of jungle movement makes it difficult to react to an enemy threat
  • Limited visibility between defensive positions
  • Limited fields of fire
  • Psychological impact of fighting in a strange environment


As in the offense, jungle defensive operations are based on the same fundamentals used in other area operations. Some of these fundamentals acquire a special significance in the jungle.

To succeed in the jungle defense, a commander must understand the enemy and see the battlefield. The enemy will probably be expert in using the environment to his advantage, and the defender must understand enemy techniques. To counter the threat of infiltration, the defender must employ all-round defense and all surveillance means available. No amount of electronic means can eliminate the need for frequent patrolling.

The defender must exploit every advantage that he has, particularly the abundant concealment provided by the foliage and the weather. A force which remains concealed may disrupt an enemy's attack by using surprise fire from hidden locations. Though not as common as in other types of terrain, features which lend themselves to the defense, such as rivers, gorges, and ridges, should be used if they dominate likely avenues of approach. The defender must appreciate the defensive characteristics of the terrain and environment.

The defender must maximize the effectiveness of key weapons, which in the jungle are infantry small arms, mortars, and artillery. The poor trafficability also increases the importance of attack helicopters and TACAIR.

In planning to concentrate combat power at critical times and places, the defender must first plan the massing of small-arms fire. Since fields-of-fire will be limited, positions must be placed close together for mutual support. To move troops and weapons rapidly to supplementary or alternate positions, it maybe necessary to cut paths through the bush. Units should rehearse these maneuvers.

As in the offense, the problem of providing continuous support is to a large degree solved by effective communications and the use of helicopters.


Planning for the jungle defense should provide for a covering force area, a main battle area, and a rear area. Forces in each area must be provided fire support. Obstacles are planned to improve the natural defensive strength of the terrain. Plans are also formulated for counterattacks. The following factors should be considered when planning for the jungle defense:

Day and night in jungle regions are each roughly 12 hours long. Nights, especially under jungle canopies, are extremely dark. Defensive preparations should begin at least 2 hours before nightfall.

The heat and humidity will fatigue troops rapidly.

Tropical rain will flood positions unless they are adequately drained. During the rainy season, defensive positions should be dug on high ground, if possible.

Because jungle terrain favors infiltration, the use of starlight scopes, OPs, and early warning devices is very important.

After the commander organizes the ground and secures the area to be defended, he then positions his Dragons, if they can be used effectively, and machineguns and clears fields of fire. Leaders must insure that troops do not cut too much vegetation. In order to be mutually supporting, positions will be closer together than on other types of terrain. In addition to attaining mutual support, this helps prevent enemy infiltration. Mines and obstacles should be emplaced where they are covered by friendly fires. These should be located beyond hand grenade throwing range of the defensive positions.


Since enemy tactics, jungle terrain, and bad weather favor attacks conducted by stealth, security should be the leader's first concern. OPs, early warning devices, ambushes, and patrols are all measures which will prevent a unit from being surprised. Patrols must be planned according to an irregular schedule. A system of recognition signals must be used to prevent the engagement of friendly units.

NOTE: If mechanical ambushes are used, units should stop patrolling in that area, and should provide some means, such as communications wire, to guide OP personnel and prevent them from straying into the mechanical ambush.


The basic defensive technique in the jungle is the perimeter defense. Two other very effective defensive techniques for jungle operations are the triangle and "Y" formations (see app J). Whether a unit is operating independently or as part of a larger defensive position, it must be prepared to defend itself against an attack from any direction. Initially, these formations will be formed by platoons or by companies. Larger units should position their companies in depth to provide all-round defense. Alert and aggressive patrols and OPs will defeat enemy attempts to infiltrate between positions. Later, if time permits, platoon and company formations can be connected with fighting positions and trenches. Even then, however, companies and platoons must be prepared for all-round defense.


Units in the defense must pay particular attention to their priority of work. Since more security measures must be taken than normal, fewer troops will be available to prepare defensive positions at any one time. Positions should be prepared and camouflaged as in any other situation. Overhead cover should be prepared using strong wood and sandbags. Claymore mines and trip flares should be emplaced in front of the defensive positions. Fields of fire should be cut low, leaving enough foliage so as not to reveal the location of the defensive position (app E).

To counter enemy reconnaissance efforts, units should shift the positions of machineguns after dark. After a few days, the entire unit's position should be changed. If a unit remains in position for a longer period of time, it is more likely to be reconnoitered by the enemy and subject to attack.


Command and control are extremely difficult in the jungle defense. Commanders must place great emphasis on planning, coordination, and small-unit leadership. Decentralized control is important to insure that subordinate units can react to multiple threats. Aggressive leadership at the smallunit level is necessary in fighting off isolated assaults at close range. Alternate communications means must be established wherever possible. An example might be a communications system using wire as the primary means, radio as the secondary means, and pyrotechnics for certain prearranged signals.

Defensive targets for artillery and mortars should be planned on stream and trail junctions, and any other likely enemy avenues of approach. Artillery and mortar fire should also be used to cover the many areas of dead space found in jungle terrain. It is also a good idea to confirm the location of the defense on the ground by using artillery marking missions integrated into registration missions. Signals for the employment of TACAIR and attack helicopters, both day and night, and for medevac and resupply helicopters must also be planned.


There are occasions when a unit will have to establish a defense with minimum planning time. This normally occurs when an attack is stalled, at dusk when the unit is still in contact with the enemy and no night attack is planned, or when an intermediate objective must be secured before continuing the attack. These situations are more dangerous in the jungle than in other areas because of the dense foliage and the closeness of the enemy.

The normal course of action in these cases is to establish a perimeter defense. Dragons, if they can be used effectively, and machineguns are positioned immediately where they have the best fields of fire. As soon as possible, OPs and other local security measures are established. Frontages are smaller than in other types of terrain, especially at night, to guard against enemy infiltration. Indirect fires are registered and fighting positions are dug as soon as possible.

Once these actions have been completed, steps are taken to improve the defense. A primary consideration in improving a defense is to expand the perimeter to gain "working room. " This may require limited attacks, massed artillery and mortar fire, or close-in machinegun fire to force the enemy to withdraw. If the position will be occupied for a long time, it should be made as strong as possible.

This may be done as follows:

  • A small reserve is formed as soon as possible to react to enemy threats
  • Local security is pushed forward
  • Counterattack plans are developed
  • Wire communications are established and pyrotechnic signals planned
  • Machineguns are employed singly in order to cover as many enemy approaches as possible

If troops remain in a defensive position for a long time, they must not become complacent. Leaders must inspect weapons, positions, and the cleanliness of troops. They must also develop plans for alerts, feeding, maintenance, and bathing. These activities must be scheduled according to a random pattern so that the enemy cannot take advantage of a set routine.

An alert system must be established, so that a portion of the defensive force is always awake. Although the poor observation in jungles favors the enemy's attack at any time, the early hours of the morning afford him the greatest chance of surprise unless positive alert measures are taken. All troops should stand-to before dawn.

The jungle enemy will try to probe a position to locate the flanks of positions and key weapons. Soldiers must not give away their positions by premature firing. Claymores and hand grenades should be used to engage these probes. When probed, riflemen near machineguns should fire, not the machinegunners. Machinegunners must use their pistols for self-defense instead of their machineguns. When the enemy attacks, he will try to isolate friendly positions and destroy them one at a time. Well-planned, mutually supporting fires will prevent this.


If enemy forces penetrate a position, a counterattack is the best way to expel them. Troops in the area of the penetration must stay in their positions and continue to fire to support the counterattack. If they leave their positions while the enemy is being expelled, they increase the chance that they will be hit with friendly fires.


When engaged in tactical operations in the jungle, elements of the battalion will often establish a base for command and control and fire support resources, protected by a perimeter defense. These resources are called the battalion combat base.

The location of the perimeter defense to defend the battalion combat base will depend upon the:

  • Forces available to defend the combat base
  • Ability to support subordinate units with indirect fire
  • Defensibility of terrain
  • Ability to communicate with subordinate units

Prior to establishing the battalion combat base, the commander should conduct a reconnaissance to determine the defensibility of the terrain. He also plans forces required for the defense. While the defense must be capable of defeating the largest attack which the enemy is likely to conduct, it must use the minimum forces necessary. The combat support company, reinforced as necessary with an attached infantry platoon, is the largest force that is realistically available for preparing and defending the perimeter. To use a larger force would probably leave insufficient forces to fight the more important combat. Since some elements, such as the antitank platoon of the combat support company, may not be employed effectively in the jungle, they will often be available for use in the perimeter defense. The battalion commander will normally designate the combat support company or headquarters and headquarters company commander to be the battalion combat base commander and will have him take charge of the construction and execution of the perimeter defense.

Forces normally under control of the battalion combat base commander include:

  • The antitank platoon
  • A Redeye section, if attached (both to man the perimeter and to provide antiaircraft fire)
  • The heavy mortar platoon (both to man the perimeter and provide fire support)
  • A rifle platoon, if provided for the perimeter defense

The scout platoon is normally used for patrolling or screening missions, rather than being used in manning the combat base perimeter.

During construction of the perimeter defense, it is vulnerable to enemy attack. Consequently, it is imperative to complete the perimeter defense as quickly as possible and to provide maximum security during construction.

The threat of infiltration attacks must be emphasized. The enemy may not be able to conduct large scale attacks on fortified positions, but he may be capable of disrupting operations by infiltrating one-or two-man teams through the perimeter to place explosive devices on command and control facilities, artillery pieces or mortars, or ammunition storage areas. This infiltration is often preceded by a deceptive attack or probe by ground forces. Troops in the perimeter must maintain constant security, using early warning systems and continuous patrolling. Starlight scopes, OPs, unattended ground sensors, and tripflares are also used. Wire obstacles should be used to keep infiltrators out of critical facilities.

A battalion combat base may have to remain in place for a long time. Continuous firing of mortars and landing of helicopters makes concealing its location very difficult. These two factors make it necessary to harden the perimeter defense. Overhead cover and sandbagged bunkers must be provided for all fighting positions. The tactical operations center (TOC) and CP should have similar protection and may also be dug underground. Mortars and artillery pieces should be dug in or fortified with sandbags.


A reserve for the defense may be constituted from attachments, such as engineers (if available), or from off-shift personnel from TOC and CP elements. This reserve will react to enemy attacks, and will reinforce the defense or counterattack. They must be rehearsed on signals and actions until they become proficient. Mortars are employed to provide close-in fire support. Artillery pieces can provide direct fire but probably will not be able to provide indirect fire support of the perimeter. Hence, the perimeter should be located within range of other artillery and mortar units for additional protection.

The battalion combat base commander assigns sectors to subordinate platoons, insuring that likely avenues of approach are dominated by Dragons, machineguns, and artillery in direct fire role, if possible. He then plans indirect fires. The commander specifies points at which adjoining platoons must coordinate. The platoon leader selects each position and designates the personnel to man it.

The platoon leader must insure that he has complete coverage throughout his sector to deal with not only a mass attack but also infiltration of small elements.

Once the positions are selected, the platoon leader insures that a priority of work is adhered to.


Retrograde operations are conducted in much the same manner as the defense, with the additional requirement to gain a mobility advantage over the enemy. This is done by taking measures to increase the mobility of the unit conducting the retrograde (reconnaissance and preparation of routes, use of helicopters, etc.), and by taking measures to decrease the mobility of the enemy (ambushes, artillery fires, mines, wire obstacles, etc.).


Withdrawals may be conducted under enemy pressure or not under enemy pressure as explained in FM 7-8 and FM 7-10. Because of the cover and concealment provided by the jungle, a withdrawal under enemy pressure may be conducted using deception in much the same manner as a withdrawal not under enemy pressure. The ruggedness of the terrain and the strength of the attacking enemy are key factors in this type of operation. Routes, assembly areas, and new positions must be thoroughly reconnoitered. They may also be marked if such marking does not compromise security. Densely vegetated areas will require increased use of guides. Control in such areas is very difficult; therefore, leadership, planning, and rehearsal are crucial.

"I will never again tell my platoon to withdraw -especially in the jungle without telling it where to go. I had a hell of a time getting them together. "

--Platoon Leader, New Guinea, World War II

Unattended ground sensors employed along likely enemy avenues of approach can be used to provide information on enemy movement and activities. This information can in turn be used to place fires on the enemy.


The delay in sector is normally the most frequently used type of retrograde in the jungle. Ambushes may be used to halt the enemy's pursuit, and can aid the main body in breaking contact along the delay route. Mechanical ambushes, wire obstacles, and minefield will also delay the enemy. In the jungle, the delay is normally conducted in several phases: defense, withdrawal under pressure, breaking contact, and movement to and occupation of new positions where the defense starts again. As in the withdrawal, units should reconnoiter and clear routes to the rear.


Patrols, raids, and ambushes are normally used more often in the more open terrain. The jungle permits small jungle than in units to move undetected during reconnaissance patrols and achieve surprise when conducting raids and ambushes. These are small-unit operations. They depend heavily on the skill and stealth of infantry platoons and squads, and are demanding operations.

One jungle myth that was popular both during World War II and the Vietnam War was that "the night belongs to the enemy. " The enemy has no better night vision or stealth than do trained US soldiers. He will often use the night as a means to avoid US firepower, but with the proper use of patrols, raids, and ambushes, this problem can be eliminated.

"On any given night in Vietnam, American soldiers staged hundreds of ambushes, for the ambush is one of the oldest and most effective military means of hampering the enemy's nighttime exploits."

--J.A. Cash, Seven Firefights in Vietnam

Successful jungle patrols, raids, and ambushes result from detailed planning, intensive training, and constant rehearsal. Troops must be alert. A unit which has moved cross-country through the jungle until late in the afternoon will not be in a condition to succeed if it has to go out on ambush that night. Commanders must realize that such operations require time to prepare, train, and rest.

The basic techniques for patrols, raids, and ambushes can be found in chapter 5, FM 7-8. Specific techniques which are effective in jungle operations are described below.


A patrol is a detachment sent out by a larger unit to conduct a combat or reconnaissance operation. The operation itself is also called a patrol. The mission to conduct a patrol may be given to a fire team, squad, platoon, or company. The leader of the detachment conducting a patrol is referred to as the patrol leader.


The planned action at the objective determines the patrol's category. There are two categories of patrols:

Combat (ambush, raid, or security) Patrol. This patrol provides security and harasses, destroys, or captures enemy troops, equipment, and installations. A combat patrol also collects and reports information, whether related to its mission or not.

Reconnaissance (area or zone) Patrol. This patrol collects information or confirms or disproves the accuracy of information previously gained.

Regardless of the category of the patrol, there are four key principles to successful patrolling. These are:

  • Detailed planning.
  • Thorough reconnaissance.
  • Positive control.
  • All-round security.


The patrol leader decides what elements and teams are needed for his patrol, selects men or units for these elements and teams, and decides what weapons and equipment are needed. He should, however, use his unit's normal organization (squads and platoons) and chain of command (squad and platoon leaders) as much as possible to meet these needs. For example, a combat patrol may be organized like this: the company headquarters is the patrol headquarters; the 1st platoon is the assault element; the 2d platoon is the security element; and the 3d platoon and weapons platoon make up the support element.


A patrol generally consists of a patrol headquarters and the elements needed for the mission.

Patrol Headquarters. The headquarters (HQ) of a company-size patrol normally consists of the same number of men as a regular company headquarters. However, regardless of a patrol's size, its leader tailors the headquarters to meet mission needs. The patrol headquarters has the same responsibilities as any other command element.

Reconnaissance Patrol. In an area reconnaissance (recon), a patrol has a reconnaissance element and a security element. In a zone reconnaissance, a patrol has several reconnaissance elements. Each one provides its own security.

Combat Patrol. A combat patrol normally has an assault element, a security element, and a support element. At times, the support element may be omitted by combining it with the assault element.

In general, jungle terrain affords excellent concealment, provides some cover, and hinders enemy observation and movement. During rainy periods, the sound of movement is less obvious. Wet ground and wet vegetation also muffle noise. All of these factors favor the patrolling unit.

On the other hand, the difficulties of movement and control and the ease with which the enemy can infiltrate friendly units are disadvantages to units patrolling in the jungle. These factors can best be overcome by training and discipline.

Silence, in both voice and movement, is essential at all times during a jungle patrol. With practice, it is possible to move steadily, deliberately, and carefully through the jungle, parting the undergrowth instead of crashing through it or cutting through it with machetes. Troops should avoid walking on dry leaves, sticks, rotten wood, or anything that would make noise. Machetes should be used to cut trails only as a last resort. Talking should be done in a whisper, and arm-and-hand signals should be used whenever possible.

Trails should be avoided. Patrols should make every effort to hide signs of movement, especially when moving through untraveled territory or near enemy positions.

Some techniques which may be used include:

  • Requiring all troops to wear boots that have the same pattern on their soles.
  • Requiring troops to carry only the mission essentials, and do not let them litter.
  • Cautioning troops to avoid small saplings, when going up hill. The shaking of overhead branches can be seen and heard at a distance.
  • Requiring troops to keep off trails. If necessary to monitor or guide on a trail, patrols should move parallel to the trail and not on it.

Native scouts are valuable in patrolling because they are often very familiar with the terrain. Patrol leaders must realize, however, that a scout's function is only to show direction and provide information. He should never lead the patrol. The correct position of a scout is with the patrol leader, so that the leader can make decisions based on the scout's advice.


Raids in the jungle environment must be keyed to reliable intelligence. The actions of the raiding unit must be decisive and rapid in order to catch an elusive jungle enemy. A raid's success depends on good intelligence and a sound plan.

Jungles favor raid operations. The excellent concealment enables skilled raiding patrols to operate deep in enemy territory. Platoon-sized units are best suited to jungle raids. Supporting artillery fires should be planned, but due to difficulties of control, timing, and communications, jungle raids may be executed without artillery support. Surprise is a key ingredient of a successful raid.

Raids that require deep penetration into enemy-held areas are best executed by establishing a patrol base in the general area of the final objective. From there, reconnaissance patrols can be sent to scout enemy positions while the remainder of the force completes its preparations for the raid. Helicopters and watercraft are effective means of transporting a raiding force rapidly to the vicinity of its objective without depleting their physical strength in a difficult march.


The ambush is more important, more effective, and more frequently used in jungle fighting than in any other type of combat. Jungle terrain provides many opportunities for a well-concealed force to gain surprise. Surprise is essential for a successful ambush.

Destruction of enemy forces is the primary purpose of most ambushes, but other benefits result from a well-executed ambush program.

These benefits include:

  • Disruption of enemy operations, since troops become reluctant to move and fight in areas where ambushes are frequent.
  • Capture of prisoners and equipment which may yield intelligence data.
  • Capture of supplies, thus increasing combat effectiveness at the expense of the enemy. In some instances, this is the primary source of supplies for guerrilla forces.

More than in any other type of terrain, jungle ambushes require high standards of discipline. Soldiers on an ambush must be prepared to remain in the same position for hours at a time, without being able to sleep, talk, or smoke. They must endure insects and resist the desire to make any quick moves to swat or brush the insects away. All these require extensive training to develop the patience and self-discipline required.

The location for an ambush should be chosen after a careful analysis of the terrain, using maps, aerial photographs, and personal reconnaissance. The site chosen must contribute to the surprise of the ambush. Many times the selection of a site for surprise alone will be more effective than attempting to ambush from a site which is in other respects tactically sound but at which the enemy is sure to be suspicious. Covered routes of approach and withdrawal, good fields of fire, and canalization of the enemy are characteristics of a good site. The site should always be reconnoitered and approached from the rear.

In no other operation is camouflage more important than in the ambush. Weapons should fire through screens of undisturbed, living foliage. Spoilage resulting from the preparation of positions must be removed from sight. There can be no unnecessary noise or movement. If reliefs are used, they should be scheduled so that only a few men move at any one time. One or two men moving are harder to detect than an entire relief moving at once.


Since ambushes are more frequent and effective in the jungle than in any other type of terrain, a unit moving through the jungle must take all possible measures to reduce its vulnerability to ambush. The most effective means of countering an ambush is to detect it before entering the kill zone. This, however, is not always possible.

Dismounted troops have an advantage over mounted troops in avoiding ambushes because they do not have to move on roads or trails. Commanders of dismounted units should make a map and aerial photograph reconnaissance to detect likely ambush sites and plan routes which avoid them. During movement, security to the front, rear, and flanks should be maintained at all times. Alert troops, good noise discipline, and well-reduce the chances of ambush. Accurate land navigation, continuous fire support planning, and counterambush drills are also important antiambush techniques.

Mounted troops are very vulnerable to jungle ambushes, especially where the foliage grows up to the edge of a road. Ambush of vehicular columns traditionally has been a primary tactic of jungle enemies. As a result, traffic in jungle areas must be tightly controlled and kept to a minimum. All vehicles should have armed riders. Armored vehicles should escort convoys, and traffic information should be carefully guarded. Fire planning and route selection and rehearsed signals are other means which will reconnaissance are important for mounted troops as well as for dismounted troops (app M, FM 7-8).


Troops must also be trained in counterambush measures. The key is early detection followed by reflex-type counteraction, a high volume of return fire, and relentless pursuit. The most effective counterambush measures are well-rehearsed immediate action drills. Every soldier must know exactly what he is supposed to do.

Dismounted troops should react to an ambush immediately, firing into the ambushers without orders. Building and retaining fire superiority is the best initial defense against an ambush. If a patrol finds itself in an enemy ambush, it must get out of the kill zone immediately. It must take the following immediate actions:

Troops in the kill zone, without order or signal, immediately return fire, and quickly move out of the kill zone by the safest way. (There is no set way to do this; it must be each soldier's decision for his situation.) Smoke grenades can help conceal the troops in the kill zone.

Troops not in the kill zone fire to support the withdrawal of the troops in the kill zone.

If a dismounted patrol is ambushed, it should attempt to break contact and reorganize in the last designated rally point.

Mounted troops who are ambushed should attempt to drive rapidly out of the kill zone. Vehicles approaching the kill zone should stop so they do not enter it. Troops should then dismount and maneuver to destroy the ambush.

In any case, the rapid call for supporting artillery and mortar fire will help the ambushed force to gain fire superiority and will assist the maneuver to destroy the ambush.

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