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The War in the Jungle

In the Second World War in Europe and Africa, vast arrays of tanks, aircraft and artillery supported the infantryman. Little of this was available in Malaya or Burma, which is best understood as a foot soldier’s war.

The tactics of infantry fighting are built upon fire and movement. When attacking, one group moves towards the enemy while the other fires to keep enemy heads down. The former was called the rifle group, armed with rifles, submachine guns and grenades. The latter was the gun group based on at least one light machine gun.

On more open battlefields the gun group might be of company size (about 100 men) with mortars or medium machine guns. They would direct a large volume of fire towards the enemy while another company manoeuvred towards them.

This was impossible in these campaigns because visibility in the jungle is poor, usually from ten to fifty metres, more often the former when fog and rain intervenes. This meant that the defender in his camouflaged fighting pit was not seen until the attacker’s lead scout was suddenly fired on by the hidden enemy. If the scout survived, unless he had seen a muzzle flash, he may still not have been able to determine exactly where the fire was coming from. The gun group, further back, was even worse off as it could not determine where to direct fire to support the rifle group….

Most members 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 special force of 3,000 which in February 1942 launched a deep penetration raid, (code-named 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…..

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