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"Living in the Jungle" from Intelligence Bulletin, September 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on living and fighting in the jungle was originally printed in the September 1943 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



To become effective jungle fighters, soldiers should study the problems of living and getting about in the tropics. They must look upon the jungle as a friend—it is just that when understood.

Almost the only thing to be afraid of in the jungle, or any other wild country, is fear itself. A soldier should not be afraid for two good reasons. First, the chances are 100 to 1 that there is nothing to be afraid of, and, second, a man afraid and therefore in a state of partial panic is useless in any situation. If you are dropped in a tropical jungle, in an unknown forest, or in the desert, the most important thing of all is to keep your head and calmly think out the situation. Fear is the last thing that will help you.

Remember that many of the things you have read about in these out-of-the-way places were written by men who went there in a spirit of adventure, and who practically without exception have emphasized, if not actually invented, many of the thrilling experiences they relate. Thrillers are often a matter of the author's state of mind and not based on actual circumstance.

Most Americans, especially those born and reared in cities, are far enough removed from their pioneer ancestors to have lost the knack of taking care of themselves under any and all conditions, and it would be foolish to say that, without any training, they would be in no danger if lost in the New Guinea or some other Pacific island jungle. On the other hand, they would be in just as great danger if lost in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania or in other regions of our own country. The only difference is that a man is less likely to become panicky when he is lost in his homeland than when he is lost abroad.

Tropical areas are about the safest places a man can find if he is to be dropped without supplies. Animals scamper away, and you may travel for months without seeing any of those sometimes called dangerous. In fact, it should be something of a thrill and a challenge to your ingenuity to undergo such an experience. Work your way out slowly. Keep rested and avoid fatigue.


The discomforts of tropical climates are frequently exaggerated. It is true that, on the whole, these climates are warmer than those in the temperate zones. The heat is more continual, or persistent, and, for this reason, stories of excessively high temperatures have been circulated. In regions where the air contains a lot of moisture, the heat may seem more oppressive than it actually is. As a matter of fact, however, tropical travelers often complain that they have never experienced such heat and discomfort in the jungles as in some of our own cities in the summer time—Washington, D.C, for example. Also, strange as it may seem, there may be more suffering from cold in the tropics than from the heat. Of course, at ordinary altitudes, low temperatures do not occur, but chilly days and nights are common. At higher levels the nights may even be cold. The contrast between hot days and cold nights, however, is not as marked in forested areas as in the desert.

Rainfall in many parts of the tropics is much greater than that in all but a few areas of the temperate zones. Tropical downpours usually are followed by clear skies, and in most localities the rains conform to a fairly predictable time table. Except in a few areas where the fall may be continuous during the rainy season, there are not many days when the sun does not shine part of the time. Residents of the tropics usually plan their activities so that they are able to stay under shelter during the rainy and hot portions of the day. After becoming accustomed to it, most tropical dwellers prefer the mild and equable climate of the torrid zones to the frequent weather changes experienced in the more northerly climates.

In the jungles of Burma, the nights are cold enough from December to March to require a wool blanket for cover while sleeping. A British jungle authority recommends that the sleeper pull part of the blanket over his head. This will induce deeper sleep, he says, and will have no harmful effects, since a person's blood does not require much oxygen while he is resting. A single blanket used in this manner will keep a soldier warmer than two used while his head is uncovered and while his lungs are inhaling lots of fresh air.


The harmful effects of tropical insects are generally overstressed. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are by far the most harmful. It is fairly easy to contract malaria if a person fails to take the proper precautions. These include taking atabrine or quinine, wearing clothing that covers as much of the body as possible, using nets or screens at every opportunity, and avoiding the worst-infested areas when the tactical situation permits. Remember that mosquitoes generally fly in the afternoons and at night. They are most prevalent early at night and just before dawn. In uninhabited areas, malaria is much less likely to result from mosquito bites than in the populated places. Mud packs offer a certain amount of relief from the itching caused by mosquito bites.

Wasps and bees may be abundant in some places, but they will rarely attack unless you interfere with their nests. In case of stings, mud packs again are helpful. In some areas there are tiny bees, called sweatbees, which may collect on exposed parts of the body in enormous numbers during dry weather, especially if one is sweating freely. They are stingless and, until one has completely stopped sweating, the only thing to do is to scrape them off with the hand, hundreds at a time. The honey made by these bees is not edible, as too much perspiration goes into its composition.

The larger centipedes and scorpions can inflict painful but not deadly stings. These creatures like dark places, so it is always advisable to shake your blankets before turning in at night, and to make sure before dressing that none are hidden in clothing or shoes. Spider bites may be painful but are rarely serious, and, as a matter of fact, are not often incurred. Ants are a possible source of danger to injured men lying on the ground and unable to move. This should be borne in mind in placing wounded where they may have to remain for some time.

In some localities certain butterflies collect to gather sweat from the human body in dry weather. They are somewhat annoying but quite harmless. In Indo-Chinese countries the rice-borer moth of the lowlands collects around lights in great numbers during certain seasons of the year. It is a small, plain-colored moth with a pair of tiny black spots on the wings. It should never be brushed off roughly, as the minutely barbed hairs of its body may be ground into the skin, causing a sore, much like a burn, that often takes weeks to heal.


Leeches are common throughout most of the islands in the Southwest Pacific and the Malay Peninsula. They are found in swampy areas, streams, and moist jungle country. They are not poisonous, but their bites may cause infection if not cared for properly, and the small wound that they cause may provide a point of entry for the organisms which cause tropical ulcers or "jungle sores." One should watch for leeches on the body and brush them off before they have had time to bite. When they have taken hold, they should not be pulled off forcibly; make them release themselves by touching them with a moist piece of tobacco (this is especially effective if some red pepper is mixed in the tobacco), by touching them lightly with the burning end of a cigarette or a coal from the fire, or by dropping some alcohol on them. Leeches try to reach mucous membranes and frequently enter the rectum or penis without attracting attention until an itching sensation begins. Urination usually removes them immediately from the penis, but medical help may be needed to remove one from the rectum. However, after satisfying their hunger, leeches frequently leave the rectum during defecation. This may produce a certain amount of blood flow, which may be mistaken for the beginning of dysentery or piles, but its short duration will remove all fears on that score.


The dangers from snakes in the tropics have been very much overemphasized. A person in the jungle probably will not see more than one or two snakes a month—and when he does, the view will probably be fleeting, as the snake most likely will be making every effort to disappear. There are no land snakes in the more remote Polynesian islands, and there were none in Hawaii until a minute, wormlike blindsnake was accidentally introduced there in recent years. Most of the islands of the East Indies have both venomous and non-venomous types. There are four kinds of snakes on the Fiji Islands, including one venomous variety. There are many kinds on the Solomon Islands, and Australia has an abundance of them, but nearby New Zealand has none. Only harmless kinds occur in the Galapagos Islands.

The poisonous snakes in New Guinea and the large neighboring islands are relatives of the Indian cobra, and their venom affects the nervous system (in contrast to most North American poisonous snakes, whose venom affects the blood stream). If you should accidentally step on one, you probably would be bitten. The chances of this occurring to persons traveling along trails or waterways are probably about the same as the chances of being struck by lightning. A large party, composed of some 700 men, traversed a considerable area in New Guinea some years ago and in a year's time none of them was bitten. New Guinea is as infested with poisonous snakes as any part of Melanesia, but is probably a less dangerous area in this respect than New Mexico, Florida, or Texas, for example. This does not mean that one should be utterly careless about the possibility of snake bites, but ordinary precautions against them are sufficient. One should be particularly watchful when clearing ground for a camp site, trail, or the like, and also when roaming in the brush gathering firewood.


"Crocodile-infested rivers and swamps" is another catch phrase about the Tropics. New Guinea certainly has its share of crocodiles, but authentic cases of their attacking human beings are not very numerous. Large crocodiles, particularly a species inhabiting Southern Asia and some South Pacific islands are likely to attack a person unless proper precautions are taken. As a rule, crocodiles are more apt to attack a dog or a small child than a grown person. If you approach or attempt to kill one along the shore, you should take care to avoid the powerful sweep of its heavy tail, which can break a man's leg. Crocodiles are able to move swiftly in a straight line on land, but they cannot cover a zigzag course at a fast pace. If a crocodile chases you, dodge about while you are making your escape.


Jungle animals are by no means as dangerous as many writers of adventure stories would have us believe. In Africa, where lions, leopards, and such flesh-eating beasts abound, it usually is necessary for photographers and others to obtain pictures of them on the large preserves, where the animals roam about as do the bears in Yellowstone National Park. In areas where the beasts are not protected, they are shy and seldom are seen—unless you have the aid of guides. When encountered, the one thought of the beast is to escape. All large animals, of course, can be dangerous if cornered, or suddenly startled at close quarters. This is especially true of females with young. The chances of this happening, however, are remote. The idea that big game hunting is dangerous is largely bunk. There are no carnivorous animals in the South Pacific, but in Sumatra, Bali, Borneo, and in Burma there are tigers, leopards, elephants, and buffalo. Ordinarily, these will not attack a man unless they are cornered or wounded.


Another category of fictitious dangers deals with poisonous plants and trees. The truth of the matter is that nettles, particularly tree nettles, are about the worst that one will encounter, and one stinging from this source is sufficient to educate the victim to a ready recognition of the plant. There are some trees, which the Malays call "ringas," the sap of which affects some people in much the same way as poison oak. Our own poison ivy and poison sumac, however, are much worse and much more likely to cause trouble. Danger from poisonous plants is much greater in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, or in the woods of our own eastern seaboard, than it is in New Guinea or the tropics anywhere. Thorny thickets, such as rattan, should be avoided as one would avoid a blackberry patch.


New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are popularly believed to be the haunts of headhunters and cannibals. Fifty years ago this was true, and it is true today to a much lesser degree in certain areas. A considerable portion of the interior of Dutch New Guinea is occupied by hostile tribes that are likely to be dangerous to small parties. This is particularly true of the natives of the interior lake plain, who are armed only with bows and arrows and who are so excitable that they are likely to reveal intended ambushes by shouting or firing their arrows too soon. If attacked, a small force armed with modern weapons should be able to disperse them without serious difficulty. There still may be places in the interior of British New Guinea where the natives are treacherous, but for the most part these have been brought under control. Headhunting and cannibalism are usually practiced at the expense of traditional enemy tribes, although strangers occasionally may be attacked without provocation. Generally you can get along all right with natives by treating them as you would your friends back home. This involves respect for privacy and personal property, and observance of local customs and taboos. One should not enter a native house without being invited, nor should fruits be picked or sago trees cut without the permission of their owners. If one is tempted by the women of the wild tribes (and not many soldiers are likely to be), a case of venereal disease can be expected as a follow-up—this is one of the "benefits" of civilization conferred by the whites. Any native may be dangerous if badly or unjustly treated, or if undue liberties are taken with native women without regard to local custom.


Everyone who knows the jungle strongly recommends that equipment be as light as possible. A British authority says:

You will require a haversack to carry rations and various other necessary articles. Take with you a small luminous compass, a small flashlight, matches and a cigarette lighter, a very small alcohol burner (to be used only when a wood fire cannot be safely made), and any small, light articles you desire. Consider carrying a very light sheet of oiled silk or cloth if rain is expected.

These articles—plus your rifle, ammunition, and rations—will hardly weigh 20 pounds. The temptation to take more is likely to be strong. Resist it, because every pound over this weight becomes a burden on a long march.

Other aids are practicable under certain circumstances. A well-trained dog may be a most efficient sentry, and even a messenger to your base. Carrier pigeons are invaluable aids to scouting parties working far behind enemy lines—for example in directing our planes to enemy targets you may discover.

Goats are silent, active animals which will follow you through all sorts of country. Each goat is capable of carrying 10 pounds of supplies. As a last resort, these animals may be killed and eaten.

The bark of various trees can be split and used as rope or string. For the same purpose, many small vines and grasses can be used.

The bamboo "tree" can be used for a variety of purposes in the jungle, such as mats, rafts, and cooking utensils. To make a mat, cut a large bamboo "tree" into sections of the required length and split each section down one side. Cut out the partitions, make lengthwise cuts near the joints, and then beat each section flat. These mats also can be used for walls and floors of huts. (Remember that the sharp edges of bamboo "wood" can cut you like a knife.)

To make a bamboo water container, select a section of a bamboo "tree" and cut just below the lower joint and just above the upper joint. Then cut a hole in the upper part of the section, and rinse out any loose particles inside. A carrying handle can be made by peeling a strip of the outer bark on each side, from the base to a point about two-thirds up the container, and tying the ends together above the top joint. For cooking or boiling water, fill the container as desired and then plug the hole with leaves. The bamboo will not burn out until the water is boiled and the food cooked.

A "stick" of rice for carrying with you can be obtained by using a section of small, thin-walled bamboo to cook it. Cut the section of bamboo as described in the last paragraph, fill it with rice and water, and boil. The surplus water will evaporate, and the rice will swell to fill the entire cavity of the section. After it has cooled, the section may be split open. The boiled rice will emerge in a stick form, covered with an edible film of silvery-white inner skin from the bamboo. The rice can be carried in this state, or left in the bamboo for added protection.

A frame for drying meat can be made by erecting four bamboo stakes and connecting them with pieces of split bamboo, which are tied to the stakes.


Water should be boiled about 10 minutes or otherwise made safe from various disease germs unless you are absolutely certain as to the purity of its source. In this connection, reference should be made to Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. I, No. 9, page 66.

Water can be freed of salt by filtering it through soil. Polluted water in a lake or pond likewise can often be made safe to drink by digging a well close to the body of water. The fluid content in the stomachs of animals is safe, and, despite its taste, is a nutritious substitute for water.

Many plants have water stored in their stems and leaves; the fluid is easily obtained by cutting or breaking the stems and by chewing the leaves or other soft parts of the plant. Many natives use a vine which they call "water rope." Each foot of the vine, when cut, yields about a teacup full of water.

In the forests of Burma, water is easily obtained almost everywhere. Many of the streams, however, have typhoid or paratyphoid fever germs, despite the fact that they appear clear and pure. Except for flowing springs, no water in the Burma jungles should be considered safe until it is properly treated or boiled.

12. FOOD

Food of some type is always available in the jungle—in fact, there is hardly a place in the world where food cannot be secured from plants and animals. All animals, birds, reptiles, and many kinds of insects of the jungle are edible. Some animals such as toads and salamanders, have glands on the skin which should be removed before their meat is eaten. Fruits, flowers, buds, and often tubers, leaves, and bark can be eaten. Fruits eaten by birds and monkeys usually are acceptable to man.

A group of officers and enlisted men several months ago tested the possibilities of "living off the land" of a Southwest Pacific island (New Hebrides) while making a four-day reconnaissance in the jungle. Although rations for three days were carried by each man, very little was touched except tea and biscuits. It was conclusively proved that men who are resourceful and who will take the time to learn a little jungle lore can easily live and thrive healthfully in jungle country.

The group found the following kinds of meats: Wild chicken, wild duck, wild pigeon, wild cattle, wild pig, flying fox, fish, eel, and fresh-water crawfish.

The following types of fruits were found: Bananas (all year round), oranges (May, June, July), lemons (May, June, July), bread fruit (February, March), wild raspberries (September, October), Nakarika (October, November), papaya (all year round), and mangoes (February, October).

Vegetables—found to be available throughout the year—were taro, yam, manioc, hearts of palm trees, and the hearts of pandamus.

Coconuts are found all during the year, and navele nuts during September and October.

Natives used two methods in cooking fish. In one instance the fish, after being cleaned, were wrapped in wild banana leaves. The bundle then was tied with string made from bark, placed on a hastily constructed wood griddle, and roasted thoroughly until done. The second method was to wrap the fish in the manner described above, place the bundle well down inside and underneath a pile of red-hot stones, and roast.

Some of the meat cooked by the experimenting group was roasted in a hollow section of bamboo, about 2 feet long. Meat thus cooked did not spoil for three or four days if left inside the bamboo stick and sealed up.

Yam, taro, manico, and wild bananas were cooked in coals of fire. They tasted like potatoes—with a little stretch of the imagination. Hearts of palm made a refreshing salad, and papaya a delicious dessert.

In Burma, edible fruits and vegetables are not easily obtained, according to a British authority. Many fruits and vegetables are either not edible or are very bitter. Troops may find sweet potatoes or corn planted in a jungle clearing.

Meats in the Burma jungles may be obtained by killing such game birds as pea fowl, jungle fowl, pheasant, partridges, geese, and duck; and such animals as fish, deer, wild pigs, buffalo, and wild red ox. However, most of the latter do not move about much in open spaces during the day, are shy, and are therefore hard to kill. Buffalo and wild pigs, when wounded, may attack a person, and under some circumstances when not wounded at all.


Southwest Pacific natives have demonstrated how to construct a satisfactory bed and rain shelter in 15 minutes. The bed itself is made first, about 3 feet from the ground. Four forked stakes are driven into the ground, and a timber framework is placed upon the stakes. Then stout but pliable reeds are laid over the framework, and these, in turn, are covered with several layers of large, fine ferns. To construct the roof, four longer stakes are driven into the ground alongside the bed stakes, and the top is made in the same manner as the bed.

In Burma, the British warn against sleeping near a trail, game track, or stream, or on a ridge. These are jungle highways at night, and a tiger or other large animal might walk in on you. Go to the side of a hill away from game tracks, choose a dense thicket, make yourself comfortable, and rest without being mentally disturbed. The chances are very remote that anything will bother you.

The British also warn against sleeping in monasteries, or killing domestic cattle or chickens in front of the natives as it would offend Buddhist religious beliefs. Many monasteries have out-buildings for pilgrims or other travelers to use.


If you lose your matches or other fire-making devices, remember that a magnifying glass or any lens (including spectacles) will start fires by focusing sun rays. The fine inner skin of dry bamboo is a good starting fuel.

Another quick method is to extract the bullet from a cartridge, replace it with a dry rag, cotton, or some other similar substance, and fire it onto the ground. The material used should catch fire and smolder.

If both these methods fail, you can always resort to the primitive practice of rubbing two pieces of wood together to fire a highly inflammable substance. Many primitive tribes have ingenious labor-saving gadgets to make fire by friction.


The following notes on observation and reconnaissance were prepared by a British authority on the jungles of Burma.

Primarily, I would ask you to regard the ground on which you walk as the page of a book, or the page of a newspaper on which is written the news of all activities in and around the jungle. All movement of animals and men are marked by tracks and signs which you can interpret. Go out of your way to study the signs in soft ground, in the beds of streams, on roads and trails, and near watering places and salt-licks. Movement is seldom made without a reason; a few fresh tracks supply information about their maker, his direction, and probable intentions.

Animals fear men. Watch the animals, their tracks, and their behavior and you will learn the whereabouts of men. Listen to the cries of animals and learn to recognize their alarm calls.

A bird such as the lapwing, found in clearings near camps and villages, invariably gives away the movement of men by its loud and continuous cries.


In combat areas of the Burma jungle, it is best for an individual or small group to avoid the main road and trails and move through the forests. You will perhaps have a feeling of entering a maze. Don't let that disturb you. Consider that in these forests there are many animals as large or larger than yourself, and that they make and follow game trails, some of which are many years old. These game trails never run straight; they wind about and criss-cross the jungle; they lead to clearings, watering places, and salt-licks; and small ones may lead into larger ones, or merely vanish. Use these trails—don't strike across the jungle when there's a trail to assist you. The larger game trails follow the easiest terrain across hills, rivers, and swamps; and near these trails you will find opportunities to supplement your meat rations.

If no trails or paths are available, movement (in Burma) may be easier along drainage channels than along ridges. The reverse is generally true in other tropical areas.


Only a few of us have had enough experience to attain a "sense of direction" which comes to us instinctively. We therefore must consider various aids. The compass is an obvious aid, but, in the jungle, the inexperienced man would never be able to move very fast if he had to make constant reference to his compass. It should be used as a last resort and as a check.

The shadows thrown by the sun are an easily observed and accurate aid to direction; but one must allow for the gradual displacement of shadows as the earth moves around.

Other aids to maintaining direction include prominent objects, the course of rivers, prevailing winds, the stars, and the moon.

1 This section is based on three separate reports, one of which was prepared by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington,, D.C.; one by the Division of Wildlife Management, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the other by a British authority on jungle craft in Burma. See FM 31-20, Jungle Warfare, for U.S. doctrine on fighting in the jungle.

2 In connection with vegetation, reference should be made to TM 10-420, Emergency Food Plants and Poisonous Plants of the Islands of the Pacific.

3 Reference should be made to the section on "Maintaining Direction" in Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. I, No. 4, page 69.


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