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"British Training for Special Duties" from Intelligence Bulletin, March 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on British training methods was published in the Intelligence Bulletin, March 1943.

[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.]



A discussion of the methods of maintaining direction, largely based on a lecture given by Maj. Lord Lovat of the British Commando School, appeared in Intelligence Bulletin No. 4, for December, 1942. Extracts from Major Lovat's lectures to the Commando School on "Scouts and Observers," "Ambushes," "Street Fighting," and "Woodcraft and Bivouac" appear below. Although his views do not necessarily represent official British doctrine, they are reprinted here as a matter of fundamental interest to American troops.


The importance of maintaining observation superior to that of the enemy cannot be overemphasized. In this connection it is the duty of scouts and observers, who are highly trained specialists, to supply their commanders with information which cannot in the normal way be provided by other troops. These specialists must be able to obtain accurate information under all conditions of warfare, and in all kinds of terrain, with or without the aid of maps, field glasses, or other instruments. "No Man's Land," whether it is 100 yards or 100 miles wide, must be kept under continuous observation and regarded as a network through which no piece of information, however small, should be allowed to escape.

Although scouts must have a knowledge of the organization and work of other arms--especially of the infantry--they should be expert at the following special activities:

a. Using field glasses for long-range observation.

b. All map reading.

c. Writing reports and messages; keeping logbooks.

d. Taking bearings; using the prismatic compass.

e. Patrolling long distances by day and by night.

f. Fieldcraft, stalking, concealment, and living off the land.

g. Bivouacking; personal care in the field.

h. Planning, constructing, and manning observation posts.

i. Use and care of arms.

j. Identification of troops, both friendly and hostile.

In addition, it is desirable for a scout to be competent at evaluating air photographs, executing field sketching and plans, and performing first aid. He should also be able to ride a horse, drive a motorcycle, sail a boat, swim, and cook.

There are numerous roles in which scouts are invaluable, including:

a. Patroling, observing in small detachments, sniping, and verbal reporting.

b. Penetrating enemy lines and working inside them.

c. Moving skillfully and silently over difficult country at night.

d. Constructing field defenses and erecting obstacles.

e. Executing demolitions and sabotage.

Scouts and observers not only must be physically fit, but must have 100 percent self-confidence. There are more occasions in their work when they need a cool hand, a clear eye, and a quick imagination than in any other branch of the military service.


a. General

In guerrilla warfare it is always necessary to be on the lookout for opportunities to surprise the enemy, and to attack him when and where he least expects it. Ambushing him whenever possible will make him respect you a great deal, especially if you can get away without losing any of your own men.

b. Choosing a Locality

In choosing a locality, it is necessary to take the following requirements into account:

(1) A safe, sure line of retreat, such as wooded or broken ground, for all men in the ambush.

(2) Firing positions from which fire can be opened at point-blank range. It may be helpful to let the men prepare their own positions with rocks or sandbags, but this must not be allowed if there is any real likelihood that air or ground observers will detect the positions.

(3) The locality should provide at least two firing positions; very often it is better if these are on opposite sides of a road.

(4) If possible, the locality should permit the ambush to see the enemy while he is as much as 300 or 400 yards away, so that if his strength is dangerously superior, he can be allowed to pass.

c. Planning

Having found out by what routes enemy patrols or small detachments are accustomed to move, it is necessary to obtain the fullest possible answers to the following questions:

(1) Do the enemy patrols move on foot, by motor transport, or mounted?

(2) What is the average strength? How armed? How many vehicles?

(3) Do they patrol in armored cars or tanks?

(4) At what time do they use the routes?

(5) How do they move? In one block? Or do they have protective detachments out in front or rear? Do the detachments move far from the main body?

(6) How will they summon assistance when attacked? From what point can they get assistance most easily?

(7) If the enemy carries supplies, can they be used if captured? If they cannot be used, can they be destroyed easily?

(8) What sort of troops are they? Young or old? Trained or untrained? Alert or careless? Can the officers and noncoms be picked out readily, and killed by the first volley?

d. Action

Having found out as much information as possible, and having chosen the locality, it is advisable to make a detailed reconnaissance of the position. If it is impossible to take the entire ambushing force to the place, the next best procedure is to make a sand model of it and of the surrounding country. Every man should be shown where he is to go. When this is physically impossible, the noncoms should at least be shown where they are to place their sections.

(1) Keep the whole operation as secret as possible.

(2) Almost invariably, the preliminary movements from camp or base must be made in the dark, and the actual taking up of positions must be done in the dark, too.

(3) Sentries must be posted to give warning of the enemy's approach. If possible, make use of a local man or woman who need not remain concealed.

(4) Adopt a simple signaling system.

(5) If the enemy detachment has scouts out in front, these must be allowed to pass unobserved. If one or two men are posted farther up the road to deal with them, the scouts must not be touched until the main attack has begun.

(6) The leader of the ambush will give the command to open fire. Fire must be rapid, so as to have an immediate, overwhelming effect.

(7) A few of the ambush's best shots should be selected beforehand to dispose of enemy officers and noncoms.

(8) If vehicles are to be destroyed, men must be detailed beforehand for this work. The remainder must remain concealed to deal with any reinforcements or with enemy troops hiding in trucks.

(9) When the ambush is scheduled as a night operation, take along as many Very pistols as possible, and use them liberally as soon as the fighting starts.

(10) Movement should be as silent as possible; for this reason, all troops should be equipped with rubber-soled shoes or rubber boots, if available.

(11) Remember that soldiers will usually face the direction from which hostile fire comes. It is useful for an ambush to be divided into two distinct groups; one of these can fire first, and the other can then fire on the enemy from his rear.

(12) When using light machine guns for your ambush, place them so that they fire directly along the track.

(13) At the beginning of hostilities, road blocks are useful for halting convoys abruptly. In later actions the enemy will suspect road blocks of indicating the presence of troops in ambush; under these circumstances, various types of land mines, expertly hidden, will be more effective.

(14) It is most important for sentries to remain in position until the order to retire is given.

(15) All wounded men should be removed; ponies or mules are useful for this.

(16) If the ambush is successful, take away or destroy all matériel on the scene. All papers should be taken for examination. Search the dead for anything that may be useful.

(17) When the withdrawal has begun, it should be completed as fast as possible, with the ambush group dispersing to meet again at a place designated before the beginning of the operation.


It sometimes happens that one or more unattached companies are ordered to surprise and occupy a town or village which is in the hands of an enemy garrison, and to hold it for a limited period. Not only surprise but speed is essential in such an action. If the enemy has any warning of the attack, he will quickly try to turn almost every house into a fortress. In this case an unattached company, lacking artillery and air support, will find it costly, if not impossible, to turn out the enemy. The greatest care in planning and the utmost secrecy are therefore necessary.

At the beginning of the attack, troops should advance in single file along both sides of the street, keeping close to the walls and maintaining intervals of about 3 yards between men. Each file will watch the windows and doorways of the houses opposite, and be prepared to engage enemy snipers. It may also be convenient to place a Bren gun on each corner at the end of the street to give effective supporting fire. When movement along the roofs of the houses is possible, snipers selected for their agility and marksmanship should be sent up to the roofs to support the advance that is taking place in the street.

A doorway leading into a house, or into a room, must never be approached directly from the front. It is best to approach it from one side, hugging the wall, and then to hurl one or two hand grenades through the doorway. Immediately after the explosion, the attacker should enter, with his pistol (or rifle) ready for firing. Even if the defenders are not killed or wounded by the grenades, there is a good chance that they will be knocked out--for a few seconds, at least.

A strongly defended house will have to be taken floor by floor, or even room by room--hence the danger of allowing the enemy to organize any resistance. Once a house has been entered, and fighting is in progress on the upper floors, the attackers should post one or two men on the ground floor to watch the street and guard against surprise.

The best way to deal with strong resistance in houses is to work around the flanks and toward the rear, and thus enclose the defended localities in a number of small pockets which can be reduced one by one. Three-inch and two-inch trench mortars are most effective in street fighting, because of their extreme accuracy and the demoralizing effect of their grenades and their rapidity of fire. They are especially useful against strong barricades.

Once the attack has been launched, the enemy must be kept on the run and deprived of any opportunity in which to rally and organize his resistance. All the attackers must be trained to display the greatest initiative, since the slightest hesitation may prove fatal to the whole operation. Subordinate commanders, in particular, must combine a dare-devil recklessness with a cool head. In this type of warfare, the motto is "Hit first, hit hard, and keep hitting!"

Finally, it must be emphasized that a small attacking force cannot afford to take prisoners in the course of street fighting. It is too easy for the prisoners to escape and, once having escaped, to harass the attackers. Furthermore, men cannot be spared to serve as escorts.


a. General

Woodcraft is the art of making the most of the natural physical features of a countryside, so that one may work and live in comparative comfort. The object of using woodcraft in bivouacking is not so much to "rough it" as to "smooth it."

The following are useful articles to carry: rifle, scissors, needle, thread, buttons, safety pins, rubber bands, strong cord, copper wire, adhesive tape, nails and tacks, waterproof matches (see subpar. d), flashlight, emergency rations, and first-aid supplies.

b. Bivouac Site

A good bivouac site should provide water, fuel, dry and level ground, concealment from ground and air observation, a covered line of approach and retreat, security against surprise attack, and security against spread of fire. Old camp sites should be avoided, because they may harbor disease and because the best fuel will have been used up. Do not choose the lowest part of the available ground; rain may make it uninhabitable.

Choose the sheltered side of a rock or fallen tree; if there is a gap between the tree and ground, block it with stones or earth.

A good windproof and snowproof shelter can be constructed by laying branches with one end on the ground and toward the wind and the other against a pole supported by two stout stakes about 3 feet high. The branches should slope at an angle of more than 45°.

c. Bed

Earth draws heat out of the human body; therefore, one must have more protection underneath than on top (the greenhorn is usually unaware of this fact). A sleeping bag for two men can be made of blankets temporarily sewn together on three sides. To keep the feet warm on cold nights, it may be worthwhile to fill a sack or sandbag with hay or straw, place the feet inside, work the straw around the feet, and tie the sack at the knees.

If it is possible to have a camp fire without risk of enemy observation or danger of the fire spreading, it is an excellent idea to spread fuel over the place selected for bivouac and then burn out the ground. This makes a warm bed, since heat is not drawn from the body, but is given out from the ground.

d. Campfires

If the ground is dry, a trench for the campfire should be dug in line with the wind.

Hard woods are best for cooking; they burn slowly and do not give too much heat. Soft woods burn quickly; although they are good for lighting fires, they generally give off sparks. If possible, always use dead branches taken from the lower part of a tree, or dead wood which is not too moist from lying on the ground. If a fire smokes, give it more air.

The waterproof matches (mentioned in subparagraph a) are useful and easy to make. Dip ordinary matches in shellac and lay them out to dry. They should be struck only in an emergency, when the supply of regular matches is damp. Sometimes it is possible to dry matches satisfactorily by rubbing them through hair.

To light a fire without matches, assemble very small dry shavings, remove a bullet from its case, tip out some (but not all) of the powder from the cartridge case onto the shavings, insert a small piece of frayed cotton rag into the case, and fire the cartridge into the air. The rag should catch fire, and must be applied to the shavings at once. It is important to remember that bone-dry shavings are likely to be found in dead birch trees. Always make certain that fires are out before your departure.

e. Important Note

It is absolutely essential, in bivouac, to place all articles so that they may be assembled quickly and moved during the night, if an unexpected need arises.


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