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"Engineer Operations in the Jungle" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following article on British military engineer operations in the jungle was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 38, November 18, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. 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.]


Military engineering under the most favorable weather conditions is a difficult art, particularly when complicated by the opposition of an alert and resourceful enemy. In tropical jungles and with native troops, the work is one of extreme difficulty. The following paragraphs are a condensed resumé of a report made by an experienced British officer after five months of such operations.

a. Preparation

(1) General

To begin with, the officer writes, everyone should know how to swim and how to fight with automatic weapons. The men must be "absolutely fit" physically, and trained to take care of themselves in the field, which includes security discipline. Frequently engineers are engaged in cutting trails and building or repairing bridges, far from the protection of supporting units. Under these circumstances, it is absolutely essential that they be capable of repelling any probable attack. They must, moreover, be able to change quickly from motor transport to animal, and to understand the methods of animal-pack loading. Mechanical transport can only be used on good roads.

(2) Map Reading

Map reading must include both ordinary and stereoptican aerial map interpretation. A case was cited where a route for a trail was decided upon from the direct terrain observation and examination of existing maps. After two days work in cutting the trail, it was found to lead to a vertical cliff and had to be abandoned. Had this route been closely scrutinized by stereoptican interpretation of aerial photographs, the mistake would not have been made.

b. Notes on Jungle Operations

(1) Mine Fields

Jungle operations have their own problems in regard to mines and booby traps, since it is difficult to make sure the mine fields are properly marked and sited. For this reason, the writer comments, the division commander was reluctant to use them.

(2) Bridging

As most streams were tidal with muddy bottoms, nearly all bridges were of timber-pile construction, with the material cut in the neighboring forest. A local type of pile-driver was used to sink piles 6 to 15 feet in the ground. While bridge-building was slow at first it became very fast with experience. The rate of progress by four squads of engineers on a pile bridge was about 30 running feet of bridge per day.

(3) Water Supply

Water was supplied by a local type of well-digging apparatus. Two-inch pipe with a nose piece was driven by the same equipment used in pile-driving.

(4) Care of Tools and Supplies

Attention must be given to the care of tools and supplies. This is the particular duty of the maintenance units. Early requisitions of other needed supplies were essential because of the distance from base, and there was a paramount need to use all local resources.

(5) Driving in Mud and Sand

Drivers should be trained in driving under all sorts of jungle conditions, getting on and off ferries, over wet ground, soft sand and in water.

(6) Maintenance of Communications

It is stated that 95 per cent of the engineer work was devoted to maintenance of communications, which included the building of dirt roads by the shovel-and-basket method, erecting bridges and ferries, and the construction of landing points. Native labor was used to within 5 miles of the front; after a bombing raid, natives were apt to desert. When all-weather roads were requested, they were built by the rear elements, which constructed brick fire kilns, made bricks and laid them with native labor.

(7) Tidal Streams

On large tidal streams, bridging was out of the question and folding boat equipment was invaluable. Assault boats were used to make improvised rafts for the transportation of animals. Getting across was easy but seventy-five percent of the time was consumed in getting on and off the rafts. Landing stages were built at different levels to cope with the tides, extension landing ramps being used on muddy ground.

Where tidal variations were not too great, pile bridges were built, and the small box-girder type was used over narrow gaps, to be replaced later with trestle-type.

(8) Native Labor

Native labor was considered to be an advantage and 20,000 natives were used at one time in a division area. The natives supplied their own food. Management was carried on through groups of about 40, under a foreman who was usually the village head man working under the engineer commanding officer.

(9) Supply Dumps

Supply dumps were established for wire, AT mines, etc. When an issue was made from a forward dump, that dump was replenished from one of those in the rear echelon as required. No regular daily supplies were sent. Material was transported by trucks from the motor pool.

(10) Ferry Discipline

Ferry discipline is most important. Engineers, particularly when under fire, have enough to do without handling the priority of individuals in crossing a ferry. That is MP work.

c. Equipment

(1) Weapons

There was need for additional light machine guns and submachine guns. Booby trap mechanisms were badly needed - two officers were killed attempting to make and install booby traps. The explosive provided must be capable of withstanding heat and dampness.

(2) Tools

Long knives of the machete type were invaluable. Every man should carry one. Spades as well as shovels were required. Power tools should not be too heavy and power saws were valuable, as were the bull-dozers and graders. Some small motor-driven circular saws would have been useful.

The following tools were recommended as a squad tool set, and made up one mule load.

auger, wood, 3/8 x 4 1/2 in
adze 4 1/2 lbs
chisel 1 in
hammer, carpenter's claw, 1 1/2 lbs
hammer, sledge 10 lbs
saw, cross-cut 4 ft
saw, hand, 26 in
jungle knives, light (two)
jungle knives, heavy (two)
rope 1/2 inch
ax, long-handled
       axes, pick (four)
axes pick, spare helves (two)
shovels, engineer (four)
shovel, spare handle
rod, measuring 4 ft
tape, steel 100 ft
tapes, tracing (two)
level, field service
cutters, wire
wire, 14 gage, 1 lb
nails, wire, 3 to 6 in, 1 lb
tape, 1/2 inch, lashing, 6 rolls

(3) Bridging and Ferrying Equipment

Outboard motors and other propulsion units which can be attached to rafts and reconnaissance boats were both in demand. On one occasion, proper pontoon equipment, which was lacking, would have saved three days in moving a brigade to meet a vigorous attack,

(4) Motor Transport

Shortage in motor transport was met by pooling. One jeep for each engineer company commander would have been desirable. Flat-bed, American-type trucks were particularly useful in handling engineer supplies.

(5) Clothing

The overall type combat uniform was not popular with either officers or men, who preferred shorts, particularly for working in water. Obviously, for protection against malaria, shorts are inadequate.

(6) Tubular Scaffolding

Tubular scaffolding would have been extremely useful in making jetties and for general landing purposes. It is quick to set up and is adjustable.


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