This book is largely a personalized account of basic needs of foot soldiers fighting in the humid tropics, and of combat-proven means for meeting those needs. It recounts repeated eliminations of equipment proven to be useful for winning jungle wars, and recommends ways by which those lost items can be regained.
Most of the losses were due to military snafus caused by ignorance of jungle fighting men’s requirements, jurisdictional conflicts between competing organizations, the giving of monetary and other awards to persons who reduced the dollar costs of items, and “value engineering” used to determine, often in a few days, whether to remove a feature of an item being issued — together resulting over the years in most combat-proven equipment for foot-mobile jungle soldiers being eliminated or made less functional.
Many weaknesses and deficiencies of U.S. forces for fighting jungle wars are summarized in this book. No one of them is, by itself, of strategic significance. However, if most of them are not remedied, together they can render ineffective strategies that could be war winners.
The two principal objectives of this book are:
First, to provide detailed information on jungle snafus and remedies to generals and civilian leaders who recognize or will recognize the need to build forces capable of winning jungle confrontations and wars.
Second, to inform individual soldiers who may serve in jungle countries about tropical dangers and ways to prevent becoming casualties, including how they and their families can get several items of personal equipment that jungle soldiers need but are not being issued.
Americans who fought in the jungles, swamps, and rice paddies of Vietnam suffered unnecessarily — and many of them died — because they did not have footmobile equipment and training as good as that given to many thousands of our jungle infantrymen toward the end of World War II. Furthermore, having inferior equipment and lacking critically important, combat-proven items reduced their combat effectiveness. Those unrecognized deficiencies continue to endanger both American troops who may have to fight in jungles, and native fighters against tyrannies in the humid tropics. I feel strongly that these deficiencies should be corrected, and believe that privileged Americans, very few of whom will die fighting in jungles, have a moral obligation to support the improvement of combat equipment needed by our jungle soldiers.
Many of the snafus — Webster’s: “sna-fú, Situation Normal, All Fouled (euphemism) Up” — described in this book are serious military problems both in jungle countries and in nations which are of greater strategic importance to the United States in the 1990s. Military snafus are much harder to remedy than are snafus in the civilian world, where competition and available alternatives tend to eliminate obviously inferior products and procedures.
Readers of this book will realize that only powerful generals and civilian leaders can correct the organizational weaknesses that cause many of the described snafus. However, if thousands of soldiers and civilians become aware of jungle snafus and their broad implications, then our military and civilian leaders will be under pressure to remedy the continuing problems.
Because of my direct involvement in the development and adoption of many of the specialized items used by Americans in jungles in World War II and in the Vietnam War, I am uniquely qualified to give pertinent facts that are unknown even to the officers and specialists who today are responsible for improving the weapons, equipment, training and overall effectiveness of our jungle troops and those of our friends. My experiences have ranged from invention and rigorous jungle testing of new items, to personal briefings of generals, lieutenant generals, and a Secretary of the Army.
My interest in improving the uniforms and equipment of our jungle infantrymen began in 1927 when I was a boy of 13 on a four-month trip to the Orient and visited Major Charles C. Cresson, my uncle, for six weeks in the Philippines. The first thing he gave me was a wool-flannel bellyband, then thought to prevent stomach cramps and other tropical troubles. At that time and for years later American troops on the march in the tropics wore thick wool shirts to keep them from getting cramps or catching cold when they stopped, wet with sweat. The fact that jungle natives wore very light cotton clothing and got along better in the humid heat was not considered pertinent, because whites in the tropics were believed to be a less hardy breed. This assumed racial weakness was not recognized by the Army brats with whom I soon was playing, cutting bamboo with our bolos to make shacks in second-growth wasteland adjacent to the Army post, Fort McKinley, and dodging water buffaloes that did not like the smell of our white man’s sweat. Those acclimated American boys wore only light cotton clothing, and I did, too. We sweated a lot, sometimes felt chilly when we stopped in the shade or at night, but did not have cramps or get sick.
Two years before Pearl Harbor I was a junior exploration geologist working in disease-ridden Venezuelan jungles along with a few very experienced Standard Oil exploration geologists. All of us were specially equipped. As an infantry reserve first lieutenant who for years had feared that Nazi Germany and empire-building Japan would attack the United States, I became increasingly aware of the needs of American infantrymen in jungle regions. I concluded that in the approaching war our jungle fighters should be provided with much better boots, uniforms, rations, packs, and ways to keep equipment dry, and more effective means for disinfecting water and minimizing insect bites. American soldiers properly equipped to fight in jungles also would need items they did not have, including individual flotation gear, backpackable very lightweight boats, waterproof compasses, ponchos, machetes, hammocks, and individual medical kits to enable each soldier to treat infections and small injuries before they became serious. American jungle troops would have a tremendous advantage if each man were both issued and trained to use an integrated assemblage of personal equipment and ready-to-eat dry rations needed for multi-month, cross-jungle operations — an assemblage much more useful for jungle infantrymen than that supplied to Standard Oil exploration geologists.
While working for Standard Oil in Venezuela my ambition to help meet the needs outlined above was strengthened by reading a translation of Wheat and Soldiers, a Japanese book describing infiltration tactics used by the conquerors of much of Chiang Kai-shek’s China. Those tactics enabled small groups of well trained and equipped Japanese infantrymen to infiltrate around and through Chinese defensive positions, and then to assemble in forces large enough to strike from the rear — outflanking the defenders, cutting their supply lines, ambushing and demoralizing them. I was sure that in jungles such infiltration tactics would be even more effective if employed by troops properly equipped and trained for jungle fighting. For decades I have believed that greatly improved tactics and strategies usually are based on better weapons and equipment. The hardware comes first.
Individual flotation devices and very lightweight boats would be needed to enable well equipped and trained jungle soldiers to get themselves quickly across streams, in unexpected places. Meteorological balloons, breath inflated and placed under shirts and in packs, appeared to be the simplest means for making heavily ladened men buoyant and able to swim. Waterproof bags, lighter versions of those used by jungle natives, would help. I conceived a new type of very light, inexpensive boat with multiple breath-inflated balloon-bladders in its unwaterproofed, compartmented cloth shell. My belief that probably no one was working to turn military concepts like mine into realities motivated me to try to become an initiator, before my unprepared country was attacked.
When the German blitzkrieg outflanked the Maginot Line by unexpectedly striking through the Ardennes Forest, thus precipitating the fall of France, Venezuelan government officials apparently concluded that Hitler soon would rule the world. So, before Paris was occupied, they cancelled all exploration permits of American and British companies. I had to leave Orinoco jungles and begin making air-photo maps in Caracas. There, in defiance of Venezuelan law, German swastika flags were flying atop German-owned buildings. One of them was on the roof of the Casa Zing, in which Standard Oil of Venezuela rented its main geological office. And inside the Casa Zing a large Nazi flag was hanging in front of the elevator. Its bottom edge was so low I had to duck my head under it when going to work. The first time I saw it I decided I’d be damned if I’d work under Hitler’s flag. Every time I passed under that flag I spat on it, hoping to aggravate a German into assaulting me. I resolved to request active duty as a reserve first lieutenant with an infantry regiment back home in Texas. Quitting my promising job was made easier by having gained a clear understanding of the Nazis’ objectives while serving briefly in Germany during the Munich Crisis as a courier for a British underground group getting Jews out of Czechoslovakia. And while traveling in Japan I had observed a little of that expanding empire’s preparations for war.
Within a few weeks I left Venezuela to report for active duty in Texas, sure that America soon would be attacked. I hoped that my assemblage of jungle-proven exploration equipment, which I took home with me, would be useful for convincing key generals that American infantrymen should be much better equipped and trained for jungle fighting. Showing that equipment and the first prototype that I made of my breath inflated pneumatic boat to Major General Walter E. Prosser led to my becoming Jungle Experiments Officer of his command, the Panama Mobile Force, and to attaining most of my objectives in World War II.
The effectiveness of present-day American airpower will be greatly reduced as our enemies acquire increasingly deadly, man-portable, yet relatively inexpensive antiaircraft weapons — especially ones similar to the Stingers that we supplied in the mid and late 1980s to Afghan tribesmen fighting against Russian invaders and Afghan communists. Freedom Fighters fired 340 Stingers, shooting down 269 Russian and other aircraft. Those shoulder-fired weapons became “the war’s decisive weapon” according to Afghanistan Lessons Learned, an official study commissioned in 1989 by Army Chief of Staff General Carl E. Vuono. Facts on the increasing deadliness of shoulder-fired weapons are detailed in the last chapter of this book.
Most Americans were impressed and encouraged by the unprecedented successes of American airpower in the Persian Gulf War. Many readers of this book may believe that our airpower will continue to maintain its dominance in future confrontations and wars, even in jungle countries. So, to strengthen the credibility of my warnings that increasingly deadly man-carried weapons in the hands of our enemies will degrade American airpower and several other capabilities to wage mechanized conventional wars, I give the following indicative account:
While serving in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, I concluded that Russian strategists were perceptive enough to realize that the best way to increase American losses of aircraft, combat vehicles, boats, and lives in Vietnam would be for the Soviet Union to supply the Vietnamese communists with much more effective shoulder-fired and other man-portable weapons. I believed that by making a major effort for a few years the Soviets could invent, develop, and produce such relatively inexpensive weapons capable of forcing the United States to withdraw from Vietnam, and to suffer more casualties in future wars in other parts of the world. The new weapons would be war winners.
This ominous development appeared so logical and likely to me that, shortly after returning home from Vietnam in 1968, I wrote a paper warning of the above mentioned unrecognized future dangers to America’s preferred mechanized means for waging wars. Although using only unclassified information, I was aware of the sensitivity of revealing ways in which the development of lightweight high-tech weapons by the Russians could lead to the degradation of U.S. capabilities to defeat communist aggressions in Vietnam and other countries. So I stamped my paper SECRET and, taking required precautions, mailed it to the Director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
A few months later I attended a DARPA symposium on counterinsurgency, held in Columbus, Ohio. The opening address was given by Dr. Everhardt Rechtin, DARPA’s new Director. He began by stating that he had not specialized in counterinsurgency work, but had studied the writings of leading authorities, including “...Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, and Cresson Kearny.”
Dr. Conrad V. Chester, who was sitting beside me, straightened up and looked hard at me. I was equally astonished by Dr. Rechtin’s ranking of my donated paper, but encouraged to learn that, instead of disappearing as expected into the classified files, it was considered by top DARPA officials to be one of the most important warnings bearing on development of more effective weapons for foot soldiers, and on our then ongoing and future confrontations with revolutionaries and invading forces.
Later during the symposium two CIA men came up to me and privately criticized me for not having classified my paper higher than “secret.”
Recent history has revealed that American strategic planners, not their Russian counterparts, had the foresight and capabilities required to develop and produce Stingers and other high-tech, war-winning weapons and systems. But now, a quarter of a century later, I still believe that democracies will be especially endangered by what has become the worldwide proliferation of increasingly effective man-portable weapons, typified by Stingers. China, Russia, and several other technically competent nations are manufacturing improved shoulder-fired weapons, some of which may be even more deadly than Stingers. China and Russia, in particular, are bent on profiting from the sale of superior arms, and a few countries hostile to the United States have billions to spend on weapons capable of deterring or defeating nations with larger forces.
Improved means surely will be developed for protecting helicopters and other expensive military assets against today’s best weapons. However, especially in jungles, mountains, and cities, tomorrow’s well trained and equipped, hard-to-find foot soldiers armed with more deadly yet relatively inexpensive lightweight weapons will have increasingly great advantages.
Parts of this book describe how the Army’s adoption and improvement of much civilian equipment used by Americans working in jungles resulted in many thousands of our jungle infantrymen being well equipped before the end of World War II. Tens of thousands more of our soldiers and Marines received some of the improved items. Other parts of this book recount how many needed items were eliminated or made less functional before Americans were fighting in Vietnam, and point out our present deteriorated capabilities for footmobile operations in the humid tropics. Also discussed are means by which America’s and our allies’ chances of prevailing in jungle regions can be improved by providing updated combat-proven equipment and training men to use it skillfully.
In future prolonged jungle conflicts, as in all past wars in the humid tropics, more men will be incapacitated by malaria, skin diseases and other infections than by enemy weapons. So in this book emphasis is placed on combat-proven but largely forgotten means to enable jungle fighters to help themselves keep healthy, mobile, and able to hit the enemy with the increasingly deadly weapons they will carry. Some inadequately reported weapon deficiencies in Vietnam, and ways to remedy those dramatic snafus, are covered in several chapters.
General Joseph Stilwell’s innovative river crossing successes in Burma are recounted in this book. The surprise mass crossings of the Irrawaddy and the Salween were made possible by his having ordered thousands of lightweight breath-inflated boats for his American and Chinese infantrymen, and training them to use the simple, inexpensive craft. (Those multi-bladdered boats were patented by the Army in my name. I have received no royalties from any of my patented military inventions.)
As an example of how not to prepare troops for river crossings, a summary is given of a World War II non-jungle snafu, the disastrous failure of American and British commanders in Europe to provide their foot soldiers with thousands of light pneumatic boats and individual flotation devices they needed to get themselves across rivers as wide as the Rhine without help from engineers and their few boats.
I postponed beginning to write this book until 1988. Before that year I did not believe that the benefits likely to result from disclosures of past and continuing weaknesses in our troops’ jungle equipment would outweigh the harmful effects resulting from supplying anti-defense activists with factual ammunition to use in their campaigns to discredit U.S. defense objectives and capabilities. But by 1988 the increased emphasis which both American conservatives and responsible liberals had begun to place on improving our conventional defenses — particularly on strengthening our capabilities to engage in special operations and low intensity confrontations — made wide dissemination of the facts in this book important to America’s defense efforts. Furthermore, many of the men responsible for past elimination or degradation of combat-proven jungle equipment were dead or retired. Our military and civilian leaders responsible for U.S. capabilities for jungle warfare can read this book and, based on facts it reveals, remedy past snafus and make needed improvements with less risk of being opposed than in past decades.
The most informative widely read books on the Vietnam wars are among those published in the 1980s and 1990s. Spine-tingling books by articulate commanding officers of units that fought crucial battles — including Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore and Major General John K. Singlaub — recount the heroism of our soldiers pitted against fanatical communist enemies and the jungle. (See the Selected Bibliography.) Those leaders and other successful military writers stressed some of the deficiencies in our weapons, equipment, and training, but mentioned only a few of the snafus and very few of the remedies described in this book. Of course the overriding responsibility of combat commanders is to win their ongoing war with the available weapons and equipment.
Chairman Mao Tse-tung and General Vo Nguyen Giap, the leading originators of strategies for winning revolutionary wars, in their writings paid scant attention to soldiers’ personal equipment and what could be done to improve it. Mao’s writings and victories (See Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works) confirmed his reputation as the most famous strategic theoretician of his time. Giap’s Big Victory, Great Task should be required reading for Americans who believe that our deployed forces in Vietnam could have avoided defeat had the strategy decreed by American politicians belatedly been changed.
Leading military historians — even Bernard Fall in his Street Without Joy, his classic firsthand account of the French and American disasters in Vietnam — concentrate on what happened, not on how soldiers could have been better equipped and trained to enable them to fight more effectively. Dr. Fall gave graphic accounts of the exhaustion and afflictions of French and American troops in the most hostile of combat environments. But apparently he did not realize that the best North Vietnamese uniforms gave almost complete protection against malarial mosquitoes biting through the cloth, and did not inform his readers that sleeping in lightweight hammocks helped Vietnamese practitioners of revolutionary war live and maneuver in jungle better than their enemies. Nor did Bernard Fall and other authoritative writers on jungle conflicts mention the fact that the lower the motivation of soldiers to defeat dedicated native revolutionists in the humid tropics, the greater is those soldiers’ need for the best health-protective, lightest, and coolest specialized jungle clothing and equipment — and for being trained to use them.
This book helps meet that need.
No combat-proven jungle item should be eliminated or changed before rigorous jungle testing has clearly shown that its elimination or modification does not degrade a needed combat capability. Ideally, those responsible for changes should actively participate in the essential jungle testing. Unfortunately, adequate testing, such as we did in Panama shortly before and during World War II, inevitably involves risks to the participants’ health and lives and is increasingly difficult to carry out in peacetime. This is one more reason to retain or readopt combat-proven items of jungle equipment.
Readers of this book may wonder why I have worked intermittently for decades, usually without pay, to remedy military snafus and oversights, above all those involving health-protective personal equipment. Readers also need an explanation of how, while a civilian in Vietnam at the height of that disastrous war, I was able to order a helicopter or plane to take me wherever I wanted to go and to have most of the other prerogatives of a four star general. To inform readers on those two scores, this preface will end with an account of the two snafus that have seriously affected my life. The first of those foul-ups occurred late in World War II.
By the summer of 1944 victory over the Nazis and the Japanese was in sight and official interest in improving jungle equipment had evaporated. My R & D work in Panama no longer seemed important. I thought I should take my turn in combat, so volunteered for service with the Office of Strategic Services. An OSS course in demolitions and sabotage completed my qualifications for special operations in Burmese jungles. However, I was in upper Burma for only two days before receiving a radiogram from OSS Headquarters in India ordering me to report for duty with Detachment 201 in China. A day later I was flown over the Hump to Kunming, even though not acclimated for service in the treeless, freezing mountains of southeastern China. Then I received a radiogram from New Delhi demanding an explanation as to why I was not in Burma. Disgusted, I sent OSS Headquarters a copy of the radiogram ordering me to China, where a day later I was ordered to stay. (The fateful radiogram sending me to China had been intended for another officer, but had been transmitted to me by a sergeant.)
My service in China from early autumn until spring was undramatic, disastrous to me, and grimly educational and motivational. While planning demolitions to blow more of the bridges and mountainside sections of the road and railway essential to the Japanese offensive in southeast China, I traveled by jeep and on foot along mountain roads crowded with starving Chinese civilians. The ruthless Japanese invaders terrorized refugees and permitted them to pass through their lines, burdening the Chinese defending forces. The roadsides were littered with civilian corpses being eaten by dogs gone wild and by hundreds of big ravens. For a month I did not see sun, moon, or stars. A cold drizzle was the norm, along with occasional light, wet snow. I walked in the midst of many thousands of unprepared, admirably tough Chinese men, women, and children who were starving and dying by the hundreds. We all had diarrhea, worms, dysentery, or worse; in places the mountain road was slippery with excrement. Fortunately, I did not become dangerously sick until later, when I was jeeping my way back to Kueiyang, where there was a two-room dispensary and an American Army doctor. There, and in Kunming and Calcutta, I nearly died from a crippling polio-like viral infection, still undiagnosed. In about three months I lost over 40 pounds. Five painful months went by before my locked-crooked right leg was straightened by successive casts, back in the States. Memories of many thousands of suffering Chinese and hundreds dying or dead still motivate me to work to help people survive both nuclear and conventional wars.
As expected, during the years in which I was sick, crippled, unable to earn a living, and difficult to live with, May Eskridge, my wonderful wife, stood by me and started doing most of the work of raising our five children. My days of active duty in the Army were over. But later between several incapacitating recurrences of my strange Chinese viral affliction and other infections I have been blessed with a vigorous and generally productive life.
The second of the two military snafus that consequentially affected my life was that rarest type of snafu, one that was and is helpful to many people. It originated in the bureaucratic jungle of the Pentagon. As our casualties in Vietnam increased and accounts by returning veterans made our jungle infantrymen’s need for better equipment more compelling, I concluded that I should do what I could to help our jungle fighters. I also wanted to help strengthen the faltering Truman Doctrine, the strategy for containing Soviet expansion worldwide, with its extremely optimistic final objective the wearing down and elimination of the aggressive Soviet Union without fighting a major war.
So I used my spare time to update several items of combat-proven World War II equipment. (At that time I was a research engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, working on nuclear war survival problems and equipment.) Less than a year before our Vietnam disaster climaxed in the Tet Offensive, I showed my collection of needed jungle equipment to Dr. William G. Mc-Millan, then the Science Advisor to General William C. Westmoreland. He recruited me to be a senior member of his staff in Vietnam.
A few weeks later I was in the Pentagon getting my prophylactic shots and the papers required for service as a civilian in Vietnam. The last processing step was having my I.D. card made out by a competent appearing female major. She went over my shot records, etc., and asked what was my Civil Service grade. I explained that I worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and that the National Laboratories are empowered to hire, promote, and fire professionals without the restrictions of Civil Service, and have no Civil Service or similar ranking system. Also, I told her that my salary varied from year to year, because I had a special employment agreement permitting me to take unpaid time off whenever I decided that a recurring viral infection made it necessary for me to recuperate for weeks or months. Then that bored major asked me what would be my income (not my salary) that year. I gave her the approximate amount of my total estimated income, which that year included royalties from a small uranium mine on claims I had staked in the last land rush in American history. She looked puzzled for a moment, typed something on my I.D. card, and handed it to me. I glanced at that lucky card, noted she had typed “general” as my simulated rank, controlled my delighted surprise, and casually thanked her.
My wife, unhappy because I again had volunteered for wartime service in an Asian land (that not unexpectedly turned out to be bad for my health), was waiting for me in the Pentagon’s long rotunda. Smiling broadly, I handed her my precious I.D. card. She read the word “general” and queried, “What’s the catch?” Since May was the niece of a major general and as a girl had made many visits to Army posts, she doubted I would have the status of a four star general.
Fortunately for my usefulness in Vietnam, there was no catch to my simulated rank of general. Soon I was in Vietnam, with a car and Vietnamese driver assigned to me (useful also to other members of the Science Advisor’s staff during my frequent trips away from the Saigon area, trips which occupied most of my time), with authority to obtain information of all kinds, and the right to sit with generals at briefings and at mess, and to enjoy other privileges. However, by far the greatest advantage of my general’s rank was the ability to order a plane or helicopter to take me promptly wherever I wanted to go — from up near North Vietnam with the Marines to far south into the Mekong Delta.