"The Jungle is Neutral." By F. Spencer Chapman.

One of the better reads on the Jungle campaigns in Burma, this book doesn’t go into great detail over Kohima or Imphal, despite that it mentions both rather adequately.

Instead, the reader is guided gently on the ways and means of surviving the jungle itself, and the hazards of ignoring experience from those who have preceded one in that environment.

The experience the reader has is every atom as gripping and visceral as the human side of Sajer’s “The Forgotten Soldier” in an environment every atom as extreme, for all the vast differences.

I recommend this book, with enthusiasm, as one of very few truly readable books on war in the jungle.

Kind regards, Uyraell.

Your comment as to “…the hazards of ignoring experience from those who have preceded one in that environment” bring to mind when the US first sent troops to Viet Nam. They went in wearing heavy cotton (often starched!) field uniforms and wore full leather boots, among other things. The US military knew from WWII that these items were not satisfactory for this environment but the military is always so slow to change anything, especially if it cost money.

The military, in the sense of those who know what troops need, probably isn’t the problem so much as the bean counters inside or outside the services who make the decisions and who base their decisions on dollars rather then suitability for purpose and military effectiveness. The M16 propellant fiasco is probably the best example in Vietnam, and possibly before or since, but there are countless other examples.

Most recently, our Defence Materiel Organisation which couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, has conceded that it can’t even equip our fighting troops in Afghanistan with suitable boots so that now they get a subsidy to buy their own boots, but still end up paying about $100 out of their own pockets for the most basic piece of infantryman’s kit. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/subsidy-needed-as-army-leathers-are-duds/story-fn7x8me2-1226081545247

Rising Sun, I agree, of course our congress controls the purse strings, but the Army had authority over such things as white name tags, gold rank chevrons, and white T-shirts (making an effective “bulls eye” for anyone shooting at you). Then there were other things like fighting in a tropical environment carrying only one canteen of water.
I went into the Army at the end of the old “brown boot” era, in fact in basic some troops were issued brown boots and had to dye them black. I experienced first hand the obstinacy and sometimes absolute stupidity of an Army which would not change its old ways, but I expect that is true of all armies throughout history. The leaders are always fighting (or preparing to fight) the last war, not the one they are in now.


I suppose it’s partly a military generational thing, much the same as parents always decrying the standards and dress of the current generation they’ve given birth to, while forgetting that their parents said the same of them.

I and some others of my generation who wore heavily starched and knife-creased jungle greens with mirror polished black boots and shiny black belts with gleaming brass in the 1970s find our army’s current camo uniforms and boots quite sloppy. They’re both essentially field dress, but the difference was that when we weren’t in the field we looked sharp, unlike our current soldiers.

But if I could free myself of what I absorbed at the time I’d be able to see that the current system is probably better for what our current army has to do. My son who is currently wearing the latest sloppy outfit will probably be criticising whatever we have in another forty years.

There has been a mammoth change in that area, down here anyway.

My training was heavy on ‘water discipline’. Water was to be used sparingly and a canteen had to last a specified time in specified conditions. If it didn’t last, you went thirsty and if you couldn’t perform because you’d drunk it all and were dehydrated then you risked a charge for something or other - probably a self-inflicted injury like the sunburn charge.

My son’s generation carry ‘camel-packs’, being large capacity plastic bladders, on their backs. It gives them, by the standards of my generation, an almost unlimited amount of water because now the focus is on maintaining hydration rather than overcoming dehydration. Which, even allowing for lugging the extra weight, seems like a better idea than punishing people for not being able to perform because they’re dehydrated because they’re not allowed to carry what they need. (Then again, in Vietnam and in other wars, our troops in action were often allowed to carry whatever they could manage within reason, unless they had a real ***** for a platoon sergeant or platoon commander. I think it was usually the same in other armies.)

Among the kit we were given in basic training in 1970 was a blancoed (a sort of pale green powdery dye soaked into the webbing) belt with corroded brasses. One of our first tasks was to convert the blanco into a shiny black belt to meet the new standard of black webbing replacing blanco. And, of course, we had to convert the corroded brasses into mirrors.

My son did basic training earlier this year. No blanco, but they were still given belts with corroded brasses to bring up to 110% shine, even though they didn’t wear them at any time during basic because they’re not part of the current field uniform.

Some things seem like they aren’t going to change.

I retired from the US Army just after the first Gulf War. For at least the next ten years I considered myself to be a “subject matter expert” on the Army (after all I had spent over 25 years in it).

Lately I’ve noticed that my attitude has changed. The Army I retired from had little in common with the pre Viet Nam Army I was drafted into, just as today’s Army bears little resemblance to the Army I retired from.

While on duty as a recruiter in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s I had the opportunity to have direct contact with many of the military men/women from the 1940’s and ‘50’s. I saw how they had problems relating to the Army I came from. Many of these “old soldiers” seemed to believe the current Army was exactly as they left it. I have nephews and nieces who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and a Grand nephew who is, as we speak, going through Marine Boot Camp. I struggle to relate to them, they speak a new language and use references I don’t understand. Some are proud of their service some view it as a “chore”, but if I am truly objective I think they are, in many ways, probably better soldiers then the men/and women of my generation.

In other ways though I think they are missing something. They don’t seem to have the sense of history and tradition we had.

Starched fatigues, spit shinned boots and attention to detail on work uniforms seems to be things of the past (just as “brown boots” were for me). This makes sense while in the field, but while on garrison duty I think it may not be such a good thing (especially for leaders).

Recently I visited Ft. Hood. The soldiers gave me the impression of being fit and competent, but (as an old First Sergeant) I saw a lot of soldiers with hands in their pockets, with field jackets undone, not wearing headgear, those little things that were so important to we Sergeants in my Army.

I witnessed three soldiers not saluting a Warrant Officer passing by, one of the Soldiers was a young Sgt. I ask them about it and they swore that they didn’t know they were suppose to salute a WO! This would have been unheard of in my Army.

I must believe that the informality and PC-ness have gone too far. Tradition and professionalism still has its place, even in this age of computers and GPS’s.

There is a Thread on this, or another, site talking about the current campaign to refer to all service members as “hero’s”. I disagree with this blanket awarding of that title, not all soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are hero’s - but maybe they think of themselves that way. Does this have anything to do with the current air of informality? I think it might.

F Spenser Chapman was a member of the British Force 136, which trained local groups to fight against the Japanese. The Viet Cong had copies of the book in their language.

The problem with the ‘jamming jenny’ is mentioned in Zumbro, Ralph., [b][u]Tank Sergeant[b][u]Presido 1986. He mentions that he carried out experiments with both government and civilian produced ammo. The military ammo was useless, where as, the civilian was higher quality.

Obvious Spam, removed.