SAS Tracking Skills Gain Intel
With the vegetation in the jungle being denser than a reality TV show member, you won’t be seeing the enemy until you’re sitting on their lap. By then it’s too late. You could be stepping into the line of sight of an ambush patrol with 20 enemy soldiers and then you’re fucked.
By having the necessary skills to track in the jungle you can gain a shit load of information about the enemy without coming into contact with them. You can gauge their numbers, the direction they’re travelling, how fast they’re travelling and how long ago they passed through, how many are possibly at a camp and how often they are out patrolling.
Who Had the Tracking Skills?
Bob Creighton had the skills that paid the bills. On 22 January 1964, the SAS were patrolling around a six-mile area of the border. It was going to be hard enough to find any tracks, the chances increased slightly when there are considerable numbers of people moving together in the area. This wasn’t like finding a soldier dressed a woman out on the town pissing it up, the signs of the enemy in the jungle are hard to spot and it takes much practice and experience to find them. Creighton spotted tracks on the jungle floor, they were leading north.
What Signs Did He Find?
There are no seasons in the jungle. The leaves fall a few at a time. Many are taken by bugs or rotted by fungi so there is never a thick covering on the jungle floor. Footprints show up like fat people at a buffet in this situation.
Peter Dickens said in his book, SAS – The Jungle Frontier,
A body of men following each other soften the ground further, and prints show better. Someone is bound to kick and mark a rotten log, snap a twig or bruise a leaf, even if he avoids committing a disciplinary offence like dropping a toffee paper, and a track is formed.
Creighton froze. He listened intently. The sound of insects fades when men are moving through an area. He could still hear them, indicating that nobody was close by. He couldn’t smell anything that the men had left in the air; humans tend to leave smells in the jungle that are easy to distinguish among the whiff of nature but again no sign of this was good. Lastly, he checked the cobwebs that were strung horizontally across the track they were moving on were still intact. They were.
Gathering Deeper Details
He set up his three men in an ambush to wait it out for a while as he delved deeper into the tracks for more information. Just because the tracks were not really fresh there is still bags of intel you can take from it that can make the difference between living and dying in this environment.
Some prints were of bare feet, but many were booted and of a pattern; soldiers, without a doubt – no one else wore boots in the jungle – and heavily laden ones, for they trod deeply. How many? Creighton looked for a place where the tracks were particularly well marked, took an extra long stride himself – to one side, of course – and knelt to remove the leaves and count the footfalls within it.
He counted the heels and toes of each print separately to ensure he was counting correctly and not missing any, taking the highest number which was 35. He cut this in half, the men would have taken two steps in the space he counted the prints (the size of a large stride of his own) and also accounted for prints that would have been destroyed by the men walking behind the others.
This estimate comes down to experience but Creighton came up with his total. 20 men.
He knew that they hadn’t gone past that morning. It had been dry so far and the edges of the prints were ruined a little by rain so they went through before the rain. His experience pointed to two or even three days. He checked for snapped shoots and sap still being exuded by bruised leaves. It confirmed his estimate of two to three days.
Extra Patrols Sent Out
Creighton fired back a report to HQ and they sent out extra patrols from the Royal Leicesters. A day later some Border Scouts found more tracks that also accounted for around 20 enemy soldiers.
The Border Scouts followed the tracks north. They discovered a camp where at least 200 enemy were staying for a couple of nights. The Scouts were to report on the enemy movement after moving to different areas. By moving ahead of the tracks by helicopter they could get the advantage.
Lieutenant Peele from the Royal Leicesters had taken 18 men and headed off after the enemy. The problem was that in the mountainous jungle environment their VHF radios didn’t work at the distance they were at.
Now here is where it gets a bit tasty. The UN had managed to broker a ceasefire between the Malaysian forces and Soekarno’s Indonesians. Both sides agreed to prevent further casualties but others didn’t really trust Soekarno. Well, Lt Peele and his men that were out looking for Soekarno’s men had no idea about the ceasefire due to their radio problems.
They followed the trail and discovered forty Indonesians having their scran. They were munching their faces with no sentry posted to keep watch. The men thought they were safe. Peele took ten men and charged the camp, firing from the hip like a Hollywood movie. It reminded me of when the SBS stormed an Indonesian’s breakfast feast in the jungle.
It worked. They killed five enemies and the rest fucked off, filling their pants on the move. They left behind a shit load of weapons and ammunition. The main enemy force also fucked off without a peep which was the biggest win.
The pairing of Creighton’s SAS tracking skills and experience put with Peele’s resolution brought around an excellent end to a mission, one for the books to talk about. It was no doubt helped by the lack of comms from Peele’s radio but it all helps.
Peele earned the Military Cross for the mission and Creighton was commended for the top class tracking skills that he displayed.