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Alamo Scouts


Photograph of Alamo Scouts

U.S. Army

The Alamo Scouts was an ad hoc elite reconnaissance force for 6 Army in the Southwest Pacific Area. They were organized at the direction of Walter Krueger, 6 Army commander, who was deeply disturbed by the outcome of the Kiska campaign, where a full-scale invasion was launched against an island the Japanese had already abandoned. Krueger was also dissatisfied with the  reconnaissance that preceded landing operations in western New Britain. 7 Amphibious Force Special Service Unit #1, organized in the fall of 1943 to carry out the reconnaissance, was beset by poor communications, returned eleven days late from its reconnaissance, and was then held another four days by Navy intelligence officers for debriefing before its commander jumped ship and swam to Krueger's headquarters.

Krueger therefore gave orders on 28 November 1943 for the formation of an Alamo Scout Training Center, officially the 6 Army Special Reconnaissance Unit, to "train selected volunteers in reconnaissance and raider work." By designating it as a training center, he hoped to avoid interference by either MacArthur or Blamey, since troop training was a prerogative of an Army commander. The informal name reflected 6 Army's own designation as Alamo Force, a fiction intended by MacArthur to keep the army out of Blamey's control as Commander, Land Forces, Southwest Pacific. The first class began training at Fergusson Island, near Goodenough Island in the D'Entrecasteaux group, on 27 December 1943.

Recruits to the ASTC were volunteers recommended by their unit commanders. These recruits were subject to further screening prior to and during training, and less than half completed the grueling six-week training course. Most of those who qualified were returned their units anyway, which provided these units with their own highly trained scouts and helped maintain the fiction that the Alamo Scouts was primarily a training organization. It also likely helped win the support of unit commanders, ensuring that they would continue sending the Scouts genuinely qualified men rather than using the Scouts as a dumping ground for misfits, as sometimes happened with other Allied special forces

Screening included a test in which the prospective Scout was interviewed by an officer who had a number of objects on his desk, such as a watch, a packet of cigarettes, a button, or other small, ordinary objects. The interviewing officer made no reference to these objects during the interview, but after the prospective Scout was out of sight of the desk, he was stopped and asked to describe the objects on the desk, from memory, as thoroughly as possible. Those who could not recall enough detail were rejected for training. A second test consisted of putting a group of prospective Scouts in a tent with decks of cards and other games and telling them to relax and enjoy themselves before beginning training the next day. The men were surreptitiously observed to weed out bullies and others who were not good team players. A third test consisted of an invitation to the men to take some free swimming time in what turned out to be a 28' (8.5m) deep swimming area. Those men who were unable to remain in the water for the full alloted time were rejected for inadequate swimming ability. The men who passed the screening tests came from a wide variety of backgrounds, from fastidious former lawyers to convicted criminals. An unusually large number were native Americans, including nine of the 38 men in the first class (which graduated on 5 February 1944.)

Training included close quarters combat skills, but the Scouts were taught to avoid combat when possible in order to focus on their intelligence mission. The Scouts were also trained to work harmoniously with natives, and trainees practiced their diplomatic skills by cultivating friendly relations with natives living near the training camp. The first classes were taught basic pidgin English, while those trained for service in the Philippines were taught rudimentary Tagalog. The Scouts were organized into teams of six or seven men and teamwork was heavily emphasized during training. At the end of the course, those who qualified were polled to see which trainees were most respected by their peers; these elite of the elite were the ones retained by the Alamo Scouts for 6 Army reconnaissance missions, and often trained new classes when not on missions.

Scouts were allowed to select their own combat weapons, and most chose the Garand carbine. The Thompson submachine gun and the Garand M1 rifle were also popular. All Scouts also carried a Colt 0.45 automatic pistol and combat knives. Scouts were also trained in the use of all types of grenades and in unconventional uses of weapons. Experiments with silencers were unsatisfactory due to degradation of accuracy, and the Scouts relied on knives at short range and rifle marksmanship at longer range. There were even experiments with crossbows. The "rifle" crossbow was judged too noisy to reload, but the "pistol" crossbow was actually used on one mission in August 1944, where it put a bolt clear through an unlucky Japanese sentry.

One of the most serious challenges the Scouts faced was successfully getting in and out of their mission areas. Scout trainees found that the class on the handling and concealment of the rubber boats used to make landings on hostile shores was one of the most challenging in the training course. On some early missions, the Scouts attempted to use Catalina aircraft to bring them within landing distance of hostile shores, but the Cats proved too conspicuous for this mission. Thereafter the Scouts were brought close to shore by PT boat, or in rare cases by submarine. During the Philippines campaign, the rubber boats were often replaced by native boats provided by Filipino guerrillas.

Training included exercises under live fire, such as being ordered to dive underwater as an instructor fired a submachine gun at the point where the trainee submerged. Trainees were also required to swim under a line as it was being fired on with a light machine gun. Live fire training was so realistic that some candidate Scouts received minor gunshot wounds. Trainees practiced strict malaria discipline and learned jungle survival skills that included distinguishing edible beetles from inedible ones. The "when-where-what-why-who" of intelligence gathering was instilled along with Morse code and radio communications skills.

A total of nine classes graduated from the Alamo Scouts Training Center prior to the Japanese surrender. Just 138 Scouts participated in live missions, of which at least 106 were carried out during the war. Not a single Scout was lost on any of these missions, though some were wounded and there were many close calls. Though combat was not their primary mission, the Scouts claimed over 500 Japanese troops killed, and they captured over 60 Japanese prisoners of war for interrogation.

Operations in New Guinea

The Scouts performed their first reconnaissance mission in the Admiralty Islands, where the team leader radioed to 6 Army that "The area is lousy with Japs!" The Scouts performed an unplanned deception operation during this mission: Spotted by the Japanese as they landed, they drew the bulk of the Japanese forces on Los Negros Island to its southern shore, where the Allies originally planned to make their landings. The Scouts reported this to 6 Army and the landing plan was quickly changed to bring the troops ashore at Hyane Bay, which was only lightly defended.

Thereafter the Alamo Scouts peformed reconnaissance for every major landing operation in New Guinea. At Hollandia, the Scouts landed with the regular forces, scouted the flanks of the landings, and probed ahead of the main advance towards the airfields. At Aitape, the Scouts landed on nearby islands to look for Japanese outposts. While these operations were resounding successes, the Scouts felt that they had been misused by the local commanders, who employed them for routine patrols that ought to have been carried out by regular units. This problem was largely corrected in later operations.

At Wakde-Sarmi, the Scouts performed reconnaisssance both before and after the main landings, the latter again probing the flanks of the landing. At Biak the Scouts went in with the main landings and scouted for suitable beaches to bring landing craft ashore.  At Noemfoor, the Scouts scouted the area eleven days before the main landings but were spotted by the defenders. This gave away tactical surprise, but, fortunately for the Allies, the Japanese response was to move their main force into the landing area where it was blasted apart by the massive pre-invasion bombardment. The Scouts subsequently performed a number of reconnaissance missions in the Gelvink Bay area, and on 23 June 1944 the Scouts successfully rescued a group of Allied internees from Oransbari in the Manokwari area.

Operations in the Philippines

Operations in the Philippines proved to be somewhat different in character than those in the jungles of New Guinea. There was less opportunity for the Scouts to melt into jungle cover, but on the other hand there were large numbers of Filipino guerrillas willing to assist the Scouts. The Scouts came to work closely with guerrillas, often coordinating air drops of arms and other supplies and sometimes using their diplomatic skills to encourage rival guerrilla forces to work together. The control the Scouts had over arms drops proved a useful lever during such negotiations.

On Leyte, the Scouts worked with local guerrillas to set up observation points around Ormoc Bay to monitor the flow of Japanese reinforcements into the island. The Scouts later warned that Japanese troops were escaping to Cebu by barge, which allowed the Allied air forces to inflict severe casualties on the escaping Japanese. However, the Scouts had a close call when 77 Division came ashore at Ormoc and the Japanese retreated directly into the Scouts' main observation post.

On Luzon, the Scouts participated in the Cabanatuan rescue mission and scouted the location of Japanese heavy guns in the Rosario area. They also monitored the Japanese retreat from the Manila area and reconnoitered the Aparri and Legaspi areas in advance of Allied landings.

A Scout team attempted to reconnoiter Corregidor, but aborted the mission as hopeless after getting no closer than seven miles (11 km) to the island fortress. It was the only Scout mission aborted during the war.

"It was also our job to kill General Krueger"

Alamo Scouts also came to serve as Krueger's personal bodyguard when he toured the front lines. It was their job to protect the general, but the Scouts also had orders from Krueger that, if his capture looked certain, they were to shoot him to prevent his being tortured by the Japanese for information. Krueger told the Scouts that he "knew too much"; though the Scouts could not be told as much, Krueger was privy to ULTRA intelligence obtained by cryptanalysis and was under orders not to allow himself be captured under any circumstances.

American generals were not the only potential Scout targets. A number of Scout missions in Luzon were directed towards locating (and presumably assassinating) high-ranking Japanese officers, including Kondo Kazuma, Tsukada Rikichi, and Yamashita Tomoyuki. However, none of these missions were successful, as these officers were too well guarded.


References

Alexander (2009)

Stanton (2006)

Zedric (1995)



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