Army

November 27, 2013

Military Intelligence – this week in history

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Ruth Quinn, Staff Historian
USAICoE Command History Office

Alamo Scouts established, safely gather intel during WWII

Maj. Gen. Fred Osborn, director of Morale Services Division, War Department, talks to Alamo Scout candidates following a demonstration of jumping and swimming in the water fully equipped during the general’s visit to Alamo Scout School, Fergusson Island, New Guinea, on Jan. 11, 1944.

Nov. 28, 1943
Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger assumed command of the newly activated Sixth Army in early 1943 and then established an operational Task Force, nicknamed Alamo Force, also under his command, operating in the islands of Pacific, Alamo.

Force found intelligence-gathering on the enemy and the objective areas especially difficult. Krueger needed men who could infiltrate enemy lines, gather information and get out undetected. Therefore, on Nov. 28, 1943, Krueger issued orders to establish a training center near the headquarters of Alamo Force to train select volunteers in reconnaissance and raider work.

Krueger selected Lt. Col. Frederick Bradshaw as the Alamo Scout Training Center’s director. Bradshaw established the Training Center on Fergusson Island, New Guinea, although it later moved with the task force headquarters. Bradshaw also personally selected the trainees. The school conducted 10 six-week classes, out of which 10 six-to-seven-man Alamo Scout teams were formed.

Upon graduation, the best of these specially trained troops were retained under Krueger’s direct control as “Alamo Scouts,” while the rest were returned to their originating units. The scouts received rigorous training in eight major skill areas: rubber boat handling, intelligence gathering, scouting and patrolling, navigation, communications, weapons and physical conditioning.

The Alamo Scouts were often referred to as “commandos” or “rangers,” but this was inaccurate. The main difference was that, unlike those combat forces, the scouts were specifically indoctrinated to avoid combat except when essential to the accomplishment of their mission. Instead, the Alamo Scouts’ mission was to provide intelligence on the enemy and tactical reconnaissance in advance of the Alamo Force’s landing operations.

Prior to operations in the Philippines, the Alamo Scouts conducted short, 3 – 5 day missions. They would be transported in by PT-boat, submarine, or “flying boat,” carrying a minimum of equipment and rations to preserve maximum mobility, conduct the necessary reconnaissance of the area, and avoid all contact with the natives. When ready for extraction, they would use their one light-weight radio to call for pick-up.

The situation in the Philippines was different, however. Scout missions often lasted several months, and the civilian population was friendly. Scouts often worked in conjunction with guerrilla forces to obtain the critical intelligence. For example, as recorded in the “Report of the Luzon Campaign, 6th US Army, 9 January 1945 – 30 June 1943”:

Members of the Alamo Scout School, Fergusson Island, on their way to the Tommy gun range, Jan. 17, 1944.

“Upon arrival in a given area, the local guerrilla leader was contacted. Then in accordance with the information he had been briefed to obtain, the Scout team leader proceeded to organize an intelligence net to cover the area. Guerrilla agents were used to filter into towns where enemy garrisons were located, and road watcher stations with radio communications were organized. Usually, the team personnel [were] split up among the subordinate radio stations. All agents were carefully briefed on the information desired and, upon their return, were thoroughly interrogated. If the information obtained from these agents was obviously contrary to previously established facts on the general situation, the Scouts made an independent investigation of the area. Thus all data obtained was carefully screened and evaluated by the team prior to its dispatch to Sixth Army headquarters.”

The Alamo Scouts were considered extraordinarily good at their job. Because of the increased facilities of the Special Intelligence Subsection of the G2, a scout team could be placed in any given area on Luzon within 48 hours.

Preparation for the missions was thorough and detailed. It usually included a briefing of the overall picture of the area and the specific information which needed to be collected. An officer from the Combat Intelligence Subsection would give a detailed account of the enemy situation and order of battle as the team members studied photographs, maps and terrain studies obtained from the Topographical Subsection. The Special Intelligence Communications Officer provided the specific operating instructions that would be followed. While the necessary communications equipment was obtained from the Radio Repair and Maintenance Subsection, team members checked and rechecked their own personal gear.

The specialized training of the Alamo Scouts, combined with the close liaison that Special Intelligence maintained with all of these subsections as well as the transport organizations, enabled the preparation phase to be accomplished within a few hours and the missions to be remarkably successful.

Col. Robert Sumner, former director of the Alamo Scouts Association, provides an astonishing statistic: “From their first operational mission in the Admiralty Islands in February 1944, until the end of World War II, the Alamo Scouts conducted 106 intelligence collection missions behind Japanese lines in New Guinea, offshore islands, and the Philippines, totaling 1,482 days. This was accomplished without a single man killed or captured.”

In addition, the Scouts liberated 197 Allied prisoners in New Guinea, and provided two teams to the Ranger assault on Cabanatuan Prisoner of War camp in Luzon, 25 miles behind enemy lines, liberating another 516 Allied prisoners.

The Alamo Scouts were disbanded in November 1945, only two years after their activation. They would not be activated again. They received credit for four campaigns, and the two teams who participated in the Cabanatuan raid were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Their honorable and courageous service lives on in the Special Operations lineage and the Military Intelligence Corps.




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