Alamo Scouts

alamo-scouts-los-negros-february-1944

A team of Alamo Scouts pose for a photo after completing a reconnaissance mission on Los Negros Island, February 1944.

The Alamo Scouts, officially known as the Sixth Army Special Reconnaissance Unit, were formed because Lieutenant General Walter Krueger needed accurate and timely information as he prepared to invade New Guinea. Krueger had access to general information gleaned from captured documents, prisoner-of-war interrogations, missionaries, aerial observation, and Australia’s Coast-watchers, but he lacked the specific information needed to plan a major offensive. It was for this purpose that Krueger developed the Alamo Scouts, named in honor of the heroic defenders of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

Krueger modeled the organization after such other elite World War II units as the 1st Special Service Force, the Rangers, and the Naval Amphibious Scouts. He established the first Alamo Scout Training Center (ASTC) on December 3, 1943, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Bradshaw. In order to keep the Scouts near his headquarters, where they could receive instructions from his G-2 (intelligence), Krueger had the ASTC located on Ferguson Island, approximately forty miles north of the tail of New Guinea, at the village of Kalo Kalo. This was the first of six such centers that followed the Sixth Army’s advance to the Philippines. After Bradshaw, Major Homer Williams and then Major Gibson Niles commanded the Scouts.

Selection for the Scouts was demanding. Volunteers were drawn from throughout the Sixth Army after rigorous screening at the company, battalion, regiment, and division levels. Candidates had to be good swimmers in excellent physical condition and could not wear glasses.

After being admitted to the program, candidates underwent six weeks of training at the ASTC. The course included scouting and patrolling, infiltration and exfiltration techniques, intelligence collection, rubber-boat handling, communications, land navigation, rudimentary language and native customs, jungle survival, Allied and enemy weapons familiarization, first aid, and self-defense. Throughout the course, the cadre emphasized working in small teams.

During the final week, each enlisted man was asked on a secret ballot to name the three officers, in order of preference, he would be most willing to follow on a mission. He was also asked to name the five enlisted men with whom he would not hesitate to work on a mission. The officers were also asked to name those soldiers with whom they would not hesitate to go on a mission. The staff officers then added their own recommendations, and the total votes were tallied. This selection process remained in place for the duration of the ASTC’s existence.

Class size ranged from 40 to 100 candidates, with attrition as high as 40 percent during the first two weeks. Throughout the war, the ASTCs produced eight classes and graduated 250 enlisted men and 75 officers. Of these, only 117 enlisted men and 21 officers were retained. Those who were retained were placed on teams consisting of an officer and five or six enlisted men, and the team assumed the last name of the ranking officer. Those graduates who were not retained were released to their unit, where Kreuger hoped they would be used for scout work. Officially, the Alamo Scout organization and its missions were to be kept secret.

The Scouts’ first mission began on February 27, 1944. A team led by Lieutenant John McGowen landed from a Catalina flying boat near the southwest tip of Los Negros Island in the Admiralties to determine whether the Japanese had evacuated a key area as had been reported earlier. The Scouts learned that the enemy had not evacuated, and they reported this information after being picked up the next morning. Subsequently, almost every Sixth Army amphibious operation was preceeded by Alamo Scout reconnaissance. Another notable Scout mission involved a joint effort with the U.S. Navy and the Army Air Forces to reconnoiter the Cape Sansapor area of the Vogelkop Peninsula in June 1944. The Vogelkop was the last Japanese stronghold in New Guinea as well as being General Douglas MacArthur’s springboard into the Philippines. The reconnaissance effort provided Allied planners with detailed hydrographic, terrain, and enemy troop information. The beaches around the Sansapor area were found to be capable of supporting all types of landing craft, and an area previously believed to be a partially cleared airstrip was identified as a native garden.

Perhaps the best known of the Alamo Scouts’ missions was the part the unit played in the raid on the Cabantuan prison on Luzon—an operation that the Sixth Army’s weekly G-2 report described as “an almost perfect example of prior reconnaissance and planning.” The 6th Ranger Battalion conducted the raid itself, but the bulk of the reconnaissance effort was accomplished by two teams of the Alamo Scouts.

On January 27, 1945, both teams left the Rangers’ base camp at Calasiao and marched to a guerrilla head-quarters at Guimba, where they linked up with native guides. From there, the Scouts moved to Platero, three miles north of the objective, where they contacted local guerrillas. From that point on, the Scouts kept the objective under surveillance. Their mission was to determine how many Japanese troops were in the area, who the guards were, and what their routines were like, and then to pass this information on to the Rangers. On January 29, the Rangers made a rendezvous with Lieutenants Thomas Rounsaville and William Nellist of the Scouts at Balincarin, about five miles northeast of the objective. The Rangers had hoped to conduct the operation that night, but when they learned that the Scouts had not completed their reconnaissance, they decided to wait twenty-four hours. The Scouts had already observed that there were large numbers of Japanese in the area and that the highway in front of the camp had been heavily traveled by withdrawing Japanese during the previous twenty-four hours. Additionally, 200 to 300 Japanese were bivouacked on Cabu Creek, a mile north of the compound.

As the Rangers moved up to Platero, the Scouts continued their reconnaissance, which included verifying maps and aerial photographs and selecting tentative firing positions. The information they uncovered was highly detailed and allowed the Rangers to complete their plan.

What the Scouts had found was that the compound was on the south side of the Cabanatuan City-Cabu highway and that it measured 600 by 800 yards. It was enclosed by three barbed-wire fences about 4 feet apart and 6 to 8 feet high. Other less impressive barbed-wire fences further subdivided the camp into several compartments. The main entrance was blocked by a locked 8-foot-high gate and was guarded by one sentry in a well-protected shelter. There were also three manned 12-foot-high guard towers and one pillbox occupied by four heavily armed guards. The Scouts believed that one building inside the compound contained four tanks and two trucks.

The Scouts counted 73 Japanese on guard at the stockade, but some 150 others had entered the compound, apparently to rest. Most of the heavy force that had been in the area the previous day had left, and traffic on the highway was light, The closest possible reaction force was 800 Japanese with tanks and trucks at Cabu. The prisoners were housed in buildings in the northwest corner of the compound. Everything appeared normal.

Armed with this excellent report, the Rangers launched their attack at dusk. Right up to the initiation of the raid, the Scouts kept the stockade under continuous surveillance. They employed civilian runners to carry periodic intelligence updates to the Ranger commander at Platero.

Largely because of the reconnaissance efforts of the Alamo Scouts, the Rangers enjoyed great success. They liberated 511 U.S. and Allied POWs and killed or wounded an estimated 523 Japanese. As the G-2 report continued, the operation demonstrated “what patrols can accomplish in enemy territory by following the basic principles of scouting and patrolling, ‘sneaking and peeping’ …. ”

Throughout the war, the Alamo Scouts accumulated an impressive record of 103 known reconnaissance and raid missions, including two prison-camp liberations. In all these operations, the Scouts did not lose a single man. During campaigns in the Bismarck Archipelago and New Guinea, they performed thirty-six missions and were credited with eighty-four confirmed kills, twenty-four prisoner-of-war captures, and approximately 550 civilian rescues. From February to October 1944, the Scouts earned nineteen Silver Stars, eighteen Bronze Stars, and four Soldier’s Medals.

The unit was disbanded without ceremony in late November 1945 in Kyoto, Japan. In 1988, the Alamo Scouts veterans were awarded the Special Forces Tab by the army at the behest of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School—a recognition that placed them among the forerunners of the modern Special Forces.

FURTHER READING

King, Michael. Rangers: Selected Combat Operations in World War II, Leavenworth Paper No. 11 (Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kans., 1985). Zedric, Lance. “Prelude to Victory: The Alamo Scouts,” Army (July 1994).