[January 30, 2021] The Great Raid (2005) is a war film about the Raid at Cabanatuan prisoner of war camp on the island of Luzon, Philippines, during WW2. I saw it again, for the fifth time, last night. The film tells us about “the most daring rescue mission of our time.” The rescue included American soldiers, Alamo Scouts, and Filipino guerilla groups.
This article is not a war film review. Nevertheless, the movie comes with its share of Hollywood inaccuracies, glaring omissions, and inexplicable fictionalization. I mention this because it underplays the vital role played by the Alamo Scouts. These scouts were a special reconnaissance unit of the Sixth U.S. Army in the Pacific during the war.1
While organized as an intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance unit, the Alamo Scouts were credited with liberating 197 Allied prisoners in New Guinea. Their mission was greatly expanded as they played a central role in organizing large-scale guerrilla operations, establishing watch stations, capturing or killing Japanese Flag Officers, and performing direction-action missions like the one as the Cabanatuan POW Camp on this date, January 30, 1945.2 During this daring raid, 513 POWs were rescued.
The Alamo Scouts performed 110 known missions behind enemy lines without losing a single man. These men have the finest record of any elite unit of WW2 and, arguably, one of the finest in the United States military’s history.3
Where are the lessons learned from WW2 days regarding the Alamo Scouts? I argue that these lessons were indeed recorded and classified Top Secret (as was the unit itself), and no one asked for a declassification.
There are higher-level lessons we can gain from the successes of the Alamo Scouts. They were a small group of elite, adaptable, highly motivated men using innovative tactics. Here is how they did it:
- Operate inside your enemies’ decision cycle and in their area of expertise and strength.
- Make contact with the locals (just the average person), gaining their trust, training them to resist, and supporting their efforts.
- You can’t do it alone. Allies are invaluable.
- Take care of your men but remember that the mission comes first.
- When all else fails, click your weapon off safe and make something happen.
- Elite units are looking for leaders, not friends. The difference between victory and defeat often comes down to the will power of a leader.4
For those interested, I recommend Lance Q. Zedrick’s Silent Warriors of World War Two: the Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines (1995).
- U.S. Army Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, commander of the 6th Army, sought to create an all-volunteer elite unit consisting of small teams that could operate deep behind enemy lines. Their primary mission was to gather intelligence for the Sixth Army. Information from Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Scouts
- Some ideas were taken from an article by Baz Khan, USMC: https://havokjournal.com/nation/14-leadership-lessons-from-a-marine/