By Ruth QuinnJanuary 25, 2013
Following in the tradition of George Washington's direct commissioning of Knowlton's Rangers in 1776, the Alamo Scouts were formed as an organized reconnaissance agency trained to obtain strategic and tactical intelligence during World War II. The Alamo Scouts were organized on Fergusson Island, New Guinea, in November 1943, as the US Sixth Army's special reconnaissance and intelligence gathering unit in the Southwest Pacific Theater under the personal command of then LTG Walter Krueger. Krueger sought to create an all-volunteer elite force consisting of small teams which could operate deep behind enemy lines. Their primary mission was intelligence-gathering rather than combat operations. From their first operational mission in the Admiralty Islands in February 1944, until the end of WWII, the Alamo Scouts conducted missions behind Japanese lines in New Guinea, on offshore islands, and in the Philippines, totaling 1,482 days, without a single man killed or captured.
Despite many dangerous and exciting missions, the Alamo Scouts are perhaps best known for their mission to liberate Allied POWs at Camp Pangatian, Cabanatuan City, Philippines. Two Alamo Scout teams, led by lieutenants William Nellist and Tom Rounsaville, were selected to participate in the raid with Company F, 6th Ranger Battalion. It was a familiar mission, as the two teams had worked together four months earlier in the successful raid on Cape Oransbari, New Guinea in which 66 Dutch and Javanese civilians were liberated. This time, the stakes were much higher.
The camp was located 25 miles behind enemy lines, and there were 10 times as many prisoners, many of whom were starving and wounded, having survived the Bataan Death March. In an article about the Alamo Scouts on the Insigne webpage, Les Hughes writes: "On the morning of 30 January, the Scout teams took positions within about 700 yards of the camp. Lt. Nellist, accompanied by Pfc. Rufo Vaquilar, crawled to an empty hut 200 yards directly north of the prison gate. From their vantage point in the hut, the two Scouts were able to observe the positions of the Japanese troops, which they noted on an aerial photo. The photo was carried to the waiting Scouts and to Lt. Dove, who carried it, by native pony, back to the commander of the Ranger force." The company of Rangers joined up with the Scouts, and they all advanced on the camp. Once there, the mission of the Scouts was to serve as guides for the liberated prisoners and to provide cover fire for the wounded and stragglers. The Scouts also buried two Rangers who had been killed, recovered documents, and went back the next day to evacuate a prisoner who had been inadvertently left behind.
To read more about this dramatic raid, check out Hampton Sides' book, Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission, available in the MI Library.