Calvert’s second recommendation, raise an unconventional force to hunt the Communist Terrorists (CTs) in their jungle hideouts, became the Ferret Force.
Named after the predator that wolfs down rats (the CTs being the rats in this case), the Ferret Force consisted of both soldiers and civilians. The addition of civilians gave them an organic intelligence capability, for most of them were Chinese who’d resisted Communism’s lures.
Lt. Col Walter Walker jumpstarted the unit in July 1948.
He recruited mainly WWII veterans, soldiers who had learned the art of jungle fighting against the Japanese in Burma and Malaya. Preference was given to former Chindits, a WWII jungle SOF unit, and members of Force 136, the Special Operations Executive’s (SOE) Pacific branch.
The latter were ideal because they’d trained many of the CTs to fight against the Japanese. (Chin Peng, the leader of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), had even been awarded an Order of the British Empire for his WWII service!)
They sharpened their commando and survival teeth at Port Dickson, a training facility run by Australian veterans of the war in the Pacific. There, they soaked jungle-fighting and surviving methods. For those who’d forgotten, the jungle was an unforgiving battlefield with a tendency to devour those who made mistakes.
The Ferrets were envisioned as a guerrilla force to counter the insurgents’ guerrilla tactics. The Ferrets specialized in deep reconnaissance, raids and ambushes. They fought either as small attachments to conventional units or in their patrols.
The unit was split into groups. Each group had four teams of twelve soldiers and one civilian (a Chinese interpreter). Dayaks (head-hunting tribesmen) flown from Borneo also enhanced the unit’s tracking capabilities.
In case support was needed, each group could rely on conventional Quick Reaction Forces (QRFs) with Gurkha battalions being a favorite.
Either searching for weapon and food caches deep in the virgin jungle or reconnoitring and ambushing trails, they proved a nightmare for the CTs. Their specialty was long-range reconnaissance patrols, wherein they would subsist on just water and rice for long periods of time.
And yet, despite its success and potential, the Ferret Force was disbanded in December 1948, after just six months.
It wasn’t that that they weren’t successful. On the contrary, headquarters disbanded them because they were too successful for some conventional minds.
Disagreements within the unit over administration and methods didn’t help, of course.
Lessons still had to be learned.
And yet, the Ferret Force certainly didn’t fail to raise a ruckus during its short life. A ruckus, as we’ll see in the next article, loud enough that still vibrates in the SAS.
Featured image courtesy of Imperial War Museum of London