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Short Term Escape & Evasion

You are on the run behind enemy lines with just the contents of your escape tin and the clothes you stand in, what should you do?

British fighter and helicopter pilots, Special Forces operatives and other specialists who are likely to be shot down or ambushed deep behind enemy lines receive excellent training in Escape and Evasion (E&E) procedures. Indeed this training is so good that selected operatives, soldiers and airmen from friendly nations are also often to be found on these courses.

However, it is not just the fast jet jockey and winged dagger trooper who could find themselves in the role of unwelcome guest behind enemy lines, being hotly pursued by a hunter killer force. Once the shooting starts, at any time it could happen to YOU.

1]Your unit has been decimated after being surrounded by the enemy, but you have managed to escape.
2]Your defensive position has been overrun by the enemy but you have survived and must get away before they start mopping-up.
3]Your patrol becomes lost behind enemy lines.
4]You have accidentally strayed through the enemy front line.
5]You have broken out from a POW holding area behind the battlefield
6]You have managed to escape from a POW camp further into occupied territory.
7]You are on a peace-keeping mission when your unit is taken hostage or ambushed and all are captured except yourself.

The list is endless, but ask yourself honestly these two questions. If I found myself in any of the above situations, would I know exactly what my very first move should be? And then, as the minutes tick by, what should I do next?

Now you are probably thinking that you should start water gathering, building a shelter and instituting all the other 'surviving in the wilds' skills. Wrong! Long term evaders such as downed pilots, or escapers from permanent POW camps deep inside enemy territory, may need to travel for weeks or even months before reaching friendly territory, so 'wild' survival skills are very important For them. However, only a very few soldiers ever become long term evaders.

Most Escape and Evasion (E&E) in any conflict is short term, lasting anything from about one hour up to48 hours.

What is most important in short term evasion is to understand the few basic rules of E&E based around anti-capture and anti tracking techniques. Without this knowledge, the chances are that you will be shot, taken prisoner or recaptured very quickly.

If you don't understand the fundamental anti-tracking skills, the chances are that you will not be able to use your survival skills without tipping off the enemy. So it is important that you learn the basic ground rules of short term escape and evasion first.

The Escape Phase

Rule 1 - Escape Quickly

1st Rule - Escape Quickly
This is the first and most important rule of E&E and can be applied to many different situations. In this case, Escape Rule 1 refers to the period immediately after capture by the enemy. You must escape at the first opportunity because:
a] The longer you remain in captivity, the more thoroughly you will be searched
b]The longer you remain a prisoner, the further you will be sent behind enemy lines.
c]Your captors will very probably be front line combat troops. These soldiers will likely have neither the interest, the time, nor the training in handling POWs. The longer you remain in captivity, the greater the chance of being sent to a secure POW camp with guards who have been specially trained in preventing escapes.
d]Once incarcerated in a purposebuilt POW camp, the rules of E&E will change drastically (to be covered in a future article).

2nd Rule - Don't Talk
Being captured by an enemy is a severe psychological shock, even for experienced soldiers. Only those who have experience of such an event can appreciate the desire to talk to captors, sometimes without being able to stop. You must steel yourself from the very first moment of captivity to say as little as possible. Under the Geneva Convention you are expected to give your name, rank, number and date of birth (this allows the Red Cross to hopefully keep track of your movements and health condition as well as to notify your next of kin that you have survived) but resist the desire to say anything else.

3rd Rule - Be The Grey Man
After capture, most soldiers adopt one of two attitudes. They either try to appeal to their captors by smiles and other friendly gestures, or they show defiance by scowling, cursing or exhibiting signs of aggression. Do neither!

You must attract as little attention from your captors or jailers as possible. This will prevent you from being singled out for interrogation, when you will be under closer guard, and will greatly help your chances of escape.

To play the grey man, stand or sit motionless with head slightly bowed. Avoid eye contact, but if forced to look at the enemy, focus on your opponent's forehead and show no emotion. Speak only if spoken to.

The Evasion Phase

This most important Escape Rule also applies to the Evasion Phase. You may have just escaped from POW custody, be the surviving member of an ambushed patrol or have been overlooked as enemy assault troops overran your position.

In any of these situations, you could be captured at any moment. You must now travel as far and as fast as you can. The further you escape from your last point of contact with the enemy, the wider the arc or area the hunter-killer force will need to search for you and the greater the area that tracker dogs may have to cover to pick up your scent.

Rule 2 - Evade In Pairs
The larger the evading group is, the easier it will be to track down. If possible, try and break down into pairs as this could split up the team tracking you or even leave them all tracking just one spoor. In most situations, two heads are better than one and when rest becomes a necessity, one can remain on guard while the other sleeps.

Rule 3 -Assume You Are Being Hunted
An evader has a very limited view of events around him and it's very easy to assume that he has given the enemy the slip. Often this is a mistaken view. Besides which, always assuming you are being hunted focuses the mind and this should lead to you making less mistakes.

Rule 4 - Carry A Compass
The sensible soldier will always carry a minicompass in his Survival Tin plus one hidden in his clothing. This is one of the most treasured E&E possessions. To allow for all eventualities though, learn to make an emergency compass by magnetizing a needle and sitting it on a free floating leaf on water. Practice now as you won't get time when you are an evader.

Rule 5 - Make Or Get A Map
Maps are important. Before a mission make a simple map on a sheet of paper from your waterproof notepad. Show just the basic routes, roads, rivers and major topographical features, then sew it into your uniform.

If captured, while awaiting escape, make a rudimentary map by drawing on the inside of your clothing as this will greatly aid your navigation plans. Once on the run, acquire a better one- search bodies and deserted buildings and, particularly in an urban environment, look inside vehicles or even check out phone boxes

Rule 6 - Ignore The Hay Barn
Don't assume the 'Hay Barn' mentality. In other words, never hide in obvious places. The barn on the hill will look tempting refuge with hide, but this is also the first place the hunter force will search.

Rule 7 - Become a Magpie
Never pass-by anything that could be of use. a discarded bin liner or even a plastic fertilizer bag can make an emergency waterproof overgarment.An abandoned steel helmet, not too common in these days of composites, makes a good cooking pot but look out for any metal container that will do this job and also transport drinking water.

Rule 8 - Camouflage Your Tracks
You must camouflage signs that you have passed, and especially your footprints, from man trackers. This is because the most common form of track to find and easiest to follow is the markings you leave on the ground-known as ground spoor. an even better find for an experienced tracker is a full bootprint (a confirmed spoor) from which he will be able to tell how fast you are moving, how tired you are and much more information on you.

With a consecutive pair of prints he can tell how fast you are travelling, what distance you are covering and even if you are carrying a load. Despite your boot probably having the same tread pattern as the rest of the guys in your unit, individual wear marks and tread damage make your boots as individual as your fingerprints. No wonder trackers call full bootprints a confirmed spoor.

Consequently, avoid walking on soft muddy ground. Instead try to find hard, rocky surfaces. Remember, though, not to disturb loose rocks as these would give a tracker recognizable, though less useful, ground spoor.

Of course there will be times when you have no choice but to walk on soft or muddy ground, so remember the following techniques. They may only temporarily confuse trackers, but they may gain you valuable time.
a) Often there are harder ridges on either side of well used, soft, muddy paths. Walk legs astride on these ridges.
b)Step carefully into existing footprints.
c)Walk backwards or on tiptoe.
d)Walk in a stream. Remember not to leave scuff marks or other ground spoor on the bank as you enter or leave the stream.

Rule 9 -Don 't Leave Aerial Spoor
Spoor above the ground or overhead may not be as easy to spot as ground spoor, but a good tracker will find it nevertheless
a)Don't break branches in your way - gently bend them aside.
b)If you can't bend it, go under, over or around it.
c)If you snag or tear clothing, don't be in such a hurry. Check to see that you have not left a small piece of cloth or telltale fibers behind you.

Rule 10 - Don't Leave Scent
Tracker dogs follow the microscopic body scent particles that continually fall from your body and settle on or just above the ground.Their remarkably sensitive noses will follow your previous route as accurately as if you could draw the dog a map. Even so, there are ways to slow down,confuse and even defeat tracker dogs.
a)Use a vehicle or even a bicycle. This will not only break the scent chain, but will put you further ahead of the pack much quicker and with less fatigue.
b)On foot, follow an erratic path through tangled undergrowth. This usually tangles the running lead of the dog and its handler, slowing them down.
c)Use well traveled animal or human trackways. Even better, follow an erratic path through a farmyard, as a large collection of new scent may temporarily confuse the dog and hinder progress.
d)When you reach water, don't just cross it. Walk in running water for a short distance before exiting on a part of the bank where your spoor will not show.
e)If you can only find narrow waterways such as ditches, with still water in them, walk in them but cross diagonally, doubling back on yourself at least once to confuse the dog.
f)If practical, wash regularly, but never use anything scented.
g)If you cannot wash, roll around over the ground you are traversing, to add country scents to your own. However, remember that a man who has rolled in a dung heap smells just like a man who has rolled in a dung heap, to a well trained tracker dog with a good nose.
h)Don't allow yourself to come in contact with strongly smelling substances such as smoke or animal droppings. If an article of clothing becomes contaminated and you have to discard it, make sure you bury it, or better still hide it under rocks in a stream. Now wash hair and skin. if also contaminated.
i)Try to outrun the dogs. A tracker dog has to move comparatively slowly so, as stated before, escape as quickly as possible.

Rule 11 - Camouflage Your Identity
It should almost go without saying, that you practice the basic rules of camouflage and concealment when resting, laying-up, approaching a dangerous area, etc. You should also practice camouflage and deception when traveling.
a)Avoid busy or populated areas and keep your distance from any civilians you see.
b)Don't act suspiciously or appear to be nervous as this wilt attract attention.
c)Never walk in an upright, military fashion-adopt a tired slouch.
d)Try to at least keep the appearance of being clean and keep shaving if you can.
e)If traveling in countryside, carry a spade or some other farming implement.
f)Keep your uniform on underneath any civilian clothing as otherwise you could be shot for being a spy.
g)Keep your watch in your pocket.
h)If approached by the locals, unless you speak and look like a native of the area, pretend to be deaf and dumb or perhaps even half-witted. The latter often works.

Rule 12 - Disguise Your Hide.
Sooner or later you will need to lay-up or rest. Again, leave no traces of your presence.

It is a good idea to rest for 5-10 minutes in every hour that you travel. Don't just stop anywhere though. Choose an area of good cover and try to leave no trace of your LUP (Laying Up Point).

a longer LUP occurs when you sleep. lie facing the ground, and if you have a ground sheet or something similar, cover yourself with it. This should concentrate your scent in one place. Before you leave, cover your sleeping area with soil and natural debris to mask the scent.

Always bury any food waste, camp fire debris, feces, urine or anything connected with your stay. Try not to contaminate your skin with waste material. Finally, cover disturbed soil with natural debris. Waste on the surface will attract flies in warm weather and will be easily spotted by human trackers, and a dog's nose will pick up the scent a long way off.

Rule 13 - Disguise Your Fire
Opinions vary as to exactly when you are safe enough to light a fire. However, sometimes it is crucial to purify food or water by cooking or boiling,to provide warmth to prevent hypothermia.

If you have to light a fire, ideally you should dig a fire pit deep enough to hide the flames. Try not to make the fire too big and ensure that flames to not show above ground. Use only small pieces of fuel.

Dig a separate air shaft at an angle to the pit as this will make the fire burn quicker and prevent excessive smoke. If the ground is too hard to dig, is too waterlogged, or a fire pit is impractical for some other reason, light the fire under a canopy of leafy foliage to disperse smoke. Alternatively, light a surface fire against a high wall.

Above all else, when Escaping and Evading, DO IT QUICKLY and DO IT CAREFULLY

Q (Taken from Combat And Survival Magazine Volume 10 Issue 4 July 1998, an excellent magazine written mostly for the British Army. However, many of it's articles are relevant to our present and future predicaments)


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