The Rat Patrol (l. to r.)
Justin Tarr (Pvt. Pettigrew)
Gary Raymond (Sgt. Moffitt)
Lawrence Casey (Pvt. Hitchcock)
Christopher George (Sgt. Troy)
One of my favorite shows when I was a kid was The Rat Patrol. The
show was only on for two seasons, 1966-1968, but when you are a kid two
years is somehow a lot longer period of time than it is when you are an
adult and the show had a real impact on me. I just thought it was the
coolest thing on television.
The Rat Patrol was one of the first TV programs broadcast in
America in color. In fact color was so new at that point that the title
intro to the show always had the voice-over saying "The Rat Patrol — In
color." For that reason I always (to this day) think of the show as The
Rat Patrol In Color. The TV we had back then was black-and-white,
unfortunately. So I guess for me it was more like The Rat Patrol in
The show was about an elite commando squad, the Long Range Desert Group,
which was more or less based on a historical unit in North Africa during
WWII. Their job was to attack German Afrika Corps supply lines and ammo
dumps and in general to create hell wherever and whenever they could for
the Germans. The desert was their cover. They would race out of the desert,
attack, and then run back into the desert. Thus in just about every episode
you will see the unit moving over sand dunes pretty much out in the middle of
nowhere. Having lived in Arizona for a good number of years, I can testify
to the degree to which you can be out in the the middle of nowhere in the
desert very quickly. Using the desert as their cloak, the Rat Patrol came
and went like the wind.
The unit was composed of four men and two jeeps, that's it. Two of
the soldiers, the privates, would drive the jeep. The two sergeants in
the unit would ride shotgun, and when attacking the enemy would get in
the back of the jeep and operate the .50 machine gun.
Doing research for this post I discovered that the series paid quite a
bit of attention to historical detail. It might have been fiction, but
the creators seemed to do their best to get it as realistic as possible.
And evidently they encountered a good number of problems in filming
the show. They taped the pilot in Arizona in 118 degree heat. They were
going to to move the location to California after that, but when that
idea fell through they moved the whole she-bang to Almeria, Spain.
Things did not go easy in Spain. "For 17 weeks the cast and crew lived in a
town which stank of fish and sewage and had no safe drinking water.
Everyone got intestinal flu or dysentery, Christopher George lost 20
pounds…" (Citation) And from there things started getting REALLY bad.
Nevertheless the show pushed on. And when it aired, it became an instant
hit. Which I suppose must have been some consolation for their efforts.
The jeeps with the .50 cals in back were a novelty in the 60s. Today,
Hummers have replaced the old Jeep, but the principal is the same and
many of the Hummers these days have those same .50 cals mounted on them.
Unfortunately, US military units these days using the Hummers tend to be
the victims of the surprise attacks, not the perpetrators. The Rat Patrol
didn't have to worry as much about things like hand-held RPGs and IEDs.
And they tended to stay off the roads.
Which might teach us a couple of lessons. First, stay off the damn
roads. And second, like the old account given by Herodotus of the
Psyllians, a people who became extinct when they tried to wage war
against the wind, you just have to face your limitations.
You really can't wage war against the wind. You might as well try to
take on the Rat Patrol as do that. And we all know that's no good.