Keep The Doughboy Lightly Loaded (1950)

Thoughtful comment on "The Mobility of One Man," reminding that men must have essential items when they are needed.

Colonel John G. Van Houten Infantry Journal, Vol. LXVI., No. 3, March 1950

Colonel S.L.A. Marshall's article in the October issue of the Infantry Journal strikes close to the heart of a subject which has been of extreme interest to me over a period of twenty-three years as an infantryman. I agree with the principles underlying his discussion almost completely. Some of the facts he bases his conclusions on may be open to question. Many of his conclusions are based on imponderables which are not subject to exact and mathematical proof, but I feel that his conclusion on the general average equipment a rifleman should carry is definitely on the light track. However, I am convinced that he has not gone far enough, however, in his recommendations for reducing the load of the soldier.

The fire Load. I have no quarrel with Colonel Marshall's conclusion that a shortage of ammunition, caused by a reduction to a reasonable weight, of the load carried by an individual soldier is unlikely to result in a lowering of a unit's battle efficiency. I do demur at his idea that "The soldier who is always willing and eager to use his weapons has a reserve in the duty belt of the man next to him who will go along into battle but will not fire." A previous article by Colonel Marshall left the impression with me that he was convinced that a large proportion of soldiers would not fire in battle it they could possibly avoid it. No doubt, many will not unless they are convinced their fire is worthwhile. But they can be convinced in training and in battle. Two of my battalions con vinced themselves of the efficiency of marching fire in the battle of the Hürtgen Forest and from then on could be counted on to use small-arms fire effectively when the situation required it. The men who could contribute their fire and did not were few and far between. With the supply system we had there was no great difficulty in keeping these battalions supplied with ammunition. And without requiring individual riflemen to carry excessive loads.

Even when heavily engaged in daylight there are relatively few times in battle when some resupply of small-arms ammunition cannot be effected by short haul, man-carry. Heavier ammunition for mortars and artillery is a somewhat different problem since motors can normally put it within easy reach. But there is a wrinkle here which comes from training and experience. Although not strictly in accordance. with regulations, and apt to be frowned upon when brought to light, some units with long battle experience developed a system of caching ammunition on days of light fighting and then sending back for it in times of need. I cannot recommend this method because of its implications to the ammunition supply for overall battle effort, but it has been used successfully and it will be again by astute and aggressive small-unit commanders. This method also was used less frequently by rifle companies. In defense of it, I will say that it is better to save ammunition for future use than it is to throw it away.

Wastage of equipment. I am in complete agreement with the statement that equipment is wasted by overloading the infantry soldier. In the pursuit of the Germans in France the 60th Infantry overcame several delaying actions by the Germans and marched forty miles on foot in thirty-six hours. In the last few miles I did not see a rifleman on foot carrying more than his rifle, ammunition belt, canteen, first-aid packet, and what his pockets would hold of toilet articles, spoons, cigarettes, and parts of K rations.

But merely dispensing with everything that a man will throw away during a day's hard march or combat is not the answer. Men must have essential items when they are needed. The answer lies in proper supply organization, and training. This means training both the supply agencies and the combat soldier. No soldier will keep his galoshes when marching any considerable distance on a sunny and dry day. But the next day if it is wet and cold he will scream for them. The good company commander will think of his men's comfort and will see that the galoshes a re left in squad piles in convenient locations to be picked up by his supply sergeant and stored until needed. But who can expect a fatigued, distraught and extreme ly busy company commander to predict the weather accurately and to remember every last administrative detail? However, squad leaders can be taught to have discarded gear piled in conspicuous places where they can be picked tip. Administrative personnel can learn to mark unit locations as points where equipment can be collected, and in some measure learn to anticipate needs. No such system will work perfectly, but the performances of World War II can be vastly improved. Additional transportation may be needed, but I doubt it. If the need is pressing enough, trucks can usually be found to shuttle up the limited equipment the foot soldier needs. When shoepacs became available during the winter of 1944-45 we found ways of getting them to the men in forward foxholes.

Fear Equals Fatigue. Colonel Marshall is absolutely right in his dis cussion of fear engendering fatigue and fatigue engendering fear. There is an other factor that enters the picture of fear and fatigue, however. Not being a neuropsychiatrist, or a psychoanalyst, I cannot give this factor a proper technical description. But I am positive that fear and fatigue fall away from the American soldier, at least, when he can remove dirt and whiskers. I am as certain of this as I am of the fact that another of the strongest factors in individual morale is pride of outfit. The combat job of the infantry soldier is literally and figuratively a dirty business, and nothing can make it otherwise. Probably the dirtiest fighting of World War II in northwestern Europe was in the Hürtgen Forest. Eternally dark and dismal, and almost eternally muddy, it produced its share of self-inflicted wounds and neuropsychiatric cases. It was there I found a battalion commander and his staff holed up in a stinking, half-blown, concrete bunker, the only shelter possible in the whole battalion area. These officers were so fatigued from several days' hard fighting, they could scarcely comprehend the simplest instructions. They were so mentally depressed as to make it seem hopeless to get any immediate action out of the battalion. I happened to have in my jacket pocket a package of razor blades, so I gravely handed each a blade, inquired if they had water, and ordered them to stop everything and shave before I returned from another battalion which was shortly to attack. Upon my return a couple of hours later the attitude and atmosphere was completely changed. Alertness had replaced dullness, optimism had replaced depression and action had replaced apathy. A couple of soldiers were even attempting to clean up the bunker. After that I passed out all the extra razor blades that came my way. But the next step was even more successful. A clever S-4 provided a huge German trailer which became Nutmeg showers, with the addition of four GI cans, four downdraft heaters, four showerheads, a hand pump, and a stove. Major Lee Schumaker also obtained extra clothing for the men. Dirty clothes were laundered by QM units whenever there was opportunity. The system was to assign each battalion a small quota of men from each rifle company. A very few men at a time were sneaked out of position, sent back to a collecting point and jeeped back to the trailer location. This installation gave the real combat men a shower about every ten days. Not often, but it was enough to reduce the SIW and NP cases eighty per cent in a matter of days. The showers stayed in action until after V-E day. If fear and fatigue cause casualties, and I believe they do, then just plain dirt seems to help to cause fear and fatigue.

The Load of War. Colonel Marshall's discussion of the items in the load of an infantry soldier seems to me very sound as far as it goes. But in reducing the foot soldier's load, I would

like to go as far as it is possible, and still be practical. For ease of comparison, I have copied Colonel Marshall's equipment list and added my own, showing further reductions which I believe can be made. His list of clothing worn on the person seems to admit of no change except as may be caused by weather conditions. If he means by the "jacket, wool" the part of the o.d. uniform commonly called the Eisenhower jacket. I do not agree. It is a poor combat garment. The water repellent, cotton jacket, field, M1943, is a much more satisfactory combat jacket. The table appears below. Weights of items as given by Colonel Marshall have been accepted as correct.

Equipment ItemColonel Marshall's WeightRecommended Weight
Field Uniform11.0311.03
Belt, cartridge, and 48 rds M1 ammo 2.292.29
Canteen, cover and cup, filled 2.692.69
First aid packet.40.40
Helmet w/liner2.822.82
Rifle, M1 w/o bayonet w/sling 10.3010.30
Two (2) grenades, fragmentation2.622.62
Light pack w/(1) K ration and mess gear.79.92
    Haversack and carrier2.46 (2) —
    Toilet articles .92 .92
    Change of underwear.43 5) 2.31
    Two (2) pairs of socks.38 4) .19
    One (1) K ration 2.31(5) 2.31
    Mess gear1.29(6) .50
Total field uniform and battle equipment39.9433.25

There follows here notes on the table. The numbers correspond to numbers appearing in parentheses in the table.

(1)     I don't believe the helmet and liner is worth the weight and expense. I personally know of only one case in which it meant the difference between possible death and a lifetime, partial paralysis. I have no doubt it saved some few casualties but believe that a study based on a careful analysis of medical records will result in its elimination. I understand such an analysis is being made by the Department of the Army.

(2)     The haversack and carrier is an annoying method of carrying. It is hard to get into and out of. A snap or zip-on flap pocket, high on the back of the field jacket (M43) would serve better as a place to carry the K ration. The most experienced combat infantry units I saw in Europe when carrying a blanket at all carried it in a short cylindrical roll (18 to 24 inches long) tied at each end with a single shelter-tent rope. A loop of the same rope, between the ends served to sling the roll over one shoulder. It could be removed or reslung in a quick motion of one hand.

(3)     A reasonable system of pulling out a few men at one time, as I described above, removes the necessity for each man to carry a change of underwear.

(4)     Extra socks should be carried inside the shirt next to the body, or in a pocket if the weather is dry. In continuously wet weather men can change socks several times a day by rotating their two pairs between the feet and the inside of their shirts. This system went far to reducing the number of cases of trench foot among the units which used it in Europe.

(5)     There are relatively few times in combat when it is necessary for each man to carry a complete K ration. Much more often one-third or two thirds is adequate. Whenever possible, and it is possible more often than many people think, hot meals should be sent up after dark and before daylight. Mess and supply personnel have too easy a time of it when commanders choose the easy way of letting the front-line soldier exist for days on C and K rations.

(6)     The mess gear, less knife, fork and spoon, can be retained at the mess when a unit is in combat. When hot food is sent forward the messkits go along and are brought back. I have used an arbitrary weight of .30 pounds for a nesting combination knife, fork and spoon which I hope will eventually be developed. It can be carried in a pocket like the spoon so many soldiers carried during the war.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the only sound approach to the problem is along the lines suggested by Colonel Marshall. Keep the doughboy lightly loaded and he will be most effective in periods of fear and fatigue. And to go beyond the suggestions of Colonel Marshall, I would train combat and administrative personnel in practical, common sense methods for supplying needed equipment when and where it is needed.

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Colonel John G. Van Houten, Infantry, commanded the 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, in northwestern Europe during the war. A graduate of the University of Florida he has been in the Army since being commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in 1926. He is now at Fort Leavenworth.

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