The Soldier's Load (1955)

Major B.M. Mustafa Khan, 14th Punjab Regiment
The Owl; Command and Staff College Quetta, 1955

It has been universally acclaimed that in a future war "basic methods will not be materially different from those employed at the end of World War II; forces will be organised and equipped for increased mobility and fire power". In agreement with this statement, that the search for further mobility is a key to the future, it is my purpose to discuss measures by which we can gain that end, partly if not wholly, at least for the infantry if not for all arms. I firmly believe that mobility and fire power of the infantry will be as decisive in any future war as it has ever been in the past, and it is fatal to relegate the importance of the role of infantry.

I am not one of those who believe that mobility comes primarily from machines that give us speed and reliability. If that were true I suggest that the whole problem be turned over to the ordnance and RPASC. Both the connotation and denotation of mobility in the military sense have to be understood before the problem could be examined in all its perspectives. Mobility in battle does not simply mean traction and speed, but implies the ability to stand against fire, and to deliver it, that ultimately bestows virtue on it.

Mobility in the armies, therefore, is as much a matter of mind and spirit as it is of technical equipment. Mobility in an army or a battalion is chiefly a reflection of its leadership. The mass reaction of a truly indoctrinated, well trained and efficient unit in war, irrespective of its size, should be the most perfect use of every vital opportunity. This to my mind is the essence of the true mobility of any military force. To say that a unit is less mobile on an occasion because it is moving in assault boats, than on the next day when it is moving by lorries, is to lose sight of the real essence and concept of the mobility of armies. What the machines have done for us in war is to reduce space, by economizing in time. Faster movement has telescoped the areas we are called to defend or capture. The Second World War provides us with innumerable examples when a small body of men, at the right place at the right moment, proved a more powerful influence on the battle than ten times that number twenty four hours later.

Though the machines that give us greater speed can effect economy in numbers of men, they cannot reduce the requirement of courage and robustness in those who engage the enemy. The determination to move forward and get to grips With the enemy is as essential today as it has ever been in the past. Therefore if we are to achieve greater effects with fewer men, it is imperative that we must have BETTER men. Hence an enquiry into improved mobility should begin with a study of the nature and mentality of the Soldier. We aught to see what impedes him and shakes. his resolution. and what factors help him and strengthen his determination and will power. It is only then that we shall find an answer to the mobility of the Soldier.

The Problem

Modern wars are so complicated that the art of Generalship is centered round what has commonly come to be known as Logistics. In recent years this word has come to cover everything pertaining to supply and administration. To be more precise I will take the definition given by Sir George Colley who described it as "the scientific combination of marches, the calculation of time and distances and of economy of men's powers". This last phrase precludes that view of logistics which sees it as the work of specialist 'Q' staff officers. Economy of men's power is a very elastic term. Let us see what it entails It not only involves the movement and maintenance of military forces into a theatre of war in superior strength but also implies the careful nursing of that strength until they are brought to prevail over the enemy. Thus we see that the very acme of leadership lies in the ability to enhance the powers of an average man to the highest possible level and hold them there. Despite the importance of this aspect of leadership surprisingly little appears to have been written on this subject—"the economy of the power of fighting men"— than on any other.

The impact of machines on population in general is to lower the stamina of the individual and make him less hardy than his forefathers. At the same time mechanisation has tremendously increased the overall weight of war. Two centuries ago an army could go through a campaign with what it carried in its train and on the backs of its soldiers. But in the last war for every fighting soldier there had to be a backing of several tons of material. Whereas on the one hand the mechanisation has made the war ponderous and complicated and has given it greater velocity, on the other there has been no change at all. Right up to the present day the machine has not helped in any way in decreasing even by a single pound the load that an individual infantry soldier has to carry in battle. He is still as heavily burdened as his predecessor of 1000 years BC.

This load is the greatest impediment to mobility in battle. It is wrong to maintain that a decisive decrease is NOT possible. The reason for lack of progress in this direction is mainly due to the failure of those who control their doctrine to look into this particular problem with an open mind. Nothing benefits an army or any part of it which is of no use to the individual at the time he enters battle. For this reason the whole logistical framework of our army should develop round a comprehensive study of the logistical capability of an average Sepoy. This means getting a more accurate measure of his physical and mental limitations and of the subtle connection between these two sides of his personality makeup.

A Short History of the Problem

The problem of loading an infantryman is as old as the history of war itself. The historical background to this has been well recorded in the report of the Hygiene Advisory Committee of the British Army which carried out a study of how soldiers have been loaded through centuries and published its findings in the 1920's. The Commission found that generals in all ages have shown no respect to the limitation of the human animal either in or out of battle. The Roman legionary carried as much as eighty pounds in an approach march. The French soldier in the Crimean War carried seventy two pounds. The British Red Coats carried eighty pounds at the storming of Bunker Hill. At the battle of Waterloo the British Infantry carried seventy pounds and the French about fifty five. What is more surprising is the fact that allied assault troops earned more than eighty pounds when they landed at Normandy. In conclusion, after its elaborate study, the Commission recommended that forty to forty five pounds was a tolerable load for an average infantryman on a road march. More specifically it stated that on the march for training purposes the optimum load, including clothing and personal belongings, should not be more than one third of body weight.

After this initial study history bears out that at least one serious attempt was made in the British Army in the 1930's to cope with the problem, but in the end the effort was wholly abandoned as were many others. In 1931 the General Staff held an exercise called the "SHERMAN MARCH" to look into the lightening of the burden of the field forces. It produced some startling results, pointing to a general conclusion that all arms were victims of overloading. This led to the appointment of elaborate committees to study the problem and formulate recommendations. In the end as a result of this, the total weight of a soldier's load including his necessary clothing, arms, ammunition, equipment and rations was brought down to thirty one pounds ten ounces. Eventually this figure was raised to thirty five pounds. With the advent of World War II all the lessons were soon forgotten and loads started creeping up.

Study of World War II in Retrospect

Having seen how far we had advanced in the right direction let us now see to what extent we went back on it during World War II. The assaulting infantry was put across defended beaches time and again with innumerable items which were seldom required. One of the commonest items was three days composite rations weighing roughly about eight pounds, and that too at a time when the ships right behind were landing large cargoes of fresh food, almost tripping on their heels. From the subsequent survey in Normandy it was found that hardly six per cent of the men in the forward area had touched any food at all on the first day's fighting. Compared with this reality we kept continually overloading our troops time and again with composite rations, hard rations and emergency rations and what not when any major operation was undertaken.

Ammunition Load

A more debatable issue than the rations was the amount of ammunition carried by the sepoy. Since fire is the mainspring of mobility and men cannot shoot without ammunition, time and again there were instances when carrying out "hooks", troops in Burma had to carry as many as ninety rounds per rifleman, in addition to two inch Mortar bombs, grenades, LMG magazines, M9A1 bombs and a host of other things. These calculation of expenditure were found to have little practical relation to what took place in actual fact. When one examined company operations in detail, it was evident that the soldiers who used as many as half the number of rounds of rifle were few and far between and the companies that used all their two inch mortar bombs were just as rare.

This same argument would eliminate altogether any further issue of the bayonet. This weapon ceased to have any major value at about the same time as the inaccurate and short ranged musket was replaced by the rifle. But for some unknown reason we have stubbornly clung on to it, chiefly because of the inhibition that the bayonet makes troops fierce and audacious and therefore more likely to close With the enemy. The bayonet is NOT a chemical agent and its possession cannot make men one bit more intrepid than they are by nature. The usefulness of the bayonet needs to be re-evaluated by our army solely on what it represents as an instrument of killing and protection. Cleavage to it appears to be mainly due to the fact that other western armies are hanging on to it and we have to copy. How many of the soldiers of the last war could claim the successful use of this weapon at close quarters? The justification of the bayonet today will be as difficult as the case for the introduction of the sling shot with which David slew Golaith In the siege of Brest in 1944, the 29th US Infantry Division found that an improvised sling shot was useful in harassing the enemy. As much could be said for the bayonet for there might as well be a chance of using it some time or the other. But records show that such chances are few and far between.

Examples from Last War

There are numerous accounts of overloading of infantry in the last war, the details of which could be found in many books. It is not my intention to delve into the details of these. An average soldier assaulting the Normandy beaches had eighty two pounds on his back. Likewise his counterpart in the Eastern and Pacific theatres carried sixty four pounds.

To recapitulate one of the many accounts one reads in various books I shall quote what Captain Richard F. Bush of E Company of the 16th Infantry has to say about 6th June 1944 at OMAHA beach-head: "Altogether the company lost 105 men during the day. Of that number only one man was killed during the advance from the top of the beach inland due to enemy action. Most of the others were lost in the water. Many who were wounded on leaving the boats got only as far as the edge of the sand. They collapsed there to be overtaken by the tide and killed. In attempting to save these men others were knocked down by enemy fire and they too were drowned by the tide. The company lost more men to the water behind it than to the fire from the enemy in front of it. It took one hour to cross the 250 yards of the beach. Many of the men were seasoned veterans, but without doubt the heavy burden carried by them on their backs, and the fact that they had to wade a long distance to the shore, exhausted them. In addition the heavy shock resulting from usually hard initial, losses was partly responsible for their semi-paralyzed advance."

The crux of the matter here is that all men feel the shock of battle in some degree or other. It varies from man to man according to the intensity of each man's fear, and from situation to situation according to the measure of success or failure by those directly concerned. But in one respect its consequences do not vary. When a man is shocked nervously and fear comes uppermost, he becomes physically weak. His body is drained of muscular power and mental coordination. For these reasons every extra pound he carries on his back reduces his tactical capabilities.

Fear and Fatigue

It is elementary that there can be no true economy in men's power on the battle field, unless there is respect for natural physical limitations of the average individual. The true economy can only come when the Commanders at the top reckon with man as he is and not as they would like him to be.

One fact that is oft forgotten is that fear equals fatigue. Fear and fatigue are the same in their effects on troops in battle. This is one of the most elementary truths of battle and yet it remains buried without being reckoned with. Whether you examine it by standards of tactics or medicine, the fact remains that fear and fatigue produce an effect which appears to be identical. The man whether tired or frightened suffers a loss of muscular function and has a feeling of physical weakness. These facts have more recently been confirmed in laboratory tests. There is excessive action of adrenal glands and changes occur in blood stream and muscles.

In battle whatever wears out the muscles reacts on the mind, whatever impairs the mind drains physical strength. Tired men get frightened easily. Frightened men get tired quickly. To arrest this fear is as essential to the recovery of the physical strength of men, as rest is to the body which has had a hard day's march to do. Therefore commanders in battle should concentrate on the avoidance of useless expenditure of the physical resources of the men under them on the one hand by taking action to break the hold of fear and on the other by sensible preparations beforehand.

Effect of Seasonal Changes

Exhaustion resulting from an excessive load on a sepoy is of far greater danger to him during summer than during winter. As a man becomes dehydrated during summer fighting, his courage flows out through his pores along with his muscular strength. He loses his determination and will power. Reduced to this condition the sepoy fails to dig his trench; the officer fails to inspect his position properly, all due to exhaustion and not due to slackness or indifference. From this one can see how much exhaustion plays on one's nerves. One is often rebutted with the argument that thorough practice and training with loads would toughen the soldier to the required extent, and that in battle the urge of self preservation would cause a person to put in superhuman efforts. Counting on superhuman efforts is to view the problem in a very fallacious way—ignoring the truth. This results in loss of human life which could otherwise have been avoided had we taken a correct view of the problem and not burdened the man as much as is often done. In the hour of dire need, the strength of the army cannot be counted in bodies but in numbers who are mentally fit and physically able to move forward. It is no exaggeration to say that 2,000 relatively fresh fighting men, who are nimble and agile, would beat thrice their number who are otherwise An admirable example of this is the Japanese Campaign in Malaya and their final storming of Singapore.

Staff View

Due to inexperience and ignorance, if a young company commander were to overload his men so much that they do not have a fair chance of survival in battle, the chances are that someone in the higher echelons would correct him and rectify the mistake. Even otherwise the danger would be to that company only. But when the Staff in the higher echelons is ignorant and oblivious to this problem of overloading, then woe be to the soldiers. The damage will be done and the price paid for this mistake in costly lives.

The staff always tends to load the soldier according to its own view of every possible emergency that he might have to confront. With every staff officer conjuring up every possible contingency, and few higher commanders attempting to enforce rigid weight limits, the loads frequently become phenomenal. Thus we find that often numerous unwanted items are carried forward in excess of actual requirements, thereby limiting the mobility of the infantry in battle.

A typical staff solution to the problem is to play safe and load the soldier with everything he could possibly need. This tendency is a direct counter to the interests of the army as a whole. Thus the absence of definite and reasonable standards in peace time forces our troops to start the war and every operation overloaded with unnecessary items of equipment. To learn the lesson of what is essential for survival on the battle field they will be required to pay an unnecessary price with their lives which a nation like us could ill afford.

Strength and Weakness

General Patton in his book "War As I Knew It" wrote, "No soldier should be compelled to walk until he actually enters battle. From that point forward he should carry nothing but what he wears, his ammunition, his rations and his toilet articles. When the battle is concluded he should get new uniforms and new everything." This is perfectly practicable so far as the infantry or the fighting arms are concerned. The only addition to this I suggest would be that rations and ammunition be limited to what experience has taught us that the soldier is likely to expend in one day, than to what the staff feels he should carry.

If we have to have a mobile army the fighting soldier should carry only the minimum essential of weapons and supplies so as to enable him to fight the enemy in the immediate situation. He should not be loaded for the morrow or the day after. It is better to force soldiers to sleep cold for a night or two than to risk exhaustion in battle by encumbering them with heavy blankets. It is better to teach them conservation of food and indoctrinate them in living off the country, as the Japanese and the Russians did in the last war, than overload them with rations. It is justifiable to teach them to bother less about personal appearance during a battle than to weigh them down with additional changes of clothing. It is vital to keep them light, nimble and fleet-footed at a critical juncture rather than to overburden them with munitions and weapons in anticipation of dire situations that might develop.

At this juncture it may not be out of place to quote General Sir Giffard Martel who was Chief of the British Military Mission in Russia for a time during the last war, if only to illustrate the type of competition we may have to meet in the next war. He wrote, "The rank and file of the Red Army were magnificent from a physical point of view. They are exceptionally tough. Many of them arrived on 6th September and slept on the ground. It was bitterly cold and a little snow had fallen. The men had no blankets. But when We saw them on the 7th they were getting up and shaking themselves and seemed in good heart. Not a word was said about the cold. Two meals a day seemed to suffice for these troops". This was the discipline to which a Russian soldier was being submitted during a training manoeuvre. Another penetrating account comes from Brigadier General James C. Crockett. the US Military Attache in Moscow from 1944 to 1948. He writes, "The doctrine of the new Russian Army is to get the weight off the back of the combat soldier and put it on transport—any kind of transport that can carry it, even a donkey cart, This is the main change in operational theory of the infantry since 1945. The pack including all clothing and the sheeplined coat weighs 40 lbs. When I left Moscow all field exercises were being conducted under this weight." When the horde army has learnt the lesson why not we?

The Way Out

After studying this problem it is impossible for anyone not to be able to see reason. But then what is the answer? As with any other problem of war it is easier to state the factors than to outline the means of correction. However, some of the fundamentals stand out and based on these a formula can be evolved.

To my mind the fundamentals are: firstly it is fallacious to expect a soldier to carry the same weight in battle as he does on a training march, for once the battle is joined we are dealing with a different man. Secondly it is imperative to recognize the fact that infantry which marches light will manoeuvre freely. Any extra weight hampers movement and fire-power at its source by eliminating the soldier from the battle. Thirdly adequate effective steps, whereby weight limits are laid down, be taken so as to make it impossible for an imaginative staff to override these limits once the war has started. Fourthly training men for weight carrying as well as for agility and fleetness of foot. Fifthly to indoctrinate the soldier with the idea that a toughened back and strong legs will give him his main chance of survival and also imbibe him with the idea that with only half a dozen chargers of ammunition, but a lot of stamina and lightness, he would be a five-fold stronger person than his adversary who is weighed down by excessive load.

To achieve these fundamentals there is ample scope and room for study. Before any decisive step is taken I venture to suggest that the studies made by the British, the Germans and others showing the optimum marching load of an infantryman be examined in the light of the conditions prevalent in Pakistan. Once this is done, a further study be carried out as to the minimum basic requirements of food, munitions and equipment of an infantryman in battle. Based on these two, a formula be evolved limiting strictly the optimum weight to be carried by a Pakistani infantryman on the line of march and in battle. Thus and thus alone can we gain the desired mobility of Infantry in battle.

It will not be out of place for one to suggest that this study be undertaken now, when all our organisations are in the melting pot and under revision. For as a result of this study I am sure modifications will be needed in the scales of organic transport required for an infantry unit or formation.

In conclusion it could be said that the greatest need for mobility is on the field of battle. Swiftness and agility of movement, rapidity and assurance of thought are the essentials that comprise it. For getting this we must ensure means of producing stronger and more accurate fire. So long as we cling to out-moded dogma that under danger men will do more than their normal powers we Will be denying ourselves this vitally needed mobility and consequently the all essential fire power—the winner of battles. This form of oblivious attitude and ignorance leads to needless hardship to our own fighting troops—the men whom we can least afford to hurt. This problem becomes even more acute when we examine it in the light of the resources of men and material of our country. The quicker we realise that mobility in war will remain in the man, and in his ability to grab fleeting chances and deal with them effectively and decisively, the better would it be for us and for our nation.

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