Topic: Soldiers' Load
Doughboy is Heaviest Laden Pack Animal in American Army
Lewiston Evening Journal, Lewiston, Maine, 22 February 1923
Washington, Feb. 22. (By the Associated Press)—The heaviest laden pack animal of the army is the doughboy himself. Inch for inch or pound for pound of his own weight, the buck private of infantry carries on his back into battle double the burden handled by horses or mules or motor trucks.
And he is expected to jog cheerfully along through the ooze beside the road, leaving the good going to the gas and animal transport.
Army experts are racking their brains for ways to cut down the doughboy's load. Exhaustive study has been given to war experience for that purpose. Through the American legion and similar organizations, efforts have been made to get the men who carried the infantry packs in France to suggest changes. But as yet it has been possible, it was said today at the war department, to get only a few ounces of weight off the backs of the trudging infantry.
Carry 133 Pounds
Experts figure that the average load for a foot soldier should not exceed 61 pounds. Yet under the present organization tables, "No. 3 rear rank" (who is the automatic rifleman in the infantry) must stagger along under about 133 pounds when fully equipped. All of the machine gun personnel is burdened almost as heavily, carrying from 115 to 123 pounds per man; and the machine gunners since the war make up about one-fourth of the strength of an infantry outfit.
The bulk of the doughboy's load is fighting equipment. What he carries for his own bodily comfort has always been stripped down to the absolute minimum. Aside from his "iron rations," his blanket, overcoat, extra shoes, mess kit, canteen and his few essential toilet articles, the weight the infantryman packs has a grim purpose/ The whole intricate business of war revolves around the doughboy and his rifle and bayonet.
The American army rifle is still about the last word in efficient, light weight fighting tools. There is no prospect that its weight can be further reduced. So the experts are wondering over each other article in the infantry pack to see what can be eliminated or sent back to the wagon trains until needed.
Since the war ended, plans have been worked out to lighten the emergency rations, the two days' supply each hiking soldier carries with him. Several ounces can be taken out of the container weights and a few more out of the mess kits, and ounces feel like tons towards the end of a forced march. It now seems probable, also, that the "pup" tents carried heretofore may be abandoned or at least greatly reduced in weight, and that the extra shoes will go back to the escort wagons. Still another development is in experiments with new water proofing methods to make rain coats and, perhaps, overcoats, unnecessary and also to save the doughboy from having to carry pounds of water in his soaking equipment after a march in the rain.
If all of the individual fighting and defensive equipment that is provided for him was loaded on the doughboy's back, he probably would not be able to lift his feet off the ground and if he did succeed in moving, he would clatter and rattle like an old cook stove. In addition to his arms, ammunition, food and clothing, modern war requires that the infantryman should have available as he comes to grips with the enemy hand grenades, rifle bombs, trench knife, day and night fire works for signalling his position, sandbags for quick entrenching, picks and shovels for digging himself in, gas mask, helmet, first aid kit, and a dozen other things he might need. But there is no possibility that he could carry it all and move, so the experts are weighing the probabilities and article by article reasoning out just how far back it would be safe to send it along the supply line so that it could be brought up when the call came.
Mule Close at Heels
An army mule is a mighty weight carrier and in rough going 'cross country, the long eared friend of the soldier probably always will be closer at the doughboy's heels than any other element of the army. But the maximum load for an 800 pound pack mule is 250 pounds and the lighter the mule, the lighter the load under army regulations. Loads for wagons and artillery teams are similarly distributed according to the weight and capacity of the animals.
There is no such adjustment of burden possible for the doughboy, however. He carries the same weight whether he is a six-foot, 200 pounder from the first squad or a five-foot-four, hundred and forty pound runt from the "pickaninny" squad at the left of the company. And that weight will more often than not be more than half of his own heft.
There has been a lot of experimenting, both in the army and the marine Corps since the war, with types of hand carts to carry part of the doughboy's load. They are still at it, but results thus far are not promising except where the March is over good roads. Off the roads, the doughboys, after due trial, show a tendency to prefer taking the load on their own shoulders.
Down at Fort Benning, the infantry school of the army, the carts were tried out scientifically. Student officers volunteered for the tests, trudging all day 'cross country hauling carts after them. Each night they underwent a minute physical examination in comparison with comrades who had packed similar loads on their shoulders over the same route. In each case the doctors noted a distinctly greater degree of exhaustion among the men who hauled the carts.
The possibility of light motor wheel carts are still to be explored. Various types are to be used, particularly to take some of the machine gun load. But it is now the judgment of experienced officers that the brawny back of the doughboy will continue to be the main reliance of armies for front line operations.