After examining Infantry Overload, I was reminded of the German Maus tank of WWII. I believe it was one Adolph’s personal brain storms, most likely an electrical storm at that. The Maus was 33 feet long and 12 feet high. Armor thickness was up to 9-1/2 inches. The main gun was a 128-mm with a 75mm co-ax!! While virtually invulnerable to any Allied guns, and packing truly awesome firepower that could kill any Allied tank out to ranges of 3,500 meters, there were a few small problems.
Mainly, of course, mobility. The thing weighed 185 tons, as much as a diesel railroad freight locomotive. They couldn’t find a motor big enough to allow the damn thing to move at more than a crawl. Top speed, downhill on pavement with a tailwind, was 8 mph or less. Extensive work had to be done on the suspension to keep the weight from crushing it. The tracks were a full meter wide to keep it from sinking into the earth. It was too wide for many tunnels; it was too heavy for almost all bridges. A full tank of 713 gallons of diesel would only allow it to waddle about 38 miles under ideal conditions, a whopping 0.05 miles per gallon. A special 14-axle railroad transport car had to be designed to move it by train.
As we titter at Hitler’s obvious idiocy, however, we [American civilian and military leaders] apparently don’t see any problem whatsoever in expecting a 140-pound kid to throw on a 120-pound ruck and chase the Taliban up and down some of the highest mountains in the world.
I have set myself a personal maximum weight limit of 40 pounds. Trust me, that’s waaayyy less than 1/3 of my body weight. After climbing up and down mountains with my dog all last weekend, lugging the FAL, I’m starting to consider lowering that. I am almost starting to believe in that global warming crap. It seems like the only reasonable explanation why my pack keeps getting heavier, and the air thinner, and the trails steeper.
I found it interesting, because I apparently have too much time on my hands, to look into the soldier’s load throughout modern history.
Right or wrong, the United States Marine Corps fought a series of counter-insurgencies in the Caribbean and Central America between the world wars, collectively known as The Banana Wars. From this experience, they developed The USMC Small Wars Manual, which advised this packing list:
1. A shelter half, poncho, or light native hammock, depending upon the nature of the terrain, the season of the year, and the personal decision of the patrol leader. The shelter half can be dispensed with if materials are available in the field for the construction of lean-to shelters. In this case, the poncho is utilized as a cover for the pack or roll. The poncho is primarily useful as protection from the damp ground while sleeping at night. It interferes with movement of an individual if worn on the march, and is a distinct impediment if worn in combat. The hammock has many advantages, but it is bulky and adds considerable weight to the pack or roll. During the rainy season, two of these articles may be desirable. If the shelter half is carried, the tent pole and pins are included when necessary.
2. One blanket.
3. A mosquito net is desirable in malarial countries. It is bulky and quite heavy. Some combat patrols in past operations in tropical countries did not carry the net in the field and did not incur any apparent harmful consequences.
4. One change of underwear.
5. At least two pairs of woolen socks; four pairs are recommended, if the patrol is to operate for 2 weeks or longer.
6. One change of outer clothing.
7. Toilet articles: soap, small bath towel, tooth brush and powder or paste, comb, and mirror. A razor, shaving brush, and shaving soap may be carried, although they are not considered essential items.
8. Tobacco, as desired.
9. Toilet paper, a small quantity by each individual, the remainder with the mess equipment.
A Marine officer on Guadalcanal laid out this list from his experiences during that long campaign.
For patrols from 1 to 10 days duration, I suggest a pack whose contents are as follows:
The top half of our present pack to contain:
Dehydrated rations and type “D” rations for the period expected.
1 or 2 canteens, depending on the terrain in which you are operating.
Medical kit containing: bandaids, sulfa, atebrine, salve for protection against skin infection, tablets for the purification of water of a squad’s canteens.
1 cake of soap.
1 pair extra socks.
1 pair shoe laces
1 shirt, flannel or woolen
All above in rubber bag.
1 can of oil and cleaning gear for weapon where such is not part of the weapon you carry.
The following equipment:
Good field for all leaders down to sergeants in rifle units, and to squad leaders in weapons squads.
Bush knife 12” blade made of good steel for all hands
Helmet for all
Camouflage net for all helmets
Mosquito net, head, for all
Entrenching shovel for all
We need a rubber bag which will keep everything dry and can be used for floating contents across streams. Must be light and rugged.
Officers and men must be in identical uniforms.
Another Marine officer added: “Travel light. For example, to hell with the mess equipment! We used our mess cup and spoon for the first 15 days here and enjoyed our chow. You don’t have to live like a gentleman in jungle warfare. Our mess equipment is too bulky for this type of warfare and makes noise.”
An American observer noted this about the British Commandos of WWII:
British, Anzac, and Gurkha forces operating in the successful counter-insurgency in Malaya worked hard to keep the weight an infantryman bore down to reasonable levels
"Even though the individual and small unit effectiveness of the British and their allies in the jungle was excellent, these men were not asked to endure unnecessary hardships. Careful study indicates that British, Gurkha, and the new Malaysian soldiers functioned well in the jungle environment when provided with a kit that allowed comfort. Individual equipment in Malaysia weighed slightly more than 50 pounds.
A black nylon overall and a pair of sneakers-entirely satisfactory for night combat—bedding according to habits of individual soldiers, medical supplies, drinking water, and various tools for use in the jungle were all carried in a comfortable harness. Mosquitoes, leeches, wet feet uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, poor food, and exposure can contribute to poor health and morale and increase the problems of warfare. The soldier was equipped to combat these problems, and yet was not burdened with so much equipment that he became immobile." [Hint, hint].
The pack normally contains extra shoes, socks, and breech clout. Towel, soap, and other miscellaneous toilet articles are carried, as well as a first-aid packet and a sewing kit. A shelter half, although only 4 feet 10 inches by 2 feet 5-1/2 inches, is very serviceable. It is used as a ground sheet, or to roll up in. When the tent ropes are properly roved through the eyelets, the shelter half makes an excellent poncho and, because of its superior rain-shedding quality, Japanese soldiers prefer it to the issue raincoat. A blanket or overcoat may be rolled in inverted U-shape and tied around the edges of the pack. A raincoat, shelter half, and camouflage netting are placed across the top, and the mess kit is strapped to the back of the pack. When caps are worn, the steel helmet is secured over the mess kit.
Canteen, slung from a leather strap across the left shoulder, ammunition pouches, and gas mask and carrier complete the combat gear normally carried by the Japanese soldier. Ammunition is carried in pouches strung on the waist belt.
Officers and enlisted men wear the same steel helmet.
Pack.—The pack (Tornister) is a heavy square-shaped canvas bag with leather binding. A blanket, a camouflage cover, (which sometimes serves as a raincoat), and also at times the overcoat, are rolled and strapped around the pack. For mountain troops, the pack is replaced by a rucksack, a form of which, originally adopted by the Afrika-Korps, is coming to be used extensively throughout the Army.
Other equipment.—Other equipment carried by the individual includes leather cartridge pouches, a shelter-half with ropes, a canteen and mess kit, a haversack, a gas mask, a gas cape (an impregnated cloth cover for protection against gas), entrenching tools, and side arms. Officers wear brown belts (sometimes with the strap of the Sam Browne type), and enlisted men black belts.
German mountain and ski troops said, “The amount of rations, bivouac, signal and orientation equipment, pioneer and medical supplies, as well as ski repair equipment, depends mainly on the expected duration of the action. Prepared, nourishing foods, rich in fat (which, moreover, do not occupy much space and are not affected by weather conditions) will, if possible, be taken along as rations. Every third man is to be equipped with cooking gear.”
“Bivouac equipment will always be taken along if bivouacs in the snow, outside villages, are expected. Although tents which retain heat weigh more, they are preferable to those which do not. For actions in terrain without vegetation or inhabitants, fuel must be taken along. In his pack every man carries blankets and warm, windproof, and water-repellent clothing.”
“Carried on person.-
Shoes, semi-waterproof and large enough so that 2 or 3 pairs of socks ma be worn.
Fur-lined leather mittens (1 pair, worn over gloves).
Wristlets and knee protectors.
Socks (2 or 3 pairs).
Winter combat suit (quilted trousers, fur-lined jacket, fur cap).
Skis and ski poles (1 pair of each).
Sheath knife (1 each).
White camouflage suit.
First-aid packets (2 each).
Gloves (1 pair).
(2) Carried in rucksack.-
Rations for 1% days (additional rations for one-half day on handsled)
Woolen socks (2 pairs).
Personal cooking and mess equipment.
Portable gasoline cook stove (1 for each squad).
Candies and matches.”
The Selous Scouts of the Rhodesian Bush Wars did not have an official uniform. Water and ammunition were the two most important items they carried, and in the largest quantities. Favored footwear consisted of rubber-soled hockey boots known as “tackies”. Originally equipped with British Pattern 1958 standard web gear, the Selous Scouts soon developed their own Rhodesian vest that provided light weight, mesh ventilation, and multiple pockets, which was later copied around the world in various forms as the Load Bearing Vest.
Ask any two soldiers “How much ammo?” and you will no doubt get at least three different answers. Indeed, like the soldier’s load, it is almost an unanswerable rhetorical question, like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” or, “How could over half the voting public be that stupid?”
I’ve been as guilty as anyone in the mania for the more is always better crowd, at least in the past. This mania for “all you can physically carry plus one round in the chamber” is made much worse by the theory of suppressive fire, aka spray n pray, and all the other quantity over quality thinking.
This balancing act has been going throughout military history since soldiers were first issued with muskets. Despite all our technology, all the different calibers and weapons and ammo carrying systems, the act still goes on, and it hasn’t gotten any easier.
Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was a rare tactical genius who conducted a brilliant guerrilla campaign in German East Africa for the duration WWI, but he didn’t have all the answers either.
“One of the first items that Lettow-Vorbeck focused on was the physical fitness of the soldiers and their marksmanship, a principle that he continually encouraged and trained to perfection. After war was declared, Lettow-Vorbeck began to institute a series of small patrols for the Schutztruppe for the sole purpose of increasing morale and confidence within his soldiers. He knew that the terrain would force his army to travel light if they were to remain mobile and this required meticulous attention to detail and planning. However, as the German army remained light and fleet of foot the loss of weight directly impacted on the strength of their firepower. The more they carried, the heavier the firepower, the lighter the load the less the firepower. Therefore, Lettow-Vorbeck planned a series of raids on the British railway system to test and develop the Schutztruppe's capabilities.”
In studying history, I was sometimes surprised at just how little ammunition was actually carried and needed. At the other end of the spectrum, the ammunition loads carried by American troops in Vietnam were staggering and utterly ridiculous.
This was from the 5th Marines on Guadalcanal.
“The tendency is to overload the infantrymen with ammunition. It seems to be the standard practice to start out with a belt plus two bandoleers. We soon found out that 25 rounds was enough for two or three days if you do not have targets to shoot at. (Note: Our infantrymen approaching Buna in the jungles of New Guinea were carrying 40 rounds.)"
That was just one opinion and it sure seems pretty slim to me. If you read through the personal accounts of Marine and Army veterans of both WWII and Korea, the load most often cited is the former, a full belt and two bandoleers. The OD green canvas ammo belt for the M1 Garand had ten pockets, each holding an 8-shot enbloc clip. Bandoleers had six pouches and held 48 rounds. This made for a grand total of 176 rounds of .30-06 ammunition, and seems to be the most typical load for a man armed with an M1 Garand. Probably about what I would have carried if I had been a rifleman in those days.
The following load comes from the USMC Small Wars Manual, written from experience fighting guerrillas in the Caribbean and Central American Banana Wars of the 1930’s.
Ammunition.—In past small war operations, the average expenditure of small arms ammunition for a single engagement has seldom exceeded 50 rounds for each person in the patrol. There have been a very few instances where the expenditure has slightly exceeded 100 rounds per person. It is believed that the following is a reasonable basis for the quantities of ammunition to be carried for each type of weapon with infantry patrols assigned a combat mission in small war operations:
(1) On the person—the full capacity of the belt or other carrier issued to the individual.
(2) In the combat train—1/2 unit of fire.
These quantities should be modified as dictated by experience or as indicated by the situation confronting a particular patrol.
There they go again! Allowing on-the-ground tactical commanders to make decisions without a satellite video teleconference with a 4-star general and a Power Point demonstrating the rationale for the decision. What were they thinking?
The regular Japanese Army infantryman of WWII had a belt and ammunition pouches, of leather or rubberized canvas, for his Arisaka bolt-action rifle. Two small pouches in front held six 5-round stripper clips each, and a larger pouch in the rear held 12 clips, for 120 rounds total.
For the Wehrmacht rifleman and his KAR-98 Mauser, ammunition was carried in 2 leather ammunition pouches attached to the belt, which held 60 rounds in 5-round clips. Additional rifle ammunition could be carried in cloth bandoleers similar to the U. S. type. We will see that just about every soldier around the world increased his load of ammunition when TSHTF. It is probably reasonable to assume that Axis soldiers did the same thing.
Gebirgsjaeger mountain troop patrols, often cut off from normal supply channels, stressed "fewer arms, more ammo" concept. They carried 100 rounds per rifle and 256 rounds in 8 magazines per 9mm MP40 “Schmeisser” machine pistol. Twenty extra rifle rounds per rifleman and 128 extra rounds per sub-machine gunner were carried on the supply hand sled.
The small British and Commonwealth infantry patrols in Malaya did not want to reveal their location to the enemy via air supply. Those armed with the SLR (FAL) carried one 20-round magazine in the rifle and eight loaded spares, for a total of 180 rounds. As the conflict wound down, with only a handful of starving guerrillas avoiding contact at all costs, some units carried only 60 rounds.
The standard Pattern 58 web gear used by British, ANZAC, Canadian, and other Commonwealth forces equipped with British gear had two magazine pouches, in which they usually carried only two 20-round magazines per pouch, for 80 in the pouches and 20 in the SLR, a total of only 100 rounds. After the first firefight in the Falklands War, the round count went up considerably.
It took me all of 30 seconds to figure out that placed vertically instead of horizontally as viewed looking down, each pouch can quite nicely fit three magazines per pouch rather than only two. Either way, the pouch is a tad bit deep for FAL magazines, but either mag pulls or placing something underneath the mags in the pouch takes care of that handily. Thus, one can instead carry 120 rounds in the LBE and 20 in the gun.
In Malaya, riflemen armed with the SLR started out with 180 rounds of .308 ammo. Doing without helicopter resupply to give away their position, they carried enough to just about any contingency. As the conflict wound down and the terrorists were reduced to ragged half-starved ill-armed refugees who avoided contact at all costs, only 60 rounds were carried.
Rhodesian Security Forces, such as the Rhodesian Light Infantry, carried 7 or 8 magazines for their South African-made R1 FAL’s, supplemented with a few extra 20-round boxes of ammunition for reloads.
Most peacetime load-outs for countries equipped with 7.62x51mm battle rifles were about the same. Both the German Bundeswher and the Swedish Army had H&K G-3 rifles in the 70’s and 80’s. The Germans carried, at one time, only two spare magazines in their single plastic pouches. The Swedish issue war load was four spare 20-round magazines.
It was the same for the Australians when they went to Vietnam. After their first major engagement at Long Tan, ammo loads increased to “Buckets of bullets” as one Digger veteran recalled, though nowhere near as outrageous as the American load-outs.
The theoretical load for modern American troops is 210 rounds, six 30-round mags (just about everybody loads 1-3 rounds less to increase reliability) and one in the gun.
Grunts going into the streets of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, of course, add to that official load-out. These are recent quotes from soldiers and Marines serving overseas as to what they carried.
"I carried 10 x 30 rd magazines with another 6 loaded in my bail out bag. 3 x 15 rd magazines for my pistol with 2 additional loaded in my BOB. I wore 2 x m67 grenades and 2 x M18 HC smoke grenades on my gear and carried another smoke grenade and a thermite grenade in the pack as well."
“[For] day ops carry load on LCE was 7-30rd magazines, in assault pack 3+ magazines,
in rucksack(left on truck) remaining magazines to total 30.”
“I carried 12 mags on me, one in the gun for my M4. My M9 had three extra mags, then two frags, a smoke, a CS and an anti-pursuit mine (the spider mines). In my BOB I had an extra 6 mags and in the vehicle I had a fat 50 can full of mags and another of frags and smoke.”
I studied these various ammunition loads, taking into consideration a lack of a real supply train, avoiding the logistically unsustainable practice of suppressive fire, and the need to use accuracy over volume as a force multiplier. I wasn’t going to be doing any suppressing. In fact, I think it’s more likely we all end up as suppressees rather than suppressors some day.
After going back and forth a lot on the four or six spare mags, I finally wound up with what I felt to be a reasonable compromise for the FAL; six loaded 20-round sticks in the ammo pouches, one in the rifle, and a 50-round bandoleer in the kidney pouches for reloads. In trying to keep my first-line gear weight under 40 pounds, 11 and ¾ pounds ammunition doesn’t make it any easier. I still think it’s worth it to have a major caliber, however, and the ability to turn cover into concealment and engage man-sized targets to 500-600 yards with good ammo.
Home-made zip-tie and parachute cord mag pulls on the mags enable me to click the empties onto a snap link on the exterior of my left ammo pouch (I shoot southpaw). This, of course, takes a little practice. The other option to save your mags for another day is to just drop them down the front of your shirt.
So, exactly how little is too little? How much is too much? Beats the hell outta me.