Saturday, August 28, 2010



German Infantry WWII
“Good physical condition has been a basis for the notable march achievement of German infantry. Despite all the mechanization of modern armies, German doctrine foresaw the possibility that motorized personnel might lose their equipment and have to move rapidly on foot. In some cases German troops, under the prolonged strain of combat operations, have covered 30 to 40 miles a day for several days, and German sources claim a march of 44 miles in 24 hours during the Polish campaign. Reserve and Landwehr formations (of older men) are held to nearly the same high standards.”

North Korean Infantry
“At Kangnung, on the coastal road, twenty miles below the Parallel, the 11th Regiment of the 5th Division swung inland on an 8-day 175-mile march through some of the wildest and roughest country in Korea. It passed through P'yong-ch'ang, Yongwol, and Ch'unyang. At the last place the regiment met and fought a hard battle with elements of the ROK [Republic of Korea] 8th Division which were withdrawing inland to the Tanyang area. The regiment then turned east and joined the rest of the division at Ulchin on the coast on or about 10 July. In this arduous march through and along the mountains bordering the east coast, the N.K. [North Korea] 5th Division lost from all causes about 1,800 men.”

Japanese Infantry WWII
“Mobility, which is achieved in a number of ways, has been one of the most important factors in obtaining surprise. The ability to exploit to the full the exceptional marching powers of the troops--they are capable of covering thirty or more miles per day--is closely allied with the question of rations. They may, by choosing a circuitous path through difficult country, attempt to overtake and cut the line of retreat of a force withdrawing along a road, but mobility does not end there; if the chances of living off the country are small, troops may carry as much as seven days' rations with them, thus freeing themselves during this period from the encumbrance of an administrative tail. Impressed local inhabitants, with carts or boats, if the country is suitable, supplement their carrying powers, while opportunities to seize local supplies are never neglected.
An outstanding example of strategic mobility on the part of the Japanese was their advance through the Shan States from Karenni in the south to Myitkyina in the north, a distance of some 450 miles, covered in three weeks. This feat is even more remarkable when it is realized that during their advance the Japanese fought three heavy engagements and were hindered by numerous delaying actions. The maintenance of a daily average advance of some 21 miles despite delaying actions and having to fight, speaks for itself as an example of strategic mobility. In considering how this advance was achieved the following points are outstanding: First, the skill of the Japanese in the choice, direction and execution of their encircling movements which, probably more than any other single factor, accounted for the speed and great distance of withdrawals the Chinese were compelled to undertake. Second, the refusal on the part of the Japanese to be deterred from the primary objective by threats to flank or rear.
Finally, there is the ability of the Japanese to move without a cumbersome administrative overhead.”
British Commandos
As the state of mind is all important, it is essential not to let the men become discouraged. If a man knows that others have marched 30 miles over mountainous country with heavy loads, and that he is fit
and properly equipped, he will feel that he is able to do it, too. The men should camp out several days at a time, using different types of equipment, and living on concentrated rations. This will give them confidence. Gradually, as they get physically conditioned, they will think nothing of doing 30 miles a day in mountainous country with 40-pound packs. The officer or noncommissioned officer in charge
should carry as much as or more than the men. The men should walk in single file as a general rule, following the route chosen by the leader. Thus a tired man is less likely to lag. It is good practice to let each man lead in turn, in order to introduce variety and to share responsibility. When men are tired, it is best to promise them rest at a definite time or place, for nothing is more exasperating than to march interminably onwards at the will of somebody else.

Can you do any of that? I sure can’t. But I try to keep pretty mobile on foot. Good boots are important no matter what you do, whether it’s the Great Elk Hunting Death March (sorry Jerry) or an over-nighter camping trip. When it comes to combat, good boots become almost as essential as a good rifle.

The American military can buy a B-2 bomber that is quite literally, pound for pound, worth more by weight than gold. A shiny new Gerald Ford aircraft carrier is a bargain at $9 billion. An M1A1 Abrams tank is a real steal at $4,300,000. Yet only recently have they done any real looking at a decent infantry boot.

In the Falklands War, the British Army issue boot was crap. Once it got wet, it stayed wet, and despite the plan to use helicopters to move the infantry, they wound up hiking forever across a nasty landscape.
After the conflict, British Major General John Frost, said, "The appropriate foot gear is appropriate to all who would do things properly…this inadequacy [the boot] was responsible for more casualties than enemy action…it is pointless to spend several thousand pounds in arming a man if he becomes ineffective through failure to spend twenty or thirty pounds in covering his feet."

Another side-note that I found interesting related to the Falklands War was that the “super-athletes” and Physical Training instructors were some of the first to drop out of the long marches. While they were in peak physical condition by army PT standards, they lacked the sheer stamina, both mental and physical, to endure long-term physical exertion. The American military PT standards are equally irrelevant to long-term dismounted infantry operations.

The infamous ‘cruit boots of my day and age were just plain shit. Thin, flexible leather, offering little support, with a hard sole with tread grooved like an old Duece-and-a-half tire. Walking on hard surfaces, especially wet ones, you were like a hog on ice. They were also known for causing shin splints when you ran in them. To top it all off, they had to be spit-shined every day. (As the Germans noted: “Shoe polish alone has a tendency to make leather hard and brittle and clogs the pores of the leather. This causes perspiration to condense inside the shoe and might induce frostbite.”) I had a non-military but very outdoorsy guy look at an old pair of my ‘cruit boots and he laughed, “What the hell are those? Bowling shoes?”

During WWII, the American combat boot proved totally inadequate in the cold and wet, especially in places like the Ardennes and the Hurtgon Forest. The good winter shoe pacs that finally got into the supply system seemed to get no further than the rear-area pogues who didn’t really need them long before the front-line troops who needed them. The grunts probably finally got them in August. Troops couldn’t be rotated back out of the front lines to dry out and warm up. They slogged through in endless mud in the Hurtgon and lived in holes half full of water. In Bastogne, they stood duty on thick pads of captured straw to keep the bitter cold from seeping up through the soles of their combat boots.

Rather than solve the problem, issue the proper equipment, or rotate the troops out of the front lines, the American REMFs and high-ranking officers came up with another innovation idea instead. Cartoons!

If the cartoons failed, as in the Hurtin’ Hurtgon, soldiers were then threatened with court martial if they became victims of trench foot or frostbite. Gotta love them REMFs.

Although the following is a British Army pamphlet dating back to the Second World War, it’s a pretty good summary on keeping good care of your little footsies.

To avoid sore feet:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->a. <!--[endif]-->Remove shoes as soon as convenient after a march;
<!--[if !supportLists]-->b. <!--[endif]-->Wash your feet as often as possible;
<!--[if !supportLists]-->c. <!--[endif]-->Dry thoroughly, especially between the toes; and
<!--[if !supportLists]-->d. <!--[endif]-->Wash your socks at every opportunity.
To harden your feet:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->a. <!--[endif]-->Wash in cold water, using soap freely;
<!--[if !supportLists]-->b. <!--[endif]-->Rub the bottom of your feet with soap or grease; and
<!--[if !supportLists]-->c. <!--[endif]-->Soak the feet in a solution of salt. [I use rubbing alcohol.]

<!--[if !supportLists]-->a. <!--[endif]-->Fitting shoes
The best time to fit shoes is on a hot day and after physical exercise. This is true because the foot expands in length and width ¼ to ½ inch when the soldier is on the march in hot weather.
Always fit shoes over army socks—never over the bare foot—and always stand up and walk a little while determining a fit. The sides of the shoe should feel comfortable and should show no signs of bulging.
b. Care of Shoes
After having been worn, shoes deteriorate fast if not used often thereafter.
Rub a light coating of some acceptable leather preserver on the inside of the shoes at least once per week, but:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1. <!--[endif]-->First remove all dust and dirt (if necessary, use a damp cloth).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2. <!--[endif]-->Put paper or some similar substance inside wet shoes so that they will keep their shape while drying. (Dry slowly.)
<!--[if !supportLists]-->3. <!--[endif]-->Remember that it is better to apply leather preserver when your shoes are warm and slightly damp. (Apply the preserver until the leather is flexible).
c. Care of Socks
Excessive rubbing, sweating, or boiling in water will cause wool to shrink.
Always mend your socks from the inside. If the edges curl, they must be trimmed.
Darned socks, or socks with holes in them, should not be worn on the march because they will cause abrasions and blisters. Wearing two pairs of socks will aid in preventing friction between the shoes and the feet.
If your socks are worn out and none are available for issue at the time, you can give good protection to your feet by wrapping them in a triangular piece of cotton cloth, or even paper, and then putting on your shoes. Your medical officer will show you how this is done.

a. Sweaty Feet
Symptoms of sweaty feet are tenderness, local areas of redness, and the tendency of the skin to peel off.
Treat sweaty feet as follows:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1. <!--[endif]-->Wash them with soap and water; and
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2. <!--[endif]-->Dry them thoroughly and apply foot powder.
b. Blisters
Treat blisters as follows:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1. <!--[endif]-->Remove the obstacle which caused the blister;
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2. <!--[endif]-->Clean the blister gently with soap and water;
<!--[if !supportLists]-->3. <!--[endif]-->Apply an antiseptic;
<!--[if !supportLists]-->4. <!--[endif]-->Sterilize a needle by passing it slowly through a flame, and then run the needle through the blister—in at one side and out the other—to drain out the fluid:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->5. <!--[endif]-->Do not remove the skin covering the blister; and
<!--[if !supportLists]-->6. <!--[endif]-->Apply an antiseptic to the area, cover it with absorbent cotton, and cover the latter with a piece of adhesive tape.

NOTE: Often you can manage to march in comfort with a blister if you fit a piece of cloth or bandage under your foot, over the instep, and around the ankle. Buckle the cloth over the outer ankle bone, pulling it tight. This arrangement lessens the friction between the shoe and foot.

Serious abrasions and ingrowing toenails should be shown to the medical officer at once.

BAWB'S NOTE: Always keep your nails trimmed. You can remove an ingrown toenail with a needle-nose multi-tool and a K-Bar, but I don't recommend it.

Don't get blisters in the first place. The moment you start to feel a "hot spot" somewhere on your foot, stop and deal with it. If nothing else is available, pinch a fold into your sock and fold it over the affected area to add another layer, or change socks, or roll them over so what was on the bottom is on the top. The traditional cure is moleskin, but sometimes it's hard to find a mole to skin, ha-ha. The humble Band-Aid works quite well, too. And, if you have some as many back-country hikers do, you can use the Handyman's Secret Weapon, Duct tape. I kid you not, it works.

In most Western armies it has become pretty much standard for field soldiers to buy their own commercial boots, especially in cold weather and places like Afghanistan. This is certainly an improvement over cartoons and court martials, but it is still bullshit that they have to do so in the first place. Too bad they couldn’t purchase and bring their own weapons; then the ones that knew what the hell they were doing would really be good to go.

What to look for in a boot? USGI surplus is probably right out if you’re serious about real hiking and covering long distances, such as elk hunting or fleeing various government tugs.

My first tip…and I’ve heard the same from many hunting guides…is to forget all that silly insulation. You know the boots I’m talking about. They advertise four million grams of thinsulate so that you can hike comfortably on the South Pole. Of course, if you hike anywhere else they make your feet sweat like a whore in church. Then, when you stop, your feet are soaking wet and then they get cold. The military Mickey Mouse boots are the same. They’re great for sitting in a deer blind or huddled over a hole in the ice all day, but walking, or skiing in them, is a joke. If you have to have insulation, I’d personally go with just 200 grams.

Always wear two pairs of socks. Some recommend two pairs of wool only. I like to go with a pair of synthetic socks against the skin and a pair of wool on the outside. One pair of socks on any serious hike will leave you with blisters, most likely on the heel. I ALWAYS have at least two extra pairs of dry socks with me even on a short hunt. In decent weather, you can hang the old pair off your pack or LBE to dry. If it’s below freezing, you can stick them inside your shirt. Yeah, it makes you yipe at first, but they warm up and dry out, mostly anyway, from body heat. This is where wool is worth its weight in gold. Even damp it still has excellent insulating qualities. Same goes for other garments, like wool pants and sweaters. There’s an old saying out West: “Cotton kills.”

In picking out your boots, get them a half-size too large, and try them on with the two pair of socks you would usually be wearing. If you go for real long hikes, especially for an extended period, your feet will flatten out and fill the boots. Before you lace them up, stick your toes as far forward as they will go, and you should just be able to get a finger down inside the heel. Then kick the heel back to the back, lace ‘em up real tight, and make sure you can wiggle and curl your toes. The boot may still feel uncomfortable around the ankle and across the wide part of your foot. That will soon go away when they break in.

If you’re in a hurry, you can always soak the boots in water (not too long, only a matter of several seconds) and then go for a serious day-long hike. When you’re done, they’ll be pretty well broken in right. Dry ‘em and condition ‘em and you should be good to go next time out. The other way is to just wear them around during the day, at work, for short hikes without a pack, etc. Once they’re comfortable to wear all day long, they’re good to go.

I personally would go for leather boots. I’ve worn out the high speed, low-drag boots made of fabric/nylon and leather, or fabric only. They were only $100 boots, but I can wear a pair out in a single season of serious hunting in the mountains. Avoid like the plague anything with plastic eyelets; whoever came up with that idea should be beaten like a red-headed step-child and it's a red flag for a cheap boot. Those “lightweight hikers”, aka glorified tennis shoes, are comfortable for just farting around town or short hikes across the back forty, but will soon be a shambles in the back country.

They say every pound on your foot is the equivalent to carrying five pounds on your back. Well, if you want a really good tough pair, you'll have to add some weight. Plus, it makes it easier to kick someone's ass. I prefer heavy-duty leather and high tops if they are to protect your feet in the mountains, and some extra weight is a penalty I can live with. NO STEEL TOES. Wildland firefighters are probably tougher on boots than even the average infantryman and they are required to have boots with at least an eight-inch top and Vibram soles.

Speaking of soles, Vibram is still about the best thing going for a combination of durability and traction. Air Bob soles are about the best for traction, and have pretty decent longevity too.

Boots are really one of those things where, “You get what you pay for.” Wildland firefighters (at least they used to) beat the ever-living hell out of their boots and the brand of choice is most often Danner. A good pair of Danners will last you many years, and I’ve known guys who’ve had them re-soled two or three times and they’re still going.

Most people also seem to wear their boots too tight. It’s a bad military habit that goes along with spit-shining. Your boots should be somewhat loose, not yanked just as tight as you can get them until you can’t feel anything below the knee. Maybe that habit developed because it’s the only way to get even marginal ankle support from a pair of ‘cruit boots. With long laces, I wrap them once around the top of the boot (not real tightly) and then tie them and tuck the ends in. That’s always worked for me.

If you have no choice but to wade a stream, or, as they're called in Fly-Over Country, a "krick", take off your boots and socks. Wearing only the boots, ford the water. On the other side, put dry socks back on under the wet boots. They'll help suck the moisture out fairly well. After a half a mile or so, change into another two pairs of dry socks and try to dry the wet ones as noted earlier.

Blousing your pant legs is kind of a matter of preference. I like to do it in the summer and fall, to keep them out of the way and keep out sticks and twigs and pine needles and ticks and such. I’ve always found it comfortable. In the winter, in the snow, I never blouse ‘em. The pant legs will get wet and the moisture creeps into your socks sooner or later. I let them hang down over the boot and though they freeze, they keep the snow out. If you’re in snow more than six inches or so, I wear gaiters. Those Sportsman’s Guide surplus Swiss Army gaiters are the best, IMHO. The new bulky synthetic gaiters can sometimes be pretty noisy when you're moving through the woods.

As for keeping leather boots in shape and still water repellent in the winter, I’ve found Sno Seal my favorite, and outfitters have also mentioned Dri. Pre-warm your boots for a short period in an oven set on its lowest setting, meanwhile getting the Sno Seal also warm and buttery and easy to work. Rub it into the boots good with an old toothbrush; the warm seal and the warm leather penetrate very well. That should last you about a week.

When it’s real winter in the high country and the snow’s ass deep on a ten-foot Norwegian, I wear German Army Lowa mountaineering boots with gaiters. Skiing or hiking, these things do seem to play hell on the heels and just above them. You can sew a thick patch on the heels of your special mountaineering boot socks, insert a pad of fabric between the socks or, once again, duct tape can be your friend.

As an aside, if I’m way back in the sticks, especially for trapping, I use cross-country/telemark skis but I carry a pair of snowshoes strapped to the pack also. You wouldn’t believe mountain snow. You step off your skis and ‘woof’ you sink right down into the snow to your knees or worse.

Last but not least, when you find that perfect pair of boots that’s juuusssstttt right, go out and buy two or three more pairs, because you can bet your bottom dollar the SOB’s will quit making them.


Ben said...

Wow! Good info!

Jerry said...

The Great Elk Hunting Death March wasn't that bbbad. I've almost fully recovered. Otherwise I wouldn't be ready to do it again. (We aren't doing that again are we?) I do have to admit that if I hadn't had good fitting boots my feet would have been torn up worse than what they were. They were sore as hell the next morning but no hot spots or blisters during the march. Good boots and socks make all the difference.

sj said...

great article...

you might be interested to know that drugs, especially methamphetamine, played a huge role in the "notable march achievement of German infantry." It's well documented...

The nazis were also trading heroin for cocaine with the mob in cuba...