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weight of marching and fighting order for a WW2 Tommy

#1
Ive tried a search for this on tinternet but with little success/ millions of hits that lead nowehere. I'm having a debate with my Uncle who was an officer in the RWF and Sikh Regiment in WW2, who thinks the bergan and webbing we wear now is much heavier than he or his men ever wore/ were expeted to carry. His memory is a little shaky nowadays and he can't remember how much the offical pack weights were fighting/ marching order etc. I would love to be able to settle this and he has a curiosity about it as well, which is great for me because he doesn't talk about his experiences very much (understandably given what he went through). Your help would be appreciated please gentlemen (and ladies) :D
 
#2
I'm not sure about weights or distances however I believe that all marching and fighting back then was done in black and white. It was only after Korea that the British Army trained in glorious technicolour.

I hope I have been of some help.
 
#3
I don't know about World War 2, but it has been calculated that a World War 1 Tommy carried more weight into battle than a medieval knight in armour.
 
#4
Got me googling and first result was this:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1985/IDC.htm

The British in 1920 did not conduct any experiments,
but instead researched history to determine how soldiers had
been loaded through the centuries. The commission pursuing
the research for the British Army expended most of its
effort in determining physical ailments resulting from the
infantryman being heavily burdened on long marches. In
general it discovered that armies in the past had on the
average issued the soldier between fifty-five and sixty
pounds, and by means of training marches tried to condition
him. The commission finally reached the conclusion
that..."not in excess of forty to forty-five pounds was a
tolerable load for an average-sized man on a road march
.
More specifically, it stated that on the march, for training
purposes, the optimum load, including clothing and personal
belongings, is one-third of body weight. Above that figure
the cost of carrying the load rises disproportionately to
the actual increment of weight."(7:25-26)
Another serious attempt by the British Army to lighten
the infantryman's load began in the middle 1920's, but did
not really produce any official results until the early
1930's. B.H. Liddell Hart was the impetus behind this study
and many experiments and demonstrations were conducted in
conjunction with the British Army's Small Arms School.
Despite early enthusiasm, the effort was almost abandoned as
the development of armor seemed to dwarf the significance of
the mobility of infantry. Hart was persistent and eventually
there was a revival of interest in not only lightening the
load of the infantry but all units within the division.
Naturally the conclusions indicated that not just the
infantry, but all specialties within the division were being
required to carry too much. The experiments actually became
quite detailed and specific and the final recommendation
stated that the..."total weight of the soldier's clothing,
arms, ammunition and equipment (including rations and water)
be reduced to 31 lbs., 10 oz."
Worth reading the whole thing, not too long and compares to falklands studies

If really keen for a proper answer I suspect a letter to then imperial war musuem would work. But its all pretty subjective obviously depending on extra equipment and ammo like radios and mortar bombs etc...
If you were looking for a general answer as to whether a modern infantryman carries more then I suspect the answer is yes if he is operating in a light infantry role with bergan and support weapons
 
#5
Firstly I'll say that I am a civilian and therefore probably have no idea what I'm talking about. I'll then qualify that by saying that I do have a keen interest in world war 2.

In short I think that your uncle is probably right. Most pictures of soldiers in actual combat in world war 2 show most of them carrying their weapons, webbing and that little square pack on their back. I would therefore assume that they has left the big packs back at HQ.

This is probably because the lines were much more fixed and you could clearly say that the enemy where over there, so my pack will be safe here for the actual fighting, and I can get it when I go back for my weeks rest.

I await the replies of poeple that have been there and done it with interest, as I have always wondered why you lot carry so much when you're going on a patrol away from the FOBS. Surely you could leave most of it there?
 
#6
WW2 combat load ("fighting order") was about 25lbs with marching order expected to be no more than 45lbs., considerably less than today's combat load of 75lbs

They carried less ammunition, protection, clothing, and comms equipment. - No CBA, IPE, radio, batteries, waterproofs, sleeping system.....

Ammo - each man armed with the rifle carried fifty rounds of ammunition in ten chargers of five rounds each. By 1944 the load had doubled to one hundred rounds, but the additional 50 rounds of ammunition was earmarked for the Section Bren Gun. He also carried two hand grenades.
 
#7
Having read "Castle Commando" a few months ago, this thread has jogged a memory of the book and about the recruits first hour into training to be Commando's:

During the Second World War, Achnacarry House and grounds were used as Britain's principal Commando training establishment. The Clan Cameron Museum, within the grounds of Achnacarry, has pictures of the recruits abseiling down the walls as well as various items of memorabilia. The Commando Memorial, situated just over a mile from Spean Bridge, is passed on the route of the march.

The initial march took place when the volunteers arrived at Spean Bridge Station. It was not unusual for them to be ordered to leave the train on the opposite side to the platform and any man injured jumping down on the track would be RTU'd. Heavy kit would be placed upon the waiting transport and the troops were then force marched to the gates of Achnacarry House carrying their fighting order weighing 36 pounds. The time allowed, to cover the 7 mile route, was 1 hour. Any recruits who failed to achieve this time were about turned and RTU'd on the next train. Prior to arriving at Spean Bridge, the recruits had undergone basic fitness training at Wrexham to ensure that they stood a good chance of completing the march.
 
#8
1908 pattern webbing was designed to carry about 60lbs when large pack was used in combat this was left behind at QMs and only fighting order carried, but when other equipment was needed this would add more weight. 1937 webbing was pretty much the same. 40/60 lbs has been about the average weight carried since Roman times when marching, but seldom in combat
 

old_fat_and_hairy

LE
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
#9
I am more than ready to be corrected, but I venture that during 60's and 70s we probably carried as much, if not more weight than nowadays. If we take away CBA, but substitue the really heavy plain coloured combat kit, wet 58 pattern kit, an SLr, mags and ammo, and throw in for good measure an A41 radio, plus spare battery, it does add up. Then there were the guys who carrioed GPMG, Carl Gustav, 2 inch mortar and all the spare ammo fore these things. Remember, these were all issued at platoon and section level. Then there was the c13 manpack radio. That was not a lightweight either.
 
#10
old_fat_and_hairy said:
I am more than ready to be corrected, but I venture that during 60's and 70s we probably carried as much, if not more weight than nowadays. If we take away CBA, but substitue the really heavy plain coloured combat kit, wet 58 pattern kit, an SLr, mags and ammo, and throw in for good measure an A41 radio, plus spare battery, it does add up. Then there were the guys who carrioed GPMG, Carl Gustav, 2 inch mortar and all the spare ammo fore these things. Remember, these were all issued at platoon and section level. Then there was the c13 manpack radio. That was not a lightweight either.
And not forgetting the Cold War BAOR standard Yellow Handbag 8)
 
#12
When you read actual personal accounts of WW1 and WW2 (or even the Napoleonic wars, etc) its quite clear that - whatever the kit list published in regulations - their real world loads were pretty well identical to today: i.e. "maximum sustainable weight" when marching, and any weight in combat from "near marching order" right down to "rifle, bayonet, ammo & water".

I think that all that has changed is merely the kit and various quantities of things.
 
#13
My late father was insistent on the weight being 25lbs and the speed was 6mph in Irish Guards, this was during workup for France. A lot of the time spent training was on Wrotham escarpment, (Trosley?) He could recite those figures automatically when asked.

Summer and Winter marching order varied the weight of course, but without seeing a Guards manual for fighting order, I can't tell you what the weight difference would be.
 
#14
My grandfather remembers "additional" kit to be carried putting the weight up to about 60lbs. If unit transport was available most of the heavy kit went on that, although in his experience in the early days of the war unit transport was the first to get lost due to the Luftwaffe! kit was considerably lighter in the Far East but still heavy and you sweated like a right C**T! The old radios and batteries were very heavy and bulky he described that it was like carrying a radiogram on your back ( a big old piece of furniture with a radio and record player, very heavy)! Webbing eqmt was'nt geared up to the additional kit and it was very uncomfortable. He was issued 44 pattern just as Japan surrendered and then had to hand it back in as he was going to escort some VOR Shermans to a base repair depot in India.
 
#16
Whether or not the modern soldier carries more, at least part of this is alleviated because of the good ergonomics of modern kit - bergans, PLCE, vests, armour are all padded and/or have good weight distribution. Pattern'07, '37, '44 and '58 is all very hard work with a heavy load. Anyone else here remember what it was like with a '58 pack full of radio batteries or ammo, or even the "luxury" of a SAS bergan?!
 
#17
4(T) said:
Whether or not the modern soldier carries more, at least part of this is alleviated because of the good ergonomics of modern kit - bergans, PLCE, vests, armour are all padded and/or have good weight distribution. Pattern'07, '37, '44 and '58 is all very hard work with a heavy load. Anyone else here remember what it was like with a '58 pack full of radio batteries or ammo, or even the "luxury" of a SAS bergan?!
Yes... to both! :D
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
#18
Not my part of ship of course but there is a bit about this in General Nick Vaux' "March to the south Atlantic". You pongoes willprobably enjoy reading the rest of the book anyway.
 
#19
Many of the WW2 accounts (for infantry in the ETO at least) seem to mention between 40 and 60 pounds as an rough average for fighting order. Obviously more is carried when on the offensive, I`ve read several accounts of men going ashore on D-Day carrying in excess of 70 pounds, extra ammo for section Bren, mortar bombs etc etc.

Feel sorry for the assistant Bren gunner who had to carry extra mags in `37 kidney pouches around his neck on a strop, up and down hills in sunny Italy.
 
#20
I remember George McDonald Frasier in the excellent "Quartered Safe Out Here" commenting on how slimline they were compared to modern infantrymen. I'll try to find my copy to see the specific quote (but don't hold out much hope)
 

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