The Infantryman's Combat Load
CSC 1985
                   EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
I.  Purpose:  To examine the difficulty the military has
encountered throughout its history in arriving at a proper
combat load for the infantryman and to review several
solutions to this problem.
II. Problem:  Although many studies have been conducted
that demonstrate the routine overloading of the infantryman,
very little progress has been made in significantly reducing
his burden.  The military acknowledges the problem, but
actually has expended little effort in resolving it.
III.  Data:  S.L.A. Marshall in 1950 lucidly developed the
fact that unit commanders were requiring their soldiers and
marines to pack too much equipment while going into combat.
During the early Twentieth Century several nations had
conducted studies that illustrated that fact.  The results
of these studies produced many and diverse conclusions, but
a general constancy was gleaned from this research.  The
foot-mobile combatant should not be expected to carry more
than one-third of his normal body weight into battle.  This
fact has not only been ignored, but as recently as the
campaigns in The Falkland Islands and Grenada, marines and
soldiers have entered combat carrying well over 100 pounds.
There is an effort in progress that is reducing the weight
of the equipment that is carried, and many small unit
leaders have advanced ideas that would reduce the amount of
the combat load.  However, the more significant part of the
solution seems to lie elsewhere.
IV.   Conclusion:  Commanders of units higher than the
company have perpetuated the problem by not being dedicated
to the concept of reducing the infantryman's combat load.
V.    Recomendations:  The battalion, regimental and division
commanders must demand that their logisticians provide means
to reduce the load carried by the infantryman.  Further-
more these senior commanders must constantly educate the
junior officers in the design of only burdening their men
with a combat load that is absolutely necessary.
Thesis Statement:  From the beginning of recorded history,
the combat infantryman has been overloaded, because unit
commanders will neither reduce the weight of the equipment
nor reduce the amount of equipment that they require their
men to carry.
I.    The Problem
II.   Historical Studies
      A.  German    1896
      B.  British   1920
      C.  British   1931
      D.  Russian   1945
III.  Historical Examples
      A.  Falklands
      B.  Grenada
IV.   Workable Solutions
      A.  United States Army Infantry School
      B.  Selected Commanders' Initiatives
      In February 1974 the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines of
the Third Marine Division planned and executed an amphibious
assault on the northeastern coast of South Korea.  The
operation was conducted in conjunction with a South Korean
Marine Brigade and the temperature varied from 40oF during
the day, to below OoF at night.  One of the objectives of
the landing was to test the battalion's capability to
operate in cold weather.  The battalion was issued cold
weather clothing to include the following:  long underwear,
both top and bottom, cold weather parkas and liners, cold
weather trousers and liners, cold weather mittens and
liners, cold weather caps, scarves, vapor barrier
(insulated) boots and sleeping bags.  These items of
clothing were to be carried in addition to the marine's
normal equipment, and six c-ration meals, or two days'
rations.  The headquarters' staff planning this exercise
realized the awkwardness of the load and therefore
additionally issued each marine a packboard on which to
carry the burden.
      Without describing in detail the maneuver of the
battalion in the exercise, it should be sufficient to say
that each marine was carrying almost 100 pounds.  Those
equipped with radios and crew-served weapons were carrying
in excess of that weight.  Movement was slow, limited in
distance and the units usually worn down physically.
      I was the platoon commander for the first platoon of
Company M and while it was difficult to shoulder that load
and conduct a movement to contact on level ground, it was
virtually impossible to do so while climbing the high, steep
hills of South Korea.  My marines were so fatigued from
simply packing their equipment from position to position,
that the enemy was not a major concern.  Had this operation
not been a peacetime exercise with controlled aggressors, I
am certain we would have had serious problems fighting and
defeating even a small enemy force.
      Now there are those who would argue that this was
merely an exercise and that had this been an actual live
combat operation, we would have accomplished the logistics
differently.  These idealists say that certainly the
infantrymen would not have been carrying as much equipment,
or that vehicles would have been provided to transport some
of the burden, thereby making the individual's load
manageable.  I strongly disagree.  I contend that the
perennial problem of overloading the footmobile marine or
soldier will be even worse in combat.  The old sports adage
of "what you do in practice is what you do in the game," is
very apropos.  We must learn to conduct exercises or
rehearsals with only the bare minimum of equipment, for at
the last minute there always seem to be reasons for taking
additional equipment or supplies, but never for reducing the
burden to be carried.
      In February 1980 as a captain and company commander
with the Third Battalion, Eighth Marines of the Second
Marine Division, I was again conducting a landing exercise
with my company, this time in Portugal.  The battalion was
to conduct a tactical landing, simulate actual operations
for several days and then establish an administrative biv-
ovac to commence cross-training exercises with the Portu-
guese.  The weather was cool and rainy, so while we were not
carrying cold weather gear, the battalion was well-ladened
with sleeping bags, pneumatic mattresses, field jackets and
liners, ponchos and poncho liners, shelter halves and their
accessories, long underwear, gloves, and extra utilities.
Each marine of course was also wearing or carrying his
combat equipment, to include flack jacket and weapon, and
any other essential items such as underwear and socks and
toilet articles.  In addition we had been issued three
c-rations and what was estimated to be one day's worth of
ammunition.  My company was to execute a heliborne assault
and attack inland to seize several pieces of high ground.
The terrain according to the map was hilly and I knew it
would be extremely difficult to carry our heavy packs during
the operation.  I was attempting to devise a method to
lighten our load when the logistics officer arrived and
stated that he recommended the company carry another day's
worth of rations, double the amount of ammunition issued,
and take several five gallon water cans per platoon, because
he could not guarantee a resupply the first or second day.
I was appalled!  However, this is not unusual.  Before we
require the logistics system to function properly and
provide the needed provisions at the prescribed time and
place, we will force the infantryman to carry it with him.
      The issue is clear, from the beginning of recorded
history, the combat infantryman has been overloaded, because
unit commanders will neither reduce the weight of the
equipment nor reduce the amount of the equipment that they
require their men to carry.  This issue, the overloading of
the combat marine or soldier, is certainly not a new
revelation, for in the last two centuries in this country
alone several hundred million men have gone into combat on
foot carrying an excessive amount of weight on their backs.
However, what is unusual is that while during this same
period many individuals have complained about the problem,
or pointed out that there was a problem with overloading the
infantryman, only one book has been written, that I could
find, that examined the issue and possible solutions in any
      In 1950 Colonel S.L.A. Marshall wrote a book entitled
The Soldier's Load and the Mobility of A Nation.  He listed
many examples of nations and armies, to include the Romans,
that excessively ladened its soldiers and discussed in
detail the problems these armies experienced.  I will not
reiterate the examples he used, for there are many to be
selected otherwise, but I have incorporated many of
Marshall's ideas which are just as pertinent today as they
were thirty-five years ago.  I also am indebted to him for
his research whereby he located several studies regarding
the load carrying capabilities of the foot soldier.  In each
case these studies appear to have been conclusive, but the
results or actions taken have been ineffective or ephemeral.
      One of the studies was conducted by Institute William
Frederick in Germany in the last few years of the Nineteenth
Century.  The Institute was particularly interested in
measuring the effect on infantrymen who were carrying
different loads under varying conditions of temperature.
The research demonstrated that in cool weather a load of
forty-eight pounds could be carried on a fifteen mile march
by acclimatized soldiers that were in good physical
condition.  However, in warm weather the same load produced
an impairment of physical strength, and the soldiers did not
return to a normal state until some time during the next day
following the march. (7:48)  The Germans then increased the
weight of the load to sixty-nine pounds and discovered that
even during cool weather the soldiers in the experiment had
obvious physical distress.  During this phase of the study
the Institute attempted to determine if physical condi-
tioning with the same amount of weight would make a
difference in the individual's reaction.  The results were
very interesting, demonstrating that he continued to show
physical distress in an equal amount regardless of the
degree of physical conditioning.  "The conclusion was
therefore drawn that it is impossible to condition the
average soldier to marching with this much weight no matter
how much training he is given." (7:49) That conclusion is
in direct conflict with most infantry and special unit
training philosophy today.  It is generally accepted that if
a well-conditioned person is routinely exercised with a
seventy pound burden, that figure selected at random, he
will soon become physically accustomed to this load and be
able to perform his required activity with facility.
      This study continued with the subjects carrying a sixty
pound load in warm weather.  Those being tested began to
show a loss of physical strength almost immediately, and the
loss of physical strength resulting from this training was
evident and measurable for several days thereafter.  The
Germans subsequently determined after experimenting with
varying weight amounts on force marches, that the absolute
limit under the pressure and fatigue of combat was
forty-eight pounds per man. (7:49)
      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." (7:29)
      Toward the end of World War II the Russian Army also
began to concentrate on the amount of equipment its soldiers
were carrying.  This may not seem quite so significant, for
the Russian soldier was generally expected to live off the
land and endure great privation and discomfort.  However the
Russians developed a new doctrine, whether out of concern or
necessity, that made every effort to take the weight off the
back of the infantryman and transport it on any type of
vehicle or beast that could carry it.  Although the means of
arriving at their conclusions was not discussed nor made
clear, the Russians' operational theory reduced the combat
soldiers' pack weight to forty pounds and all training
exercises were conducted with this restriction in mind.
      All of these studies seem to arrive at the same basic
conclusions.  Firstly, the combat infantryman was
overloaded.  Secondly, the amount that an individual should
be required to carry on his back is less than fifty pounds.
However, there is no evidence that these conclusions were
ever applied either during World War II or afterwards.
Although great strides have been made in developing
lightweight clothing and equipment, the total weight still
continues to climb over sixty pounds, and in some cases over
100 pounds.  S.L.A. Marshall supplies several World War II
examples, but I will discuss two occasions in more recent
years that illustrate my point.  Both examples are actual
combat incidents, not exercises, one is British, the other
      In April 1982 an Argentine invasion of the Falkland
Islands brought a British Naval Task Force to the South
Atlantic to forceably expel the invaders.  The weather in
the South Atlantic at that time of year is cold, damp and
windy.  Logistic operations throughout the campaign were
extremely difficult not only because of the weather, but
also because the Argentine Air Force applied great pressure
on the British at sea and ashore.  After the landing forces
went ashore the navy found it extremely difficult to move
supplies ashore and the marines and paratroopers experienced
problems moving provisions overland.  Almost any report of
this conflict describes the exhaustion and fatigue of the
infantry from being so heavily ladened by equipment that had
to be manpacked.  During the marine's march across the East
Falkland Island, Port San Carlos to Stanley, each man
carried an average of 120 pounds. (5:233)  The loads carried
by the paratroopers were not much less.  When the unit
commanders found that their forces would not be flown across
the island, securing locations in leapfrog fashion, they
were astonished.  The unanimous feeling was that the units
would exhaust themselves on the marches long before they
could reach the battlefields.  The helicopters were simply
not available to transport the units nor supplies.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Whitehead of 45 Commando wrote in
his diary that they had to fight and win..."against the
enemy; against the appalling terrain and weather; and
against our own logistic inadequacies." (5:233)
      I was unable to procure a list of equipment that the
British carried during the Falkland Operation, but much of
the load included rations and ammunition, not an abundance
of personal comfort items.  Because the logistics system was
so "inadequate," the individual fighting man became a beast
of burden and was almost too exhausted to engage the enemy
in combat.
      In October 1983 the United States invaded tbe island of
Grenada.  Although the island was small, and enemy
capability considered to be minimal, the soldiers in the
assault carried enormous loads.  Now when I say that the
enemy's capability was minimal, that is precisely what I
mean.  The opposition on the island was not considered to be
numerically strong, nor well-organized.  While we found
Castro's claim to be false, that the Cuban personnel there
were merely civilian laborers, these individuals were not
first rate soldiers.  However, when the rangers jumped onto
the runway at Salinas airfield, the average load carried by
each man was 167 pounds. (1)
      If the operation plan had required the rangers to seize
the airfield and fight from an isolated position for several
days, then the need for such a load might be justified.
This was not the case; the 82nd Airborne Division was flying
in units within hours of the ranger's paradrop.  One of the
platoon leaders who parachuted into the Salinas airfield
carried fifteen 30-round magazines of 5.56 ammunition.  If
that 450 rounds was not enough, he also packed two
bandoliers of 5.56 ammuinition, which is an additional 140
rounds.  He also carried ten high explosive fragmentation
grenades, two claymore mines, two LAAW's, and three
high-explosive 60mm mortar rounds.  Presumably he felt this
burden was sufficient, for the report reflected that he
carried no rations.  A radioman who airlanded at Calvigney
was as equally well prepared with eighteen 30-round
magazines of 5.56 ammunition, nine high explosive
fragmentation grenades and thirty-six 40mm high explosive
grenades for his M-16/203. (1)
      It is quite well understood throughout the military
that a combat load for any one particular operation is
dependent on the mission.  It is also generally accepted
that special units on special operations will require a
tailored load that might exceed that of the normal
infantryman.  However, it becomes almost inconceivable that
a footmobile soldier must transport a combat load, that in
some cases equals or exceeds his own weight, to fight for
less than a day in a very conventional mode.
      It should be stated at this point, that the United
States Army and the United States Marine Corps recognized
that there was a problem with overloading the individual
infantryman.  Nevertheless, acknowledging the existence of a
problem and finding a workable solution are two very
distinctly different things.  At the outset we must realize
that while many people have labored over this problem and
made proposals for resolving it, these solutions were not
workable or feasible.  Also, even if the Army or Marine
Corps should determine a feasible solution, it does not
necessarily follow that the unit commanders at the
implementation level will accept, agree upon, employ or
enforce that solution.  As we all know, almost every unit
commander has his own distinct opinion about what his men
need to carry,  However, some progress is being made at both
the level of the institution, and the level of the unit
      The Army and the Marine Corps have been jointly working
on a program called the Integrated Individual Fighting
System (IIFSP).  Most of the actual machinations have been
conducted at the United States Army Infantry School (USAIS)
located at Ft. Benning, Georgia.  This program is a systemic
approach to address the infantryman, his clothing and
equipment.  It includes a series of innovative field tests
comparing commercial items of clothing and equipment to
standard issue items, and also attempts to determine the
amount of equipment needed to be carried.
      To begin with, a category of loads with their
definitions was established.  The fighting load consisted
of essential items of individual clothing, equipment,
weapons and ammunition to complete the immediate mission.
The existence load, which may be necessary to accomplish the
mission, included items necessary to sustain or protect over
a period of approximately seventy-two hours.  The preferred
method of transporting this load is by methods other than
the soldier, but if carried, dropped when enemy contact is
made.  The mission load contained items not found in the
fighting or existence load, yet required for mission
accomplishment, i.e., radio, claymore mine, binoculars,
etc.  This load varies according to mission, and commander's
preference, but must be man-carried.  Every individual would
not carry mission load items, but it would be spread-loaded
throughout the unit.  The total weight of the fighting load
was approximately sixty-three pounds.  The total weight of
the existence load was approximately fifty pounds.  The
average weight of the mission load per individual was
approximately seven pounds.  Therefore if a unit was
preparing for a normal operation, the best estimate of the
total weight the infantryman would be carrying would be
approximately 120 pounds. (10:4-13)  The USAIS knew this was
too much, so revisions, improvements or reductions had to be
      The USAIS proceeded with its research based on the
following data.  Firstly, studies indicated that the
fiftieth percentile soldier weighed 160 pounds.  Secondly,
field tests demonstrated that the ideal soldier's load was
thirty percent of his body weight, or forty-eight pounds,
and that the maximum load a soldier could carry should not
exceed forty-five percent of his body weight, or seventy-two
pounds. (11:12)
      The USAIS's main objective of the integrated individual
fighting system program was to provide a system in which the
total weight of the fighting mission and existence loads did
not exceed seventy-two pounds.  The goal was also to
increase the soldier's ability to accomplish the mission,
and to maximize his survivability and sustainability on the
battlefield.  The goal was established to eliminate
unnecessary items, develop clothing and equipment that was
lighter in weight, and improve the load bearing system to
reduce stress and encumbrances.  The portion of this goal
that could be accomplished in a somewhat timely manner was
the elimination of unnecesssary items.  Developing the
lightweight clothing and equipment will take much longer.
The specific goals reduce the load weight breakdown to the
following:  the fighting load to approximately forty-eight
pounds; the existence load to approximately sixteen pounds;
with the mission load remaining at approximately seven
pounds.  This total weight would be approximately
seventy-one pounds. (10:18-19)
      The goal for the majority of the reduced weight
clothing and equipment is FY 90, with FY 95 established as
the year the goal will be achieved.  If the research and
development programs are successful, and the goals are
attained by FY 95, then we will have systemically approached
a technical solution to the problem.  However, realizing a
solution ten years from now is not satisfactory and
certainly does not ensure that each unit commander will
strictly adhere to it.  I hope that technology will continue
to assist the infantry in reducing its load, but the very
essence of the problem lies with the infantry itself.  How
can we immediately, yet feasibly, lighten the burden?
      Captain Don Langley, USMC, Commanding Officer, Company
I, Third Battalion, Ninth Marines, after twenty-two months
as a company commander recommended a basic load as follows:
cartridge belt with two canteens, a first aid kit, two 30-
round magazine pouches, a K-bar or bayonet, the ALICE pack
with poncho, poncho liner, long underwear top or field
jacket liner, rain suit, watch cap, flashlight, two pairs of
socks, shaving gear and two MRE meals per day.  (He allowed
for limited exceptions for cold weather environments). (6:2)
      He discarded sleeping bags, ground mats, shelter
halves, field jackets and extra utilities.  He felt the
field jacket liner under the camouflage jacket was
effective, and the rain suit could double as a windproof
outer layer.  His company carried the field protective mask,
one E-tool for every two marines and wore helmets, although
he would probably recommend a bush hat.  Finally, Captain
Langley armed everyone in the company with M-16's, except
the machine gunners and mortarmen, and these sections
disposed of the machine gun tripod and T&E mechanism, and
the mortar bipod.  The personnel simply are not there to
carry them. (6:3-4)
      Captain George P. Fenton, USMC, recommended not wearing
the flack jacket and considering taking only two mortars.
He proposed leaving the ALICE pack for the logistics train
and incorporating the ass-pack as a capacity reducing
substitute.  He called for a return to the Marine marksman
who delivered well-aimed fire, and therefore cut the
rifleman's basic allowance from 350 to 140 rounds. (2:5-7)
      As a company commander in the Mediterranean, after
watching my marines labor under their heavy loads, I decided
to leave the sleeping bags, pneumatic mattresses and shelter
halves on board the ship, even though at night it was rather
cold.  We experienced some discomfort, but were much more
mobile.  This decision produced two additional benefits.
The company demonstrated an increased enthusiasm for night
training, and if we were in a defensive position, the
marines along the perimeter were always alert.
      This is only a sampling of the many examples of unit
commanders who have attempted to increase the mobility of
their men by reducing their burdens.  If we can continue to
be blessed with company and battalion commanders who will
dedicate themselves to paring the excesses of the combat
load, we will begin to approach a solution to overloading.
However, as is often the case, the combat load of small
units, platoons and companies, is significantly influenced
by their senior commanders. The problem is not that
battalion, regimental and division commanders dictate
enormous amounts of equipment to be man-packed, but that
they do not require their logistics officers to relentlessly
pursue a policy of taking the weight off the infantry.
      It is my opinion, therefore, that the preponderance of
culpability lies with the battalion, regimental and division
commanders.  This is not to say that we do not need
lighter weight equipment, or that company commanders are
without blame, for the burden some company commanders place
on their marines or soldiers is reprehensible.  However, if
the high level commanders demand that the logisticians make
every effort to transport the foot soldier's load, the
problem would be reduced by eighty percent.  This means that
resupplies of water, ammunition and rations would take place
so frequently that never more than a minimum amount of these
items would need to be carried.  This might require several
helicopter sortees per day, or dedicating an additional
vehicle to each company, or using helicopters to lift packs
and equipment from a staging or bivouac site to the unit's
objective area.  But the commanders who control the means
for mobile logistics must be the impetus for any resolution
in this weight bearing problem.  After this is accomplished,
it is simple for the battalion commander to educate his
company commanders in the art of controlling the amount of
equipment the platoons are carrying.
      Therefore the issue is clear, the combat infantryman is
overloaded simply because unit commanders will neither
reduce the weight of the equipment nor reduce the amount of
the equipment that they require their men to carry.
Research and development is constantly trying to produce
lighter combat equipment, but that effort will have little
effect unless battalion, regimental and division commanders
shoulder the burden of the problem, and remove the weight
from the backs of their marines.
1.  Arey, C. M., Maj, USMC.  Marine Liaison Officer to the
        States Army Infantry School.  Personal interview
        about Grenada Operation.  Fort Benning, Georgia,
        February, 1985.
2.  Fenton, G. P., Capt, USMC.  "The Prescribed Load."
        Unpublished article held by Marine Corps Gazette,
        (January 1985).
3.  Fox, W. L., LtCol, USMC.  "Flackjackets - On or Off.-
        Unpublished article held by Marine Corps Gazette,
        (November 1984).
4.  Hammes, T. X., Capt, USMC.  "Reorganizing Weapons
        Company."  Unpublished article held by Marine Corps
        Gazette, (October 1984).
5.  Hastings, Max, and Simon Jenkins.  The Battle for the
          Falklands.  New York:  W. W. Norton and Company,
6.  Langley, Don, Capt, USMC.  "Lighten up - Coping with the
          New Infantry T/O."  Unpublished article held by
          Marine Corps Gazette, (December 1984).
7.  Marshall, S. L. A., Col, USA. The Soldiers Load and the
          Mobility of a Nation.  Quantico:  The Marine Corps
          Association, 1980.
8.  Officers of the Third Battalion Sixth Marines.
          "Infantry Battalion Structure for the 1980's.
          Marine Corps Gazette, (June 1983), 16-31.
9.  Sullivan, P. H., Capt, USMC.  "Pack Mule or Marine.
          Unpublished article held by Marine Corps Gazette,
          (April 1979).
10. United States Army Infantry School.  "The Infantry
          Soldiers Load."  Briefing Charts.  Fort Benning,
          Georgia, February, 1985.
11. United States Army Infantry School.  "Interim Infantry
          Load Problem Definition."  Briefing Charts.  Fort
          Benning, Georgia, February, 1985.

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