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"British Supply Problems" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military report on British supply is taken from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 19, February 25, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The problem of the requirements of an army on the move, especially where long distances are involved, brings into play various types of transportation to furnish supplies and equipment. It has been said that over half the planning on any tactical problem must be that of the supply aspects, including computations for the use of every truck, vehicle, and available piece of equipment.

A display of divisional equipment and ammunition, recently held in England had, for its purpose, the object of presenting the scope of the logistic problems to the General Staff of the British Army. A correspondent gives an account of a visit to a British Ordnance Depot in an article which appeared in the December 13, 1942 issue of the London Sunday Times. As a matter of interest to supply branches other than Ordnance, this article is reproduced here.

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Since the last war, the great increase in fire-power of a British infantry division has brought many complex problems of supply in its train. It has been estimated that a division, about 12,000 men, needs well over 100,000 packing cases to take its fighting equipment alone, without taking into account foodstuffs, clothing, or medical supplies.

These difficulties are strikingly illustrated in an exhibition, the only one of its kind in the country, which I saw yesterday at a great ordnance depot. It displayed every kind of fighting equipment used by various types of divisions, from the rifle bullet to the big shells, from machine guns to the 25-pounder, and the newest types of mortar and antitank gun.

The exhibition has been got together by the War Office to show officers at a glance the problems of organization, supply, and maintenance to be solved when an army is on the move.

Successful efforts are being made to economize space on ships. Motor vehicles and weapons are frequently taken apart so that they can be packed into a much smaller space. This was not done in French North Africa, where the material had to be got ashore within easy range of enemy bombers and it was essential for the vehicles to move off quickly, but it is done regularly at ports where the unloading can be carried out free from enemy interference and where time is not precious.

It should be stressed that a weapon which weighs, say, 10 tons on land may be reckoned as 50 ship-tons, for aboard ship tonnage is calculated on the space occupied. Thus a couple of motorcycles, packed away in parts, will save 5 ship-tons, and a couple of trucks 20 ship-tons.

It is estimated that a British division needs at least 80 trains to move it from one area to another. On the road its trucks are numbered by the thousand.

Wide Equipment Range

The range of equipment is astonishing when one considers how little of it existed at the outbreak of war. I saw weapons and equipment which are still closely guarded secrets.

An infantry division carries every conceivable type of radio, but most striking of all is the little set that can be carried on a soldier's back and enables him to converse freely with a neighboring unit amid the noise of battle. The secret is that the soldier does not talk into a mouthpiece at all. Round his throat is a very delicate piece of apparatus and as he speaks the tiny movement of the throat muscles convey the message to the listener.

I saw, too, mechanical wire layers which can trundle along at 22 miles an hour, which would make the signallers of the last war open their eyes.

When this war began, the British Army had no equipment for mountain or winter warfare. Today it can vie with the Russians in the variety and practical value of its equipment.

The machines which it uses in desert warfare are well protected from the sand particles, while tanks which have to wade ashore from the sea have every working part protected from the salt water.

Self-Heating Soup

The comfort of the fighting soldier and his efficiency are now regarded as synonymous, and much has been done to provide him with hot food under the most trying conditions.

Self-heating soup is a brilliant little idea. The men waiting in the assault boats on a cold morning are given a tin of this soup. The glowing end of a cigarette applied to the tin ignites a solid fuel at the base, and in 5 minutes or less, appetizing hot soup is available.

Food for many hours can be packed into a mess tin, and is both varied and palatable. The iron ration is no longer bully beef and biscuits.

Every type of artillery is gradually increasing in caliber, and rapidly in numbers. Veterans of Mons who remember the two machine guns per battalion of the 1914 B.E.F. would be amazed at the wide range of types.

Also, the types of armored fighting vehicle are many.

Mine detectors are available for all types of terrain. I saw one which the soldier pushes in front of him; when the apparatus touches a mine, a buzz in the headphones gives him warning.

Then there are the enormous number of working parts for each weapon. The 25-pounder, the best field-gun in the world, has 228 items of which 32 are essential, while the Bofors AA gun has 189.


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