[Lone Sentry: Notes on Russian and Japanese Animal-Drawn Transport, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends]
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"Notes on Russian and Japanese Animal-Drawn Transport" from Tactical and Technical Trends

This U.S. report on Russian and Japanese horse-drawn transport was originally printed in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 25, May 20, 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.]


With a high degree of motorization in many modern armies, particularly our own, it is easy to overlook the important part animal-drawn transport has played in World War II. In the German infantry division, horse-drawn vehicles are extensively used. A two-wheeled animal-drawn cart is standard equipment throughout the Japanese army. Finally, it is felt that if Russia had not possessed a large amount of animal-drawn military transport, their supply lines might have long ago broken down with the consequent defeat of her armies in the field; this is true not because of a lack of motor transport, but rather because ground conditions in Russia during much of the year make it essential that motor transport be extensively supplemented by animal transport.

The Soviets have clung tenaciously to the small, time-tested two-wheeled cart and a light four-wheeled wagon for transport, notwithstanding the great strides in motorization. These vehicles are not only used in the army, but also play a very important role in civilian transportation facilities.

There are definite reasons why Russians use a light vehicle instead of a heavy wagon. First, the Russian horse is of small stature, averaging less than 15 hands and, although he is a hardy and tough animal, he is unable to pull the load of the larger draft animal. (It is very unusual to see anywhere in the U.S.S.R. a large horse.) Secondly, inasmuch as so very little hard-surfaced, cobbled, or even improved roads exist in the U.S.S.R., transport is confined to natural dirt roads and even cross country; in certain conditions this make passage all but impossible. For military purposes in particular, cross-country operation is the rule, and in periods of thaw and rain, Russian mud is well-nigh impassable to any type of transport except a small wagon and cart or sled. When a Russian four-wheeled wagon becomes bogged down, a handful of soldiers can extricate it with very little trouble and keep the column moving. Thirdly, the Red Army finds a ready means of supplementing its organic transportation wherever it moves, since every community contains its complement of the standard cart, wagon, or sled which can be quickly commandeered for military purposes.

In the rear areas of the group of Russian armies which surrounded Stalingrad, American observers report the presence of the four-wheeled wagon, and of sleds of the same dimensions and capacities; these were the only means of supply other than trucks. Where trucking was lacking for the supply during the encirclement of the Germans, thousands of four-wheeled wagons and sleds were recruited from the local inhabitants and elsewhere. The Russian general in command of operations in the Stalingrad area stated that movement from railhead to distributing point was a slow process requiring considerable valuable time, but by utilizing all types of transportation, including the two- and four-wheeled vehicles, he was fully supplied and on time.

The construction of the two-wheeled cart is very simple, and it is built to carry 450 to 500 pounds. It is fitted with shafts and drawn by one horse. It is 2 1/2 ft. deep and 4 ft. long. The four-wheeled wagon and the sled are about 2 feet longer and are drawn by one, two, three, or four horses in line.

It is noteworthy that nowhere is there evidence of the use of large heavy wagons of the escort type.

In winter dogs are used to draw light sleds. In the more northern regions even reindeer are used; they provide the cheapest and most economical means of transport, since they feed on the tundra (open, treeless plain).

In the Japanese Army a two-wheeled cart is standard equipment of the Transport Regiment, and is used throughout the armed forces. The cart is made of wood, and is strongly constructed but light in weight, so that it can be manhandled when necessary. It is fitted with shafts, drawn by one led horse, and carries about 450 to 500 pounds.

When used as an ammunition carrier, the standard load of the Japanese two-wheeled cart is 12 boxes of 540 rounds each of rifle ammunition, or 12 rounds each of 37-mm ammunition. The same cart is also converted into the standard two-wheeled ambulance. In each corner, steel posts are fitted, from which two stretchers are suspended on springs, one above the other. A waterproof canopy with side curtains is fitted. When stretchers are not in use, the cart can accommodate three persons sitting.


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