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.