By the Army Sustainment Command History Office From Rock Island Arsenal museum Blog
In April 1909 a board of senior officers assembled at Rock Island Arsenal charged by the Army with developing a new kit for Infantry soldiers. War Department Memo no. 1459931, dated 14 April, 1909 directed the board to complete “a thorough study of and report on the subject of equipment, carrying devices and distribution of the load for the infantry soldier.” In just twelve months the board developed and tested what became the M1910 Infantry Kit, with many equipment items that were still in use almost a hundred years later.
Why did the Army convene the board in 1909? It appears that the experience in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection had highlighted many problems with the old kit— poor design, poor alignment on the body, and, in a tenuous link with the preceding editions on the 1919 Influenza Pandemic, poor sanitation. Soldiers had been debilitated during the campaign of 1898 and in the Philippines in part because of issues with their equipment. One of the criteria for a selecting items of equipment was that the “[e]ntire equipment is so constructed as to prevent undue fouling from contents and to permit of easy cleansing and renovation.”
How does equipment lead to a sanitation issue? What did they mean by “undue fouling from contents”? The main culprit was the haversack bag, usually the Model 1878. The haversack was a single pocket bag hooked to the belt or worn over the shoulder. A passage from the Board’s report makes clear the is-sues with the bag: “The present type of haversack is a bag into which are dumped in a more or less untidy manner, the various components of the ration and the ration utensils, together with such other articles as the individual soldier wishes to carry; the coffee, sugar, pepper and salt. Bacon, when issued from the side has nothing to protect it from contamination or to prevent the haversack and contents from be-coming saturated with grease.” Imagine reaching into this bag after a few days on the march and grabbing the bacon instead of your spare socks and underwear. The board experimented with several solutions to keep food, condiments, coffee, and spare clothing separate.
The canteen was another problem that created increased risk. The old canteen was oval plugged with a cork. Because of the shape there was no integrated cup. Soldiers were issued a separate cup that, like the haversack, they often attached to the belt and clanked with every step. “The tin cup now in use has always presented embarrassment in the matter of its transportation. Hung on the canteen strap it has been a most effective warning of the approach of the individual soldier.” There was no sneaking up on an enemy.
Another issue that impeded performance was the bed roll. This was a blanket rolled up and containing spare clothes and a tent. It was worn over one shoulder. Ergonomically, the bed roll put most of the weight on one shoulder. But practically, the way it draped over the abdomen ensured it was in the way when firing the rifle, especially when firing laying down. The soldier could not lie flat, but had to lay on top of the bed roll.
Another significant problem was the cup, haversack, bayonet, and other equipment was attached to the belt with a single snap hook. This caused everything to swing when marching and led to rapid deterioration and rusting of the grommets on the belt and the snap hook.
These different issues, especially when compared with the kit of the Spanish Army fought in Cuba, gave the US Army a decidedly inferior Infantry Kit that was unsanitary, loud, non-ergonomic, and an impediment to accurate fire.