The following is what a typical ammo load for U.S. squads during World War II would have looked like. There was likely great variance between what was actually carried into battle due to a variety of factors, so this is more of a general picture than exactly what all units carried in practice.
This article looks at the U.S. Army Infantry Rifle Squad, U.S. Army Parachute Infantry Rifle Squad, and U.S. Marine Corps Rifle Squad and compares individual and combined ammo loads. At the end, there is a basic overview of German and Japanese squad ammo loads for comparison.
Weights for specific equipment were sourced from an article on the average combat load of a U.S. Army soldier during the war, while specifics to the paratroopers were sourced from Mark Bando's site. Specifics on the Marines were sourced from the field manual "Marine Rifle Squad in Combat" published in 1944. Further info was provided by "World War II US Army Combat Equipments" by Gordon L. Rottman.
Regular U.S. Army and Marine Corps Infantry
Across the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, the initial combat load was intended to be carried in the M1923 Cartridge Belt. The belt had 10 pockets. Each pocket could carry 1 en bloc clip with 8 rounds for the M1 Rifle or 2 stripper clips with 5 rounds for the M1903 rifle. This meant a total of 80 rounds for M1 Garand riflemen. A clip was also carried in the weapon ready to fire, so the baseline combat load for a man with an M1 Rifle was 88 rounds. The cartridge belt with a full load weighed about 6.75 lbs (3.1 kg).
However, in practice, more ammo was carried. Additional ammo could be carried in disposable cloth bandoliers that fit either 6 M1 Rifle clips (48 rounds) or 12 M1903 Rifle clips (60 rounds). For an M1 Rifleman, a full bandolier would weigh about 3.4 lb (1.5 kg) and would be worn slung across the torso or in a general purpose carrying bag. One to 2 bandoliers were a common addition in battle. Two bandoliers plus a full cartridge belt would weigh a total of 13.6 lb alone and would provide for a total of 176 rounds.
At the same time, there are plenty of pictures of soldiers and Marines who just have their cartridge belts, and the manual "Marine Rifle Squad in Combat" from 1944 only lists the initial ammo load carried in the cartridge belt.
The base of fire for both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps rifle squads was the M1918A2 BAR, although the Army officially fielded 1 per squad (2 unofficially depending on unit standard operation procedures) while the Marines fielded 3 per squad by 1944.
In the Army, the BAR gunner typically carried 10 magazines in an M1937 cartridge belt and 1 magazine in the gun. Each cartridge belt had 6 pockets that could each carry 2 magazines, although one would be used to carry a leather tool pouch. The assistant gunner and ammo bearer were also issued an M1937 cartridge belt and could each carry 12 magazines (a total of 35 magazines of 700 rounds). However, mags were likely distributed amongst the riflemen as well as a fully loaded BAR magazine belt weighed 20.2 lb. Generally speaking, until late 1944, the assistant gunner and ammo bearer would have carried the BAR magazines in the M1937 cartridge belt and their rifle ammunition (and other gear) in 2 M1 general purpose carrying bags. After Operation Overlord in mid-1944, the M1937 cartridge belts for the assistant and ammo bearer were deleted. They would then be issued M1923 cartridge belts for their rifle ammo and carry the BAR ammo in their general purpose bags.
In the Marine Corps, rifle squads were divided into 3 fire teams of 4 men each from 1944 onwards. Each fire team had an automatic rifleman and assistant automatic rifleman. The automatic rifleman carried 9 magazines, with 8 in the cartridge belt and 1 in the gun. Each assistant could carry up to 12 magazines, but 4 could be distributed to the fire team leader and rifleman (2 each) if needed. This brought the squad's BAR magazine count to 63, or 1,260 rounds compared to the Army's 700 rounds.
Marine Corps squad leaders and assistant automatic riflemen (until May 1945) were armed with M1 Carbines. Each would carry 5 magazines of 15 rounds each. Four were carried across 2 carbine magazine pouches on their pistol belts, while 1 was carried in the gun. A load of 2 full magazine pouches plus an extra full magazine would have weighed 3.3 lb. This same ammo load could be expected for Army personnel that were armed with carbines, although none in their rifle squads were officially.
Although there were no submachine guns in either the U.S. Army or U.S. Marine Corps' rifle squad organization and equipment after the early war (the Marines gave their squad leaders subguns from July 1942 to early 1943), they were still used. They could act as carbine replacements, or as specialist weapons that were rotated throughout a squad and used during specific actions, such as an assault on a Japanese pillbox or through a hedgerow.
The unit of fire for the submachine gun was 300 rounds, or 10 magazines of 30 rounds. Twenty round magazines were more common early in the war, but fell out of favor later in the war for the 30 rounders. These could be carried in 3- or 5-cell pouches that each held a magazine. It seems, although I do not have absolute certainty, that 5-cell pouches were the norm in the European theatre, while both were used in the Pacific. A full 5-cell pouch weighed about 10 lb and held 150 rounds. One to 2 would be worn by soldiers armed with M1A1 Thompsons or M3 Grease Guns.
Each man authorized an M7 grenade launcher for their M1 rifle would have also carried up to 5 rifle grenades in an M1 general purpose carrying bag, ranging from AT to flares to adaptors that would allow the use of standard Mk. II fragmentation grenades. All personnel could also have at least 1-2 Mk. II fragmentation grenades, although many more could be carried for specific missions in general purpose bags.
Given that the U.S. Army Rifle Squad in 1944 consisted of:
1 Squad Leader (M1 Rifle)
1 Assistant Squad Leader (M1 Rifle and M7 Grenade Launcher)
1 Automatic Rifleman (M1918A2 BAR)
1 Assistant Automatic Rifleman (M1 Rifle)
1 Ammo Bearer (M1 Rifle)
2 Rifle Grenadiers (M1 Rifle and M7 Grenade Launcher)
5 Riflemen (M1 Rifle)
You could generally expect a squad ammo load of:
1,496 rounds of rifle ammunition (assuming 1 cartridge belt, 1 bandolier and 1 clip in the gun for riflemen)
700 rounds of automatic rifle ammunition
15 rifle grenades (variable)
24 fragmentation grenades (variable)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Corps Rifle Squad in 1945 consisted of:
1 Squad Leader (M1 Carbine)
3 Fire Team Leaders (M1 Rifle)
3 Automatic Riflemen (M1918A2 BAR)
3 Assistant Automatic Riflemen (M1 Rifle)
3 Riflemen (M1 Rifle)
You generally expect a squad ammo load of:
1,224 rounds of rifle ammunition (assuming 1 cartridge belt, 1 bandolier and 1 clip in the gun for riflemen)
1,260 rounds of automatic rifle ammunition
75 rounds of carbine ammunition
26 fragmentation grenades (variable)
A variable amount of rifle grenades (all men were authorized rifle grenades besides the BAR gunners, but not all carried them in practice)
U.S. Army Paratroopers
The U.S. Army Paratroopers ostensibly carried more-or-less the same basic ammo load in combat as regular infantry. However, they jumped into combat with more gear in general and carried much more ammunition for their automatic weapons and heavy supporting weapons. These are figures that would have likely been jumped with on D-Day.
The biggest difference between the regular infantry and paratroopers was that the paratroopers served 1 M1919A4 belt-fed medium machine gun (later M1919A6) at the squad level rather than the BAR (the BAR would be also added to the squad organization in early 1945 that would replace one rifleman).
Ammo for the machine gun was in 250-round fabric belts. Each belt weighed 19.3 lb. The squad would jump with 3,250 rounds in 13 belts. Of these, 5 belts (1,250 rounds) would be jumped on men in the squad. One belt could be carried in metal ammo can or not in an M1 general purpose carrying bag. An additional 8 belts (2,000 rounds) were dropped in a bundle that would be retrieved by the machine gun team on the ground. In combat, it could be expected that the gunner would carry 1 belt and the gun, while the assistant would carry the tripod and 2 belts. The ammo bearer would most likely carry 2 belts as well.
Both the machine gunner and assistant machine gunner were armed with M1A1 carbines that could be jumped on the leg in a special scabbard. The standard jump load for the M1A1 carbine was 5 magazines of 15 rounds each and 2 boxes of 50 cartridges to reload the magazines. The paratroopers were different in that they used rigger pouches to carry their carbine and rifle ammunition, although standard cartridge belts which were more common after D-Day. Each rigger pouch could carry 2 carbine magazines and 1 box of cartridges. Two rigger pouches would be worn and 1 magazine would be carried in a pocket or in hand for quick access on the ground. Additional standard carbine magazine patches would also be sewn to the scabbard for extra ammo carry capacity for the enterprising paratrooper.
Like the regular infantry, the standard combat load for paratroopers with M1 rifles was 136 rounds plus 8 rounds in the gun or on hand. However, unlike the infantry which carried this load in a cartridge belt and bandolier, the paratroopers carried them in 4 rigger pouches (each holding 4 clips) on D-Day and prior. The cartridge belt and bandolier came into wider use after D-Day and rigger pouches became limited issue.
Like in the regular infantry, the parachute rifle squad TO&E lacked submachine guns. However, 6 were officially available to be distributed at the company commander's discretion, and the airborne was notorious for getting far higher concentrations of submachine guns unofficially (especially on D-Day). The standard ammo load would have been 11 magazines of 30 rounds. One of these magazines would have been carried in a pocket or in the gun on the drop, although a 20-rounder could also take this place as it was more compact. Two five-cell magazine pouches would be worn, either on the belt or over the torso. Prior to late 1943, paratroopers with subguns would have carried 2 long rigger pouches (each able to hold 4 magazines of 20 rounds) rather than the 5 cell magazine pouches. By D-Day, the 5 cell magazine pouches would have been dominant.
Up to 4 to 6 fragmentation grenades could be carried in jacket/trouser pockets or in a general purpose carrying bag. Further, many soldiers carried additional munitions, such as Composition B explosives, Gammon grenades, and Hawkins mines. Further, the 7 riflemen would each carry 1 60mm mortar round for the platoon's mortar squad (something the regular infantry did not have). Depending on the type of round, the shell would weigh 3-5 lb.
Given that the U.S. Army Parachute Rifle Squad in 1944 consisted of:
1 Squad Leader (M1 Rifle)
1 Assistant Squad Leader (M1 Rifle)
1 Machine Gunner (M1919A4 Machine Gun and M1A1 Carbine)
1 Assistant Machine Gunner (M1A1 Carbine)
1 Ammo Bearer (M1 Rifle)
7 Riflemen (M1 Rifle)
You could generally expect a squad ammo load of:
1,440 rounds of rifle ammunition
3,250 rounds of machine gun ammunition
350 rounds of carbine ammunition
48-72 fragmentation grenades (variable)
Compared to the Axis
Although we will be doing a more in-depth video and article about the other Allied powers' and Axis powers' ammo loads, here is some basic info for about the Germans and Japanese squad ammo loads for comparison.
In 1944, the German Infantry (Grenadier) Squad consisted of 9 men: 1 Squad Leader (MP-40), 1 Assistant Squad Leader (MP-40), 1 Machine Gunner (1 MG-42 or MG-34, 1 pistol), 1 Assistant Machine Gunner (1 Kar98k), and 5 Riflemen (1 Kar98k each). According to “The German Infantry Handbook 1939-1945” by Alex Buchner, you could expect the following load:
1,150 rounds of machine gun ammunition (250 rounds carried in 5 belt drums of 50 rounds; 900 rounds carried in 3 ammo boxes of 300 rounds)
360 rounds of rifle ammunition (each rifleman carried 45 rounds on the march; 60 rounds in combat)
16 rounds of pistol ammunition
384 rounds of submachine gun ammunition (each MP-40 gunner carried 6 magazines of 32 rounds, often downloaded to 28 rounds)
18 stick grenades (2 per man)
According to Allied intelligence reports, the Japanese Rifle Squad consisted of 1 Squad Leader (Rifle), 1 Machine Gun Crew Leader (Pistol), 1 Machine Gunner (Light Machine Gun and Pistol), 1 Assistant Machine Gunner (Pistol), 1 Ammo Bearer (Pistol), and 8 Riflemen (Rifles). According to "Japanese Infantryman 1937-45" by Gordon L. Rottman, you could expect the following load for a fully equipped Japanese rifle squad:
540 rounds of machine gun ammunition (90 rounds carried in 3 magazines of 30 rounds, 450 rounds carried in 3 boxes of 140 rounds to be loaded into magazines by ammo bearer)
810 rounds of rifle ammunition (each rifleman carried 30 rounds in forward pouches and 60 rounds in reserve)
24-48 rounds of pistol ammunition
13 hand grenades (2 per man)