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Mules for China

by Captain John A. Rand

A description of the difficulties that were encountered when 900 mules were herded 750 miles from Burma into China, with recommendations by the author as to how some of the mistakes that were made could have been avoided.

How would you like to be given the task of herding 900 mules on a 750-mile trip?  Such a task was assigned and performed.  The time - May 26, 1945;  the route - Myitkyina, Burma, to Kunming, China;  the purpose - to provide mules for Chinese artillery units.  The movement was initiated by China, and the Northern Area Combat Command at Myitkyina was in charge of preparations.

The mules chosen were largely from the 612th and 613th Field Artillery Battalions;  the remainder were selected from other elements of the Mars Task Force.  All the mules had been through combat in North or Central Burma campaigns.

Personnel included two officers and sixty-two enlisted men then on duty with mules in Myitkyina, plus six officers and 130 enlisted men flown from Kunming to Myitkyina for this mission.  In addition, twenty-five enlisted men were detailed from the 13th Medical Battalion.  This made a total initial strength of 240 officers and men.

Preparations were hasty, as we were given the first alert on May 15th.  All mules had to be shod;  equipment had to be drawn and fitted, and personnel organized for the movement by May 24th.  The animals were broken down into three serials of 300 each, to travel one day apart.  About six officers and enlisted men were reserved for overhead supply and administration;  remaining personnel was divided equally among the serials.  Each serial had one veterinary officer and three enlisted veterinary technicians, one medical officer, and two enlisted medical technicians.

The first serial left Myitkyina on May 26th, the second on May 27th, and the third on May 29th.  Taking the Myitkyina-Tengchung cutoff, they crossed the China border on June 2nd, 3rd and 4th, respectively.  One day's march from there, at Kuyung, we laid over three days to catch up on the shoeing, which had been impossible in the difficult mountain bivouacs we had been through, and to reconnoiter the Tengchung-Paoshan cutoff.  This latter proved not to be feasible, as the bridge over the Salween River on that trail was far too high and narrow, and very unstable.  Therefore we proceeded through Tengchung to Lungling and the Burma Road.

The first elements reached Kunming on July 28th, the total distance covered being approximately 750 miles.  Our total marching days were forty-seven; average distance per marching day, sixteen miles.

The second serial waited at Tsuyung seven additional days to allow the first serial time for re-shoeing and veterinary processing at FATC, Kunming, before proceeding east for issue to the Chinese.  When the second serial reached Kilo 51, on July 30th, transportation had broken down to the east and all serials were held in place indefinitely.  The third serial never left Tsuyung.

During this delay surra, a communicable blood disease, broke out among the mules.  Veterinary personnel of CCC, SOS and FATC collaborated in a program of testing and isolation, and it was hoped that a new drug then being developed in the United States could be procured.  At this point the war ended and the problem became one of disposition of the animals to Chinese SOS.  It was decided, about September 1st, to destroy all infected animals, and this was accomplished immediately.  Those first serial animals which showed a negative test were distributed to Chinese Pack Artillery Battalions in training at FATC, Kunming.  About September 6th, on the advice of competent veterinary officers, the Commanding General, SOS, USF, CT, decided that the remaining animals of the second and third serials should be destroyed.  This was a wise decision which undoubtedly prevented a wide spread of the disease.

During the entire trip the weather was inclement, loss of feed through spoilage was often as high as 50 per cent, and marching conditions on the Burma Road were hard, necessitating constant re-shoeing and corrective hoof treatment.  In the early part of the trip evacuation of animals was next to impossible.

For the first forty days the entire command lived on 10-in-1 and mountain rations.  After twenty-five days I obtained some Class B funds, and was able to buy eggs occasionally.  It was also necessary to buy wood for cooking and for boiling water.  Shortly before reaching Yunnanyi we drew B rations, and at Yunnanyi we were given partial pay and PX rations for the first time in approximately forty-five days.

Medical evacuation was difficult, and many of the men at the outset and during the trip suffered from chronic dysentery and fevers of unknown origin.  Three cases of scrub typhus occurred, and many evacuations were necessary, but there were no fatalities.  Atabrine suppressive dosage was maintained, and drinking water was boiled throughout.

The men performed an extraordinarily  arduous task, and are to be commended for their devotion to duty despite difficult supply problems, very hard work, and unfavorable weather and field conditions.

From personal observation and experience as officer in charge of this movement I would like to make the following recommendations in the event that such an operation should ever be contemplated in the future.

We were ordered by Headquarters in China to pack all but riding mules and load them fully throughout the trip.  We made a strong objection to this, as we had not enough men to keep packsaddles properly adjusted, and I knew from personal experience that it would mean sore backs and unnecessary exhaustion for the mules, besides useless wear and tear on the saddles and a lot of extra work for the men.  In the end we packed 500 mules as far as Paoshan and, in the meantime, I flew to Kunming and obtained authority to turn in 400 saddles and to draw three more trucks.  Up to that point we were grossly under strength, and, as a result, skinned a good many backs and exhausted a good many men.  From Paoshan on, our strength was just right, and the mules arrived at the end of the trip with clean, healthy backs.  The following strength figures should be approximately correct for any future movement of this sort.  If route or terrain precludes the daily use of vehicles, necessitating packing of equipment, rations, and forage, there should be two men for each three mules, and mules should be led.  If trucks can be used, one man will suffice for each four mules, stripped, and mules should be loose-herded.  With this method, for each 300 or 400 mules there should be three trucks and one light vehicle, and one additional truck for forage stocks not more than six days' march away.  This provides adequately both for supply and for transportation of mess and horseshoeing personnel and equipment.

Until we reached Paoshan we fed Indian grain, which had suffered a large percentage of spoilage.  From there on we fed native horse beans.  Good quality long-forage not being available, grazing proved essential, and I think our determined effort to utilize all available grass made a great difference in the final condition of the animals.  Yunnan province is made up largely of steep bare hills and rice fields, the latter taking up almost all fertile ground, and it was difficult to find decent grass.  Nevertheless overnight bivouacs were chosen entirely with this in mind, and each stop afforded maximum grazing facilities unless this was wholly incompatible with reasonable marching distance or water requirements.  Mules were grazed a minimum of three hours a day, loose.  Graveyards afforded us more grass than any other kind of area and we therefore found it necessary to camp in them very often. 

Maintenance of weight exceeded our highest expectation.  At the end of the trip the average drop in weight was approximately 5 per cent, and many of the mules had gained.  This may be attributed very largely to the great effort which was made to utilize grass areas.

I consider rate of march to be the next most important factor.  Twenty-four miles was the longest day's march;  seven miles, the shortest.  Just one month out, several mules began to give out, and each day we would have to leave more men behind to bring in the stragglers.  This grew to be an alarming condition.  In one day we destroyed five mules which had succumbed from pure exhaustion.  As the distances had not seemed too great, we decided it must be the pace, which had been six kilometers, or 3.7 miles, per hour, so ordered a reduction to a maximum of five kilos, or 3.1 miles, per hour.  Each serial commander was given a choice of three methods he might employ to decrease his pace by this amount.  He could either march his animals more slowly;  halt at the end of five kilos until the hour was up; or, best of all, halt whenever he saw a decent patch of grass along the road.  These grazing halts would last from fifteen minutes to two hours, and, though we hit camp each day somewhat later from then on, the mules came in fresh and with a fair amount of extra fee inside them.  This is another argument for not loading animals on a march like this.  At any spot we could stop and let the mules go immediately in rolling and grazing, unhampered by loads, which would have deprived them of the rest for which the halts were intended.

The other very important factor I would like to point out is provision of suitable animal evacuation facilities.  There should be a Veterinary Section camped about every 200 miles, and a number of stock trucks, approximately one per 300 mules, to work between the animal columns and the Veterinary detachments.  This was not provided for on our trip, and for quite a long time we could do nothing but shoot any animal which could not immediately continue the march, when a week's rest and treatment would have put him back on the road.  These trucks would also be of great help in following the animals from day to day to pick up any that were weak or mildly sick, and thus save them that day's march.

We had an adequate number of horseshoers (about one per 75 mules) and transported them each day by truck so that the minute the mules hit camp the men were fresh and could start right in shoeing.  Only by this means could they keep up with the situation.  It is interesting to note that we carried along over two tons of shoes, and they barely lasted the trip.

Adequate time should be allowed to prepare for such a move as this.  We had less than 10 days to shoe all the mules, draw a lot of equipment, and organize personnel.  The last two planeloads of men arrived the night before the trip began.  As a result of this time shortage we hit the road just about half prepared.

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