The Logistics History of Supplying Armies

The life-threatening problem for all of human conflict.


Source: Museums Victoria

Instant Images – WW2 soldiers receiving comfort foods

By: Christopher Yang, Journalist

Within in all eras of warfare, the greatest challenge of any conflict was keeping a military force fed and well armed. Even with modern advances and innovation, the armies of today still struggle to keep this vital supply line open to all military persons. However, considering that the options of transport in the past were constrained to sea travel, you would naturally expect the armies of the past to be under fed and unsupplied. However, history has spoken a much more different set of events for the fate of medieval armies.

Much in contrast to the modern day supply chain, olden armies were forced to stretch resources and constantly replenish themselves at camps and outposts under the supervision of the army commander. The most common and efficient way a medieval army could replenish themselves was via water routes and ship transportation. A great feat of logistical prowess was achieved by the Roman Armies during the First Punic War, where the Romans attempted to transport people and resources over the water. According to the YouTube channel Flaxim Historia, the Romans were taking “careful inventory of the ships at hand, and even recorded the exact state of each ship they had and if any were in need of repairs.” With these records of Roman ships, todays historians can see just how focused the Roman’s intent was on keeping their supply line well-protected and looked after.

However, there were alternate ways of acquiring food and clothes, especially during invasions and captures of enemy territory. According to The History Ace, in medieval times “most commanders would simply let their soldiers ransack the local area they were in.” This gave the pillaging army the advantage of speed and lowering the enemy’s morale; thankfully, todays armies no longer exercise these practices of pillaging.

In todays era, modern armies are no longer constrained by many of the problems that past armies were afflicted with. Even with this, the challenge of feeding and supplying armies is still present in the world stage. There are more varieties of transportation options with much greater efficiency compared to past counterparts. The introduction of globalization has produced a market capable of providing an army with resources over whole oceans in a matter of hours, a feat seem impossible only a century ago.

However, even with every advancement made by the modern age, there are still difficulties and roadblocks the military has to prepare for. Just 3 years ago, the confirmation of Coronavirus – 19 plunged the US military into an immediate lockdown to contain the spread of the virus from base to base. Although there was a strict protocol for shipping and an even harsher limitation on personnel interaction, the US military still had to feed their soldiers the same amount as before the pandemic’s arrival. In the modern era, it is situations like these that influence the logistics of feeding armies the most.

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