Road march speeds in WW2


I remembered some data from road march speeds during WW2 (and the 50's) and found something curious. First, let me tell you  about the data:

The historical daytime road march speeds* varied from event to event, but the rules of thumb were


4 kph ~ 30 km/day

marching on foot, horse-drawn carts and artillery (not taking into account resting times)


60 km/day

European-style horse cavalry (10 kph for slow canter and up to 20 kph for fast canter for a brief forced march)


18...20 kph

bicyclist troops


20+ kph / minimum 200 km/day (rarely done 150+ km)

This applies to both tracked and half-track motor vehicles. Crew and passengers were exhausted by vibrations and noise. Both troops and vehicles needed many maintenance stops.

This speed probably also applied to motor-towed artillery, as artillery ordnance had poor suspensions and was thus often speed-limited, such as up to 30 kph except in emergencies. Even today most towed artillery is limited to 60 kph.


40+ kph / minimum 300 km/day

wheeled motor vehicles (likely 50...60 kph on good paved roads)

Wheeled motor vehicles had a substantial road march speed advantage (likely more pronounced compared to tracked vehicles than just 3:2*). Yet there was no substantial use of all-wheeled motorized formations as quick reaction reserves. They weren't even undisputedly dominant among armoured reconnaissance in Europe.

The disadvantage of a-wheeled armoured fighting vehicles goes beyond just inferior soft soil mobility compared to tracked and most half-tracked vehicles. The first tanks became shell-proofed instead of just bulletproofed by 1937, a move that wheeled armoured vehicles never matched. They have a too large armoured area compared to the more compact same-weight tracked designs (same problem as with half-tracks unless you reduce the wheeled front to an unprotected skeletonised structure). Armouring wheeled vehicles up to 60+ mm steel would make their ground pressure unacceptable on soft soil (true to this day, despite much better tires and CTIS).

So the wheeled armoured vehicles were not able to prevail in the gargantuan military experiment of the Second World War, despite attempts and already-understood hard soil/road mobility advantages. Even the ability of 4x4 motor vehicles to tow anti-tank guns and the ability to move even divisional field artillery portée (carried for march, set up like towed guns for firing) or as self-propelled guns on wheeled motor vehicles did not lead to such quick formations.

This begs the question why exactly they became such a fashion in 1999...2003 and later (post-2003 rather 4x4 and 6x6 MRAPs than 8x8 APCs). The Kosovo and Pristina deployment embarrassments and armies panicking about "relevance" cannot be the full explanation. Buying all those vehicles was really expensive, so I doubt the advantage in operating costs over tracked vehicles was a strong real argument, either.

The introduction of central tyre inflation systems, wider tyres and improved self-locking differentials did reduce the disadvantage of wheeled vehicles on soft soils, but their rise in weight more than countered this.)




*: I mostly remembered these, but checked Middeldorf/Handbuch der Taktik just to be safe. The minimum 200 km and minimum 300 km figures stem from it, I think both downplay the wheeled motor vehicle mobility of the time. A ratio of 200:450 seems much more plausible during that period. The cruise speed was double and the need for maintenance breaks was lesser with wheeled vehicles. Both tracked vehicles at 200 km an wheeled vehicles at 400+ km would have required one refuelling break, but refuelling was possible by decentralised use of jerry cans and fuel drums.



  1. I assume bicycle troops could cover 100-200km/day, making them capable of keeping up with motorized vehicles. I wonder why there weren't more tandem bikes in use, which allow 1-2 riders for the same amount of wheels as a single bike. The second rider could also watch out. Such a formation could take losses, without leaving bikes behind, like the usual bicycle troops I've seen.

    1. "I assume bicycle troops could cover 100-200km/day,, making them capable of keeping up with motorized vehicles."

      Sorry, that is nonsense. With a bike and luggage you can cover 100-150 km on good roads per day. However, the moment you are on gravel roads 100 km/day is already over-optimistic.

    2. 100-150km is already quite a sportive feat for anyone who isn't a well proficient cyclist and only in clam summer temperatures on good roads . You just can't assume riding up to exhaustion every day or even actually at all. After all transport isn't the goal in itself. With a heavy-duty bike and 20kg of luggage about 75km is about as far as it goes.

  2. The European road network grew a great deal between 1937 and 1999.

    1. The PAVED road network grew, but the road network overall didn't grow much, if at all.

  3. Your comment about the absence of WW2 wheeled reaction forces made me think of the 101st being trucked to the Bulge in 1944. Perhaps the ability to move infantry like this, combined with the 'good enough' mobility of tracked vehicles explains their absence on the European western front. As for the increased use of wheeled vehicles since Pristina, I think it's the normal heavy/light cycle that accompanies peace and hubris.