Mk IV NBC Smock

The Mk 3 NBC suit we looked at last month was very good for its day, but in the mid 1980s the British Army decided to update the design to accompany the new S10 respirator it was introducing. The Mk 3 was only available in olive green fabric, so a small batch of Mk3a suits were produced in DPM (we will look at an example of these at a later date). Whilst this was a definite improvement, the smock still needed to be pulled on over the head and it was felt that having a conventional zipped fastening up the front was a better design. This led to the next major version of the NBC suit, the Mk 4 and tonight we are looking at the smock:imageWhilst the camouflage fabric and front opening are the most obvious changes to the suit, perhaps more importantly was an improved fabric that was more effective at repelling chemical agents. The outer layer of the smock has a silicon treatment that helps waterproof the fabric from rain and allows liquid agents to spread over the surface rather than sinking in, aiding evaporation. A fluorocarbon finish was also applied which acts as an oil repellent, increasing its effectiveness against liquid agents. The suits were also designed to be fire retardant. Despite all this protection, the suit remains breathable preventing the wearer from overheating. When it was introduced this was one of the most effective NBC suits in the world and it remains in use to this day, underlining the general strength of its design.

Returning to the Mk 4 smock then, we can see that it opens up the front, with a metal zip that is covered by a Velcro flap:imageA piece of elastic is sewn around the edge of the hood to ensure a tight face seal with the respirator:imageVelcro tabs allow the sleeves to be adjusted:imageAnd the waist:imageA pair of large angled bellows pockets are sewn over each breast:imageThe stitching of these pockets only penetrates the first layer of fabric so it doesn’t compromise the suit. Another small pocket is fitted to one sleeve to carry pens etc.:imageA label is sewn into the collar giving sizing:imageIn all six different NSN codes are allocated to the DPM smock based on sizing:

160/092                Extra Small                          8415-99-130-6921

170/100                Small                                     8415-99-130-6922

180/100                Medium                               8415-99-130-6923

190/108                Large                                     8415-99-130-6924

200/116                Extra Large                          8415-99-130-6940

Special Fitting                                                    8415-99-130-6925

The underside of the label indicates that it was made by Remploy:imageThis suit was also produced in desert DPM fabric and at some point I will pick up one of those to accompany this example.

Cawnpore Etching

This week’s image dates back to the nineteenth century and is a fine etching of a group of Highlanders storming the guns at Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny:SKM_C45817022215110In the mid nineteenth century printed etchings gave a way for art to be enjoyed by the masses. Photography was still in its infancy and true paintings were beyond the pocket of most. Etchings could be mass produced and were very affordable. The more wealthy had them framed and hung on the wall, emulating the paintings of the wealthy. The poor decorated their houses by pulling the etchings from magazines and sticking them to the walls, much like the posters of today. Most of these etchings were in fact copies of actual paintings, the engraver’s skill being to translate this image onto metal for reproduction. Consequently some etchings are crude, others like this one are remarkably detailed. As well as scenes from history and famous people, current events and especially British military victories particularly appealed to the Victorians. This particular engraving dates to 1860 and judging by the large number of copies for sale online was a very popular print.

The following stirring fictionalised account of the attack by the 78th Highlanders comes from VA Stuart’s book Massacre at Cawnpore:

The Highlanders of the 78th, led by their pipers, hurled themselves at the enemy positions, the sun glinting on the bright steel of their ferociously jabbing bayonets. The riflemen of the 64th flattened themselves to the ground, then rose, as one man, to advance firing. The 84th, with memories of comrades who had defended the Cawnpore entrenchment, took guns at bayonet point and neither they nor the Sikhs who fought beside them, gave quarter to any gunner who had the temerity to stand by his gun. In their famous blue caps and “dirty” shirts, the young fusiliers fought grimly…they had Renaud, their commander, to avenge and they had brought in blood, the right to call themselves veterans.SKM_C45817022215110 - CopyAnd always the order was “Forward!” Shells burst and round shot and grape thinned the advancing ranks; a 24-pounder held them until it was blown up by Maude’s guns from the flank; then a howitzer from the enemy centre ranged on the charging 78th, forcing them to take cover behind a causeway carrying the road.

Havelock himself rallied them, his sword held high above his head as a storm of shot and shell fell about him. “Another charge like that wins the day, 78th!” he told them and the red coated line re-formed at his bidding and stormed the howitzer’s emplacement, their pipes keening above the noise of battle and the shouts and oaths of the weary, sweating Highlanders.SKM_C45817022215110 - Copy (2)

Wartime Signals Satchel Number 1

As regular readers will know I have been picking up bits of kit for my WS38 set radio slowly over the last couple of years. This week I was very pleased to pick up a wartime signals satchel to go with the set:imageI have previously looked at an example of a signals satchel here, but that example was a post war version in green canvas with white metal fittings. This example is the correct one for wartime use and will go nicely with the radio. This is officially a ‘Signals Satchel No 1’, had a stores code of ZA 6292 and was introduced on 27th May 1938. The main body of the satchel is made from pre-shrunk woven cotton webbing, with a box lid:imageThe lid is secured with a single strap and brass buckle to secure it:imageThe inside of the satchel is lined with cotton-drill fabric to help protect the contents:imageTwo variations of the signals satchel can be found, one with the shoulder strap sewn to the satchel itself, and the more common variety such as this one that has a standard 37-pattern shoulder brace secured with brass buckles:imageThe top of the satchel is printed with ‘SATCHEL SIGNALS’:imageThe inside of the top lid is clearly marked with the date 1942 and the manufacturer ‘MECo’:imageThe strap is also stamped:imageAccording to the instruction card the signals satchel should hold:

– 2 mics and 2 phones (one for the officer)

– 1 batteries, (spare)

– 1 hooks, brace (spare)

– The instruction card

The actual batteries and junction box should have been stored in a separate pack on the back, but by all accounts only the satchel was used for much of the time so the wireless operator actually had somewhere to carry his own personal kit!

As far as I am aware this satchel was made in both Britain and Canada. I have not seen Australian, Indian or South African examples but that does not mean there was not production in these countries.

Cold Weather Woollen Wristlets

Over the last few years I have slowly been building up a little selection of modern Arctic kit, with items such as crampons, survival guides and over-gloves. Many of these items are pretty inexpensive and today we have a set of woollen wristlets that cost me just £1:imageThese are made of white knitted wool and fit over the wrist to keep it warm, a hole being provided for the thumb to fit through:imageNote the cloth binding to protect the edges from catching and unravelling. A simple cloth label is sewn into each wristlet, with a crude /|\ mark on it:imageThese wristlets have been in service for many years, and the page in the MoD’s Black Book of Kit gives a date into service of before 1991:WristletsOne serviceman who was issued them reports: Wristlets are pretty good if you can get some. Keeps the blood flowing to your fingers warm.

Knitted woollen wristlets have been worn by British soldiers since at least the time of the Great War, with knitting patterns published for people at home to make them for the troops, this illustration comes from a period knitting pattern and the design is broadly similar to the arctic wristlet we have above:759e304fec48c14ce22c675846d397fa--wristlets-vintage-patterns

Indian Made Binoculars

It is hard to comprehend the revolution in manufacturing India went through during the Second World War. Before the war India had a very limited manufacturing base, whilst there was some modern industry in the country it was at a comparatively early stage of industrial development The Second World War acted as a catalyst and the country went through a very rapid change in a short period of time. One area that needed rapid expansion was that of optics- sights for weapons, telescopes and mirrors and of course binoculars. Tonight we are looking at a rather fine pair of binoculars manufactured in Calcutta in 1944:imageIn design they are virtually identical to the equivalent British made binoculars. There are a few detail differences compared to other sets I have. For instance on my British made binoculars the loops for the carrying strap are little brackets soldered onto the body of the binoculars. This Indian pair have a slightly expanded top plate with two cut outs through them instead for the straps to secure into:imageThe focus of the binoculars is adjusted by twisting the eyepieces to move them in and out and this changes the focal length, the eyepieces have knurling on them to make it easier to twist:imageThe two parts of the main body have a textured lacquer to aid grip:imageAnd the angle of the two halves is adjustable, around a central brass rod:imageA small guide is marked on the end to show the relative angle of the two eyepieces:imageThere are two sets of markings on the binoculars, one indicates that they are ‘Binoculars, Prism, No2. Mk II’ and they have six times magnification:imageThe other set of markings indicate they were made in Calcutta in 1944 by ‘M.I.O’:imageMIO was the ‘Mathematical Instrument Office. The 1944 History of the Indian Supply Department provides some interesting background:

During war, the numbers of firms producing scientific instruments has increased to about one hundred and sixty but very few of them are well equipped. The Mathematical Instruments Office has been enlarged and converted into an Ordnance factory and the work of manufacturing simple stores like drawing boards, stands, instruments, sun compasses etc., has been taken away from it and given to the private firms. This left the M.I.O. free to concentrate on the production of the more important stores such as binoculars, prismatic compasses, sighting telescopes etc. The industry is mainly concentrated in Calcutta with 95 of the total 160 firms located there. Lahore comes next with 21 firms.

My thanks go to Michael Skriletz for kindly sending these binoculars across the Atlantic for me.image

Tier Three Ballistic Shorts

Yesterday we looked at the tier one ballistic underwear, previously we have covered the tier two ‘combat nappy’ in our survey of pelvic armour. Tonight we come to the final layer of armour available to troops, the tier three combat shorts:imageThese shorts are designed to be worn in conjunction with the other two tiers, but are designed for use by those on patrol who need greater levels of protection- the lead man of a patrol or the metal detector operator sweeping for IEDs. Design trials of this armour took place in 2011 and they were then quickly distributed to troops in Afghanistan as an Urgent Operational Requirement. The shorts have separate soft armour fillers that fit inside special pockets around them, Unfortunately I do not have these filler plates, but this illustration shows their shape, as well as the little bag that can be used to store them in:Tier 3 protective clothingThe cover was issued in a sealed clear plastic bag:imageWith a sticker giving stores details:imageAs the shorts are designed to be worn over other clothing, the cut is generous, with a tie strap at the waist to fasten them:imageReinforced knee pads are sewn into the cover:imageThe groin region has a piece of mesh to encourage ventilation into an area that can easily overheat:imageA long pocket with soft armour runs down the outside of each leg:imageThis opens with press studs to reveal a long zip to ease getting into and out of the shorts:imageThe shorts and their armour inserts help to protect, amongst other things, some of the major arteries in the leg, such as the femoral artery. If this artery is severed a soldier can bleed to death very quickly, these shorts are designed to help minimise the risk. The garment was designed to be worn with the tier two armour so a large flexible gusset of plain green material is sewn into the front and back of the shorts over the groin:imageAs with the tier two armour, a standard green label is sewn inside the tier three armour, with a note to ensure it is worn the correct way round:imageDue to its more specialist nature, fewer sets of shorts were produced than other elements of the pelvic armour system. They were used however, as can be seen in this photograph of a private:British_soldier_private_Scott_littleton_with_new_Pelvic_protective_clothing_001My thanks to Michael Fletcher for his help in adding this one to the collection.

Tier One Pelvic Armour- Ballistic Boxer Shorts

A couple of months ago we looked at the Tier Two pelvic armour here. Over the next two nights we are going to look at the other two elements of this armour system, starting tonight with the ballistic boxer shorts:imageThese boxers are worn as a bottom layer beneath all the other layers of uniform and armour and are made of black ballistic silk. This ancient fabric is remarkably strong and is excellent at repelling tiny fragments of shrapnel, as witnessed by this still from a video of the shorts in action:imageThe shorts have a simple elastic waistband:imageAnd a white label (here very faded) sewn into the back:imageThe MOD published some information about the shorts in 2010:

The MOD has spent £10m on the new armour system to date. It balances protection with the necessary comfort and manoeuvrability for troops to undertake operations, enabling them to wear one or more of the protective layers depending on the task. They are already being worn by troops on operations, with 45,000 pairs delivered to Afghanistan and another 15,000 ready to be issued to deploying troops. A further 60,000 are to be manufactured and delivered to troops early next year.

The first layer of protection is a pair of shorts, which troops wear as underwear.

Using cutting-edge science and technology developed by the MOD and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the underwear is manufactured from scientifically-tested ballistic silk material that provides an initial level of protection to mitigate against the effects of blasts, including shrapnel.

They have been bought as an Urgent Operational Requirement worth £6m and are being manufactured by Northern Ireland-based Cooneen, Watts and Stone.

The BBC reported:

Alan Hepper, the principal engineer at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, says many factors had to be taken into account when creating the materials.

“The way silk is woven makes it very strong, with a very high ballistic efficiency. It may sound like an extravagant material, but in ballistic protection terms, it is the best we’ve found,” he says.

“The feedback from medical staff treating the injured suggests that it does make a noticeable difference.”

By all accounts the shorts were pretty comfortable and were a popular and easy to wear item of protection. Tomorrow we continue our study of the pelvic armour system with the Tier Three layer.image