Monthly Archives: March 2017

Air Ministry Spanner

I keep an eye out for military spanners and I have a number of wartime /|\ marked examples now. This week however I picked up my first RAF spanner:Despite the extensive use made of tools by the RAF throughout the war, marked examples do seem scarcer than their army equivalents. This spanner is marked ‘AM’ with a crown for the Air Ministry and dated 1940:The spanner is marked on the opposite side for the thread sizes it works with. One end is for 3/8 British Standard Whitworth (BSW) and 7/16 British Standard Fine (BSF), whilst the opposite end is marked up for 5/16 BSW and 3/8 BSF:BSW was the first standard screw thread size, developed by Joseph Whitworth in 1841 and was used across the Empire. The British Standard Fine (BSF) standard has the same thread angle as the BSW, but has a finer thread pitch and smaller thread depth. This is more like the modern “mechanical” screw and was used for fine machinery and for steel bolts.

Whitworth (spanner) markings refer to the bolt diameter rather than the distance across the flats of the hexagon (A/F) as in other standards. Confusion also arises because BSF hexagon sizes can be one size smaller than the corresponding Whitworth hexagon. This leads to instances where a spanner (wrench) marked 7/16BSF is the same size as one marked 3/8W as in this case. In both cases the spanner jaw width of 0.710 in, the width across the hexagon flat, is the same. However, in World War II the size of the Whitworth hexagon was reduced to the same size as the equivalent BSF hexagon purely to save metal during the war and they never went back to the old sizes afterwards. Despite being long superseded by metric threads and bolts, these imperial threads and bolt heads are still in widespread use throughout the world, a legacy from the nineteenth century that shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon.

1 Reichsmark Allied Military Occupation Currency

We have looked at French ‘invasion currency’ notes on this blog before, but tonight we are turning to one of the notes issued by the occupying authorities in Germany following its invasion in 1945. This note is of a similar size and style to those issued in France, but in German and for Deutschmarks rather than Francs. Here we have a note for 1 Mark:Other notes covered denominations of ½, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 1000 Marks. The rear of the notes has a large ‘M’ in a complicated pattern to deter forgeries:These notes were printed in both the US from September 1944 to June 1948 and the USSR during approximately the same period. The US notes have a hidden ‘F’ mark to indicate the country of printing. 532,000,000 German notes were printed by The Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company in the US in the various denominations. The first digits of the notes serial numbers indicate which occupation zone they were intended for (‘1’ for the US, ‘0’ for British, ‘00’ for the French) although of course these notes got all muddled up with use, along with those manufactured in the Soviet Union. Whilst the Western Allies kept a tight lid on the number of notes they issued, the Soviets were more indiscriminate with the inevitable result that the influx of currency fuelled inflation.

A directive to allied troops in 1945 read “US forces and other Allied forces will use Allied Military marks and Reichsmark currency or coins in their possession. AM marks and Reichsmak currency and coin now in circulation will be legal tender without distinction and be interchangeable at the rate of one AM mark for one Reichsmark. German military currency and Reichkreditkassenscheine will not be legal tender in Germany.”

For a fascinating account of the difficulties faced in Germany in the immediate post war era due to currency please take a look at this article here.

51 Pattern Entrenching Tool Cover

It’s been a month or two since we looked at any components form the Canadian 51 pattern set on a Tuesday, so this week we go back to this webbing and take a look at the entrenching tool cover:The most obvious thing to note is how radically different this cover, and indeed the tool that went inside, are from traditional British practice of the period. Up until this point the Canadians had been using the British style two piece ‘Sirhand’ entrenching tool and the traditional cover for it. From the 51 pattern set onwards we can see a move away from British influence and much closer ties with US practice of the period. The tool adopted for the 51 pattern set was a folding entrenching tool was a close copy of the US 1943 pattern tool. The following illustration comes from Andrew Iarocci’s article on Canadian load carrying equipment and shows, l to r. Canadian 51 pattern entrenching tool, US M43 entrenching tool and British 37 Pattern Sirhand entrenching tool:Returning to the cover, on the rear can be seen three sets of eyelets allowing a wire hanger to be used to attach the entrenching tool to either the belt of the 51 pattern set, or the tab provided on the flaps of the small and large packs:Note also the manufacturer’s initials ‘TIL’ for ‘Textile Industries Limited’ and the date 1952:The top flap of the entrenching tool cover is secured with a lift the dot fastener in the distinctive shield shape of the 51 pattern set:This would originally have been chemically blackened, but this has worn to a bronze colour now. In use the tool would have had its handle sticking out through a hole in the bottom of the cover, with the head at the top. The top edge of the opening for the cover has leather and webbing reinforcements to prevent the metal of the entrenching tool fraying vulnerable parts of the cover:

2″ High Explosive Mortar Bomb

Continuing our in depth look into the 2” mortar, tonight we are considering the 2” High Explosive Bomb. The 1959 manual gives the following description:

The HE bomb has a buff painted body with red and green bands around it and a white metal unpainted tail. The head of the bomb is covered by a screw-on safety cap, underneath being a safety pin. The name, mark, lot number and date of manufacture are painted, in black, on the body. There is a cartridge in the tail which when fired propels the bomb.As can be seen, my example does not have any black markings on and the fuze is prominently marked ‘DUMMY’:As in the description a white metal alloy cap is provided, with raised lettering instructing the operator as to which way to turn the cap:The fuze is threaded with the opposite type of screw thread so turning it the wrong way removes the whole fuze from the bomb body. On a live bomb a No 161 percussion fuze is fitted, as illustrated in the 1959 manual:Despite the manual saying that the tail was to be left in unpainted metal, one side of the vanes are painted red:Interestingly this is specifically referenced in a diagram from the same 1959 manual:The tail unit contained a single cartridge to propel the bomb, with a screw on cap to protect the cartridge once fitted. Makers marks were stamped onto the vanes, but have proved very hard to photograph (trust me they are there):The 1939 army pamphlet noted:

The number of bombs which can be carried is strictly limited owing to their weight. They should be used sparingly and only as part of a definitive plan…Rates of fire depend on wind and circumstances. The maximum rate with accuracy is from three to four bombs a minute. The distance which the HE bomb is practically certain to be effective against personnel in the open is about eight yards in all directions form the point of burst. Large fragments may, however, have sufficient velocity to inflict wounds up to 150 yards or more, particularly if the burst is on stony ground.

WW1 Postcard of a Soldier on Horseback

This week’s postcard came from Huddersfield Secondhand Market on Tuesday for £1. It is getting harder to find postcards from WW1 for such small sums of money- even fairly typical portrait postcards are starting to fetch £3 or £4 now so it is always nice to find a more affordable card for the collection. Incidentally I store my WW1 postcards in a period postcard album and after nearly ten years it is almost full so I will need to keep my eyes open for another one…Back to this postcard however, this fine image depicts a soldier on horseback:I would date this image to around the time of the Great War. The subject is wearing a service dress cap, sadly it is no possible to get a clear enlargement of his cap badge to determine the regiment:He is wearing standard service dress, complete with puttees:And spurs:Note the hobnails of his boots, clearly visible. In his hand he holds a riding crop:There is no obvious signs of rank, so my guess is he is a private but sadly there is not a lot in this image to work with! The photograph seems to have been taken on the drive of a house, with the main road in the background. Unfortunately this image highlights many of the problems faced with interpreting these photographs. Without a message on the front or back of the image to place it and with the camera too far away to pick up the detail of the cap badge we are left with a lovely photograph we can say very little about! Whilst this is frustrating, it is a point worth making sometimes that further research is not always possible and we are left to enjoy the image for its own sake.

Extreme Cold Weather Over-Mittens

The British Army’s Extreme Cold Weather clothing system works on a layering principle, with gloves being no exception. Two layers are generally issued, an inner warm mitten and an outer layer that is thin but waterproof. This traps a layer of air between the two mittens and helps keep the wearer’s hands warm, Tonight it is this outer mitten we are looking at in detail. This over-mitten is made of a thin impermeable DPM camouflage goretex fabric and is a large, but simple mitten shape:The palm of the over mitten has a series of raised bumps over it to aid grip:In order to keep the inner air layer in the mitten, the back of the wrist has a tightening strap and buckle to help seal the glove from cold air:A drawstring at the cuff also helps seal the mitten form the cold:The inside of the cuff of the over-mittens have a label indicating size, NSN number and care instructions:Here we can see the overmittens being worn by members of 3 Commando brigade training in the Arctic in 2010:The Daily Mail reported on this training exercise at the time:

Hundreds of Royal Marines have endured freezing temperatures of almost -30c in the Arctic as they prepare for combat in Afghanistan.

Soldiers with 3 Commando Brigade are training in northern Norway where they are being taught extreme cold weather survival skills in up to six feet of snow.

Marines have been learning to ski, make shelters and use weapons on the 10-week programme headed by 45 Commando based in Arbroath, Angus.

The course is designed to provide key team-building and extreme environment experience ahead of the unit’s next tour of Afghanistan, expected next year.

Major Tony Lancashire, who as commander of Zulu Company leads around 100 men, said: ‘If you can survive here, you can fight anywhere in the world.

‘Most of our lads have been to Afghanistan and we’ll go again. If they can look after themselves here, then that will carry forward to Afghanistan as well.’

The temperature in Innset dropped to -20c last week, with the added windchill taking it down even further to a low of -28c.

Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Lee described it as ‘the toughest soldiering there is’.

He said: ‘The biggest challenge for them is undoubtedly coping with the very demanding environmental conditions. You pay hard for a mistake here.

‘You need to learn the basics, you need to understand how effectively to soldier in these conditions, and these men are rising to that challenge supremely well.’

Lt Col Lee, who took up the post in September, added: ‘For me, this is a magnificent training opportunity, both for the toughest soldiering there is, but also for breeding that teamwork and that camaraderie on which a commando unit is based.’

The Commandos have swapped their familiar green berets for fleece-lined hats while operating in the Arctic.

White sheets over their combat gear acts as camouflage and masks are worn to protect their faces from frost bite.

The Marines have been sleeping in four-man tents and eating calorie-packed freeze-dried meals made with snow melted down on their stoves.

Some are veterans who are simply refreshing their skills, but for many it is their first time in Norway and their first experience on skis.

Their skills will be tested at the end of the programme when they take part in a major international exercise called Cold Response in March.

The operation, which takes place in Norway’s Bogen area, involves 5,000 troops including 200 from the U.S. Marine Corps and will include a launch from the water to test the unit’s amphibious capabilities.

DPM Patrol Pack

Tonight’s object goes by a number of different names, ‘day sack’, ‘Northern Ireland patrol pack’ or just ‘patrol pack’. The official designation is ‘Patrol Pack, 30 Litre, DPM IRR’. Whatever designation you use, this is a handy 30 litre backpack used for carrying a lot of the items needed in the field for a soldier:The pack consists of a main compartment for carrying equipment, covered at the top by a drawstring waterproof cover:And a top pocket that passes over the whole main section of the rucksack. This has a small flat pocket ideal for paperwork and a second larger pocket to carry anything you need to get to in a hurry:Plastic Fastex buckles attach it to the main body of the pack and the space unbder this ‘flap’ gives somewhere suitable to slot larger items and pin them down to expand the carrying capacity:Two large pockets are attached to either side of the main pack, again each is secured with a Fastex buckle:Finally fabric loops are attached around the outside of the pack to allow MOLLE pouches to be fastened and further equipment to be tied on:The pack does not have an internal metal frame, being instead entirely soft. Two large padded shoulder straps are fitted:And a supporting waist belt, again using a large black plastic Fastex buckle to secure it:A green panel is fitted to the back, hidden when worn, that gives space for the soldier to write his name and number on. This was originally grren, but has been blacked out with marker to allow it to be remarked by a new owner, sadly this is badly worn and difficult to make out anymore:A label inside the bag indicates that this particular pack was manufactured in 2009:The pack is designed to give troops the ability to carry mission specific equipment for short periods of time in a more compact pack than a full size rucksack.  A number of different loads have been suggested for users, this packing list comes from the combined Commando Course:

24hr Rations, 1 Water Bottle Flask, (optional) Warm Jacket, Poncho & Pegs (1 between 2), Bivvi Bag (1 between 2), Socks, Helmet, CBA

Whilst an alternative load out used on exercise was recalled by one user:

Bivvi Bag, 1 per fire team basha (stretcher), warm kit, gore tex, emergency rations, pair of socks, bit of hexy and metal mug/mess tin, torch, HMNVS or CWS, spare batteries, a good deal of room (they were saying 50% but…) for any spare ammo radios or section kit you may get dumped with.