In the late 1960s a number of new items of webbing were quietly added to the stores catalogue to go with the 58 pattern web set. These were items for use by the SAS and were pieces of equipment that were felt to be useful based on operational experience and some experiments in unit with producing similar pieces of equipment unofficially. None of these items of SAS webbing are easy to find now, however the most common piece to come across today is the altimeter pouch.
The altimeter pouch is a small green webbing pouch for carrying an altimeter, the SAS had been operating in jungled mountainous terrain in Indonesia and Borneo and an altimeter was very helpful in determining a troopers height in this rugged landscape and how far up a particular mountain they had actually gone. The altimeter was small and round, so the pouch was shaped accordingly:A box lid fits over the altimeter and is secured with a single press stud, keeping the contents safe and secure within:Due to the size of the pouch it was impractical to have it mounted on the belt itself, so a pair of one inch drop straps allow it to hang below the waist belt:The large eyelet is to allow a lanyard to be fastened, securing the altimeter to the pouch and preventing it being dropped and lost. Underneath is the faint markings of a stores code and date, it seems to have been made by MW&S in 1982:I have struggled to find much further information on the pouch, presumably due to the secretive nature of special forces there is not much out there on the pouch. I did however come across this photograph which I believe is a 1980s photograph of an SAS belt kit set up (the site I found it on is in Polish so I have no context I can give to the image). Here the altimeter pouch can be seen on the belt, but it is being used to carry a compass:If anyone has any pictures of the actual altimeters used with this pouch, please get in contact as it would be interesting to see what is supposed to fit inside the pouch!
On patrol in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles, British troops had very strict rules of engagement and were only permitted to carry very small amounts of ammunition- normally two SLR magazines, each with eighteen rounds- one in the gun and one in a pouch. Troops also wore body armour so there was a move away from large traditional equipment sets to more minimal belt kits. This example is a representative set like those put together by troops on Operation Banner:As can be seen the set consists of one 58 pattern ammunition pouch and two water bottle pouches on a 58 pattern belt:This set up emphasises the need for hydration during grueling foot patrols, with minimal ammunition needed. One ex soldier describes what he carried in Northern Ireland:
First tour 75 country Tyrone, dress was boots dms with puttees, trousers lightweight, kf shirt, woolly pully, combat jacket with yellow card in breast pocket, green waterproof, sometimes a parka, beret and blacked out badge.
Belt order with ammo pouches and water bottle only, although it was a bit of a waste as we only had 20 rounds. So lots of room for sweets and choccies.
When the 1958 pattern webbing set was introduced originally there was no provision for a holster. The British Army were in the process of replacing their revolvers with Browning Hi-Power automatics and as a stop gap Canadian 51 pattern holsters were issued to troops (see here). This was clearly far from being an ideal solution so by 1965 a new holster had been developed for the 58 pattern set. This was closely based on the wartime Canadian Browning holster and had a pair of overlapping flaps to protect the pistol:These flaps were secured with a quick release tab:And when opened allowed easy access to the Browning:Inside the holster a small pocket was provided for a spare magazine:That was secured with another quick release tab:A small channel was provided for a cleaning rod:Sadly I do not have a Browning Hi-Power in my collection, but this Model 1922, although smaller, illustrates how a pistol was carried:Stamped onto the underside of the top flap was the manufacturer’s details, date and NSN number:This example was made in 1978 by MECo. Turning the holster over we can see a number of attachment methods were offered:These were a single channel for a belt loop and ‘C’ hooks to allow it to be fastened to the belt of the 58 pattern set:The fitting instructions gave alternatives for the carriage of the holster:
The holster may either be clipped to the belt by two ‘C’ hooks, or it may be attached to a leg strap by means of a webbing loop sewn between the ‘C’ hooks. A link similar to that on the ammunition pouches provides anchorages for the front yoke straps. A ‘D’ ring at the bottom enables the holster to be anchored, if required, to the cape carrier or to the main pack, to prevent the holster from swinging and chafing the legs. MECo were not the only manufacturer of 58 pattern webbing, and this illustration comes from the webbing catalogue of M Wright & Co:Not only was the holster produced in the standard green seen here, but white examples for military police and blue grey RAF examples were produced, albeit in much smaller quantities.
There were a number of problems with the first design of 1958 pattern basic pouch. The pouch hung vertically like 37 pattern pouches, but much lower than the earlier patterns. With the adoption of armoured personnel carriers it was found troops had to push the pouches out of the way to prevent them digging into their thighs when seated. It was therefore decided to modify them with angled waist attachments so they sat at an angle rather than straight down. Tis became the most common variant of the 58 pattern ammunition pouch. As ever we turn to the fitting instructions for a description, note however that this refers to the Mk1 pouches, not the Mk III so there are some minor changes pointed out as we go along:
Pouch, Ammunition Left
This is approximately 10 inches deep, and 4 ½ inches wide with 2 ¼ inch gussets. It is closed with a ‘box’ lid having a quick-release fastening.
The top back of the pouch has metal fittings for connection of the pouch to the belt and the yoke. On one side of the pouch are two webbing loops to hold the bayonet scabbard, and on the same side near the bottom there is a metal loop for connection to the cape carrier. Inside the pouch there is an adjustable strap and buckle to support short magazines on a level with the top of the pouch (quickly deleted and not present in these pouches)
Pouch, Ammunition, Right.
This pouch is similar to the pouch, ammunition, left, excepting that is has an external pocket on one side instead of the bayonet scabbard loops. This pocket is for a grenade launcher or a 1 inch signal discharger and is closed by a hooded flap with a turn button closure: Thie pouch was designed for the Energa launcher, but was usually used for knife, fork and spoon in later years. Turning the pouches over we can clearly see the angled ‘c’ hooks on the back:Another point to note is the usual metal grommet in the base of each pouch to let the water run off:I apologise for the ‘salty’ nature of these pouches- I do have better examples but they are built up into webbing sets. The condition of these pouches though is not untypical as these webbing sets were used heavily first by the army, and then even after the introduction of PLCE by the reservists and cadet units. The cotton webbing is not as durable as some more modern materials and hence some of these pouches can get pretty worn and ratty.