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.
Continuing our on-going look at the various components of British webbing sets, tonight we are turning to the 1958 pattern waistbelt. As in all other webbing sets form Mills, the 58 pattern set is built around the waist belt and the design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary from the earlier 37 and 44 pattern designs. The belt is made of the same pre-shrunk dark green cotton webbing as the rest of the 58 pattern set, but rather than brass, the fittings are made of anodised aluminium. As ever we turn to the fitting instructions for a detailed description:
This is 2 ¼ inches wide and is supplied in two sizes:
Normal- Adjustable up to 40 inches in length
Large- Adjustable between 37 inches and 46 inches in length. Each end of the belt is fitted with a metal hook, which engage in a series of eyelets for adjustment of length. The belt is fastened by a clasp buckle (hook and loop pattern) with slides to hold the two parts of the clasp in position. The two small ‘D’ rings fixed to the bottom edge of the belt are for attachment of the cape carrier. The belt is stamped with a stores number and the size on the inside, at the rear. As is often the case with 58 pattern webbing this is hard to read due to the dark base colour of the webbing set:These belts were to prove very popular and despite 58 pattern webbing having been obsolete for a quarter of a century, the belts are still commonly seen being used as trouser belts by serving service personnel- indeed I myself prefer it to the modern nylon issued belt which is particularly flimsy.
By the 1950s and after over fifty years of experience with webbing designs, one would have expected the British Army to be able to introduce a comfortable and well thought out large pack when they introduced the otherwise excellent 58 pattern set of webbing. Sadly the pack they did introduce, whilst having some useful innovations, was poorly thought through and uncomfortable to wear. This led to the 58 pattern pack being universally loathed by squadies and spending most of the time consigned to unit transport. For a fuller analysis of the designs shortcomings, Karkee Web has an interesting article here.
For the description of the pack, we turn to the 1959 Instructions for Assembling Web Equipment Pattern 1958 published by The War Office:
This is approximately 17 inches wide and 14 inches deep, with 5 inch gussets:The pack opens at the top and is closed by a flap secured by two straps and buckles. Weather flaps are provided which fold down under the main flap: There is a pocket on each side of the pack which is closed by a ‘box’ lid and secured by a strap and buckle:Attached to the main flap of the pack is a wide strap with a spigot and metal link, and right and left straps with quick-release links and tongue for the retention of the pick handle, or the shovel, in normal ‘marching order’ carrying position:Above this is a horizontal webbing loop to hold the pick, or the shovel, in an alternative position:On the top rear edge of the pack there are two adjustable straps each terminating in a flat hook, for connection to the yoke of the equipment:At the bottom of each side of the pack there is a quickly adjustable strap carrying a spring hook for connection to the rear of each ammunition pouch (or revolver holster) in the ‘fighting order’ of the equipment:On the rear panel of the pack is a white patch for personal identification markings:On the top of the main flap two straps, with buckles, are fitted to hold the greatcoat, or the parka:Two straps, fixed to the top front edge of the pack, cross diagonally over the front of the pack:and are secured on the underside of the pack by two buckles:These cross straps are to hold the steel helmet.
These packs are easy and cheap to find so not hard to add to a collection, but there seems to be very few photographs of them ever having been worn in the field.