Category Archives: Arctic

Arctic Mittens Mk III

With the temperature dropping in the UK, now seems a good time to take a look at another piece of British Army extreme cold weather gear. The extremities of the body are the most vulnerable to extremely cold temperatures and it is essential the fingers are suitably protected. Mittens are one of the best ways of keeping warm as each finger helps to heat the others next to it, gloves insulate one finger from the other and it is much harder to keep them all warm this way. Unfortunate mittens are very clumsy and manual dexterity is virtually non-existent with them; not very helpful to the soldier who needs to fire a weapon. To solve this dilemma the British Army issued the Arctic Mitten MK III:imageThis is made in DPM fabric and has a heavy duty padded hand and thumb section:imageThey are fitted with an artificial fur liner:imageElastic at the wrist helps keep the heat in:imageSmall ‘bumps’ to aid grip are fitted to the palms to help the wearer hold the pistol grip of his rifle:imageWhere these mitten are special though is that they have a separate opening for the trigger finger:imageThis part of the mitten is not padded with fur at all and leaves the finger free to pull the trigger of a rifle easily. Most of the time all the fingers can be kept inside the mitten for warmth, but when the need arises it is the work of seconds to move the index finger into this special finger section to fire the weapon.

As ever a label is sewn inside the mittens with stores details:imageThis label is quite far into the body of the mitten, so it was not easy to get a photograph for you! This mark of glove has now been superseded by a more advanced design, but they are certainly warm and I can imagine they would be very much appreciated in extremely low temperatures. The gloves themselves are not actually waterproof, cold water would rapidly remove their effectiveness so they would be worn with the waterproof outer we looked at here.

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Short Cold Weather Mittens

A long time ago on the blog I looked at a pair of cold weather mittens here. That pair were quite long, with the body of the glove coming half way up the forearm. Tonight we have a second pair of snow gloves, but these are much shorter, just covering the hand itself:imageThese gloves are made form a closely woven but lightweight cotton, as such they would afford no warmth to the wearer. They would have been worn over a pair of woollen gloves or mittens, the woollen layer offering warmth and the cotton outer glove providing camouflage and some degree of waterproofing. The layer of air trapped between the inner and outer glove would also add to the insulation and help keep the wearer’s hands warm.

The wrists of the gloves are secured with a piece of elastic:imageEach glove is /|\ marked and dated 1942:imageThey are marked as having been manufactured by J B & Co Ltd- unfortunately I have been unable to link this with a specific manufacturer.

I am not sure how widespread the use of these mittens actually was- photographs of troops wearing cold weather kit are unusual in the first place and all those I have seen just show men wearing just the woollen gloves and mittens, without the white outer mitten. Certainly this pair are in mint condition and don’t seem to have ever been issued.

‘Mukluk’ Thermal Overboots

For those stood still or resting in extreme cold weather a great danger is the risk of frostbite and heat loss through their feet. To counter this those in static positions, like guards, are issued with special thermal over boots to help protect their feet from the extreme cold. For several decades the British Army has been issuing quilted green over boots designed to be slipped on over more conventional footwear and it is a pair of these we are looking at tonight:imageAs can be seen, these are very big! The pair is a large, marked as such with an ‘L’ on the side of each boot:imageThe boots use a series of metal loops and green tapes to secure them to the foot over the wearer’s normal boots. Tightening these straps provides much more shape and structure to the boot:imageA further draw string is provided at the top of each boot:imageThe soles of the boots have a thermal padded layer on the inside and a simple rubber tread on the bottom:imageEach boot is stamped twice with NSN number, description and date of manufacture; here 1990:imageThere seems to have been a massive investment in arctic kit in the late 1980s and early 1990s if the dates of manufacture are anything to go by. Despite this shortages of specialist kit could arise, as recalled by Julien Beirne:

What a farce! We queued up for ages for the equipment but as we were last in the queue (1,2 and 3 troops were called forward first) we got the remnants. The theory of winter kit is that one has many layers. All of that theory goes out of the window when we are only issued with parts of the kit. Pinko only got the outer parts of the gloves. No inner gloves, it is the inners that kept the heat on the hand. The parka’s were great, thick and warm and in two layers instead of the old one layer. Some had a waterproof outer part of the parka others had a warm inner liner. Some even had both. (mainly stores personnel). Outside the stores we all got together and compared what we had. I swapped my overboots for a pair of gloves inner. I exchanged a thermal vest that was too small for Spunky’s hat and I managed to get a parka liner for two pairs of thermal socks. The last two were swaps I would later regret.

Extreme Cold Weather Trousers

Over the years we have looked at a number of pieces of the quilted extreme cold weather uniform, but up until now I have not had an example of the trousers in my collection to show you. Happily I have now rectified that omission and tonight the blog is considering these:imageThe trousers are made from a green quilted nylon, with a simple Velcro and tie fastener at the fly and waist:imageA zip runs up each side of the pair of trousers, from the ankle to the waist, with a small Velcro tab at the bottom of each trouser leg to secure it:imageOne early user of the trousers explains its function:

They were worn under whatever you want. With the zips inside the legs you can drop your trousers, zip the Mao trousers up, pull your trousers up and you have nicely warm legs underneath whatever you are wearing without having to remove your boots, be it lightweights (de rigour in command Troop whatever the season), combats or overalls as worn by crewmen.

I was first issued a set I suspect in January 1978 for my first ever winter CPX in Command Troop, to be returned post-exercise. We were told they were experimental. Everyone in our recce regt got a full set a year or two later. Excellent piece of kit: only the hands, head and feet turned blue in the cold instead of spreading and turning the body numb all the way to the torso in the West German winter.

A loop is sewn to the back of the trousers below the waist to allow them to be hung up to dry if they got wet:imageA standard green sizing and care label is sewn into the back of them:imageI seem to be slowly acquiring a fairly comprehensive selection of cold weather gear and it’s a fascinating, if overlooked area of collecting.

Extreme Cold Weather Face Mask

Looking like something out of a horror movie, British troops operating in Arctic conditions are issued with white cloth face coverings to protect themselves from frostbite in the sub-zero temperatures:CaptureTonight we are looking at one of these facemasks in detail:imageThe facemask is made of white fabric, with two holes for eyes, slots being provided above to allow the straps of a pair of goggles to be fitted through the mask:imageThe mouth piece of the face mask has a removable cover, secured with Velcro and a single button:imageEach face mask comes with two spare covers, allowing them to be replaced for the purposes of hygiene as this is obviously the area of the mask that will collect most germs:imageThe face mask creates a layer of warm air between the wearer’s face and the frigid temperatures that protects the soldier form frostbite. A Royal Marine Daniel Murphy of Bradford explains their effectiveness:

‘When I first saw the face masks I thought “what’s this?” but they obviously work. I actually had to pull mine off because I was getting too hot.’

The face mask has a small label sewn into it with details of its NSN number and manufacture:imageNote also that the fabric has been treated to make it flame resistant. This particular mask dates from 1993 and was supplied in a ziplock bag:imageThis again has a stores label on it with details of the contents and date:imageAs in the case of the wristlets we looked at earlier this month, the MoD’s ‘Black Book of Kit’ includes an entry on the facemask, indicating it was introduced prior to 1991:Capture1For the collector of British Army Arctic equipment, these facemasks are easily available online and are frequently not more than £3 or £4 for a brand new set.

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

One Piece Quilted Thermal Liner

There are some , frankly, ridiculous pieces of military uniform out there. The military have often regarded function as being more important than style and some truly unflattering pieces of clothing have been forced upon the unfortunate wearer (KD combination suits anyone?). In the vein of ridiculous clothing pieces tonight we are looking at a one piece thermal liner:I can find very little about this piece of uniform and my guess is that it was for tank crews and similar personnel who were operating in cold conditions, such as the plains of West Germany during the cold war. The garment is made of the same green quilted nylon as other liner garments of the period (see here for a vest). Whilst jackets, vests and trousers seem pretty common, the one piece overall seems much scarcer. The liner is secured up the front by a long metal zip:A knitted collar is provided to make it more comfortable and keep the heat within the suit:These garments can become very sweaty, so open mesh is sewn under the armpits:And in the groin:This provides ventilation at points most likely to become overheated. The most obvious disadvantage of a one piece suit is that it makes answering the call of nature very difficult. The solution can be seen when we turn the liner around:A large ‘bum’ flap is provided on the seat of the suit:This is secured by Velcro and pulls open to give a large hole suitable for defecation:I wonder how practicable this would have been in reality as one would presumably wish to wear underwear beneath the liner and this would be difficult to take down without removing the whole liner! A single label is sewn into the neck of the liner, you can just make out the size ‘medium’ beneath the owner’s name and number:It has been suggested that this label is the right size and shape for clothing developed by ‘SCDRE’ the Store & Clothing Research and Development Establishment who were responsible for prototyping and testing new pieces of uniform during the Cold War. This would suggest that the reason why I can find so little information on the liner is that it is a trials garment that never went into widespread production. If anyone can help fill in more of the blanks, please comment below…