Category Archives: British Army

SA80 SUSAT Cover

When the SA80 was introduced in the 1980s it was the first infantry rifle fielded by the British Army that came with an optical sight as standard. The SUSAT sight, standing for ‘Sight Unit, Small Arms, Trilux’ is a very robust unit and can take a lot of punishment, but it was recognised that a sight cover would be needed for use in the field just to protect the lenses of the sight from accidental damage. The first sight covers issued were made of a plain green cordua nylon, similar to the fabric used in the contemporary first issue of the PLCE web set:imageThe design of the cover is very simple, with a square profile to each end of the cover, the panels being made up of a separate piece of fabric sewn to the main body:imageA channel is sewn around the base of the cover for a cord to pass through:imageOriginally this cord would have had a plastic toggle on it, but this has been lost and the two ends just tied together:imageThe cover was placed over the sight and the cord drawn tighter to prevent it from coming off the rifle. This design was soon found to be inadequate as the covers could easily become dislodged in the field. An updated version of the sight cover was introduced with a piece of elastic around the base rather than the cord. Again this was initially made in plain green, but later versions included DPM and MTP material to match the rest of the user’s equipment. Vinyl action and hand guard covers were also produced for use with the rifles when they were used for ceremonial duties.

This sight cover does not have any visible markings on it, however they are usually stamped on the inside of the cover with an NSN number and date.

Bivi Bag

A bivi bag, or sleeping bag cover, is a bag that a sleeping bag is put into to increase its ability to repel moisture. This is especially useful for those using sleeping bags in the open rather than inside a tent. The army were quick to recognise this and bivi bags have been issued for several decades. Tonight we are looking at an olive green example from the early 1990s:imageThe bag is made of a single layer of fabric, shaped like a sleeping bag with an opening where the head would be. The sleeping bag is slipped into the bivi bag and a drawstring allows it to be drawn close:imageThis particular example was manufactured in 1992 by ‘Polywarm Products’, the details being stamped onto the interior of the bag:imageIn the military the bag is mainly used to stop a sleeping bag from getting damp from the ground and dew. They are used in combination with sleeping mats and waterproof sheets. The bags are breathable, allowing perspiration to be drawn away from the sleeper and released as water vapour out into the night. They are pretty effective, however they do rely on the air outside having less vapour in it than the interior of the bag. If it is a particularly damp night the vapour is unable to be drawn away and can condense on the inside of the bivvy bag. By all accounts though this issue is far less pronounced with the design of military bivvy bags then their civilian equivelants.

One squaddie had a very odd and life threatening occurrence with a bivi bag:

Have some fun!! smear it with mud overnight, while sleeping in it with the hood zipped closed over your head because you’re young and stupid (and it’s raining). The mud should preferably come from the sides of a firetrench you were too lazy/knackered to dig wide enough, so that as you (in your sleep) wedge yourself deep into the trench, when you’ve breathed all the oxygen in the now impermeable ‘bivi-suffocation unit’, you can wake up in a suffocating panic, unable to move your arms because they’re trapped against the sides of the trench…
With luck, your oppo is in that comatose state of knackered-ness where he can’t hear your muffled cries of ‘feckin heeeeeeelllppp me, I’m too young to die like this!!!’ In any case, there’s no air left to grab for a really good scared bellow…
Scariest thing that ever happened to me in the army – I kid you not… I came very close to death, and finally managed – at the expense of a ripped muscle – to force a hand up to the zip… Air never tasted better…

1917 Dated Binoculars and Case

The British had difficulties providing all the men who needed them with a good pair of binoculars in World War One. As we discussed here, they turned to French binocular manufacturers to make up the short fall and a fairly standard pattern was adopted, but produced by a range of different French optics companies. Tonight we are looking at another pair of these binoculars, of almost identical design but from a different company:imageWhat makes this pair nice however is that they come with the original leather carrying case:imageThe case is made of high quality leather, with a hinged lid that opens to allow the binoculars to be placed inside:imageA strap and brass buckle on the front secures the top flap in place and prevents the binoculars from slipping out:imageOn the rear of the case are a pair of belt loops, allowing them to be worn on a Sam Browne belt rather than by the shoulder strap, which is removable:imageThe front of the case has a /|\ mark stamped into the leather:imageWhilst the top of the case is marked ‘W Swart’ and dated 1917:imageThe binoculars themselves are a standard pair of Mk Vs with Galilean lenses of a similar design to that used in the British Army since the beginning of the century. Each lens has a brass glare deflector that can be pulled forward: imageThe eyepiece barrels are marked with a /|\ stamp and a serial number:imageEach eyepiece is marked ‘Lemaire Fabt Paris’:imageLemaire were a French company that had been founded in 1846 by a monsieur Armand Lemaire to produce binoculars. Monsieur Lemaire died in 1885 and his son in law took over the firm. They diversified into making cars and electrical equipment but continued making binoculars until the firm folded in 1955.

I bought this pair of binoculars for £10 a couple of weeks ago and it is amazing to think that something as attractive and over a hundred years old is so inexpensive. These binoculars were produced in large numbers and it is true that they are not as good as prismatic examples, but this still seems a very small amount for something of this age.

Lowa Desert Combat Boots

When the British Army started operation in Afghanistan there were constant complaints about the quality of the footwear issued and men routinely swapped, borrowed or bought non-issue boots to better deal with the rigours of operations. Commercial companies such as Lowa and Altberg quickly became firm favourites with troops and the MOD finally recognised this and started purchasing issue boots from these sources. Tonight we have a pair of desert Lowa combat boots to look at:imageThese boots entered official British Army service in 2007, as seen in this extract form the ‘Black Book’ of military kit issues by the army:CaptureThese boots are still manufactured by Lowa and officially have the title ‘Desert Elite Coyote’. Their website gives more details on the boots:Capture1These boots can be dated by the series of pin holes on the tongue which show the size (9) and the date of manufacture (December 2009):imageThe boots are made of suede type material with a high ankle design:imageThe maker’s name is embossed into the suede:imageVentilation panels are fitted to each side to allow air in to the boot:imageThese could become clogged with fine sand so brushes were used to clean them out periodically. The soles of the boots are thick and with well-defined grips to ensure good traction on rough terrain:imageA label is sewn into each tongue with details of sizing and indicating that the boots were made in Germany:imageA Lt Colonel Tredder said in 2010:

I’m personally really pleased that we are giving guys top-of-the-range equipment, things like Lowa boots – you just don’t get any better than that.

These boots were very popular, but the army quickly realised that men often had personal preferences and so eventually offered a small range of boots so men could find the ones that suited them best. These boots were used extensively on operations until the introduction of MTP uniforms saw them slowly replaced with brown boots that better matched the new camouflage.

British Army Navigational Dividers

As was discussed here, dividers are used in navigation to plot distances on a map. The legs of a pair of dividers is set to the scale of the map and by walking them across from ‘point a’ to ‘point b’ it is possible to get a good estimate of distance. The example previously covered was a pre-WW2 RAF example. Tonight we are looking at a second version, this time of wartime production:imageThe design of this pair of dividers is a little simpler, but like the earlier design a large circular spring at the apex tensions the two arms of the instrument:imageA thumb wheel and screw allows precise adjustments of the legs to match the scale of the map:imageThis example is stamped with a /|\ mark and a date of 1943:imageDividers were used as much for navigation on land as they were in the air, especially in the desert where the terrain was so featureless that steering a course was much like navigating at sea. The manual for operations in the desert explains how the dividers were used:

For desert navigation you require: (i) a map; (ii) a pencil; (iii) a ruler; (iv) an India rubber; (v) dividers or compasses; (vi) a protractor; (vii) an odometer; (viii) a prismatic compass; (ix) a means of transport; (x) a navigation ledger or log book. The log book has a number of columns, each devoted to: the starting map reference, the starting odometer reading, the date, the time, the distance to travel, the compass bearing, the final odometer reading, and the final map reference.

On the log book, you indicate the date and time, and the initial odometer reading. You mark the destination with a dot on the map. You then connect from you present position with a pencil line. You measure the exact distance with the dividers. With the protractor, you find the compass bearing you have to travel, and the distance to be travelled. You then proceed on the compass bearing until you reach the place calculated to be the final odometer reading. You are now at your new destination.

Tin of Brasso

Brasso is a metal polish that has been in production since 1921. It has become well known to generations of service men who have used it to polish the brass buttons and cap badges of their uniforms. Today it is available in two forms, either impregnated wadding or as a liquid in a bottle but traditionally it was the liquid form that was on sale. Tonight we have one such jar of liquid Brasso that I believe dates form the 1950s or 1960s. the design of the front of the label has barely changed since the product was introduced and includes a blue sun burst effect with a red circle bearing the products trademark:imageThis can has a small screw cap and the top of the can would originally have been shiny metal. This example has clearly been lurking in a shed for many years so the top is covered in sixty years of caked on grease. Removing the lid then provides something of a contrast:imageThis bottle is still half full and it smells exactly the same as the modern bottle of Brasso I have for cleaning my own cap badges! Modern Brasso contains C8-10 Alkane/Cycloalkane/Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Quartz, Kaolin, C12-20 Saturated and Unsaturated Monobasic Fatty Acids, Aqua and Ammonium Hydroxide. One would assume the recipe is little changed since the product was introduced.

Brasso works by having both a mild solvent and a fine abrasive in the mixture that cuts through tarnishing and makes a smooth polished surface. The abrasive is why the detail on brass slowly wears down after decades of polishing as the detail is slowly worn away! The base of this tin has an enigmatic pattern of small dots and a letter ‘R’ stamped into it:imageWe can date this tin of Brasso by the information on the back which indicates it is supplied to Her Majesty the Queen, indicating it is post 1952 and that the contents are 7oz which suggests to me that this can comes from the 1950s or 1960s before widespread metrification:imageDavid Fowler did National Service in the 1950s and recalls the use of Brasso:

The chore of bulling boots was interceded by scrubbing webbing and polishing the brass fixings with Brasso- more trade for the NAAFI. This then was the major chore which occupied our time when other military tasks were suspended; periods the Army jokingly classed as free time. Plus of course cleaning windows (again using Brasso), polishing the wooden floor with a long handled heavy metal padded thing called a ‘bumper’, applying black gunge to the room’s only form of heating, a potbellied stove- thank goodness we had gone before winter- cleaning ablutions, dusting, ironing, pressing uniforms, making and unmaking beds.

Indian Army Canteen Board Nutcrackers

One of the more unusual areas of my collecting is anything to do with the Indian Army Canteen Board. So far I have covered a plate here and a couple of items of cutlery here. Happily, a good friend of mine who knows I am interested in this institution steered me towards another piece to add to this collection, a pair of nutcrackers:imageThese are a heavy and well-made pair and on one arm of the nutcrackers is the badge of the Indian Army Canteen Board:imageThe design of this badge is a little simplified compared to the other pieces I have, the outer scroll and motto deleted to help it fit better onto the space it is stamped. The crackers themselves consist of two arms, linked to a central hinge piece:imageAs you might expect from something in which a lot of force is used to break the shell of a nut, the hinge is a substantial piece and exceptionally well put together. Nutcrackers have been used since Roman times, but the ‘pliers’ type, such as this one, that use the principles of a lever to exert enough pressure to crack a nut only really became popular in the nineteenth century. The two paddles which grip the nut are serrated to prevent the nut and its shell from slipping out whilst they are being opened:imageThese nutcrackers were manufactured in Sheffield, England, by a company called Hutton:imageThis cutler was founded in the ‘steel city’ in 1800 and by the turn of the twentieth century were one of the largest cutlery manufacturers in the country, specifically advertising their wares as being suitable for home or export. They were renowned for their silverware, but also made more humble items such as these nutcrackers.

This now beings me up to four pieces from this long forgotten military institution and I will hopefully come across some more pieces in the not too distant future.