The British Army’s two main conflicts of the twenty-first century so far have been fought in hot and dusty conditions. This has led to very rapid improvements in the military’s hot weather gear and the introduction of new equipment specifically designed for this environment. Tonight we are looking at one such piece of personal kit, a pair of dust goggles:As with much equipment brought in to deal with an urgent operational need, there are numerous variants and manufacturers of dust goggles that can be seen in phtotographs- some officially supplied by the MoD and other bought by soldiers themselves when they either found the issue equipment wanting or wished to increase their ‘allyness’. This pair of goggles are some of the most basic and were manufactured by ‘Scott’ in the USA and are based off sports goggles. The goggles themselves are made of rubber and plastic, with a foam backing cushion:Note the manufacturer’s name embossed into the foam padding. Cut outs around the frame allow air to enter through the foam and keep the wearer cool:An adjustable elasticated strap is provided that helps hold them securely to the head or a helmet, note the plasticised strips on this to help with grip so it doesn’t slide up or down:The military markings on these goggles are very hard to read, being raised lettering inside the mask at the top, here we see their designation ‘Classic Downhill Type’:The name reflects the goggles origins as a civilian sporting design. Even harder to read is the NSN number:These goggles were used at the start of the conflicts before being replaced with smaller, lighter and more comfortable designs. Here a soldier (probably a support troop) wears this style of goggle:Like so much of this kit from the War on Terror, these goggles are readily available for very low prices, this pair for instance costing £2.
As can be seen from the picture above a small pocket was fitted on the right hand side, secured with two press studs:This was frequently used to carry small change, and indeed inside this example I found four screwed up notes from the Far East:These are three Hong Kong notes for small amounts and a Japanese Occupation note. Quite why these were left in the belt is a bit of a mystery, but suggest the original owner saw service in the Orient. The belt was adjustable with a toothless metal buckle:And fastened with a leather tab:And metal waist buckle:The leather tab was deleted in January 1935 and replaced with a webbing tab instead, presumably to save materials, cost or manufacture time. A metal hook was also fitted to the belt to allow a jack knife to be hung from it:Again this was one of the features deleted in January 1935, although many ratings continued to use the hook and indeed retro-fitted newer pattern belts with their own spring clips to match the earlier design. The belt had originally only been issued to Royal Naval ratings, but its use was extended to the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in August 1930. An example of the post 1935 pattern belt can be found here.
It is now thirty five years since the Falklands War and the islands are still littered with thousands of anti-personnel mines. In recent years great progress has been made on clearing these minefields and areas are being made safe on a regular basis. The old signs from these minefields are stacked up in a shed and it has become popular for service personnel stationed down on the islands to go and ask for a few signs to bring home as a souvenir. I have recently added one of these signs form the Falklands to my collection, with this example being a rectangular sign, with a ‘Danger Mines’ and skull and cross bones printed on it:The sign was originally held in place by two fasteners at the top and two at the bottom, but these appear to have been cut through with a gas axe:On the back is an electro pencilled serial number:This matches the number on this chitty from the Explosive Ordinance Disposal office indicating that the signs had been acquired legitimately:As it is likely the original recipient is still serving I have blanked out his details. This photograph shows one of this type of sign in situ on the islands:Some 20,000 mines were laid on the island and in 2010 the BBC reported on their clearance. Luckily no-one has been injured in recent years by these mines, thanks in part to the signs such as this one:
Following the Falklands conflict, there were initial attempts to clear mines, but many injuries resulted. The British decided it was too dangerous and instead fenced off the minefields. Warnings were posted and stiff penalties imposed on anyone who jumped the fences for, say, an unusual photo opportunity.
And it seems to have worked because no-one has been hurt in years.
As a result (and because the Falklands has relatively few mines compared to the millions laid in countries such as Angola and Cambodia) the Falklands government says it would prefer to see money spent on clearance projects in places where people are still being injured or killed.
Under an international treaty – the Ottawa Convention – the British government was required to have cleared the Falklands of all mines by March 2009, but it asked for a 10-year extension.
By 2016 good progress had been made:
Despite the overall small number of mines in the Falklands – compared with somewhere like Kuwait, which is only one-and-a-half times larger in size, but has an estimated five million mines – there has been an extensive demining operation in progress since 2009 to remove the estimated 20,000 anti-personnel and 5,000 anti-vehicle mines leftover since the 1982 conflict. Funded through the UK Foreign Office, and in response to the obligation to remove mines in their territories under the terms of the Ottawa Treaty, the clearance of mines in the Falklands is now about to finish its fourth phase and see the total number of minefields reduced to 82. There were 146 immediately after the end of war in 1982.
We have looked at various jack knives on the blog over the last few years, but tonight we have an Indian example to consider. My thanks go to Andrew Dearlove for his help with this item. The Indian jack knife is very similar to those from the UK, but noticeably cruder in construction:The grip panels are thinner and less shiny than those on the British jack knife and are probably made of a local substitute for the hard Bexoid plastic or horn used on other examples. The chequering is also less regular which leads me to suspect it is hand finished rather than produced on a machine:Other Indian knives can be found with red fibre grip panels. The jack knife has the usual combination of fold out blades. Taking up one side is a large marlin spike used for parting the fibres of ropes and (apparently) by boy scouts wishing to remove stones form the hooves of horses!There is the obligatory blade:This is again far rougher than a British jack knife. This example is faintly stamped ‘1942’:The final fold out part is the tin opener:Having used these for living history, I can confirm they are very effective at opening tin cans, but do need a bit of practice to get the knack! This example has manufacturer’s initials for ‘CMW’ I think:The whole knife is rounded off by a copper lanyard loop that allows it to be attached to a string lanyard and slung around the waist:Numerous variations of these knives abound, mainly because they production of these small items was put out to commercial tender by the Supply department rather than being made at a government factory in India. The History of the Supply Department notes:
The Department maintained registers of contractors by categories. Invitations to tender were normally issued to all contractors registered as competent to produce the store required. This method was mainly used for the vast range of miscellaneous engineering and general stores which could be produced by the small contractors and where there still remained an element of competition, viz., buttons, badges, knives, forks, spoons, scissors, hollow ware, padlocks, crockery, tables, chairs etc.
When first introduced the 2” mortar was issued with a separate collimating sight to enable it to be aimed and laid onto targets. This sight was made of metal and was fully adjustable:Twin spirit levels are fitted to ensure it is at the correct angle:Whilst the sight itself consists of a large rear notch and triangular front post:An adjustable dial on the side allows it to be moved in an arc for range:The sight has a circular collar that allows it to be slipped over the barrel of the mortar:This is knurled on the inside to allow it to grip the metal, a large twist screw being used to tighten it:The outside of the collar is marked up indicating it is for the 2” mortar:The sight is very well made and clearly well thought out, it was however quickly dropped when it was discovered that a white painted line on the barrel of the mortar worked just as well and was one less piece of equipment for the user to carry. Ironically troops found it quicker and more accurate to use the line than the sight and the army were pleasantly surprised to find the rate of fire could be far higher than they had originally envisaged.
Originally the 2” mortar sight has a specialised case to carry it in, however I have been unable to find any examples or photographs of the case- if anyone has any information please let me know and I will update the post accordingly.
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.
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: