There was a wide variety of anti-gas equipment produced during World War II, including oiled suits and gloves to protect the wearer from vessicant gases such as Lewisite. The problem with these oiled fabrics was that they were quite fragile and whilst this wasn’t too much of a problem for trousers and jackets, gloves could be expected to receive much rougher treatment as they were used to pick up things and manipulate equipment. To help protect these gloves, and consequently their wearer, special cotton over mittens were produced that could be worn over the top to provide an additional layer of physical protection. Tonight we have one such pair to look at:These are incredibly simple and cheap mittens and I suspect they were designed to be used once and then thrown away once contaminated. The mittens have separate thumbs and forefingers and the tips of the fingers are exposed, presumably to give a bit more manual dexterity at the ends of the digits with just one layer of fabric rather than two:The wrist has a simple tape and stamped metal buckle:This is used to tighten the mittens to hold them secure:This particular pair are stamped in the inside with a date of 1944 and a /|\ mark:As well as British manufacturers I have also seen Canadian examples so they were certainly produced there as well and Air ministry marked examples. Concrete evidence of their use is limited, although there is a reference to cotton over mittens in the 1939 Manual of Protection against Gas and Air Raids and this excellent photograph shows a man decontaminating food cans whilst wearing them: I do not believe these were general issue items, but only handed out to those who needed them for a specific role such as decontamination teams. If anyone can provide more information or further photographic evidence please get in contact
Tonight we are looking at another respirator haversack, that fits in between the olive green butyl nylon example here, and the DPM example here. This respirator haversack was developed as part of the olive green PLCE webbing set, and is made of the same fabric as the rest of the components we have been looking at over the last few weeks:The haversack is made from a plain green Cordua nylon, with a large box lid, secured with Velcro and a press stud:The underside of this lid has two elasticated straps for stowing the user’s NBC gloves. This example has just a single marking under the lid, with the words ‘MADE IN UK’ printed here:The inside of the haversack has a front pocket for carrying nerve agent pens, nerve tablets etc. Two other pockets are fitted in the base of the bag to hold spare canisters:Here we see the rear of the haversack. As well as a belt loop at the top, we can see another smaller loop to allow a steadying strap to be passed around the waist to hold the haversack steady so it doesn’t flap around when slung over the shoulder if the wearer needs to run:Next to this is a green patch for the owner to put his personal details (although in this case the original user has ignored this and just written his name across the back in black marker!
One major area of difference between this haversack and later examples can be found under the belt loop flap:The ‘T-tabs’ used to attach it to the PLCE belt are made of metal, rather than the plastic which can be seen on the DPM version.
My thanks go to Michael Fletcher for helping me add this interesting variant to my collection.
A month or so back we looked at the Canadian 64 pattern respirator haversack here; since writing that piece I have been very happy to add a Canadian C3 respirator that would have been carried in the haversack to my collection:This mask is contemporaneous with the British S6 mask, being first manufactured in 1960, but is far less sophisticated. It is clearly closely based on the earlier British lightweight respirator from the Second World War, just updated for the Cold War. Looking at the mask we can clearly see the similarities, with the same side mounted canister, general shape of the mask and the screw fitting for a microphone seen in the post war British lightweight respirator:Updates have been made however, with the head harness being made of more modern man-made materials:The ‘snout’ of the respirator boasts a distinctive piece of silver mesh:This is also visible on the inside of the mask:Above this is a distinctive triangular shape, moulded into the rubber:The facepiece of this mask is marked as being made in 1970 by ‘GTR’, General Tire and Rubber:There were two manufacturers of this mask, the other being ‘Baron’. This respirator is a ‘Normal’ size- other smaller and larger sizes would have been produced in limited numbers for those with odd shaped faces. The canister for this mask uses a 60mm thread and is mounted on the side of the mask:A piece of tape around this section has a date of June 1971:The canister itself is made of pressed metal with a large screw thread on the top allowing it to be changed relatively easily by the wearer.These masks were used throughout the 1970s and were only phased out of Canadian service in 1989. Amazingly export sales of the mask continued into the early 1990s, by which time the design was decidedly obsolete.
A couple of weeks ago the blog covered the 64 pattern Canadian respirator haversack here. Tonight we are looking at its immediate predecessor, the 51 pattern haversack:Technically this is not actually part of the 51 pattern web set, but it is closely associated with it as it was introduced at the same time as the rest of the webbing. The similarities between this and the later design are quite clear, with a similar side opening haversack, with a large press-stud secured pocket to the front:The big difference to note is the very different material the haversack is made from, rather than the plasticised finish of the later design, this haversack is a generation earlier and made from green canvas and cotton webbing. This would be far harder to decontaminate following a nuclear or chemical incident but reflects the available technology of the 1950s when it was produced, compared to that of a decade later. The haversack was worn on the left hip, with the opening facing forward. This is secured with a metal quick release buckle and a webbing chape:Note the little webbing channel for the tab to be stored away in when the haversack is fastened. When it is undone the haversack opens with a large gusseted opening to allow the mask to be taken in and out easily:Again like the later design, a small pocket is attached to the closed end of the haversack, with another quick release tab to open it with:The back of the haversack has a complicated array of different straps and fasteners attached to it:These are to allow the wearer to either attach it to the belt of his webbing set, or to sling it over his shoulder, a second strap then going around the wearer’s waist to prevent it from flapping about if the user needs to run.
For the early 1950s date this haversack is a modern and well thought out design. Its biggest flaw is not down to the design, but rather the materials available at the period which would have made it difficult to decontaminate.
The S10 respirator used by the British Army was a very good design for its day and served well for many years, and indeed is still serving for many. It was not without its problems however and in 2010 a new and radically different design of respirator was introduced and slowly rolled out to troops. The new respirator was titled the ‘GSR’ or ‘General Service Respirator’ and is one of the most advanced designs issued to soldiers anywhere in the world:Compared to its predecessor the GSR was designed to allow troops to wear it for a maximum of 24 hours rather than the 4 hours of the S10. It also has a single full face visor rather than individual eyepieces for better visibility and to make it less claustrophobic and most importantly of all, twin filters to allow them to be more easily changed in a CBRN environment. Each filter is a small lozenge shape:These fit either side of the mask with a locking system:The filters can be turned upwards to allow the wearer to use optics and weapons, and as the mask works on one canister and has automatic valves the user can keep breathing normally whilst changing canisters- a marked improvement over other designs. The front of the mask has a removable cover allowing access to the speech diaphragm:The mask is much easier to breathe through than the S10, as proved by the world record London marathon time for running in a respirator achieved by Lance Corporal Andy McMahon who took 3 hours and 28 minutes to complete it wearing a GSR and canisters. He remarked I am very impressed with the new GSR: compared to the old respirator it is almost as if you are running without one. No doubt he found the long straw built in to allow the user to drink from a water bottle very helpful on his run:A set of adjustable straps allow the mask to be fitted to the individual carefully:These have locking bars to ensure the mask doesn’t become loose over time. The face seal of the mask is made from a soft comfortable rubber and the drinking straw protrudes into the main mask, tucking out the way when not in use:Each mask comes with a card history sheet so the user can record what has been done to it, settings etc. This just slots in a plastic wallet and is carried in the haversack:The following diagram comes from the CBRN aide-memoire and helpfully shows all the features of the GSR:One of those involved in the trials process made the following observations:
We are just starting conversion to GSR, feed back is generally pretty good. There has been a lot of work over the last two years to get the GSR fit for service. I think the non deforming visor is a bit of a mangling of the need for the former in the haversack. In order for the system to work the GSR needs to be kept in good shape, hence the former. Pros: Breathing resistance is much lower, easier dills due to twin canister set, better visibility and less isolation. Not been on the ranges, but it should be better. Cons: its a bit front heavy, but you get used to it and the first generation haversack is huge. However there is a new one on its way in MTP.
The British Army ordered 309,228 masks from the manufacturer’s Scott Safety, the last being delivered in 2015. The mask was well received with Air Commodore Andy hall remarking: The GSR is a superb piece of equipment, offering unprecedented levels of protection as well as being practical and, so far as is possible for a respirator, comfortable.
Photographs of Rommel in the desert frequently show him wearing a set of British Anti-Gas eye shields perched on the peak of his cap. These eye shields were issued to all troops who carried respirators, a special pocket being provided for them in the respirator haversack. They were designed to be a first line of defence to protect the wearer from misted irritant gasses until he had time to don his mask proper. The 1935 Defence Against Gas pamphlet explains:
If an enemy is likely to use aircraft spray, the eyes must be protected when personnel are not under cover of buildings. The respirator affords complete protection to the eyes and can be worn for long periods without serious discomfort or loss of efficiency, but, in order to avoid the necessity for wearing it continuously before aircraft spray is actually detected, protective goggles, which will protect the eyes form falling drops, will be issued. It must clearly be understood that the goggles are not a substitute for the respirator and that, immediately gas is detected in any form (including aircraft spray), the goggles must be removed and the respirator adjusted.
Every man was issued one pack of these eyeshields, containing six separate plastic visors within. The Mk I pack was issued in a small box, and is now by far the rarest example of these, whilst later packs used a cardboard sleeve of varying designs. This example is made of buff card, with the instructions printed vertically:The instructions continue to the rear and here is a date of 1942:This second example is made of a much darker brown waxed card, with the instructions printed horizontally:The rear of this packet just details the contents, again this one dates from 1942:Inside the visors are packed between layers of paper to keep them separate:There were three tinted eye shields like the one above and three clear eye shields in each pack:The edges of the plastic are secured with a piece of waxed fabric, and a piece of elastic holds them to the wearer’s head. Press studs in the corners shaped the eye shields from a simple flat piece into something that better fitted the wearer’s face:These eye shields remained in inventory into the 1950s and post war dates can be found on packets indicating they were checked whilst in stores. These are one of the most common pieces of WW2 British anti-gas equipment, but prices have been steadily rising over the last five years and where these were once a £2 item, they are now reaching as much as £10 a set now!
The design of the lightweight respirator introduced in 1943 underwent modification towards the end of the Second World War, these changes combined with further upgrades in the immediate post war period meant that the respirator used by the British Army in the 1950s was subtly different to that first issued in World War Two. We have covered the wartime lightweight respirator here so rather than repeat myself, I am going to focus on the changes that make up the post war Mk III lightweight respirator:
The most obvious difference is the change to the muzzle of the respirator, where a screw thread has been added:This was to enable a Mk 7 screw microphone to be added to the mask. In reality this seems to have not been used, instead earlier Mk IV T-Mic masks continued to be issued.
Other changes to the mask included a new rubber composition that was less irritating to those with dermatitis and an increase in the number of outlet holes in the rear of the speech diaphragm which reduced exhalation resistance and improved the clarity of the wearers voice; however the most obvious change in the post-war period was the adoption of a new filter canister, painted in a dark sea-grey colour:These canisters were distinctly smaller than the wartime examples:Whilst Danish Civil Defence canisters can also be found for these masks, this is definitely a British example of the canister as it has the /|\ mark and came from an unissued respirator, still in its original stores box! Altogether there are at least seven subtly different variations of the lightweight respirator, with masks undergoing refurbishment to differnt components; therefore many masks are found exhibiting elements of various different marks.