Category Archives: Gas mask

General Service Respirator (GSR)

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:imageCompared 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:imageThese fit either side of the mask with a locking system:imageThe 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:imageThe 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:imageA set of adjustable straps allow the mask to be fitted to the individual carefully:imageThese 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:imageEach 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:imageThe following diagram comes from the CBRN aide-memoire and helpfully shows all the features of the GSR:skm_c45817022208230One 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 none 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. Pro’s: 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. Con’s: 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.

Anti-Gas Eye Shields

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:imageThe instructions continue to the rear and here is a date of 1942:imageThis second example is made of a much darker brown waxed card, with the instructions printed horizontally:imageThe rear of this packet just details the contents, again this one dates from 1942:imageInside the visors are packed between layers of paper to keep them separate:imageThere were three tinted eye shields like the one above and three clear eye shields in each pack:imageThe 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:imageThese 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!015

Post War Lightweight Respirator

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:

imageThe most obvious difference is the change to the muzzle of the respirator, where a screw thread has been added:imageThis 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:imageThese canisters were distinctly smaller than the wartime examples:imageWhilst 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.

Lightweight Respirator Case

A couple of years back we looked at the dark green jungle respirator case, but until now we have not considered the far more common light green haversack that was in widespread use in western Europe throughout the Second World War and into the 1960s. The haversack is a box shaped bag, in light green canvas with a tan cotton webbing sling:imageThis particular example is mint, out of the box (quite literally) and looks as they would have been issued when new.The haversack has a box lid, secured with a metal staple and webbing quick release tab:imagePockets are sewn onto either side of the case, these are designed to hold a tin of anti-gas ointment in one side and cotton waste in the other:imageThe shoulder strap attaches through a large metal ring, and is secured and adjusted with a slide buckle:imageA pair of brass C-hooks are sewn to the rear of the case to allow it to be attached to a belt:imageThe underside of the lid has the manufacturer’s details and a date of 1944 (I think, the stamping is not the easiest to read):imageLooking inside the haversack we can see a large pocket at the back for the anti-gas eye shields, a loop at the bottom to hold the shoulder strap when not needed and a small pocket for the anti-dimming tin:imageThe following description from a 1944 British Army Pamphlet explains the methods of carrying the case:

Carriage of the respirator – The respirator may be carried in one of three ways. i.e., slung over the shoulder, on the chest, or on the equipment belt. Details are as follows:-

i) Slung position – when slung over the right shoulder the haversack is on the left side of the body, quick release tab and eyelet away from body.

ii) Chest position – when worn on the chest the sling is shortened until it will just pass over the head, quick release tab and eyelet to the front. The haversack should be high up on the chest, and, if further shortening of the sling is necessary, one of the slides on the sling should be detached and fastened , at a suitable position, to the sling, on the far side of the other slide. The chest position may be found suitable for transport drivers.

iii) Belt position – When carried on the equipment belt, the haversack is secured at the rear by means of the two double hooks. The sling is detached and held inside the haversack by means of the canvas tape and press button.

Mk V Respirator

Over the past year we have looked at a pair of Mk IV respirators, the early example with a tan filter box here, and the slightly later example with a brick red canister here. Whilst these masks were very good for their time, there were a number of niggles with the design; the stockinette cover to the mask was more expensive than it needed to be and hard to decontaminate when covered in vesicant gasses, a separate design of mask face piece was needed for personnel using microphones to be heard whilst wearing them and it was found that the small and large masks were not really needed as most people could wear the standard size quite satisfactorily. Based on these points a slightly modified version of the mask was introduced in 1940, the Mk V:imageThe first thing to note is that the mask has been made of plain black rubber without the stockinette cover. This is also true of the hose, which is made in plain black rubber:imageThe initial MkV respirators still had the stockinette covered hoses, but this type of plain rubber hose began to see service from 1941 onwards A raised bump is provided on the side of the mask :imageThis is designed so it can be cut open if a ‘T’ microphone needed to be attached but was otherwise redundant and made no difference to the performance of the respirator; in a stroke this eliminated the need for two different face pieces. The face piece was also only made in normal size:imageIf someone had an abnormally large or small face then the relevant size of Mk IV respirator would be issued, the two patterns remaining in use alongside one another. This particular mask was made by Avon in 1943:imageAs on earlier masks, the face piece was secured to the head by a series of adjustable elasticated straps that met on a central semi-rigid back piece:imageA central screw on the speech diaphragm allows the cover to be removed for maintenance and cleaning:imageThis mask was to be the last in a line of ‘hose’ respirators dating back to the large box respirator of World War One; the new lightweight assault respirator that was to replace it being leaps ahead of this design with its ability to easily change canisters in the field.

Mk VII Respirator Haversack

In late 1940 the British adopted a new haversack to carry the Mk IV gasmask. This haversack, known as the Mk VII, makes an interesting contrast with the earlier Mk V we looked at here. The new design was introduced to help speed up manufacture, reduce the use of raw materials and incorporate design changes that made the haversack more user friendly. At first glance the Mk VII haversack looks very similar to its predecessors:imageTo reduce the amount of metal needed, the haversack’s strap was attached permanently to the bag and alloy hoops replaced the brass hooks of the earlier design:imageAn alloy slider was used to adjust the length of this strap so it could be worn either at the waist or on the chest:imageThe brass loops used to attach the retaining cord were replaced with a pressed metal disc:imageThe string is housed in a little pocket on the opposite side of the haversack:imageTwo holes on the base of the haversack allow air to pass through to the gas mask canister within when in use:imageThe new haversack design was wider than previous models to provide greater internal volume, but used less materials as a stronger canvas was adopted. A major change within the haversack was to rearrange the internal pockets, with the external pockets of the Mk VI moved inside and everything being contained in the main body of the bag, with just a single top-flap:imageThe inside of this top flap is clearly marked with the model number, date and the manufacturer’s initials ‘RMA’:imageThis haversack was to be the last of the long line of different models of chest mounted bags, dating back to the Great War. The next model would be the lightweight respirator with the small mid-green lightweight MKII haversack of a completely different design.

Horse Gas Mask Bag

Whilst the effects of poison gas are normally associated with human targets, the gasses would have the same effect on any animals unfortunate to be in their path. Certain animals such as dogs, mules and horses therefore had to have gas masks developed for them, the largest of which was a large circular mask designed to fit over the muzzle of a horse:imageThis mask obviously needed a bag to store it in when not in use and a special haversack was developed:imageWhilst there are obvious similarities between this and the mule gas mask bag we looked at here, this is a distinctly different design of haversack. The bag is made of a grey green canvas, with the lid secured by metal staples and leather straps:imageNewey studs on either end help hold the lid of the bag down:imageTurning to the rear of the bag there are a number of straps and buckles:imageThe largest of these is a buckle in one corner, secured to a large leather tab:imageA further leather strap, with a brass loop and a stud and loop arrangement is fastened to one side:imageI must confess my knowledge of military horse tack is non-existent so I have no idea how this bag would attach to the rest of the horses saddlery! On the base of the bag is a web strap, presumably to help distribute the weight of the gas mask when it is carried inside:imageThe bag’s interior is divided into two pockets, with a cotton panel:imageThe underside of the top flap has the manufacturer’s details, the haversack mark number and a date of 1941:imageThis haversack, like the mule gas mask bag, appears unissued, which is not surprising considering the waning importance of the horse and that poison gas was not used in the Second World War. This haversack has now added another gas mask to the list of items I am looking out for, but as with the example for the mule I am not expecting to find one any time soon!