We continue our look at the olive green PLCE equipment this week by considering the yoke. The yoke is one of the two critical components of a set of load bearing equipment (the other being the belt). In order to function properly it needs to be comfortable, support the weight of the items a soldier needs to carry evenly and be robust enough to withstand a lot of punishment (for a yoke that fails on every count readers are directed to the Canadian 64 pattern example!). The yoke used in the PLCE set draws heavily on earlier designs of British webbing for many of its features. The yoke has six points of contact with the belt/pouches. While two straps at the front attach either side of the waist belt’s buckle, four straps are fitted to the rear:Two of these attach to loops in the belt, whilst the two outermost straps pass forward under the arm pits to attach at the front to the main ammunition pouches, distributing the weight more evenly.
Extensive use of an open weave mesh is used to help reduce the effect of overheating on the wearer:This had first been trialled on combat vests in the 1970s, the PLCE yoke is entirely lined with this mesh on the underside:Mesh is strong, light and allows air to flow through it. Note also the dark green nylon patch for a place the user’s name and number could be written:Other features brought forward from the old sets was the ability to easily change the length of the straps by pulling on them. Here they are adjusted with friction ladder lock style buckles on the ends of the yoke:Finally the back of the yoke has a series of loops allowing auxiliary equipment to be attached if required:The PLCE yoke was a sophisticated piece of equipment and clearly thought had been given to feedback from previous sets. As ever though in the hands of the user things did not always go to plan. They needed careful adjustment to get a comfortable fit and soldiers sometimes substituted commercial pattern yokes or 58 pattern examples. It was also not unheard of for the secondary supporting straps to be removed from the yoke so more ammunition pouches could be added to the belt, defeating the whole point of effective weight distribution. Arrse gives the new recruit some advice on setting up a yoke:
Fit the load spreader (‘yoke’) to the rear of the belt and adjust it to the right length. Some people prefer to wear their belt higher than others, but it shouldn’t be supporting your tits, loosen the yoke until the belt is somewhere around your waist. Then lock off the straps by feeding them back and forth through the buckle. Adjust the front straps, but don’t lock them off as some adjustment will always be necessary. Finally adjust the lateral load spreader straps and lock them off as with the rear ones. Taping the straps should not then be necessary, but is always popular
Over the last month or so we have looked at a couple of pieces of olive green PLCE webbing. Now thanks to my friend and fellow collector, Michael Fletcher, I now have a complete wearable set of early PLCE:
As with the Canadian webbing earlier this year, to save overloading you and boring everyone to tears I am going to look at the components piece by piece each week for the next month and a half. I have already covered some of these pieces in their DPM form, but there are considerable design differences between early and later PLCE so we will revisit these components as they are different enough to warrant their own posts- it’s not just the colour that changes!
We kick off tonight with the PLCE utility pouch:The utility pouch is designed as a general purpose pouch that can be used for carrying extra ammunition, or a soldiers personal kit. Maximum flexibility was emphasised in the design, as seen on the rear:Here two sets of fabric loops and two brass c hooks give the user a choice of a high or low slung pouch:The top of the pouch has two metal D-rings that allow it to be fitted in place of the ammunition pouches on either side of the belt buckle- the rings being used to attach the yoke to:This was a major upgrade from the old 58 pattern set and gave far more flexibility. The black plastic female Fastex fastener allows the pouch to be attached to the rucksack should you so desire.
These early pouches do not have sewn in stores labels, but rather have the information printed straight onto the fabric:As can be seen this is no longer always very clear, but you can make out the NSN number and the /|\ marking fairly easily.
This early olive green PLCE is still available, but slowly becoming scarcer as it was only produced for a short period of time. As such it is an excellent set for the serious student of British load bearing equipments to start putting together whilst it is still easy to find.
Following on from our recent post on the olive green PLCE ammunition pouches, tonight we are turning our attention to the water bottle carrier. My thanks go to Michael Fletcher for helping me add this one to my collection and effectively doubling my green PLCE collection! When the PLCE set was introduced it was agreed to continue with the black plastic Osprey water bottle that had been used with the old 58 pattern set, however the new set included a larger pouch to carry it in that made it much easier to remove the bottle than that used on its predecessor:The olive green colour indicates that this is an early production pouch, however as there are no visible markings on the pouch I cannot precisely date it. The pouch is secured on the front with the quick release ‘Spanish’ fastener:Like the ammunition pouches, this is supplemented with a Velcro fastener, covered with a noise reduction tab:The inside of the pouch has an internal divider:Normally this is tucked away to allow the full size of the pouch to be used for a water bottle, however by using the divider a set of mess tins and a hexamine burner can be carried in the pouch without rattling. The back of the pouch has a confusing array of flaps, loops and hooks:At the top we have a large flap secured with Velcro and lift the dot fasteners alongside a brass ‘C’ hook. The flap is used for attaching the pouch to a belt, whilst the brass hook prevents it from sliding along the length of the belt:This was less than effective, with full pouches coming loose under their own weight (the same problem the Canadian had with their 64 pattern canteen carriers which also relied on Velcro!), to counter this the attachments were replaced with plastic T-bar hooks on later models.
Beneath this is a plastic patch for writing the owner’s name and number:As can be seen, next to this is a small loop used for passing a piece of cord through to tie the pouch to others on the belt set. As usual a drainage hole is also included on the base:As with other pieces of olive green PLCE this pouch was only in production for a relatively small period of time, however they remain common and easily available but with the growing interest in the First Gulf War they will become increasingly collectible as time goes on.
It has been a while since we looked at any items of PLCE webbing on the blog, and so far all the pieces we have considered have been the later pattern, printed in DPM camouflage. When the webbing was first introduced in 1988 however, and throughout its service in the First Gulf War, it was produced in plain olive green. It is an example of this early pattern we are looking at tonight, in the form of a pair of ammunition pouches:This set of webbing was designed to operate with the then new SA80 rifle and each pocket has space for two magazines giving a total of eight magazines, with 240 rounds. Not only are the pouches green rather than DPM, but there are constructional differences to the later production pouches. One of the main ones being that these pouches are ‘handed’ i.e. there is a left and a right, whereas later pouches could be used on either side of the belt. The differences between left and right can be seen on the back when they are laid side by side:The fittings to connect the yoke are made of metal loops and angled to one side or the other:These were replaced with a plastic fitting that could be used in both directions in later iterations. The pouches also have a 58 pattern style wire ‘C’ hook for attaching to the belt rather than the ‘T-Bar’ used on later versions:Other features of the early pouch include an internal divider inside each of the ammunition pouches:Soldiers quickly realised that if they removed this and turned the magazines through 90 degrees they could fit three rather than two magazines in each pouch allowing a 50% increase in capacity. This feature was again standardised in later production.
Each pocket on the pouch is secured with a plastic ‘Spanish tab’ fastener:These fasteners allow quick access to the contents of the pouch, but were liable to come undone easily if the wearer was climbing down, facing a rockface for instance. The pouches were also fitted with an optional Velcro fastener for the pockets, however as Velcro could be noisy a cover was provided to block this off and silence it if the wearer preferred:Normally these pouches are found with markings stamped on the rear, these examples however have them stamped on the underside of the lids, and unfortunately they have not worn well so it is hard to make out the details of date:This is actually the first piece of early olive green PLCE I have picked up, and hopefully in the coming months I can track down the rest of the components and bring them to you in due course.
Tonight on our continuing survey of the elements of the PLCE webbing set we come to the entrenching tool and its cover. This small lightweight tool is carried on the belt and is supplied with a DPM cover that connects to the rest of the PLCE set:The rear of the case has a single loop, note also the original owner’s name marked with black pen:The entrenching tool itself is stored in an olive green rubberised pouch:Interestingly this pouch has both a British /|\ mark, with a date of 1991, and a US stores code with a -00- country code on the NSN number:This suggests that the rubberised covers were bought off the shelf from the States rather than being produced in Britain. The entrenching tool within the case is a virtual copy of the US army’s folding spade, this design becoming virtually universal across NATO:Opened out the tool can be used as a spade or a pick depending on the angle the head is set at:The tool is made of steel and weights 2lb 4oz and although not as effective as a full size spade is still useful in the field. ARRSE explains:
If the enemy has a credible indirect fire capability then you need a digging tool, with you, on your belt kit. If not, then either replace the ETH pouch with another utility pouch, which you can fill with ‘comfort items’ or extra ammo as needed, or take the ETH out of the pouch, put your water bottle in it and use the extra space in your water bottle pouch. Admittedly the ETH is a pretty shit digging tool, but it is streets ahead of your racing spoon. Talk to a few people who have been under artillery fire for real before you discount it completely.
The cover for the tool has two Fastex fasteners inside the main cover:Sadly the label on this component is very faded, but I believe it was manufactured in 1992:This would have been the first year of DPM manufacture for PLCE. The carriers have also found use as an additional water bottle carrier, with the bottles fitting neatly inside and secured with the top fastex fastener passing over the neck. Of all the items of PLCE this seems to have been one of the first to have been dropped in the field and many more recent photographs of soldiers wearing the set show they have removed the tool from their belt loads altogether.