In the late 1960s a number of new items of webbing were quietly added to the stores catalogue to go with the 58 pattern web set. These were items for use by the SAS and were pieces of equipment that were felt to be useful based on operational experience and some experiments in unit with producing similar pieces of equipment unofficially. None of these items of SAS webbing are easy to find now, however the most common piece to come across today is the altimeter pouch.
The altimeter pouch is a small green webbing pouch for carrying an altimeter, the SAS had been operating in jungled mountainous terrain in Indonesia and Borneo and an altimeter was very helpful in determining a troopers height in this rugged landscape and how far up a particular mountain they had actually gone. The altimeter was small and round, so the pouch was shaped accordingly:A box lid fits over the altimeter and is secured with a single press stud, keeping the contents safe and secure within:Due to the size of the pouch it was impractical to have it mounted on the belt itself, so a pair of one inch drop straps allow it to hang below the waist belt:The large eyelet is to allow a lanyard to be fastened, securing the altimeter to the pouch and preventing it being dropped and lost. Underneath is the faint markings of a stores code and date, it seems to have been made by MW&S in 1982:I have struggled to find much further information on the pouch, presumably due to the secretive nature of special forces there is not much out there on the pouch. I did however come across this photograph which I believe is a 1980s photograph of an SAS belt kit set up (the site I found it on is in Polish so I have no context I can give to the image). Here the altimeter pouch can be seen on the belt, but it is being used to carry a compass:If anyone has any pictures of the actual altimeters used with this pouch, please get in contact as it would be interesting to see what is supposed to fit inside the pouch!
Skiing in the context of the British Army is rather different from skiing for leisure or sport. The British Army use a method of skiing known as ‘Telemark’ skiing. The encyclopaedia definition of Telemark Skiing is:
Telemark skiing is a skiing technique that combines elements of Alpine and Nordic skiing. Telemark skiing is named after the Telemark region of Norway, where the discipline originated. Sondre Norheim is often credited for first demonstrating the turn in ski races, which included cross country, slalom and jumping, in Norway around 1868. Sondre Norheim also experimented with ski and binding design, introducing side cuts to skis and heel bindings (like a cable).
Telemark skiing was reborn in 1971 in the United States. Doug Buzzell, Craig Hall, Greg Dalbey, Jack Marcial and Rick Borcovec are credited with reintroducing the style after reading the book Come Ski With Me by Stein Eriksen. Telemark skiing gained popularity during the 1970s and 1980s. The appeal of Telemark skiing lies in access: long pieces of synthetic fabric, known as skins, can be attached to the bottom of the skis to allow travel uphill.
Telemark skiing uses a specialized type of equipment. Generally, Telemark skiers use flexible Alpine skis with specially designed bindings that fix only the toe of the ski boot to the ski, thereby creating the “free heel”. Oftentimes the heel is attached to the front of the binding by a hinged cable, which holds the ski boot firmly in the binding. These bindings are often non-releasable.In a military context this method of skiing is hugely beneficial as troops are often carrying heavy loads and weapons and need to ski in mountainous areas. By having the heel easily removed from the ski it is possible to walk in the skis which makes it much easier to navigate Arctic terrain. In order to work with Telemark skis, a special type of boot is needed and it is a pair of these ski march boots we are looking at tonight:The most distinctive features of these boots are the square toes that slot into the front bindings of the ski:And a large groove around the heel that allows the spring rear clip on the ski to be easily attached or detached:The base of the soles of these boots are made of rubber with decent grips for use on the ice. Note the brand name for these boots, ‘Skeesol’:At the heel a leather loop is fitted to help when pulling on the boots:This design of boots was used for many years, but this example is dated 1986 and the details are stamped inside the boot along with an NSN number:This design of boot has now been replaced with more modern patterns from companies such as ALCO, but still remains popular amongst some cross country skiers due to how robust it is. This is another great addition to my little Arctic Warfare collection and I just need to get the skis to go with it…
There seems to have been a myriad of different types of camouflage cream issued and used by the British Army over the last few decades. I have now collected up three of four different variations of camo cream and tonight we are looking at a tube of brown camo cream from the 1990s. The tube is made of metal and contains just brown coloured camo cream:From the NSN number we can easily see that this tube was manufactured for the British, the -99- country code being the giveaway. The tube has a metal base plate on the bottom that is not attached to the rest of the tin, allowing a finger to be used to push up the stick of camo cream as it is used:A rubber cap is fitted to seal the top of the tube when not in use, this stops the brown camouflage from getting over everything and prevents it from drying out:This particular stick of camouflage cream was manufactured in 1997 by BCB International Ltd:This company has been around for over 160 years and is still in business supplying military and survival equipment to various countries including the UK. Their website outline the company’s history:
For over 160 years, BCB International have been designing, manufacturing and supplying personal Survival and protective equipment used by Soldiers, seafarers and adventures worldwide!
It started with a cough…
In 1854, a Dr Brown came up with a cough medicine and shipped some off to British troops suffering in the trenches in the Crimean war.
60 years later, Dr Brown’s Cough Bottle gave the initials for a registered company, BCB.
Taken over by a local Cardiff chemist Deryck Howell in 1949,
BCB remains a Howell family run firm to this day.
Wave of Fortune
A lucky encounter in the 1950s with British Defence Officials resulted in BCB designing for the world’s first life raft survival kit.
It cemented the company’s driving force CANEI: Continuous and Never Ending Innovation and sparked an impressive array of novel products including: shark repellent, ballistic protective underwear dubbed ‘Blast Boxers’ and an all-weather rations heating and barbecue cooking fuel called ‘FireDragon’.
The roles open to women in the RAF in the 1970s were somewhat more limited than they are today, but one area where many women served was a cooks and stewardesses. The 1971 WRAF recruitment pamphlet explained:
Every day about 100,000 men and women in the Royal Air Force must be fed with well-cooked nourishing meals. Women do highly essential jobs as cooks and stewardesses. They cook in airmen’s sergeants’ or officers’ messes: stewardesses wait at table in officers’ or sergeants’ messes. They might be employed as batwomen. There are also limited opportunities to serve in an airborne role as air stewardesses.
Stewardesses wore a distinctive uniform consisting of RAF blue grey skirt, blouse, tie and a white stewardess’ jacket:It is one of these jackets we are looking at tonight:The jacket is a simple white cotton garment, secured at the front by a pair of removable RAF staybrite buttons:Stitched eyelets are fitted to each shoulder to allow shoulder boards with badges of rank to be worn:The style of this garment very much reflects the jackets that have been worn by waiters and service staff in expensive restaurants since the beginning of the twentieth century. The white colour shows up any stains, which helps show the customer, or in this case the sergeants and officers, that the garment is indeed clean. The removable buttons and shoulder boards were essential as it allowed the garment to be washed, bleached and starched regularly without damaging them. The inside of this garment has the usual label, strangely though someone has blacked out the part of the description relating to the jacket being for women and a stewardess:I am not sure whether the sizing here is the army’s usual system of sizes where each increment means a different height, waist of chest size, or a more conventional sizing where it is actually a woman’s size 6 jacket in the traditional civilian sense.
Last year we looked at a 30mm Aden Ballast round here. Since then I have been able to pick up a second ballast round, but this time for a 20mm Vulcan cannon:In appearance this is very much like the other ballast round, being made of a solid piece of cast white metal. The shape is identical to a live Vulcan round with an extractor groove at the bottom:And the top having the shape of the actual projectile:The weight of the round is identical to that of a real Vulcan round, being used to safely test the weapon and its timing, allowing adjustments to be made on the ground in a controlled environment. Here we see a dismounted Vulcan with a belt of this ammunition:The Vulcan is a six barrelled 20mm rotary cannon used on fixed wing aircraft. It was developed in the United States but saw service with the British on aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom. The need for the weapon came out of experience in the Second World War and the realisation that with the speeds jets were becoming capable of, there would only be a split second when rounds would actually connect with their target. This therefore required a weapon with a very high rate of firepower and a round that had enough mass that a few strikes would destroy a plane. 20mm had proved effective in the Second World War and by pairing this with an electrically driven Gatling type of gun extremely high rates of fire could be achieved, in the case of the Vulcan 6,000 rounds a minute. The new cannon was designated the M61 by the US.Each of the cannon’s six barrels fires once in turn during each revolution of the barrel cluster. The multiple barrels provide both a very high rate of fire—around 100 rounds per second—and contribute to prolonged weapon life by minimizing barrel erosion and heat generation. Mean time between jams or failures is in excess of 10,000 rounds, making it an extremely reliable weapon. Most aircraft versions of the M61 are hydraulically driven and electrically primed. The gun rotor, barrel assembly and ammunition feed system are rotated by a hydraulic drive motor through a system of flexible drive shafts. The round is fired by an electric priming system where an electric current from a firing lead passes through the firing pin to the primer as each round is rotated into the firing position.
One RAF Phantom pilot explains the advantages of the cannon over radar guided missiles:
Being unguided, bullets are not susceptible to Electronic Counter Measures (ECM – although the radar used to aim the gun, of course, is) and the gun has no technical minimum range, although there are some practical reasons (e.g. arming of high explosive rounds) why you wouldn’t choose to fire from too close to the target. Also some pilots didn’t like the idea of large aircraft blowing up in their face. In my day, the closer you got to a target, the bigger it looked in the windscreen making it easier to hit! I say ‘A kill’s a kill!!
An RAF Phantom carried 640 rounds for its Vulcan canon and it seems to have been a popular weapon amongst aircrews, combining high rates of fire with impressive hitting abilities. My thanks go to Gary Hancock for his help in identifying this round.
It is perhaps unlikely that I will ever have the funds or space to be able to add a tank to my collection (plus I imagine my wife would have a few choice words to say if I did). Small items of militaria related to armour are available though and tonight we are looking at the plastic transit case for a Chieftain 120mm HESH shell:The Chieftain was Britain’s main battle tank throughout much of the Cold War and had a 120mm rifled main gun. Britain used a variety of shells with this gun including HESH, which stands for High Explosive, Squash Head.
HESH rounds are thin metal shells filled with plastic explosive and a delayed-action base fuze. The plastic explosive is “squashed” against the surface of the target on impact and spreads out to form a disc or “pat” of explosive. The base fuze detonates the explosive milliseconds later, creating a shock wave that, owing to its large surface area and direct contact with the target, is transmitted through the material. In the case of the metal armour of a tank, the compression shock wave is conducted through the armour to the point where it reaches the metal/air interface (the hollow crew compartment), where some of the energy is reflected as a tension wave. At the point where the compression and tension waves intersect, a high-stress zone is created in the metal, causing pieces of steel to be projected off the interior wall at high velocity. This fragmentation by blast wave is known as spalling, with the fragments themselves known as spall. The spall travels through the interior of the vehicle at high velocity, killing or injuring the crew, damaging equipment, and/or igniting ammunition and fuel. Unlike high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds, which are shaped charge ammunition, HESH shells are not specifically designed to perforate the armour of main battle tanks. HESH shells rely instead on the transmission of the shock wave through the solid steel armour.HESH ammunition has good general purpose use, being effective against most targets, though the round is generally used at relatively low velocities because high velocity excessively disperses the pat of explosive. While only effective against tanks without spaced armour or spall liners, the round is still highly favoured for combat demolition purposes. The flattened high-velocity explosive pat is capable of destroying concrete constructions much faster than a HEAT round (which is designed for armour penetration), and without the dangerous fragmentation of a traditional high-explosive (HE) fragmentation round.These rounds were delivered in individual plastic transit tubes, and two of these were packed inside a metal ammunition box. The plastic container has a screw on lid with a rubber seal to prevent any moisture from entering inside. A wire loop handle is fitted to the top to make them easier to carry:Small holes are fitted around the outside of the lid and main tube to allow a piece of wire to be fitted as a tamper prevention measure:The front of the tube has a pair of labels attached, firstly we have a diamond shaped MOD explosives label, sadly now starting to peel off:And a large contents label that shows the tube contained a 120mm HESH round, L31A7. The round was manufactured in January 1969, whilst the fuze was produced in December 1968:The tube itself has the date of manufacture moulded into the base, here for 1967:These tubes do appear from time to time, but as they were reused a number of times it is quite nice to get one with labels for as early as 1969, this example was clearly only ever used once and never refilled.