The 37 pattern webbing set is very much associated with the Second World War, however its story does not end there and it was to see front line service for another two decades and continue being used by reservists and cadets for over forty years. Some changes were made to post war production, such as the fitting of quick release tabs to the ammunition pouches, however one of the most obvious changes was the move from brass to blackened fittings on the webbing. Tonight we are looking at an example of the water bottle carrier dating from the 1950s:Although the sleeve carrier had been produced during the war to save manufacturing costs, once in peacetime the skeleton design of carrier resumed production, being made up of criss-crossing strips of webbing:It might be helpful at this point to remind ourselves of the official description from the fitting instructions:
Waterbottle Carrier- Consists of a framework with tabs at the top fitted with a snap fastener for securing the bottle, and a buckle each side for attachment to the ends of the braces (when desired).
In design then the carrier matches pre-war production. The difference comes with the buckles which instead of being made of brass are made of bonderised steel which give them a distinctive matt-black finish:Bonderisation is a chemical process where steel is passed through a phosphate solution, this leaves a layer of crystalline zinc phosphate on the surface of the metal that prevents corrosion and gives the metal its dull black finish. This has the advantage of being far cheaper than the old brass fittings, but not rusting like a pure steel buckle would. Clearly the finish was only suitable for flat stampings such as buckles as the press stud on the top of the carrier is made of brass, but enamelled black:The webbing with a blackened finish was given a special stores code to distinguish it from the older webbing, either CN/B/XXXX or CN/XXXX/B. The webbing code is stamped on the inside of the water bottle carrier in black ink:Post war 37 pattern webbing is largely ignored by collectors as it is unsuitable for World War Two impressions and collectors seem to have a natural bias towards that conflict. Consequently post war 37 pattern webbing with black fittings is considerably cheaper than webbing with brass fittings and is usually found in near-mint condition. Going forward I would quite like to build up a set of this bonderised webbing and hopefully I can bring you more components as I acquire them.
Back in 2016 we looked at an example of a 37 pattern basic pouch here that had been manufactured in South Africa by ‘SAPAW’- South Africa Proving and Weaving Company Ltd. It has taken me eighteen months, but I have finally found a second south African produced basic pouch, however this example is manufactured by the other webbing producer in Johannesburg, D.I. Fram & Co – David Isaac Fram and Company Ltd:I hope you will forgive me coming back to a topic we have already covered, but the manufacture of this pouch is sufficiently different from the earlier example that I felt it warranted its own post, especially as all examples of South African webbing are very rare so the more information available for collectors the better. The most obvious thing to note about the pouch is its colour, it is far greener than normal South African Production, and I believe it has been blancoed at some point in its life. This is particularly evident on the rear, where the colouring fades out towards the centre:It is worth noting the way the ‘C’ hooks are sewn to the body of the pouch, with two small pieces of webbing, one for each hook and sewn very close together. The positioning of the hooks is also higher than on the SAPAW example:The design of the attachment for the top buckle is also radically different, with the DI Fram example having the buckle fitted much closer to the main body of the pouch:The quality of the DI Fram pouch is far higher than that of the SAPAW version, and the webbing material is much stiffer, this is very noticeable in the front view:The top flap of the pouch does not have the blank round loops of the SAPAW version, but is nicely stamped with the maker’s mark and a purple /|\ inside a ‘U’ mark indicating acceptance into South African service:The difference in manufacturing between the two South African webbing companies is marked, and whilst both are pretty poorly made, the DI Fram pouch is clearly a superior product. I still have a way to go until I have a full set of South African 37 pattern, but it is starting to come together:
Tonight’s object is unusual in being a professionally modified version of an already scarce piece of webbing. The parachutists’ Sten ammunition case was a webbing bag designed to be used by paratroopers to carry extra ammunition into battle. It was strapped to the leg when jumping out of a plane, then released and allowed to dangle beneath on a string for a safer landing. It used quick release tabs and had a special pocket for the 20 foot cord that attached it to the soldier:A removable harness was fitted to the back to allow it to be strapped to the leg:This piece of webbing was never popular and withdrawn from service pretty quickly, which possibly explains tonight’s modified version of the case:This piece has been professionally modified, I suspect at a unit level, and is now designed to be carried over one shoulder. The modifications include replacing the quick release fasteners on the top flap with webbing buckles and straps to make it harder for the case to accidentally come open:The pocket for a static line has been removed and a webbing carry handle fitted to allow the case to be carried ‘briefcase’ style:Note the pen lines for the original pocket, part of the construction process when the case was first made. Two 1” twig buckles have been fitted to the top sides of the case, allowing a standard shoulder brace to be used as a shoulder strap so it can be slung over the body:On the rear the metal loops for attaching the case to a leg harness have been removed and the holes covered over with small pieces of webbing:All the sewing for the modifications is expertly done on a machine and is as good a quality as any webbing manufacturer’s work. The case itself opens up and has space inside for fifteen Sten magazines:The bottom of the case is permanently sewn in to provide support for the magazines, the top half is covered by an internal flap:The underside of the top flap indicates this case was originally made by MECo in 1942:I suspect it will be very hard to get proof of who made this modification to the ammunition case, or exactly why. I suspect it would have been done semi-officially to make use of a spare piece of equipment and was probably a unit authorised conversion. Certainly the case is far more suited to ground operations with a shoulder strap than a leg harness and it is a convenient, if heavy, way of carrying fifteen Sten magazines around to resupply troops with.
The modern battlefield is now full of electronic devices, with specialist radios, computers and tablet computers in use. These differ considerably from their civilian counterparts, being far more rugged than the relatively delicate mobile phones and IPads we are used to. The British Army use a system called ‘Bowman’ which in addition to having individual and unit radio systems, also has battlefield tablet computers called ‘LTDTs’ and a light weight man-pack data terminal produced by a company called L-3 Communications, called an ‘LMDT’:The Army’s website describes Bowman as:
BOWMAN exploits the latest developments in radio and computer technology to meet the needs for services well into the 21st century.
Designed to provide an integrated digital communications network interfacing with higher level systems and networks such as ISDN, Skynet V,Cormorant and FALCON.
Commanders at all levels are given secure voice and data communications as well as an integrated Global Positioning System (GPS).
Tonight we are looking at the carrying case for one of the LMDTs:This is made of DPM camouflaged Cordua nylon, and is fitted with a large belt loop on the rear to allow it to be attached to a webbing set:A small handle is fitted to the top of the case:A heavy duty shoulder strap is fitted, securing at two points on each side of the case:A heavily padded section is attached to make the LMDT more comfortable to carry (presumably it is a fairly heavy bit of kit!):The front of the case opens up, it is secured with two black plastic Fastex fasteners:Underneath this are a further pair of velcroed flaps that add protection to the screen of the LMDT when it is stowed away:Finally when the case is fully opened up it looks like this:Two elasticated straps help hold the LMDT secure, even when the case is open. NSN details are printed on the underside of the top flap:This is a beautifully well made case, and clearly very carefully designed, with openings and flap[s all over to protect the instrument, whilst still allowing it to be easily used. At this stage it seems unlikely I will find an LMDT to fit inside the case any time soon, but these things have a habit of appearing on the surplus market in due course as equipment is upgraded so perhaps something for the future…
One of the most radical changes to military operations in the last ten to fifteen years has been in the area of personal communications on the battlefield. Today soldiers each have a ‘PRR’ or Personal Role Radio, which allows them secure and quick communication between members of a section on the battlefield. Up until very recently troops had been forced to use whistles or hand signals. The PRR consists of a small headset and microphone that the user wears beneath their helmet and a small receiver and transmitter unit that is normally worn high on the chest, by one shoulder. This transmitter/receiver is carried in a small pouch that holds it securely in place whilst still allowing the operator to access the controls:This pouch is made of a lightweight, but very strong Cordua nylon. Down the side of the pouch are a pair of openings that allow manipulation of the radio’s controls:An elasticated strap is fitted to the top, with a press stud, to secure the PRR into the pouch so it does not risk bouncing out when the soldier runs:A pair of adjustable straps with Fastex fasteners are fitted to one side of the pouch:In service these are passed around the back of the pouch, around the shoulder strap of the soldier’s webbing and back to the front to fasten and secure the radio pouch:The label on this pouch is very small and has no more information than an NSN number and the pouch’s use:These radios are part of the troubled ‘Bowman’ system and the MOD ordered 45,000 of them in the late 1990s/ early 2000s. The British Army website gives the official position:
The Personal Role Radio (PRR) is a small transmitter-receiver that allows infantry soldiers to communicate over short distances.
Effective even through thick cover or the walls of buildings, PRR enables section commanders to react quickly and efficiently to rapidly changing situations, including contact with the enemy, greatly increasing the effectiveness of infantry fire teams.
PRR is issued to every member of an eight-strong infantry section.
The system is easy to use through its simple man-machine interface, is unobtrusive and comfortable to wear yet is rugged enough to sustain the harshest environments.
The use of PRR has significantly enhanced combat effectiveness by providing all informed communications to front line soldiers, replacing traditional methods based on shouting and hand signals.