Commercial companies have been producing webbing for sale to British troops for many years. These sets are often purchased because they are seen as better designed than the issue sets, or because they add to the wearer’s ‘allyness’. I have never really bothered picking up examples of this webbing because it is often hard to tell what has actually been used by a soldier and what has been sold on the commercial market for use by airsofters. Tonight though we have a set of commercially produced webbing that I am pretty confident was used by a member of the British Army and as it cost me just £10 for the full set I was quite happy to take the risk that I could be wrong.It has been suggested that this set was made by Pathfinder or Dragon Supplies, but it has no label and I have yet to find an identical pattern I can attribute to a maker. This design of webbing is clearly heavily inspired by the PLCE webbing produced for the British Army but there are a large number of differences. To start with the pouches are all sewn onto a wide padded belt which goes around the wearer’s waist as a single piece:A metal roller buckle is fitted to the front to secure this in place:A mesh yoke, very similar to that used on PLCE is fitted, the mesh providing a large surface area for weight distribution without increasing the number of layers of fabric the wearer has to deal with:This attaches to the belt with black metal tabs, each with a triangle cut out of them, just like the design used with the PLCE sets:Note the carabineer used to attach the soldiers helmet and the green tape binding up the ends of the straps, both clear indicators that this set was probably used by a serviceman. A number of different pouches are fitted around the belt, some are simple ammunition pouches for SA80 magazines:Note the small grenade pouch to the left of these. The back has large utility pouches that could be used for water bottles, personal kit or belts of GPMG ammunition:Whilst the right hand end of the set has a much larger pouch that I suspect was intended for the soldier’s respirator to fit into:All of the pouches have drainage holes in the bottom and plastic D-rings are fitted to allow items to be clipped on:The elastic cord has been added to help reduce the problem of ‘pouch bounce’ when running and is another indicator that this set was used by someone who needed them set up for regular use in the field. I really like this set, but I am not intending to add much more commercial webbing to my collection beyond this representative piece as there are so many variations and manufacturers out there and as a collector you can rarely be entirely sure that what you have bought was even used militarily.
Every so often I come across a piece in my collection that I feel I surely must have covered on the blog before now, but on closer inspection find out that for some reason I have overlooked it. Tonight we have one of those pieces, the 25 pattern holster. We did look at this holster back in the early days of the blog when I compared it with the 37 pattern RAF holster here, however it has never had a post of its own and I feel that as one of the few remaining pieces of 25 pattern I haven’t covered this oversight needed amending. The holster itself is the second type of 25 pattern holster and is made of the standard blue-grey webbing used by the RAF for all its 25 pattern pieces:The earlier design of holster had featured a wooden plug in the end, much like the naval 1919 pattern holsters and was cut very differently to accommodate a Colt .455 automatic. At some point the design changed to one more suitable for revolvers which were the standard sidearm of the British Empire and this is the version I have in my collection. The lid of the holster is a simple flap secured with a brass press stud:A metal grommet is fitted into the base to allow any water to drain away:The rear of the holster has a pair of metal C-hooks to attach it to the belt with and a webbing channel to carry a cleaning rod:This exterior channel and the lack of a horizontal C-hook is the easiest way to identify these holsters as being 25 pattern rather than 37 pattern, the patterns being virtually identical otherwise.
The inside of the holster is stamped up with an Air ministry crown, a stores code and a date of 1941:These holsters were issued as part of the 25 pattern web set to RAF personnel who needed to carry sidearms. Up until the middle of the war, any airman or officer transiting from one base to another was supposed to be issued with a revolver (I doubt this was universal practice) and the accompanying webbing set. Even after this order was rescinded, webbing and sidearms were routinely carried by RAF police and men working in enemy territory such as at forward air bases. As such these 25 pattern holsters saw service right through to the 1960s when Browning Hi-Powers became the normal side arm.
When it was first introduced the 58 pattern webbing set did not include any of the pieces of webbing usually used by officers, so there was initially no binocular cases, holsters or compass pouches. It was quickly realised that these were essential components for any equipment set and by the early 1960s these pieces had been introduced, although they do not appear in the fitting instructions for the 58 pattern set. Tonight we are looking at the compass pouch from this set which accompanies the pistol and binoculars cases I already have nicely. The case is a small square pouch in the green pre-shrunk cotton typical of the 58 pattern set:It is more square in shape than earlier designs and the box lid secures with a brass turn buckle rather than a press stud:The lid opens to allow a marching compass to be fitted inside:The interior of the pouch is padded with felt to help protect the slightly delicate compass from shocks and bumps:Manufacturer’s details were printed on the underside of the box lid, unfortunately in this case they are now very faint and I can’t make out who made this pouch or when:The rear of the pouch has a single metal ‘C’ hook and a transverse webbing loop to allow the 58 pattern yoke to be slotted through:For some reason, this pouch has had a splash of yellow paint added to the rear:I am not sure exactly why this has been done, possibly it has been added by a previous user so he can quickly identify his piece of webbing in a pile of his comrades.
As items like the binoculars case, holster and compass pouch were produced in smaller numbers than the standard infantry 58 pattern webbing, they are slightly harder to find today than other components. Having said that, they are still out there and careful shopping will allow the collector to find them at a reasonable price. I paid £5 for this case and the dealer I bought it off had three of them for that price so they are still readily available.
A few weeks ago we looked at an altimeter pouch that had been designed for use by the SAS. There were a number of different pieces of specialist 58 pattern webbing produced for Britain’s special forces and tonight we are looking at another example. The 58 pattern yoke was a comfortable piece of equipment that was well padded and generally well liked by troops. It was not however designed to be worn with the large A Frame bergans popularly used by members of the SAS. The thick padding was uncomfortable under the bergan and the metal stud for attaching a pick axe helve interfered with the fit of the metal frame. Early modifications to the 58 pattern yoke included removing this metal stud which helped to some degree, but in the end a dedicated pair of shoulder braces were introduced to be used by the SAS and it is one of these we are looking at tonight:The shoulder brace is quite reminiscent of a 37 pattern strap, with a wider portion 2” wide in the centre where it passes over the shoulder, thinning to 1” at each end of the brace. As the 58 pattern belt was never designed for use with traditional shoulder straps, simple loops are fitted to pass a belt through. At the fixed end of the strap there are two of these, one above the other:The opposite end of the strap is plain and a separate loop with a buckle is provided to go over the belt:The plain end of the shoulder brace goes through this buckle and allows the length to be adjusted easily for comfort. The strap is an official piece of webbing rather than a piece made at unit level. The straps had an NSN number of 8465-99-130-0246 and this was stamped on the strap, although it is very faint on this example:The straps came as a pair, one plain like this one and a second with a loop on the back to allow the straps to be worn crossed. Sadly I don’t have a complete pair yet, but like any SAS related equipment this strap is quite scarce and commands high prices on the collectors market. The prices for SAS related objects often have as much to do with the cache of the Regiment than any actual relationship to their scarcity. Often far rarer items sell for much less because they do not have the association with Special Forces. Happily for me, this strap came as part of a general job lot and was a pleasant surprise when I finally managed to identify what it was for!
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!
Tonight’s post is a little different as it is not the object we are interested in so much as how it is packaged and labelled. Like all militaries the British Army has always maintained large stores of uniform, equipment and weapons. Partly this is to allow new troops to be equipped when they join the military and partly this is to provide a reserve of materiel in case of a war breaking out and a large number of extra men needing to be equipped. There could be literally millions of items in a British Army store and there needed to be a way of tracking what was held in inventory and re-ordering supplies when they were running low. Storesmen, despite there not always helpful reputation, were essential at keeping this vast collection of items inventoried and restocked. Some idea of the scale of a military store can be seen in this photograph of RAF and WAAF storemen preparing supplies to be sent to India:When items came from the manufacturer they were normally either boxed or bundled together and tied with string, as in these two bundles, each containing ten 44 pattern brace attachments:These packs are tied together with a piece of string around the centre:And have a card label attached with a description, quantity and stores code:The same code is printed onto the webbing itself:These codes are part of the British Army code system in use before the introduction of NSN numbers in the 1960s and the codes used would all match up with a catalogue in the storeman’s office allowing items to be identified and reordered. During the Second World War the army found itself receiving men who had training as storemen in civilian life and took advantage of this, using them to man its own stores regardless of their personal preference, as related by Stan Wood:
Reality brought me back to earth when I was posted to Hinkley for army stores training. Remember the special tests and my qualifications for the Royal Signals? Well, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps needed storemen at that time and, since I was a junior storeman on enlisting, choice was non-existent. All the other lads had similar stores or warehouse experience. The course lasted about three weeks.
Many items in stores are never issued or used, and once a piece of kit is marked as obsolete, these bundles are sold on the secondary market. Most are opened by dealers and sold as individual items, but occasionally you come across complete stores bundles such as these ones that have never been opened and issued. As I have a set of 44 pattern brace attachments already I will be leaving these two packs alone as they tell their own little story as they are.
One of the larger pouches issued with the Osprey Mk IV is that for 100 rounds of LMG. This pouch is made of the standard MTP cordua nylon and is deep enough to hold 100 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition for the GPMG:The belted ammunition sits inside and adds a considerable weight to the pouch:All this weight requires the pouch to have substantial PALS straps on the rear, with multiple loops to ensure it attaches to the vest securely and doesn’t come away in combat:The pouch is closed with a large box lid:Secured with a heavy duty tan plastic Fastex clip:As ever a label is sewn to the rear with stores information:The weight of ammunition was always a factor on operations. One ex-British Army soldier explains what men typically carried in Afghanistan:
I always carried 6 magazines of 28 rounds each of 5.56mm for my personal weapon plus perhaps that many rounds again either loose or in clips which could be speed loaded into the magazines. We also each carried not less than 200 rounds of 5.56mm belt ammunition for the Minimi light machine gun and/or 200 7.62mm belt rounds for the GPMG. I can’t remember exactly but it certainly was around 30 lbs of ammunition alone.
Each man in a foot patrol would have carried that much, the gunners carried more link ammo because their main weapon was the GPMG or Minimi. It depended on the job. If we were part of a force going on a full offensive op then it’s likely we would have carried much more but as we were mainly in a defensive roll due to our main task we depended heavily on close air support . We were taught to be disciplined with the ammo and to make every shot count. No spray and pray. If we had to, one guy could start breaking down some of the 5.56 belt ammo and load it into empty magazines. So in reality each guy had at least 300 rounds. That’s a lot of bullets in the real world.
The gunners carried 600+ rounds for their machine guns so between us we could bring a lot of firepower to the fight for a prolonged period. I promise not one round was fired unless an enemy fire position had been spotted which was usually easy due to the very low standards of the local Taliban fighters. Most of their lead flew right over our heads and contacts didn’t last long because we spotted and then smashed them or they ran out of ammo very quickly and then ran away.
In vehicles we would have brought with us several thousands of rounds of 5.56 and 7.62 ammo in boxes and rounds for the .50 cal if we had one. In addition there might have been boxes of rounds on belts for an automatic grenade launcher and plenty of bombs for the mortar if we were equipped with those weapons.
We had the occasional contact with Taliban forces made up of foreign fighters. These guys were more motivated and smarter soldiers (less likely to be high!) than the locals and much better trained so contacts with them lasted much longer, 4 hours or so, and could be very tricky, fast moving battles. With close air support from fast jets, attack helicopters and drones on our side the Taliban never got the upper hand but in the period of time between the start of the contact and when the first attack helicopter arrived on the scene, the foreign fighters could be very bold and would try their best to get close to our defensive positions. A lot of ammunition was needed at times like this. When the AH’s arrived which could take anything from 10 minutes to an hour, their cannons would turn the most persistent Taliban into high protein fertiliser.
Along with Electronic Counter Measures we carried on our backs, spare batteries for the ECM, water, ammo, weapons and body armour which alone would easily be half your load, plus whatever other stuff you were told to carry for some military reason, it was all very heavy. I don’t think that civilians realise how heavy all this equipment is and how tough it is to work with it all on. Soldiers, especially those in ‘teeth arms’ regiments deployed to Afghanistan, would regularly be patrolling and fighting out on the ground on foot in 100F degree heat carrying 60+ lbs of equipment and ammunition. We would occasionally have to move in non-tactical but still dangerous situations carrying over 100 lbs of stuff. This might explain why my knees, hips and back are so painful and stiff now.