Monthly Archives: November 2014

Desert Goggles

Although it is pretty self evident- deserts are dirty dusty places that play havoc with not just machinery but also the human body. The eyes especially are very vulnerable in arid conditions, they get dry, strained from the excess light and damaged by dust and grit being blown into them. The problem was clearly identified by the War Department as they produced a number of standard goggles for troops in the dessert which tried to address these issues. They were routinely used by crews of trucks and tanks, where the movement of the vehicle threw up vast quantities of duct. My pair are a little battered after 70 years:

340A190F-81F3-45A9-8FFF-84E70C1EAECDThe glass in the goggles is held in a metal frame and tinted to reduce glare, with a metal clasp between each eyepiece to reinforce the weakest point:9803009E-867C-4E32-ADE2-841540E96EC2On the rear a soft backing helps create a seal between the goggles and the face:29B8C2EC-90F9-43FF-8EBE-7EA2DEE2B437There is a buckle on the strap to alter the fitting:244620EF-EE2F-40E7-97D5-22B8A569A9CBUnfortunately the elastic in the straps has deteriorated over the years so they are no longer tight enough to wear on the face, however troops often had them slung round their necks or perched on their berets in combat and these still look the part doing that. Below we can see Jim Frazer, Monty’s tank driver, wearing such a pair of goggles pushed up onto his beret:fraser_2525204b

37 Pattern Cartridge Carriers

When 37 pattern webbing was introduced the military recognised that not all troops needed the large box pouches designed to hold Bren Gun magazines. Troops such as drivers, artillerymen and other’s in service rather than infantry roles still carried rifles, but needed smaller quantities of ammunition and greater comfort whilst doing tasks such as driving. To meet this need soldiers were issued with pairs of cartridge carriers. These carriers were made of webbing and each had two pouches, each of which could hold 2 5 round clips of cartridges. This gave soldiers a respectable 40 rounds, felt quite sufficient for troops that were not expected to be in the front line for any length of time.

The pouches themselves were a one piece woven affair, much like the pouches on the old 08 pattern webbing, however they only had room for two clips of ammunition rather than three:27B0FF1C-AF15-4EBB-8699-F10B0F2454B9The pouches were sewn to a brace attachment on the rear:109E985F-63FB-40E8-8888-9F015C001F1DAt the top of the brace was a buckle to fasten the cartridge carrier to the cross straps and allow the L-Straps of a small pack to be attached:8DC9A51C-CC3F-4507-B63B-FC715A9453F5Brass ‘C’ hooks were fitted to allow the cartridge carrier to be fastened to the belt of the 37 pattern set:ECD32D22-F498-4686-9976-AABB930187B0The pouches were made of reduction weaving, with flaps secured by a brass press stud:6FE22AEA-C524-44AA-AA26-E7341BE60F15There were two sets of male studs, allowing the pouch to be secure whether there was one or two clips of ammunition inside secured by a Newey stud on the flap:8B460911-C3C9-438D-BC9F-40954945AB4AIt is interesting to note the original early war pea green blanco on this set of cartridge carriers, this seems to be original and shows the vibrancy of the colour used at the start of WW2. Unfortunately the blanco has obscured any dates or manufacturers details. I can see where they are in the right light, but not with enough clarity to identify what they say. The cartridge carriers were officially declared obsolescent in 1941 and reintroduced the following year…needless to say the exact history of their use is complicated and Karkeeweb explains it far better than I can http://www.karkeeweb.com/patterns/1937/1937_cartridge_carriers.html

British Small Arms of WW2

I have a small selection of deactivated weapons in my collection and they cover most of the main types used by the British Army in World War Two; there were many other guns used, but these are the most common. I have taken all the weapons out of my collection rom for oiling and packing away for the winter. Unfortunately my loft gets cold and as condensation forms on the weapons this can cause rust so when winter comes they get packed away until the spring. Whilst we have looked in detail at a couple of them, and I will write detailed blog posts on the rest in due course, the picture below is useful in setting them out all in one place:

Publication1

  1. Thompson M1A1 .45ACP– The Thompson was developed after the First World War as a ‘trench broom’. It fires a heavy .45ACP round. It was adopted by the British early in WW2 as they had no effective sub machine gun available. The gun is beautifully engineered, heavy and cost about £70 to purchase. As the war progressed the Thompson was withdrawn from frontline service in Europe, however it continued to be used by commandos and troops in Italy and the Far East.
  2. Smith and Wesson Victory.38 Revolver– It quickly became apparent at the start of the Second World War that the British armaments industry was unable to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding armed forces. To meet that demand the British government placed orders with American companies such as Smith and Wesson. S&W produced their Military & Police revolver in .38 and named it the Victory revolver. These all carried a ‘V’ serial number.
  3. Webley .38 Revolver– The quintessential British Army revolver. For more details see here.
  4. BREN Gun MkII– The Bren gun was introduced in the late 1930s and is arguably the best light machine gun of the war. It fires the same .303 round as the Lee Enfield rifle, hence the curved box magazine on the top. The Bren was to remain in service, albeit re-chambered for 7.62 ammunition, until the First Gulf War in 1991. The Bren gun has a quick change barrel that allows a hot barrel to be swapped and allowed to cool before being swapped back onto the weapon- this allows a high rate of fire without the danger of ‘cook-offs’
  5. STEN Gun MkII– The polar opposite of the Thompson, the Sten is a cheap and nasty submachine gun that is made of tubes welded together with only a couple of machined parts. It fires a 9mm round and was produced incredibly cheaply- about £1 each compared to the £70 of the Thompson. These submachine guns were dropped to the French Resistance and were used extensively by commonwealth forces throughout the war. They were never popular, being nicknamed ‘Plumber’s Nightmares’ and ‘Woolworths Guns’, but they filled a definite need and were cheap enough to be produced in the quantities needed.
  6. Flare Pistol– This flare pistol is a typical example used for signalling in the field For more details please see here.
  7. Lee Enfield .303 No4. Rifle– The No4 Rifle was introduced in the middle of the Second World War as a modernised replacement for the SMLE. It was simpler to manufacture and due to a heavier barrel slightly more accurate. The sights were replaced with a combination ladder sight and battle sight, however the mechanism of the rifle remained the same as its predecessor. These rifles were to be extraordinarily long lasting, with cadet forces still drilling with them until only a few years ago.
  8. Short Magazine Lee Enfield .303 Rifle– The SMLE was introduced prior to the Great War and was still the British Army’s standard rifle at the start of WW2. It has a magazine for ten rounds, loaded using charger clips and was capable of an incredibly high rate of fire with trained soldiers. The SMLE has a unique nose-cap that gives a secure mount for a twelve inch sword bayonet. Despite being replaced by the No4 in Europe, the SMLE continues in use in the Far East and Italy until the end of the war and was still being manufactured in India into the 1950s.

Chromed Parade Bayonet

With the end of the Second World War the British and Commonwealth armed forces made a slow transition back to Pre-War standards. Although in an age of austerity they could never match the grandeur of the interwar or especially pre-Great War armed forces, they did try and restore spit and polish and some form of ceremonial pomp. Tonight’s object is an example of this effort, taking something very utilitarian and trying to smarten it up for the parade ground- I will leave you to decide how successful it was!

With the introduction of the Lee Enfield No4 rifle came a new bayonet, out went the elegant 12 inch sword bayonet of the SMLE and in its place was a simple spike. Despite appearances to the contrary the spike bayonet was the culmination of many years research into a functional and cheap bayonet. In the late 1930s the new design of bayonet had gone through extensive tests, including throwing sheep dressed in serge uniforms onto bayonets to see if they broke or not. They were introduced in large numbers to the British Army during the Second World War, with examples filtering down to the RAF as they slowly adopted the No4 rifle.

Following the Second World War someone seems to have had the notion that chromed bayonets would look smart on formal parades and examples of the ‘pig sticker’ were produced in a bright chromium finish:

E312B1CE-5388-4E39-BE7B-19243D12ACA8It is not clear how widespread the use of chrome bayonets was, but it seems that the Canadians especially made use of them for ceremonial parades. The markings on the bayonet show it is for a No4 Rifle and a MkII bayonet:A4588913-B1BB-448A-86F4-642036676B8FSadly the manufacturer’s details are not clear enough to read. The rear of the bayonet shows the socket and spring clip for fastening it to a rifle:A84B52AE-EA35-4316-BDFE-1760AB78BE1FDue to the length of time I have owned this bayonet and the high quality of chroming I am happy that this is a genuine parade bayonet, however apparently faked examples do exist where amateurs have chromed standard bayonets, but these are usually of a poor standard.

Tuesday Finds

After a short break ‘Tuesday Finds’ is back with another couple of Cold War NBC items. I am not sure where all these have come from recently, but a lot of nice rare bits of British Nuclear Biological and Chemical warfare bits have been steadily dripping onto my local market- I’m not complaining as I am building up a very nice little sub collection!

Kit, Vapour Detector, L1A1

One of the first jobs in a contaminated area is to discover exactly what gas or nerve agent has been used. Once this is know the correct procedures for neutralising it can be put in place. Whilst soldiers carried simple paper detectors to affix to their NBC suits, something more sophisticated was also needed. This little kit is designed to allow trace amounts of gas or nerve agent to be collected an analysed. It is housed in a green canvas bag, with a shoulder strap and quick release fasteners on the front:

A5EF6561-7B19-4523-A0D1-C3AD1A4B629EOn the side is a cord and fastener to allow it to be secured to the side of the body so it doesn’t move and get in the way during use:

046AC623-A472-4356-B2FE-0DC918EE40D7Inside is a selection of plastic vials, a detector pump and instructions:

0749A1C7-26C3-4FA0-B794-4FAABAF32D83Gas would be collected using the gas pump:

1260459F-5A37-4593-823B-5281420E9C5FThe tubes are in different coloured plastic, with some containing detector tablets that would be added to the empty tubes with a gas sample to identify it. I have learnt that some of these tablets are toxic, so if you have a set please keep them away from children and pets!

3C0818EA-B3FA-47B0-AA7C-F7CA514530CBDistilled water was then added from a dropper bottle:

30D48634-0E78-4CD3-8FD0-BD9026A3055FBefore applying the liquid to detector paper for the test. Laminated instructions detail the contents of the kit and how to use it:

AF8DD41F-AAE8-43DB-99E5-6F41CE21FBAB

The date marks are very faint but I believe this set dates to 1968. Apart from an entry in the Imperial War Museums online catalogue, which lacks pictures and details, I can only find one other reference to the set online and no photos. This suggests it is either very unusual or just completely ignored by collectors. Either way it is a nice complete set and a good addition to my collection.

NBC Smock

This sealed packet contains an NBC Smock or ‘Suit Protective NBC No1 Mk3’:

29A452A2-DF36-4BAB-93B3-EE5F9126959CInside is a green smock with hood that was worn over a soldier’s uniform, with webbing on top. The labels on the front indicate that the fabric was manufactured in 1975:

E66EDF81-49B7-442C-B596-BF640D7DC12CAnd that the smock itself was manufactured in 1978:

6AEA72AD-ABF3-48B2-878A-346664EA362FThe dates were important in determining is a suit was still usable- they had a shelf life of four years from manufacture. Once made the suits were then vacuum and pressure sealed to reduce the space they took up and to ensure they stayed in pristine condition ready for use. The suit is in olive green and was pulled over the head. It was baggy to allow air trapped inside to move around. The suit is made of two layers, impregnated charcoal cloth on the inside and a modacrylic and nylon blend on the outside giving up to 24 hours protection.

Royal Naval Leggings

Whilst Royal Naval ships often had a marine detachment, it was still common for sailors to be sent ashore as part of a Naval Landing party. Therefore all ships of a reasonable size kept a small selection of webbing and equipment to issue to sailors to wear over their square rig before leaving the ship. One item that was adopted long before the army adopted something similar was webbing naval leggings to be worn over the boots at the ankle. It appears the Royal Navy adopted these in the early twenties, just after the introduction of 1919 pattern webbing. It is perhaps not surprising that these items were standard issue as a sailor’s bellbottomed trousers, whilst good for rolling up to scrub the deck, could not have been that practical in boarding a ship: the fabric would have caught on any protrusion.

There are a number of variations of leggings around, but mine have just one buckle at the top, and a series of laces for fastening down the side:6B15190D-5102-4F16-ABE5-E03A8D0B773AThey are made by MECO in 1937 and are a size 3:

2A3DCC95-154E-4371-9A8B-5FCD584B0631They are also stamped ‘VERNON’:48907922-FB53-4158-B9EF-C4E9EAA96C39HMS Vernon was the torpedo training establishment at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, being responsible for training ratings in torpedoes, mines and electrical equipment, like its floating counterparts, ratings on guard duties would have worn square rig, with leggings and webbing.

The leggings are secured by cord loops, each passed through steel eyelets, before being looped around the cord above:516EBB41-A8B0-426A-AE4D-4645939A7DC0The final cord is then secured by passing the top webbing strap through the loop and fastening it to the buckle:722E9FDA-05DB-48C9-819F-FEC67A5D2006Below we can see a landing party from HMS Ceres wearing the leggings with 1919 pattern webbing and Lewis Guns:ceres 5These leggings were very long lived items, presumably because they were used comparatively infrequently compared to the army, and were not replaced until 1956 when the 18 inch leggings were withdrawn along with black ratings’ caps, except apparently for gun crews at the Royal Tournament who continued wearing the earlier pattern for a number of years. The navy continues to wear short white 37 pattern anklets today for ceremonial guard duty, continuing a tradition that goes back at least a century.