Monthly Archives: May 2016

Heliograph Mk V (Part 2)

Following last night’s post looking at the Heliograph itself, tonight we are going to look at how the instrument is operated and the leather carrying case that is so important in keeping the heliograph protected on campaign.

The following description of how to set up and use a heliograph comes from a 1911 set of Will’s cigarette cards:

To set up the helio, as hereon shown, the tripod should stand firmly, and be placed so that the head of it is as level as possible. The instrument is then screwed to the main socket, and by passing the jointed arm from hand to hand it is screwed home. A sheltered spot should always be selected for the helio., provided you have a clear range.WillsSignalling45To align the helio. Using the sighting rod.- The signaller either looks through the hole in the back of the mirror, or places himself in the position shown in the illustration. He now moves his head so as to get the reflection of the distant station covered by the spot on the mirror; he next gets the sighting mark to cover the reflection of the distant station. WillsSignalling46We here show the helio. With the jointed arm which carries the sighting vane and the duplex mirror. The duplex mirror is only used when the position of the sun renders it impossible to throw the light on to the distant station with the one mirror. On the back of the signalling mirror may be seen the key for signalling the long and short flashes. WillsSignalling48The operator is here seen signalling with the duplex mirror, his hand being placed on the key, which, when pressed, throws the light from the signalling mirror on to the distant station, and when released directs it on to the ground in front of the helio. As the sun alters its position so must the mechanism be adjusted to retain the light in the required direction. WillsSignalling49The heliograph comes in a large leather carrying case:imageThis has the contents stamped on the front ‘Helio 5” Mk V’:imageThe top of the case has a large leather strap and buckle to hold down the lid:imageThe case hangs on a canvas shoulder strap, a second webbing strap is attached to the rear:imageThis would pass around the waist when the case was being worn to prevent it from bouncing against the body. The inside of the case has various pockets and mountings top hold the contents securely so they are less likely to break:imageI am still looking for a tripod for this set, but as a lover of obsolete instruments I am so pleased to have added this to my collection. At some point, on a sunny day, I will have to try it out and see if I can make it work again!

Heliograph Mk V (Part 1)

With the heliograph signalling is effected by means of mirrors, which are so placed as to reflect the sun’s rays on to a distant station. The distance which these signals can be read varies according to the state of the atmosphere. Under favourable conditions signals can be read at a distance of seventy miles. The mirrors used are plane circular glasses and the system adopted is the Morse code.

So reads a description of the heliograph from a 1911 Will’s cigarette card. In the modern era of instant communications it is hard for us to comprehend how revolutionary to military communications the heliograph was. The ability to send information instantly over many miles changed the nature of the battlefield for commanders who for the first time had information on operations that was a few minutes rather than several hours old. In the high and hot climates of the Indian frontier the heliograph became a minor game changer. I was therefore very happy to add a complete heliograph to my collection recently:CaptureWe will be looking at this instrument over two posts, tonight we will look at the heliograph itself and tomorrow the case and the operation of the instrument. Henry Christopher Mance (1840–1926), of the British Government Persian Gulf Telegraph Department, developed the first widely accepted heliograph about 1869 while stationed at Karachi, in the Bombay Presidency in British India. Mance was familiar with heliotropes by their use for the Great India Survey. The Mance Heliograph was operated easily by one man, and since it weighed about seven pounds, the operator could readily carry the device and its tripod. The British Army tested the heliograph in India at a range of 35 miles with favorable results. During the Jowaki Afridi expedition sent by the British-Indian government in 1877, the heliograph was first tested in war. The simple and effective instrument that Mance invented was to be an important part of military communications for more than 60 years. The usefulness of heliographs was limited to daytimes with strong sunlight, but they were the most powerful type of visual signalling device known. In pre-radio times heliography was often the only means of communication that could span ranges of as much as 100 miles with a lightweight portable instrument. The leather case holds a number of components for the heliograph: HeliographThis heliograph is the most common design available, the Mance Mk V which has a 5” signalling mirror. The heliograph has a main mirror for signalling, and a secondary, duplex, mirror that can be attached and used to throw the sunlight onto the main signalling mirror if the sun is not in the correct position:imageSpare mirrors are held in a circular metal tin, which also details the full set of spares to be carried with the heliograph:imageI believe this heliograph dates from the Second World War, although I can find no dates on any part of the instrument, the /|\ mark and the instrument identification is etched into the base of the heliograph:imageThe back of the heliograph has a press button that moves the mirror fractionally out of alignment and thus allows the operator to send the dots and dashes of light needed to signal:imageThe heliograph was a remarkably long lived instrument, being used by South African and Australian forces fighting the Germans in North Africa in the Second World War and was such a part of life in the Empire that there is even a poem by Kipling:

Now Jones had left his new-wed bride to keep his house in order,

And hied away to the Hurrum Hills above the Afghan border,

To sit on a rock with a heliograph;

but ere he left he taught His wife the working of the Code that sets the miles at naught.


And Love had made him very sage, as Nature made her fair;

So Cupid and Apollo linked , per heliograph, the pair.

At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills,

he flashed her counsel wise — At e’en, the dying sunset bore her husband’s homilies.


He warned her ‘gainst seductive youths in scarlet clad and gold,

As much as ‘gainst the blandishments paternal of the old;

But kept his gravest warnings for (hereby the ditty hangs)

That snowy-haired Lothario, Lieutenant-General Bangs.


‘Twas General Bangs, with Aide and Staff, who tittupped on the way,

When they beheld a heliograph tempestuously at play.

They thought of Border risings, and of stations sacked and burnt —

So stopped to take the message down — and this is whay they learnt —


“Dash dot dot, dot, dot dash, dot dash dot” twice. The General swore.

“Was ever General Officer addressed as ‘dear’ before?

“‘My Love,’ i’ faith! ‘My Duck,’ Gadzooks! ‘My darling popsy-wop!’

“Spirit of great Lord Wolseley, who is on that mountaintop?”


The artless Aide-de-camp was mute; the gilded Staff were still,

As, dumb with pent-up mirth, they booked that message from the hill;

For clear as summer lightning-flare, the husband’s warning ran: —

“Don’t dance or ride with General Bangs — a most immoral man.”


[At dawn, across the Hurrum Hills, he flashed her counsel wise —

But, howsoever Love be blind, the world at large hath eyes.]

With damnatory dot and dash he heliographed his wife

Some interesting details of the General’s private life.


The artless Aide-de-camp was mute, the shining Staff were still,

And red and ever redder grew the General’s shaven gill.

And this is what he said at last (his feelings matter not): —

“I think we’ve tapped a private line. Hi! Threes about there! Trot!”


All honour unto Bangs, for ne’er did Jones thereafter know

By word or act official who read off that helio.

But the tale is on the Frontier, and from Michni to Mooltan

They know the worthy General as “that most immoral man.”$_57

Desert DPM UBACS Shirt

The British Army introduced a new item of clothing in 2005 to accompany their Osprey Body Armour- the Under Body Armour Combat Shirt (UBACS). British soldiers in Afghanistan had been having problems with overheating when on patrols and wearing body armour- many indeed had taken to wearing t-shirts under their armour which offered no protection to the sleeves at all. Having been to the relatively cool climes of Cyprus and fired on a range in 40 degree heat wearing uniform, helmet and body armour I can attest to the exhausting effects of the heat. To overcome this problem the UBACS has a design that incorporates an open weave body, to reduce heat fatigue under the torso armour, with padded arms that protects the soldier’s arms in urban environments or if he has to fire from the prone position.  The shirt was trialled by special forces in 2006 and became standard issue in 2007. This first batch of shirts was made in Desert Disruptive Pattern Material (DDPM):imageThe main body of the shirt is made of a self-wicking fabric called Coolmax, that draws sweat away from the skin and is more breathable than traditional fabrics. A zip secures the neck, which is edged in the DDPM fabric:imageThe arms are made of infra-red resistant (IRR) fabric, heavily padded with neoprene inserts to offer protection- this in turn is broken down into a number of separate pads to give the arms some flexibility:imageThese also help reduce rubbing at the edges of the armour, such as around the shoulders. On the upper arm is a small pocket, with a Union flag sewn onto the flap and three strips of Velcro to allow the attachment of removable insignia:imageThe label inside indicates this shirt is in a large size, and provides the Nato stores number (8415-99-219-7231):imageThis shirt seems to have been unissued, perhaps due to the changeover to MTP camouflage in 2009 which suddenly rendered this fairly new piece of equipment obsolete. The design however lives on in the new fabric with the MTP UBACS remaining a popular piece of equipment. The shirt was not without its problems, the temperatures in Afghanistan could fluctuate wildly and whilst it was fine in hot weather, when it became cooler in the evening it was not warm enough and due to the bulk of hte sleeves extra layers could not be worn under or over the shirt. Other examples of the shirt were produced in temperate DPM and black fabrics for use in alternative environments, but naturally the DDPM is the most common shirt available due to its widespread use and issue on operations.

Indian Made Jungle Green Waterbottle Carrier

During operations in the jungle in World War Two, men tried to carry the minimum amount of kit possible, one essential they could not do without though was water and this was carried in the standard British Army enamelled kidney shaped waterbottles in a webbing carrier attached to their 37 pattern webbing. We have looked at the Indian made waterbottle carrier before, but this example is made of pre-dyed green webbing:imageAs can be seen, the webbing was clearly dyed in two separate batches as the various components are in differing shades of green:imageNote also the stitching in a contrasting colour- some webbing was dyed after it had been manufactured, but in those cases the stitching becomes dyed the same colour as the rest of the webbing. The waterbottle carrier is typically Indian and is secured by a brass buckle at the top, rather than a press stud:imageThe inside of the webbing is stamped with the manufacturer’s initials ‘KEF’ and a date of 1945, the dark colour of the webbing makes this a little tricky to see:imageThe scale of the webbing industry in India during the Second World War can be hard to comprehend, this account form the 1946 history of the Supply Services in India gives some idea of the output of these manufacturers:

In November 1941, large scale orders for the manufacture of Webbing (Personal) Equipment sets were placed. This store required 33 widths and thicknesses of Webbing and 19 different types of brass Components. One of these components called for 20 production operations. To cope with this activity webbing looms had to be built and three quasi-Government Fabricating Factories were started. 5,700,000 Sets of Webbing Equipment were produced. These required 843,600,000 Brass Components.

Some of you might have realised that this is the second waterbottle carrier I have bought (the other can be seen in the post on the cartridge carriers here), this is because it was typical to wear two carriers on active service, one for your waterbottle and one for your mess tin, the oval Indian made aluminium mess tin fitting nicely into the carrier:image

PLCE Other Arms Pistol Holster

Whilst the PLCE webbing set was primarily designed for infantry use, one of the aims of the design was to allow it to be flexible for use by all branches of the forces. As such a number of holsters were produced that were compatible with the set, including one described as ‘Holster, Pistol, Other Arms’:imageThe holster is made of DPM infrared resistant nylon and has a large pouch on the front for a spare Browning magazine:imageA nylon tie, secured with Velcro, passes over the top to prevent the magazine from being lost:imageSadly I do not have a Browning Hi-Power to demonstrate how the holster works, so I hope my 1922 will suffice to show the general principle:imageThe gun is secured in the holster by a nylon strap that fits over the rear of the pistol grip and secured to the holster with both Velcro and a Newey fastener:imageBelow the holster is a green strap with a Nexus fastener, allowing the holster to be secured to a thigh strap if required:imageTurning to the rear of the holster, the belt fasteners are covered by a large flap, again secured with Velcro and Newey Studs:imageLifting the flap revels a T-Bar plastic tab that locates into the holes on the rear of the PLCE belt:imageAlso under the flap is the manufacturer’s label with the items description and NATO stores code (8465-99-978-5365):imageThe top of the holster has a metal triangular tab that allows the yoke to be attached:imageNote also the Velcro and popper that allow an optional flap to be attached to the holster to offer more protection to the pistol.

With the adoption of the Glock 19 these holsters have now become obsolete- the new weapon needing a specialist holster to engage all its safety features- as such these items of webbing are easily available on the surplus market for a few pounds. I must confess it is only recently that I have started paying much attention to the more modern areas of collecting, but the prices are excellent, in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan the items are easily available and I can see these items getting scarcer in years to come as interest in the conflicts increases- well worth investing in now if it interests you.

P14 Rifle

Whilst the Lee Enfield Rifle is most commonly associated with British Armed Forces, it was not the only rifle in use and tonight we are considering the Enfield Pattern 14 (P14) rifle.imageDuring the Boer War the British were faced with accurate long-range fire from the famous Mauser rifles, model 1893 and 1895, in 7×57mm caliber. This smaller, high-velocity round prompted the War Department to develop their own “magnum” round, the .276 Enfield, in 1910. An advanced new rifle using a modified Mauser-pattern action was built to fire it, the Pattern 1913 Enfield (P13); effective mass production was still some way off when World War I started, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare of introducing a new rifle cartridge in wartime, so nothing came of it.

Adapting the design to fire the standard .303 round led to the Rifle, .303 Pattern 1914 (P14), a design fed from a five-round internal magazine. With its prominent sight protection ears on the receiver,image“dog-leg” bolt handle and “pot-belly” magazine, it was distinctive in appearance. The action was essentially a Mauser design with some Lee features and optimised for rapid fire. The P14 was an advanced design for the time, and was said to be the most advanced service rifle of World War I. The P14 featured an aperture rear sight adjustable to 1600 yards and a 300yd battle setting protected by integral and prominent ‘ears’ on the receiver bridge (note the sight is still missing on mine):imageThere were also volley-fire sights similar to those on the SMLE fitted to the left side of the weapon for use up to 2600 yards, though these were of little use and were usually deleted when the weapon was refurbished.imageLike the Lee–Enfield, the safety falls under the firer’s thumb and can be operated silently.imageIt is a large, strong action, and the bolt travel is long, as it was designed for a powerful cartridge.imageThe primary contractor (Vickers) was unable to produce more than a handful of rifles, so the P14 became a de facto afterthought. The SMLE therefore remained the standard British rifle during World War I and beyond. Compared to the Lee–Enfield the P14 was more accurate, more durable, and had nearly the same high cyclic rate of fire; however, it was considerably heavier and had only half the magazine capacity, giving it a significantly lower effective rate of fire. In contrast to the Boer War experience which had led to the P13/P14 project, Great War conditions favored volume of fire, at which the SMLE excelled.

The need for additional small arms combined with a shortage of spare industrial capacity led the British government to contract with U.S. commercial arms manufacturers, Winchester, Remington and Eddystone (a subsidiary of Remington set up principally to manufacture the P14) to produce the P14 for the British before the US entered the war in 1917. This rifle has the ‘RE’ mark of Remington on the barrel:imageThe butt has a large ‘IR’ in a circle again indicating Remington manufacture and the two /|\ facing each other indicating it has been deleted from military service:imageUnlike the SMLE the barrel protrudes beyond the woodwork, with the forsight protected by two guards:imageThe bayonet, although externally similar to that of the SMLE, attaches in a more conventional fashion:imageAs with most rifles the butt has a metal plate to reinforce it:imageThese rifles were mainly used fro training in the First World War, many being sold as surplus to the newly formed Baltic states after the war. These rifles were also brought out of storage in the Second World War and as well as being used by the Home Guard they saw second line service, as in the case of this private who is guarding a crashed German aircraft somewhere in Britain:imageAnd this member of the Pioneer Corps talking to an Italian POW:imageNote the grooves on the bayonet handle preventing it being confused with the bayonet for the SMLE.

1960 Pattern Trousers

The British Army had introduced a new combat uniform at the time of the Korean War, of a generous cut this was designed to be worn over battledress in the frigid conditions of the Korean front line. Following the end of the Korean War and the scaling back of the British Army due to the end of National Service, it was decided to roll out a modified version of the 1952 pattern uniform for wear across the army in place of the old 1949 pattern battledress. This new, 1960, pattern uniform was very similar to the 1952 pattern design, but was cut closer to the body as it was not intended to be worn over an under layer and was made of a looser weaved cotton than the ‘sateen’ used on the earlier design. In the past we have looked at the 1960 pattern smock here and tonight we are considering the trousers:imageThe first thing that is very obvious is how similar the design of the trousers are to the 1952 pattern examples we looked at earlier this year. There are many identical features including the reinforced knees:imageFirst field dressing pocket:imageAnd large thigh mounted map pocket:imageThe fly is secured with a heavy duty zip, but the extra button closure of the 1952 pattern design has now been deleted:imageA pocket is provided on the seat, and note also the adjustment tabs and buttons to allow the waist band to be reduced slightly:imageThe inside of the waistband has two large white labels:imageThese date the trousers to 1964 and give some care instructions to help the soldier maintain his uniform. The last point mentions the holes for drawstrings that are provided at the bottom of each leg:imageThis example has clearly been used as the soldier has written his name in black pen on the waistband:imageWhen these uniforms were first introduced it was planned that they would be contract dry-cleaned. As might be expected this was quickly knocked on the head and soldiers had to care for their own uniforms. Soldiers washed their own uniforms regularly and this quickly eroded the waterproofing on the fabric- so when worn in heavy rain or immersed in water the uniforms quickly became saturated and very heavy and uncomfortable! The design of these trousers however cannot have been too bad, as when the DPM camouflage uniform was introduced it was a more or less direct copy of this design, but in the new fabric. As ever with clothing of this period the quality is excellent and the trousers are reassuringly heavy.