Monthly Archives: July 2017

51mm Mortar Cleaning Kit

In the 1980s the British Army replaced the longstanding 2 inch mortar with a new 51mm version. Like its predecessor, this came with a dedicated cleaning kit, but it was a little more sophisticated and included more items than the fairly basic kit provided with the 2 inch version. The cleaning kit comes in a green nylon pouch, with an adjustable shoulder strap attached:imageA belt loop is also provided to give an alternative method of carriage if required:imageThe top flap is secured with ‘lift the dot’ metal fastener. Lifting the top flap reveals two small pockets, the left hand one holds a spare firing pin and small cleaning brush, the right hand one a combination tool:imageThe kit then opens further to reveal a large pocket for the cleaning brush head (sadly missing from this kit), a large pocket for the cleaning brush handle pieces and a smaller pocket for an oil bottle:imageLaid out the contents of the cleaning kit are as follows (sans brush head):51mm mortar cleaning kit contentsNote: The plastic rings in the above diagram are actually obdurating rings for the base of the mortar to achieve a gas seal.

The combination tool is a steel bar with two studs on one side:imageAnd two pins on the other:imageThis is stamped and dates from 1984 when it was produced by the Royal Ordnance Factory:imageHere we see a soldier firing the 51mm mortar, the cleaning kit can clearly be seen slung across his body:375mor103-51The UK was unusual in retaining use of a light mortar long after many other nations had dropped it, its effectiveness can be seen by this account from the recent war in Afghanistan:

My mortar man, Private Barke, used his 51mm to pretty good effect, getting his bombs on target every first or second shot. We also used it to mark the enemy for CAS (Close Air Support), firing a few smoke rounds on enemy positions.

World War One Postcard of Soldiers Posing in Pith Helmets

This week’s postcard is an intriguing image with an unusual selection of kit on display. Dating from the time of the Great War, this postcard shows four soldiers standing in the mud outside a set of wooden barrack huts:SKM_C45817062711520 - Copy (5)The men are wearing woolen service dress, but three of them are also wearing Wolseley helmets which seem a little incongruous:SKM_C45817062711520 - CopyThe fourth man retains his service dress cap:SKM_C45817062711520 - Copy (2)The cap badges are clearly Royal Artillery, and this would also explain the 1903 bandoliers being worn:SKM_C45817062711520 - Copy (3)These were commonly issued to mounted and troops who were not infantry. The second man from left is wearing the double breasted mounted great coat:SKM_C45817062711520 - Copy (4)So what is happening in the photograph? I suspect that the men are about to go overseas and have just been issued with their new pith helmets, and like young soldiers of all generations they couldn’t help but pose for a photograph with their new headgear. Generally before shipping overseas, often for years at a time, a soldier would receive fourteen days leave and on his return would be issued his pith helmet and tropical kit before heading to the docks and a ship to foreign climes. Here we see men from the 2nd Battallion Grenadier Guards a few decades later being issued with Wolseley helmets before heading to Egypt in 1936:12002975_1058049424205637_7928923749095364454_n

Indian Made Water Bottle

A few years back we looked at the Indian 37 pattern water bottle cradle and in passing mentioned the Indian made water bottle. We did not however look at it in any great detail and I have now managed to pick up a different example of the bottle that allows us to take a more detailed look at this particular bottle. The bottle is of the traditional kidney shape and would have had a woolen cover originally. From the date it was designed to be used with 37 pattern webbing and it is made of tinplate that has been painted in a matt sand colour, rather than being enameled:imageThe bottle does not have anywhere for a cork string to be tied to it, suggesting the thread of the cork was sewn to the cover. The top of the bottle has a distinctive spout, with a tapering section, before the main opening:imageBy way of contrast, this is a 1941 dated version of the bottle, from the same factory and it shows a slightly different variation in the style of the top pressing:image(This particular bottle is now on its way across the Atlantic to join the collection of a good friend of mine). The base of the bottle has manufacturer’s details stamped in. In this case someone has rubbed the paint off before I managed to pick it up so we can clearly see it was made by The Metal Box Company of Calcutta in 1944:imageThis bottle is made of tinplate and The History of the Supply Department in India relates some of the demands for tinplate in the sub-continent:

Tinplate is essentially needed by all the three Defence Services in war. Mechanised armies depend on tinplate for their petrol, water, oil and grease, all of which must be packed in tins. It is also needed for packing food stuffs, in operational areas, for army utensils like camp kettles, degchies. mess tins, water bottles, and gas mask boxes. In munitions also, tinplate is essential.

Nearly every round fired or bomb dropped owes something to tin-plate. It is required for lining the boxes of rifles and machine gun ammunition. Charges for big guns are stored in tinplate containers. Fuses for small bomb and tails and vanes for bigger ones are all made from tinplate. Depth charges also are dependent on tinplate. These increased military demands led to the expansion of the Indian tinplate industry and its output rose to 58,300 tons in 1942, 68,400 tons in 1943 and 80.000 tons in 1944. The largest increase has been in heavy gauge (26 E.G. and thicker) production in special qualities.

All this expansion has been carried out and maintained despite the loss of Malaya and its supplies of tin and palm oil, as the Company had fairly large stocks of tin. Some imports came from the U.K., the U.S.A. and China. Arrangements were also made for the supply from Kenya of sufficient ore. By confining the use of tinplate to certain essential articles such as containers for

food-stuff and pharmaceuticals, mess this, water bottles etc., the consumption of tin was reduced by about 80 per cent. All other essential war demands requiring coated plate either for anti-corrosion protection or for ease of fabrication such as ammunition boxes and ordnance stores were produced in ‘terneplate’

NBC Suit Mk III (Part 2)- Trousers

Following on from last night’s post on the NBC Suit Mk III Smock, tonight we look at the matching trousers:imageThese are made from the same green fabric as the smock and have the same charcoal infused fabric inners to protect against radiation. Again they come issued in a compressed and vacuum sealed package, rated for four years in storage:imageThe trousers have distinctive diagonal strips of Velcro with matching tabs on the ends of each leg:imageThese allow the trousers to be wrapped tightly to ensure a good fit under the rubber NBC boots issued with the set. A single pocket is provided on the thigh:imageThe trousers are held up with a pair of integral braces that pass over the shoulders:imageAnd minimal waist adjustment is provided with another Velcro tab:imageInstructions on correct fitting were included in the British Army NBC manual ‘Survive to Fight’:imageAs with the smock, a white label is sewn in indicating that this pair are a ‘small’ and were made in 1981 by Remploy:imageBy all accounts the Mk III NBC suit was held in reserve for many years to be issued in case of war, the older Mk II being used for training throughout the Cold War. It was only in the late 1980s, many years after their introduction, that the Mk III came to be commonly seen- just as a new DPM version began to be released to replace it. The Mk III suit is very common today, with large numbers of mint sealed examples being available to purchase on eBay and similar sites.Respiratorsandnoddysuits

NBC Suit Mk III (Part 1)- Smock

Tonight we have part one of a two part post on the British Mk III NBC suit. This suit was introduced in 1976 and consisted of two parts, a hooded smock and a pair of trousers. Tonight we are going to look at the smock and tomorrow the trousers. Together with the S6 respirator and protective gloves and boots these made up a complete protective suit for working in nuclear and chemical battlefields:SKM_C45817070708050The smock was issued in a vacuum sealed bag that gave it a storage shelf life of four years. A paper label visible under the packaging helped identify the contents:imageA second label was provided to the back of the package, helpfully giving instructions on what to do should the hood’s slide fastener become broken!imageOn opening the packet the smock can be removed and it consists of a mid-green, over-the-head garment made from modoacrylic and nylon:imageUnlike other nations the British NBC suit was designed to have air pockets inside it to make it more comfortable to wear for long periods of time- the suit being expected to give protection for up to 24 hours. The inside of the smock has a black liner made of a charcoal impregnated fabric:imageThis is lining that protects the wearer from radiation. A large central pocket is fitted onto the front of the suit:imageAccording to ARRSE the pocket was useful for storing a packet of fags! A set of pen holders is fastened to one of the sleeves of the smock:imageEach sleeve has a Velcro fastener to allow the sleeves to be tightened to help provide a close seal with the gloves:imageA pad is sewn onto the sleeve to allow detector papers to be attached:imageAround the waist is another set of Velcro straps that allow this to be tightened as well:imageThe smock has a large integrated hood:imageThis has a drawstring that allows a tight seal to be formed with the wearer’s S6 Respirator. The inside of the hood has the smock’s label:imageFrom this we can see that the smock is a ‘Large’. The NBC suit came in five sizes, each with its own NSN number:

X Small:                CH          8415-99-132-3493

Small:                    CH          8415-99-132-3494

Normal:                CH          8415-99-132-3495

Large:                    CH          8415-99-132-3496

Special:                 CH          8415-99-132-3497

Tomorrow we will look at the accompanying trousers, but I leave you tonight with this rather frightening image of troops on exercise in Mk III NBC suits:SKM_C45817070708051

Petty Officer’s Rank Badge

A naval petty officer is equivalent to an army sergeant and is the lowest of the Senior Rates in the Royal Navy. Petty Officers have a distinctive rank badge of crossed anchors beneath the sovereigns crown. Today this badge is usually worn in the form of a shoulder slide, however during the Second World War it was commonly worn as an embroidered badge on the sleeve. These were produced in gold thread for best uniforms and in red for everyday working uniform, this is an example of the latter:imageThis has the king’s crown above the anchors, indicating a pre-1952 manufacture. The same badge is illustrated in the 1937 Seaman’s Handbook:01The badge appears to be machine embroidered, and the loose threads can be seen on the back:imageAlthough today all petty officers wear ‘fore and aft’ rig, during the Second World War there were various grades of petty officer and those who had only qualified in the last year still wore the ratings’ ‘square rig’:SW0058tNote the petty officer’s badge on his sleeve. However it is the double breasted monkey jacket that is most associated with the rank, again the crossed anchor badge is clearly visible:po_victor

Canadian ’82 Pattern’ NBC Backpack

Tonight we come to the final post on the 82 pattern webbing set, at least until I track down some more components. The Canadian Army issued a special lightweight rucksack for their troop’s NBC equipment that accompanied the 82 pattern set, although technically it was never actually a part of the equipment. This small pack was popular with troops and frequently used in the field as a general purpose haversack to supplement the ‘butt’ pack we looked at a few weeks back. The pack is made of green nylon, with three straps on the front securing the flap:imageThese are secured with black ‘Fastex’ fasteners:imageThe pack here is made in a mid green shade, other examples can be found with much darker colouring. Under the top flap is a drawstring that helps secure the main part of the rucksack and keeps the contents dry:imageOne side of the pack has a small exterior pocket, secured with Velcro:imageThe rucksack has a pair of shoulder straps sewn to the rear, with slide adjusters to allow the wearer to get a comfortable fit:imageEach strap is heavily padded for comfort:imageThis pack has clearly seen heavy use as there are a number of different soldiers’ names and numbers written in pen on the underside of the top flap:imageThe only label inside the bag is a small manufacturer’s label for ‘Just Kit’:imageThis then ends our study of the 82 pattern set for the time being- there are still some components left to find so we will revisit the set as and when I add these to the collection. I hope this series has been of interest to you and that I have managed to raise the profile of this underappreciated set of commonwealth webbing.