Monthly Archives: August 2017

DPM Boonie Hat

The boonie hat has to be one of the most successful items of military headgear ever designed, as popular today with soldiers as when it was introduced over seventy years ago. Over the decades the design has changed subtly with a lower crown and wider brim being the most obvious changes, along with changes to fabric to match the current combat uniforms. Tonight we have our first example in the long lived Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM):imageLike other boonie hats, this one has a broad brim, with multiple rings of stitching to reinforce it:imageNote also the tab and eyelet for attaching a piece of string to act as a chin strap to. The broad brim keeps both sun and rain off the wearer’s face and neck. The crown of the hat has metal ventilation grills and loops for attaching camouflage  foliage to:imageThis example has a fairly early style of label sewn inside, it has an NSN number but is one of the early examples with this feature. It is also in a very generous size of 60:imageAs ever ARRSEpedia has a wonderfully irreverent description of the boonie hat:

At one time they were very hard to find and possession of one marked the individual out as either being one of them, someone who’d been to a hot posting like Belize, Hong Kong or Cyprus, or (more often than not) someone who was simply a big-timing walty cnut who’d been shopping at Silverman’s.

The variation of styles that can be achieved by their wearers is quite staggering. RLC mongs and RAF techies tend to adopt the ‘Eastwood’, whilst anyone worth their salt either alters theirs by cutting down the brim (the origins of this date back to Malaya, when peripheral vision was enhanced), or purchases a tailored SF-style example available from several commercial suppliers in that never ending pursuit of allyness.

In this photograph from Belize, these well camo-ed troops show off a selection of bush hats:image

Vickers Mk4 Ammunition Belt

One of the great strengths of the Vickers machine gun was its ability to fire rounds almost indefinitely, only needing its water jacket topping up periodically. In order to do this it needed an effective method of feeding ammunition and while others turned to box machines or clips, the Vickers (and its antecedent the Maxim) used cloth belts of 250 rounds. Tonight we have a late example of the Vickers machine gun belt, dating from 1957:imageThis is actually a MK 4 belt, as indicated by the stamp on the starter tab:imageThis indicates that the belt was manufactured by T F S Ltd, Thomas French and Sons.  The MK 4 belt was introduced in the mid to late war era and was known as a stripless belt as it did not have brass tabs between the rounds of .303 but rather was a simple piece of pre-shrunk webbing. This design was filled in the factory and unlike earlier belts was not designed to be reloadable in the field. A stiffened piece of webbing is sewn to the end to act as a starter tab:imageEach round of .303 fits into a little pocket on the belt:imageAs I need 250 rounds to fill the belt I have a way to go… The belts were packed into plywood ammunition boxes and all the packaging and belt were designed to be discarded after use. The belt is stamped every fifty rounds so the gunner can see how many rounds he has fired:imageLaid out the full 250 round belt is rather long:imageIn this image a soldier from the Canadian Saskatoon Light Infantry fires a Vickers from an infantry carrier in Italy- note the disposable MK 4 ammunition belt:image

Olive Green PLCE Utility Pouch

Over the last month or so we have looked at a couple of pieces of olive green PLCE webbing. Now thanks to my friend and fellow collector, Michael Fletcher, I now have a complete wearable set of early PLCE:


As with the Canadian webbing earlier this year, to save overloading you and boring everyone to tears I am going to look at the components piece by piece each week for the next month and a half. I have already covered some of these pieces in their DPM form, but there are considerable design differences between early and later PLCE so we will revisit these components as they are different enough to warrant their own posts- it’s not just the colour that changes!

We kick off tonight with the PLCE utility pouch:imageThe utility pouch is designed as a general purpose pouch that can be used for carrying extra ammunition, or a soldiers personal kit. Maximum flexibility was emphasised in the design, as seen on the rear:imageHere two sets of fabric loops and two brass c hooks give the user a choice of a high or low slung pouch:imageThe top of the pouch has two metal D-rings that allow it to be fitted in place of the ammunition pouches on either side of the belt buckle- the rings being used to attach the yoke to:imageThis was a major upgrade from the old 58 pattern set and gave far more flexibility. The black plastic female Fastex fastener allows the pouch to be attached to the rucksack should you so desire.

These early pouches do not have sewn in stores labels, but rather have the information printed straight onto the fabric:imageAs can be seen this is no longer always very clear, but you can make out the NSN number and the /|\ marking fairly easily.

This early olive green PLCE is still available, but slowly becoming scarcer as it was only produced for a short period of time. As such it is an excellent set for the serious student of British load bearing equipments to start putting together whilst it is still easy to find.

Mk III Prismatic Compass

Right back at the start of the blog we looked at an example of the MK I marching compass here. Compasses don’t come up too often so it has taken until now for me to add another to my collection, in this case a Prismatic MK III:imageThis compass is not in the best condition as the top piece of glass with the scale on it is badly cracked, but it will do until I can find a better example to add to the collection. The prismatic compass is a radically different design, being far more complicated as can be seen when the two designs are placed side by side:imageIn the case of this compass the main body is made of brass, painted black with a scale around the body picked out in white:imageThe dial itself is made of mother of pearl to help make it easier to read in low light and this is floating in oil:imageThe prism that gives its name to the prismatic compass is hinged and can be folded up onto the main dial of the compass:imageThe prism helps the user make more accurate readings than with a standard marching compass. A small dial is fixed to the side to allow the rotating bezel to be secured into position:imageA thumb ring is fixed to the end of the compass:imageBy pushing the thumb through the ring and making a fist, a stable platform can be made for taking accurate readings. The base of the compass is marked with details of model, date, manufacturer and the /|\ acceptance mark:image

T.G. Co Ltd stands for Thomas Glausser, who made the compass.

On a safety note the MK III prismatic compass used radium for the luminous paint on the dials. Although this has gone brown it is still releasing gamma and beta radiation. The beta radiation is contained inside the case, but the gamma radiation leaches out. They are safe to collect, but avoid excessive handling and don’t carry them regularly in your pocket!

These compasses are widely faked in India so collectors should be wary when purchasing. This site here has some helpful hints on spotting fakes.

Longmore Military Railway S160 Photograph

It is always nice to rediscover something in your collection you had forgotten you had. This was the case last week when I came across a photograph album I bought many years ago containing a large number of images from a man who had served on the Longmoor Military Railway from 1945 until the mid 1950s. As well as many great shots of the men themselves, there are also some fantastic photographs of the locomotives in service and over the coming few months I will be dipping into this album every so often to bring you some of the gems. We start tonight with a nice shot of a soldier in front of an S160 locomotive:SKM_C45817082109510 - Copy (4)The soldier wears shirt, beret and battledress trousers to give an informal work uniform suitable for working on locomotives:SKM_C45817082109510 - CopyThe engine itself is numbered 93257:SKM_C45817082109510 - Copy (2)This was an American produced S160 locomotive, built by ALCO in January of 1944, and named Major General Carl R Gray Jr:SKM_C45817082109510 - Copy (3)The S160 was a cheap mass produced locomotive produced in the USA for use on the railways of Europe following their liberation. The engine was designed by Major J W Marsh of the US Army Corps of Engineers and huge numbers were shipped to the United Kingdom before D-Day. Whilst many were stored in the open, a significant number were pressed into service in the UK, helping the vastly overworked engines of the big four railway companies. British railway men liked the self-cleaning grates of these new engines, but found the axle-boxes difficult to keep oiled and certain aspects of the design caused confusion due to the differing working practices on both sides of the Atlantic.

The S160 at Longmoor Military Railway seems to have been a lone example with the British Army, acquired in January 1945, and one former railwayman at the LMR noted that it was only used occasionally. It was still in existence as late as 1955, but I have had difficulty tracking down the full history of the locomotive in LMR service.

Extreme Cold Weather Face Mask

Looking like something out of a horror movie, British troops operating in Arctic conditions are issued with white cloth face coverings to protect themselves from frostbite in the sub-zero temperatures:CaptureTonight we are looking at one of these facemasks in detail:imageThe facemask is made of white fabric, with two holes for eyes, slots being provided above to allow the straps of a pair of goggles to be fitted through the mask:imageThe mouth piece of the face mask has a removable cover, secured with Velcro and a single button:imageEach face mask comes with two spare covers, allowing them to be replaced for the purposes of hygiene as this is obviously the area of the mask that will collect most germs:imageThe face mask creates a layer of warm air between the wearer’s face and the frigid temperatures that protects the soldier form frostbite. A Royal Marine Daniel Murphy of Bradford explains their effectiveness:

‘When I first saw the face masks I thought “what’s this?” but they obviously work. I actually had to pull mine off because I was getting too hot.’

The face mask has a small label sewn into it with details of its NSN number and manufacture:imageNote also that the fabric has been treated to make it flame resistant. This particular mask dates from 1993 and was supplied in a ziplock bag:imageThis again has a stores label on it with details of the contents and date:imageAs in the case of the wristlets we looked at earlier this month, the MoD’s ‘Black Book of Kit’ includes an entry on the facemask, indicating it was introduced prior to 1991:Capture1For the collector of British Army Arctic equipment, these facemasks are easily available online and are frequently not more than £3 or £4 for a brand new set.

6″ Side Cutting Pliers

It is always nice to find a piece of militaria you have been trying to find for a long time, even more so when it is extremely cheap! Long term readers will know I have a Vickers Machine Gun spare parts case and I have slowly been building up the contents inside, one item of the spares case is an innocuous pair of 6” side cutting pliers. Last year I bought a pair of marked pliers over the internet and unfortunately when they arrived they turned out to be too large, therefore I was very pleased to find a marked 6” pair for £1 this week:imageIn form they are nearly identical to the pair we looked at here, just smaller. They are dated 1943 and stamped with the /|\ acceptance mark:imageAlthough it is faint, a manufacturer’s stamp can also be seen, unfortunately I can only make out the –“& Sons” part of the name:imageI am sure these pliers were a general purpose tool, rather than being specifically manufactured with the Vickers gun in mind. Having said that they are certainly part of the spares kit, as can be seen on the excellent ‘Vickers Machine Gun Collection and Research Association’ website here. The pliers were carried in the spare parts wallet which in turn was carried inside the Spare Parts Case. I imagine these tools actually survive in quite large numbers- after all they are still an effective pair of pliers for use outside the military. Unfortunately as can be seen from this pair, the markings are quite small and it is often the case that you will need to check many dozens of pairs of pliers to finally find a military marked one- but that’s the fun of collecting!