Monthly Archives: May 2018

Mk V .303 Blank

Happy Empire Day! If you have not already checked out our sister site ‘British Empire Uniforms’ on Facebook please, take a look. There are plenty of period photographs and reconstructions of uniforms from around the Empire in the Interwar and Second World War periods.

Like all countries, the British made extensive use of blank ammunition in training. The .303 round had a number of different types of blank ammunition before settling on the Mk V. in 1894 when cordite was introduced. This round was to remain in service 1957 when the Mk 9 blank was introduced that had a nitrocellulose propellant. Tonight we are taking a closer look at the ubiquitous Mk V cordite blank and we have two different examples:imageThe round on the right is, I believe, a WW1 blank as it came from a WW1 charger of WW1 dated spent rounds so it seems logical to assume it is of that vintage. The round on the left has a 1942 date stamp so is most likely a WW2 blank round. The reason I am being cautious with the dates is that these blanks were often made form cartridge cases that were rejected as not being suitable for ball ammunition, but were still good enough to be converted to blanks. This means the head stamps do not necessarily correspond to the blank itself as they would have been added before the case was relegated to use as a blank. The case heads of these two examples therefore may only tell us when the case itself was manufactured, not when it was converted into a blank:imageThe round on the right is dated 1942 and was manufactured for a Mk VII ball round by Radway Green, that on the left has the ‘K’ for Kynoch. These rounds are Berdan primed rather than having the earlier Boxer primers and the blank itself used 10 grains of sliced cordite. The neck of the case was closed with a rosette crimp:imageBlanks were used extensively for training, and rounds that had been dropped by accident provided great, if dangerous, fun to local children as recalled by Raymond McElvenney:

During the war, these old building were used by the army for training purposes. To make the exercises more realistic, they fired blanks from their guns and there was much banging from large firework things called ‘thunder flashes’…

After the soldiers had gone, we went around the building collecting the spent cartridges up. We also found a number of unfired bullets, so we put them in a crack in the wall. We found a piece of wood with a nail in it; we placed the nail against the bottom of the bullet and hit it with a brick causing the bullet to explode. We thought this was great fun.

In this instance I think the boys actually found unfired blanks, despite the author’s reference to bullets!

DDPM Three Magazine MOLLE Pouch

We have looked at the MTP pouches for the Osprey Mk IV quite extensively over the last few weeks, so this week we are taking a break and looking at an example of the DDPM pouches that were used with the earlier osprey Mk II and Mk III armour. It must be said that these pouches were designed to be worn on the Tactical load Carrying Vest we saw here, and this would then be worn over the Osprey. In reality troops quickly ditched the vest and attached pouches directly to the Osprey vests to reduce weight and bulk in the heat of operations. This pouch then is for carrying three SA80 magazines:imageThe pouch is particularly deep when compared to the later designs, as can be seen from the side:imageNote also that PALS straps are also sewn along the side of the pouch to allow smaller pouches to be fastened here (quite why you would choose to do this is beyond me, but the option is there). The back of the pouch has a pair of straps and the PALS loops to allow the pouch to be attached to the vest or osprey system:imageA label is sewn to the rear with store’s details:imageA standard metal eyelet is fitted into the base for drainage:imageThe pouch as quite a complicated fastener for the top flap, firstly it is held by a strip of Velcro:imageThe lid is then secured with a ‘Spanish’ fastener:imageThis consists of a plastic staple:imageA loop then goes over this:imageAnd the plastic fastener is pushed through this. This clip is very secure, but difficult to open in a hurry so troops often slipped the pull tap through the staple instead so that it was easier to pull it open:imageThis was not as secure, but did allow quicker access to the magazines in a combat situation. This design was clearly not ideal as the later patterns of Osprey ammunition pouches only carried a maximum of two magazines rather than the three of this design, presumably because troops found the pouches too deep to wear comfortably and ditched the Spanish clips for simpler Velcro fastenings.

73 Pattern RAF Tropical Shirt

In the early 1970s the RAF went through a major review of its uniforms and a number of new pieces of clothing were introduced taking advantage of new materials such as man-made fabrics and new forms of fastening such as Velcro. The cut of these garments was also radically changed to present a more modern (for the 70s) appearance that brought the uniforms closer to what was considered fashionable for the day. As well as the blue grey uniforms worn in the United Kingdom, the designers were also let loose on tropical clothing and tonight we are looking at the results of this, the 1973 pattern RAF tropical jacket introduced at the same time as the 1972 pattern No 2 uniform back in Britain:imageThis garment is made in the tradition khaki shade used by tropical clothing since the Boer War, however instead of being made form cotton it is made of a polyester blend. In form it is quite reminiscent of the wartime battledress, with a high waist and fixed collar. It does however come with short sleeves to suit it for wear in warmer environments. The front of the jacket and the waist secure with large pieces of Velcro:imageFurther Velcro is used for the adjustment straps on either hip:imageAnd to secure the top flap of the interior pocket:imageA pair of shoulder straps are fitted, again secured with Velcro, and on this jacket they came with rank insignia already attached:imageThis design clearly remained in use for some time as the label on this example has metric sizing:imageMetric sizing did not come into widespread use until the late 1970s and it seems this jacket is dated 1979. Opinions on the 72/73 pattern series of RAF clothing do not seem to be very complementary with most who wore them regarding the garments as looking too ‘un-military’ and a design which by trying to match contemporary fashions dated very quickly. I would also question how comfortable this garment would have been in hot climates, man-made fibres of this period being notoriously uncomfortable in warm weather as they did not ‘breathe’ in the same way cotton, aertex or more modern breathable fabrics can.

B.166 Ammunition Box

We are continuing our survey of British Army ammunition boxes by looking at the B.166 box tonight. This is one of the larger boxes and is amongst the easiest patterns for collectors to find- its large size making it popular as a tool box which has helped many survive to the present day. My example was bought as such and has been sanded, repainted and stencilled to make it look a little more like it did when first manufactured, as such the holes drilled through the outside of the box are not original and date from its post war life in someone’s workshop:imageThe official designation for the box is B.166 and this is stamped into the lid:imageThis particular example is dated 1945. Other features of the box are identical to British ammunition boxes of the period. The lid is attached with a pair heavy duty hinges that allow the lid to be held away from the main body of the box for easy removal of the contents:imageA pair of metal clips hold the lid down and cleats are included to allow the clips to be wired shut:imageA heavy duty metal handle is fitted to each end of the box to allow it to be carried:imageThe full weight of these boxes is such that it is easier and safer for two men to carry the box between them if possible rather than one man risk injuring himself by moving it alone. The box was used for a number of different types of ordnance, the most common being for 3” mortar rounds. The list of potential contents include:

3 in M.L. Mortar HE

3 in M.L. Mortar Smoke

3 in M.L. Mortar Chemical

3 in M.L. Mortar Practice

Number Packed: 6

Gross weight: 88 lbs

Grenades No. 73

Number Packed: 10

Gross weight: 62 lbs

Grenade No. 77

Number Packed: 34

Gross weight: 41 lbs

Grenade No. 79

Number Packed: 24

Gross weight: 56 lbs

Portfires, common

Number Packed: 200

Gross weight: – lbs

Bombs, P.I.A.T., H.E.

Bombs, P.I.A.T., Inert, practice

Of all the ammunition boxes in my collection, the B.166 is the most useful as its large size means I can pack a lot of kit inside it for storage. I now have three of this particular type of box and none have cost me more than £10 each.

HMS Adventure Rating Studio Portrait

This week we have a cabinet card depicting a sailor and a young lady dating from the Edwardian era:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (3)The sailor is wearing traditional rating’s uniform:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (3) - CopyHowever of most interest to us is his cap tally which reads ‘HMS Adventure’:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (4) - CopyHMS Adventure was the lead ship of the Adventure class of two scout cruisers. She displaced 2,670 tons and was armed with ten quick firing 12 pounder guns:HMS_Adventure_(1904)The ship was launched in 1905 meaning the photograph can be no earlier than this. The lady’s fashion however was popular in the first half of King Edward’s reign:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (5) - CopyThis suggests the photograph was taken in 1905 or 1906, right at the start of the ship’s service. Note also the dog by the sitters’ feet.

The photograph is what is known as a ‘cabinet card’ these replaced the earlier ‘carte de visite’ and consisted of a thin photograph mounted on a piece of heavy cardstock, usually measuring 4 ¼” x 6 ½”. This style of photograph was introduced in the 1860s but really became popular from the 1870s onwards as people appreciated the larger size of the image. Early images were in sepia, but by the time our photograph was taken black and white was more common. By the start of the twentieth century the format was declining in popularity as people favoured either larger images they could have framed for their walls, or smaller un-mounted photographs they could paste into an album. The style did not lend itself to work outside of a photographer’s studio and the growing desire for outdoor photographs or more naturalistic poses and settings all aided in its decline. This particular image was taken in a photographer’s studio in Pudsey, near Leeds:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (6) - CopyThis style of cabinet card soldiered on into the 1930s but by that point its heyday was long gone.

Happily for us, the thick card stock the photographs were pasted to makes these images very robust so they survive in good condition down to the present day, most remaining images being formal studio portraits like this example.

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Kit bag

This post marks four years since the first post on the Tales From the Supply Depot blog was published. We have covered a lot of ground since then with nearly 1400 posts and items covering British, Empire and Commonwealth military history from the 1870s to the present day. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts and learnt something along the way- I certainly have! Here’s to the next four years…

It has been a while since I last covered a kit bag on the blog, this is not because I haven’t come across them but rather because I have a number of them now so I am only picking up the more interesting varieties. One thing that always gets me interested though are nice period markings and tonight we are looking at a recent acquisition that is very nicely marked by its original owner. Unlike many of the examples we have covered, this is actually a post war bag and as such has a couple of subtle changes to some of the earlier bags we have looked at:imageThe most obvious change over earlier designs is the addition of a heavy duty green carry handle to one side of the main body:imageThis presumably makes the kit bag a little easier to carry and throw onto and off of transport. The neck of the bag is secured with a heavy duty draw string:imageA weather flap is included, and here we can see the /|\ mark and a manufacture date of 1949:imageWhat makes this bag interesting though are the markings, which were clearly added at two separate dates. Firstly we have the original owners name, Bottomley, and his number 22836224 stencilled onto the side of the kit bag in black paint:imageUnderneath this is a free hand shipping notice that informs us that the soldier was a member of the HQ Company of the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and he was shipping out to the Middle East Land Forces. The two battalions of the Inniskilling Fusiliers had been merged together in 1948, but the 2nd Battalion was briefly resurrected in April 1952 to see service in Egypt and in Cyprus against the EOKA insurgents, the battalion lasting until 1956. This allows us to date the use of this kit bag to a quite small four year period. The battalion was disbanded ostensibly due to difficulty recruiting, the fact that it had spent four years overseas being seen as a major factor in this. The government of the day explained that when the second battalion had been formed there was a shortage of front line troops with many commitments across the globe and this was a way of solving that shortfall, by 1956 much of this pressure had gone and so it was felt suitable to draw down the size of the regiment as explained by the Undersecretary for War Fitzroy Maclean:

It might be useful if I were to recall the circumstances in which it was decided, in 1952, to raise eight new second battalions. In 1950, hostilities had begun in Korea, and it had become a matter of urgency to increase the Regular Army without delay. National Service was lengthened from eighteen months to two years, Regular Army reservists were recalled, and Regulars were retained with the Colours. In the winter of 1951–52 China entered the Korean War, and additional problems faced us in Persia and Egypt.…Those were the circumstances in which it was possible to raise the eight new second battalions. Without them it would have been impossible to meet our overseas commitments. At that time we had almost no reserves in this country. Today the situation for the Army is very much easier for a number of reasons. Redeployment of our forces in the Middle East, the reduction of our forces in Korea, the withdrawal of the garrison from Trieste, all mean that we can reduce the active army to the minimum which is required to enable us to fulfil our commitments in Europe and to meet our considerably reduced commitments elsewhere; and, finally, to provide a strategic reserve.

Tin of Dried Egg

During the Second World War Britain tried to produce as much food at home as it possible could, but in a small island with lots of mouths to feed it would never be possible to be completely self-sustaining. This meant that some food had to continue to be imported and with shipping space needed for munitions and essential war materials anything that could reduce the bulk of food as well as extending its shelf life was used. One of the most notorious of these space saving methods was drying and canning eggs and it is a tin of wartime dried egg we are looking at tonight:imageThis tin was originally gold, with black lettering, but the gold has largely flaked off now. As can be seen from the front, this egg was canned in the USA and the tin holds the equivalent of 12 eggs:imageAn adult was allowed one tin of dried eggs every eight weeks under rationing, costing 1s9d per tin and cooks had to come up with inventive ways to use the product. Instructions on how to prepare the egg are printed on the can and government leaflets also advised how best to use the product:imageOne tablespoon of powder, mixed with two tablespoons of water was equivalent to one egg. The product was clearly at risk of being tainted by strong odours and flavours, so instructions advised storing away from anything with a strong smell:imageThe scale of dried egg production in the US during World War Two was staggering, between 1942 and 1946 the average yearly production of dried egg was 209 million pounds! Despite this the British housewife never warmed to the product and the government spent a lot of time persuading people to use dried eggs. The Ministry of Food was busy encouraging house wives to use the new product and advised:

This dried egg is pure fresh egg with no additions, and nothing but the moisture taken away. It is pure egg, spray dried.

Eggs are a highly concentrated form of food. They contain first class body-building material. They also help us to resist colds and other infection because of their high protective properties.

Eggs are easily digested, and for this reason are especially good for children and invalids.

Dried eggs are just as good as fresh eggs and should be used in the same way. They are very useful for main dishes.CapturePowdered egg could lead to some unusual stories, such as this one related by Win Watson:

There was food rationing of course, but we always had enough to eat, though there were very unpleasant things like dried eggs and dried milk. When I was harvesting once, we girls were taking it in turns to cook and one day we were going to have bacon and dried egg made up into a sort of omelette. The bacon was cooked first, but when the dried egg was put into the pan it began to behave in the most extraordinary fashion. It began to foam, rose up and came over the sides of the pan. It turned out the girl who had been cook thee day before was tidy and had put the soap powder into an empty dried egg tin!

Powdered egg has a shelf life of between 5 and 10 years, so these are well past their sell by date and I for one have no intention of opening them to sample what they taste like after 75 years!