My thanks go to Jayne and David king for kindly giving me tonight’s object for my collection. The wire framed collapsible cot bed will be familiar to many, with the design still being made today for camping and during the Second World War the British army purchased them for issue to troops as a lightweight and comfortable bed for use in the field. The design consists of a stretched piece of khaki canvas, about six feet long by 2 feet 6 inches wide and a tensioned metal frame:This bed folds down and can be wrapped up into a simple roll for storage and transport:Whilst reasonably lightweight, even folded down this is too heavy and bulky for infantry troops and so was issued predominantly to those on wheeled transport where the cot could be easily stowed and transported, before quickly being set up whilst the crew rested. Here we see a collapsible cot being used by Trooper Ernie Tester of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons at the back of a Staghound armoured car near Caen on 19th July 1944:The main body of the cot hinges in the middle, with a male and female socket joint for the two halves:Separating these allows the canvas to fold in two and then be rolled up:A pair of webbing straps sewn to the underside of the cot allow the bundle, with the legs, to be secured firmly together:These straps have an unusual buckle with a folding loop that allows the tapes to be pulled very tight:A webbing handle is also fitted to allow the cot to be carried when rolled up:The cot works by having four sprung legs that slot into female connectors on the underside of the main canvas:The legs themselves are in a shallow ‘W’ shape that pushes outwards and tensions the canvas:Each leg has a pair of rubber feet moulded onto it:This particular cot dates from 1944 and the date, a stores code and the /|\ mark are clearly stamped onto the canvas:This example is in beautiful condition and unlike modern beds of the same design, it is about 6” wider so it is far more comfortable to lay on and the design is much easier to put together than modern versions which often have multiple rods that need to be slotted together and threaded into the canvas.
Rubber bullets were designed to be a non-lethal round for use against crowds of protestors to drive them back when lethal force would be inappropriate. The British Army began to use these rounds extensively in Northern Ireland during the troubles, with their first use in August 1970. The round itself has a metal core surrounded by rubber and this six inch projectile is fired from a metal casing that is slotted into a modified flare gun action in a weapon designated the L67:Tonight we are looking at the casing from one of these rounds, and my thanks go to Michael Fletcher who helped me add this one to the collection. The casing is made of aluminium and in shape and size is identical to the CS practice version we looked at here but chemically blackened:
Stencilled around the outside of the case is ‘ROUND A RIOT 1.5IN BATON LR L3A1’:This then indicates that this is an Anti-riot round, the bore diameter is 1.5 inches and that it is a long range baton round. A second marking indicates that the round was assembled in January 1973:The case itself was manufactured in October 1972, as indicated on the base:56,000 of these rounds were fired by 1975 and the instructions were for it to be fired at the ground so it ricocheted up into the target as it could cause serious injury and indeed fatalities if fired directly at a person. A safer plastic baton round was introduced in 1972 and slowly replaced this round over the next few years although a small number of fatalities have still arisen. During the troubles 17 people were killed by rubber and plastic baton rounds. Considering that 125,000 of the rounds had been fired that works out to a death rate of 0.0136% so they were a comparatively safe way of dealing with a rioting crowd, especially if used correctly and aimed at the abdomen and legs where they caused great pain but little risk of death, rounds striking the chest or head had the capacity to be fatal and training emphasised how soldiers and police could use the rounds most safely.
This week’s photograph is a rather nice action shot of a 3” mortar being fired:This image is marked ‘Mandalay, Burma, 1945’ on the back and is probably either staged for the camera or taken during training as the mortars are not dug in and the camera man would be very exposed in this position if they were being fired in anger. In the centre of the photograph is the 3” mortar itself:One of the crew can be seen having just dropped the bomb into the tube, indeed the bomb can be seen half way in the barrel:The second crewman is kneeling next to the weapon:A set of cardboard ammunition tubes for the bombs is on the ground a short distance behind them:A second mortar team is in the background:As is a Bren gun carrier:The following detailed description of the 3” mortar comes from ‘Militaryfactory.com’:
The design was characterized by its major components – namely the launch tube, baseplate, bipod, sighting equipment and ammunition. The system was 81mm (3.2″) in precise caliber (despite the 3″ used in the official designation)) and cleared to fire a standard High-Explosive (HE) projectile as well as smoke and illumination rounds. The mortar measured in at 1.295 meters long while the barrel made up 1.19 meters in length. When made ready to fire, the system weighed in at 126 lb while, when broken down for transport, the weapon required at least three personnel – each charged with transporting one of the major pieces into combat. The weapon’s elevation as limited from +45 to +80 degree angles of fire and traverse was 11-degrees in either direction. Elevation and traverse controls were mounted on the bipod assembly while the sighting device was identified along the barrel, towards the muzzle end. The 81mm projectile weighed in at 10 lb apiece.
Operation was conventional with personnel sighting the weapon against the intended target area. One member then dropped the ready-to-fire projectile in through the muzzle to which the projectile fell down the launch tube and struck a firing pin at the baseplate, igniting the internal charge propellant. This explosion forced the projectile out of the tube and along a rudimentary flight path. Crews could then revise the traverse and elevation based on where the previous round fell and repeat the process all over again. The heavy baseplate served to retard the inherently violent recoil of such a weapon while also serving as a third support leg in conjunction with the bipod assembly. As an “indirect fire” weapon, the object of the mortar was to target areas as opposed to individual enemy forces. Its High-Explosive projectiles were very useful against concentrations of enemy personnel. Smoke rounds could be used to shield friendly tactical movements while illumination rounds were used in low-light settings to mark enemy positions.
Typically, the 3-inch mortar system was carried into position by mortar team personnel but it was not uncommon for the British Army to make use of their nimble little “Universal Carrier” tracked vehicles in transporting the weapon at speed (note that the 3-inch mortar was not designed to be fired from the vehicle itself and had to be unloaded and setup to fire on the ground). This speedy transport allowed mortar teams the capability to reach a given area quickly, complete with ammunition supply in tow, and disembark to setup the mortar and make it ready to fire. A crew could also dig out the surrounding land and create a ground depression from which to fire from, providing the crew with basic protection from enemy return fire. So long as the ammunition supply was forthcoming, the mortar team could supply a steady rate-of-fire over the heads of friendly troops
The Royal Navy’s action working dress served them well for over seventy years. Although it was modified continuously, the basic concept of a mid-blue shirt and dark blue trousers remained until the early 2010s when it was decided a more modern working dress was needed and trials began on a new uniform based on the MTP PCS uniform which had by that point been in service for a number of years. The initial batches of trial and indeed pre-production uniforms were based off this design, the final standard issue uniforms differed slightly in detail. The most striking feature of this uniform is that it is made in an overall shade of dark blue and the colour contrast that was so distinctive about the earlier design was dispensed with. Tonight we are looking at a very early example of the shirt from this uniform that matches the trials garments rather than the main production run clothing:This clothing was first trialled on the Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring in 2012 as seen in this photograph:One of the most distinctive features of these early pattern shirts is the large pocket with a Velcro panel on each sleeve:This feature was deleted on the production uniforms:It was intended that each ship would have a large embroidered panel attached here with the ship’s badge and name on it:This feature was quickly deleted in favour of just an ensign and qualification badge sewn directly to the sleeves. Other features of this uniform to note are the central rank slide and Velcro chest pockets, again taken from the MTP combat shirt:The final production uniforms had the words ‘Royal Navy’ and the sailor’s name embroidered in tape and sewn to the chest on either side of the central fastening. This early production garment does not, having a single piece of Velcro over the left breast to attach a name tape to which is removable rather than permanently attached:The sleeves are also different to later patterns as they have pockets for foam padding, again taken directly from the MTP garments. This feature was deleted on later patterns:Despite all this, the label inside is a standard design and has a standard NSN number indicating it is not a trials garment:My best guess is that it is very early production, before all the final design changes had been finalised and so is a very early example of this new uniform.
The new working uniform has met mixed responses from those issued with it- some find it comfortable and practical, others bemoan how badly it washes, with criticisms of it rapidly fading to grey with laundering. The BBC reported the first issue uniforms being distributed on HMS Lancaster back in 2015:
The Royal Navy’s first new uniform in 70 years has been unveiled.
The previous light blue shirt and trousers, known as Action Working Dress, or No 4s, have been worn at sea ever since World War Two.
The navy describes the new darker blue version as “more modern, comfortable and fire retardant”.
The crew of the Portsmouth-based HMS Lancaster are the first to wear it. They head out to the South Atlantic on Saturday on a nine-month deployment.
‘Bit out of date’
The new design, officially called the Royal Navy Personal Clothing System (RNPCS), has been tested on several ships and submarines, and according to the navy the feedback has been “mostly positive”.
It is notable for its several layers, with interchangeable T-shirt, top and thermals, which can be worn depending on the climate.
It will offer more protection from flash fires, and badges denoting rank will now be worn at the front rather than on the shoulders. There is also a large White Ensign on the left shoulder.
Meanwhile, the trousers are lighter weight, have slanted pockets for ease of access, and smaller belt loops.
Cdr Peter Laughton, commanding officer of HMS Lancaster, said: “We are extremely proud and genuinely delighted to be the first ship to wear the Royal Navy’s new uniform.
“It is a really practical, smart and modern uniform, and the extra branding allows us to much better represent our service.
“This will most certainly be the case during our current deployment where we are due to transit in excess of 30,000 nautical miles and visit up to 18 different countries.”
Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, who oversaw the changes while in his previous post of Second Sea Lord, said the old look was “a bit out of date”.
He added: “This is a modern uniform which suits a modern Navy.
“But the most important thing is that it is comfortable to wear in the extremes of climate in which the Royal Navy operates – from the Antarctic to the Gulf.”
In the initial rollout about 22,000 sets of the uniform are being issued to operational and sea-going ships.
One area of scientific development that has had huge impacts on military service is in the development of specialist fibres for clothing. Many manmade fibres contain properties that would have been unheard of a generation ago and one type of fabric that has found extensive use in the British Army are ‘aramids’. Aramid stands for ‘aromatic polyamide’ and is a family of fabrics made form a synthetic fibre that is virtually un-meltable. As such it is great for any activities that might generate high heat such as fighting fires (Nomex is an aramid fibre) and areas that generate a lot of heat through friction like abseiling down a rope. Properties of aramid include:
- good resistance to abrasion
- good resistance to organic solvents
- no melting point
- low flammability
- good fabric integrity at elevated temperatures
One common use for these fabrics is in gloves and tonight we are looking at a pair of British Army aramid gloves:These are made in green and have a series of raised ‘bumps’ across the palms and fingers for grip:They are of a seamless construction, with a reduction knit at the wrist to help keep them on the hand:A label is sewn inside the clove with NSN number, sizing etc:A small range of sizes were offered, as indicated by the relevant page form the stores catalogue:One soldier who used the gloves in service recalls:
The contact gloves (GLOVES CONTACT COMBAT ARAMID 8415-99-701-5724) are pretty thin (like kid’s woolen gloves) but because they’re Nomex are surprisingly warm even when wet. You might want something else thicker for when you don’t need your hands, but when using a weapon they’re the dog’s working parts.
When originally issued they came in a pair sewn together at the cuff and sealed in a small polythene bag with a stores label stuck to the outside:
Regular readers will know that I like the odd and obscure! This year’s Yorkshire Wartime Experience was a mecca for the collector with huge numbers of bargains to be found, and indeed we have looked at a number of them over the last few weeks. Whilst most of the items I picked up were modern, there were a number of World War 2 objects and the most unusual I found was this bundle of brown shoelaces:For the princely sum of £2.50 the bundle was mine! These have clearly come straight from stores and are bundled up in paper and tied with red cotton. A single War Department stamp is marked on the packaging:The laces themselves are in a russet brown colour and have phenolated resin tips to them:I am unsure if these are for officer’s brown boots or for use by the ATS, either way they are a rare survivor and have clearly never been used for anything.
Ironically I could probably make a massive profit by selling these laces as pairs- £5 a pair seeming to be the going rate. However to do that would destroy the very reason they are interesting which is the packaging around them and they are now safely in my collection where they will remain unissued.
This week’s piece of Osprey equipment is one of the simplest items ever covered on the blog, being the strap issued to allow a rank tab to be worn on the Osprey IV body armour:This is made from woven nylon tape, printed in MTP camouflage, with a press stud fitting to allow it to be made into a loop:This is passed through the MOLLE straps on the chest of the armour cover to allow a rank slide to be worn if the commander’s pouch is not used. Despite its simplicity, the manufacturers felt it worthy of inclusion in the instructions that accompanied the Osprey Mk IV armour:Quite why this warranted a full page of pictorial instructions is beyond me, however one must never forget that some squaddies are not the brightest in the bunch and without clear instructions could possibly fail to understand the strap’s purpose! I apologise for this post being so short, but there is really very little to say about this one…