Early Pattern Hi-Leg Combat Boots

The Falklands War had highlighted just how inadequate British Army footwear was compared to most other armies in the world. In the early 1980s most men were still issued ankle high DMS boots, worn with a short puttee. This design was barely waterproof and men suffered from trench foot during the 1982 conflict. The problems of DMS boots had been noted before this point of course and experiments had taken place in Northern Ireland during the 1970s with issuing hi-leg type boots with sewn in tongues to prevent feet being soaked when walking through water. It was to be the mid 1980s though before the hi-leg combat boot, known offically as the ‘boots, combat, high’ began to see universal issue:

Still made of leather, these boots had a directly moulded sole like their predecessors, but were far higher and came a good six or more inches above the ankle:

As high boots were more difficult to get on or off than ankle height examples, the boots incorporated a leather loop on the rear to give a point of purchase when tugging them on or off:

The boots featured a deep criss-cross pattern in the sole for grip, and the ‘tyre tread’ pattern was welcomed as being easy to keep clean:

The tongues of the boots were sewn in to prevent water entering the boot, and a long set of laces went all up the front of the boot:

In many ways the hi-legs were welcomed as being far more practical than the old DMS boots. Unfortunately they also came with very poor manufacturing standards and were quickly nicknamed ‘boots, cardboard, horrible’ by fed up squaddies. They fell apart easily and were also reputed to be responsible for a rise in knee and ankle injuries from men unused to the new design.

One veteran recalls:

BCH (boots, combat, high) did not appear until around 1985 and the first version lasted until the early 90s…..but were not as well made as initially hoped with seams splitting and soles falling off….they were also rather painful to break-in….prior to that, there were few alternatives available to the DMS ankle boots that were any good…..

Rich remembers:

At a time when most issue kit was just about adequate, and having suffered in freezing and wet weathers in DMS, initially these were gratefully received.

On breaking in though a problem in the design possibly coupled with the type of leather became apparent. See the deep crease in the ‘backstay’ (piece between the heel and the pull loop) immediately above the heel? Well when wearing the boots that pressed in on the achilles tendon and prolonged wearing of the boots coupled with physical activities caused tendonitis, which I can attest was very painful.

As is always the way, not all boots including paired boots, seemed to be susceptible to this, and initially there was some scepticism from the chain of command with replies about breaking in and getting used to them to complainants. In my experience boots made with harder leather on the backstay seem to cause the problem.

Initially, diagrams showing alternative lacing methods were produced for display on notice boards as most were still lacing the boots using the old method for DMS/ammo boots, and also neatsfoot oil was recommended to soften the leather, as individuals had in desperation started applying their own expedients of breaking the hard heel using a blunt object and/or cutting the leather or stitching of the backstay. Of course you ran the risk of being charged for carrying out your own modifications!

Eventually there must have been recognition of the continuing number of cases of tendonitis that official or personal attempts to address the problem were ineffective, and the MK II BCH produced without a stiff heel which (for me at least) was more comfortable, although the new boot, in my experience, was only issued on initial kit issue, or when MK I boots wore out.

The Mk I did however soldier on for sometime after the arrival of the Combat Assault Boot as preferred ‘best boots’ for those without ammo boots, for they not only bulled up better, but the harder sole produced the necessary ‘crunch’ when marching and performing drill movements.

9 comments

  1. At a time when most issue kit was just about adequate, and having suffered in freezing and wet weathers in DMS, initially these were gratefully received.

    On breaking in though a problem in the design possibly coupled with the type of leather became apparent. See the deep crease in the ‘backstay’ (piece between the heel and the pull loop) immediately above the heel? Well when wearing the boots that pressed in on the achilles tendon and prolonged wearing of the boots coupled with physical activities caused tendonitis, which I can attest was very painful.

    As is always the way, not all boots including paired boots, seemed to be susceptible to this, and initially there was some scepticism from the chain of command with replies about breaking in and getting used to them to complainants. In my experience boots made with harder leather on the backstay seem to cause the problem.

    Initially, diagrams showing alternative lacing methods were produced for display on notice boards as most were still lacing the boots using the old method for DMS/ammo boots, and also neatsfoot oil was recommended to soften the leather, as individuals had in desperation started applying their own expedients of breaking the hard heel using a blunt object and/or cutting the leather or stitching of the backstay. Of course you ran the risk of being charged for carrying out your own modifications!

    Eventually there must have been recognition of the continuing number of cases of tendonitis that official or personal attempts to address the problem were ineffective, and the MK II BCH produced without a stiff heel which (for me at least) was more comfortable, although the new boot, in my experience, was only issued on initial kit issue, or when MK I boots wore out.

    The Mk I did however soldier on for sometime after the arrival of the Combat Assault Boot as preferred ‘best boots’ for those without ammo boots, for they not only bulled up better, but the harder sole produced the necessary ‘crunch’ when marching and performing drill movements.

    • New to this site,not ex army but I do collect militaria & wear & prefer the old military boots & gear(UK up to early gulf patt,u.s.ww2,Korea,Vietnam,early gulf,anyways I just received a pair of T&H bros stamped inside 1970 British army high leg combat boots but with smooth leather no toe cap,they even had the original leather coated mesh insole,these were dried up & patchy but with a generous coating of ledergris extreme wax oil they came up a treat & are comfy as hell,plus the bloody soles won’t explode like happened to me with the 95 onwards assault boots(shelf life 5 years)lesson learnt.The question is though,are these one of the experimental short lived older boots cos I’ve only ever seen them in grained leather NI type?

  2. The MK1 BCH crippled more people than an IRA punishment squad. I still suffer from the chondromalacia patellae that they caused.

  3. These are eerily similar to the Canadian Mk III Combat Boot which was the standard issue boot for the Canadian Army into the early 2000’s. Opinions are split on the boot with some saying they’re too stout and cause shock to the heel under heavy loads, and others saying that they provide just the right amount of support and are relatively light and fast. Personally I loved them and continue to use them when the occasion permits. One downside that all agree on is that the Mk III Combat Boot is a three Canadian Season boot. Those seasons being Early Summer, Mid Summer, and Late Summer ha ha. The hard heels of the soles are universally known as “the hockey pucks” and when exposed to ice and deep snow (which we have in abundance) freeze and become almost comical when working outdoors, leading most to adopt different footwear for actual winter conditions.

    A modification fitting vibram soles seems to have been popular with some. These boots continue to be worn with diminishing popularity today with the current policy basically being “wear what you like as long as it’s black or brown-ish”. Lowa, Altberg, and many others bring great products to the table, but the old Mk III lives on.

  4. DMS good for running in…but inadequate for cold wet conditions…Falkland War. Hence the use of German Army boots second hand…Falklands were a ‘wake up call’ for the MOD and senior officers to demand better kit.

  5. I joined in 1987 and received two pairs of the Mk1 BCH, I personally thought they were great! We had a big plastic bottle of neatsfoot oil in the block in a spare locker and we’d spread it liberally around inside the boot to make it softer. Like everyone else I copped terrible blisters but once they were broken in properly they were excellent boots… I still have mine over 30 years later!

    I remember the MK2 arriving in 1988 and it seems that those were the ones with the quality problems… the soles would often become detached at the heel.

    Most squaddies – including myself – would pop over the NAAFI and buy pair of ‘Zip ins’ for these boots…. a direct replacement for the laces which made taking them on and off on exercise, guard duties or a tour of Northern Ireland a doddle!

  6. I remember well the issue of these new boots in the summer of 1983. Personally I had no problems at all with mine and they gave me.good service for the following 4 years – I was fortunate though. I never did understand why the MOD didn’t just buy a tried and tested pattern and make it under licence. That time seemed to be a.time when there was a lot of evaluation of the quality of the kit we had. I wasn’t there long enough to see most of it come in but remember the happiness that the new issue of the long sleeved under shirts caused. We were grateful for any improvements to be fair.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.