Australia entered the Vietnam War with the antiquated 37 Pattern load bearing equipment. It was quickly realised that this was completely unsuitable for modern warfare so a new set was desperately needed. It made sense to adopt the US M56 pattern equipment as this was a proven design that could be bought off the shelf, and crucially would help logistics in Vietnam where the US were the Australian’s allies. The Australians would initially buy their M56 equipment from the US, but quickly set up their own manufacturing capacity and whilst the webbing produced in Australia is clearly of the same pattern as the US M56 sets, there are clear differences that highlight Australian manufacture.
Today we are taking a look at a late production M56 field or ‘butt’ pack that was manufactured in Australia in about 1987, just before the Auscam 88 Pattern webbing was introduced:
The first and most obvious feature that distinguishes this as Australian made is the mid green binding along the edges of the top flap etc. Also faintly visible is a /|\ mark, stamped in the centre of the flap:
The following description comes, I believe, from the original US fitting instructions for the M56 field pack back when it was first introduced. Although there are differences between those early examples and this one, the overall design remains broadly similar:
The cotton duck field pack is 9 inches wide, 8 3/4 inches high and 5 inches deep, with an expandable flap secured by two web straps and buckles. There are two more web straps on the bottom of the pack to permit attachment of other items.
A handle is located on the flap so that the pack can be carried by hand.
The back of the pack has two attaching clips
and eyelets so that the pack can be attached to the suspenders and to the pistol belt.
A plastic card holder is located on the top of the pack for identification purposes.
The modifications made to the pack by the late 1980s included adding a nylon drawstring weather flap inside to help waterproof the contents:
And replacing the buckles with plastic examples. The two main buckles to hold the top flap closed were now green plastic Fastex types:
These buckles were actually manufactured in New Zealand, as seen by the markings on the rear of each one:
We return to the US manual for guidance on how to use the pack:
The field pack is used to carry individual rations and equipment that are essential during field operations. It is designed to permit certain items to be carried in a number of different ways to meet changing conditions. The poncho, for example, can be carried inside the pack under the expandable flap; or it may be attached to the bottom of the pack by means of the two adjustable securing straps.
Small extra items of clothing, such as underwear and socks, can also be rolled and placed under the expandable flap. Outer clothing not in use can be secured under the pack or under the flap, depending on the location of the poncho. In placing items in the field pack, hard objects such as ration cans should be placed on the outside, with softer items such as clothing on the inside towards the wearer’s back.
In reality the field pack was just about adequate for patrols, but the small size was a problem and the straps under the pack were rarely used as items got caught and pulled out easily whilst traversing jungle.