When the Gulf War broke out in 1991, the British Army was desperately short of desert camouflage uniforms; not expecting to fight a war in sandy conditions its uniforms were mostly in temperate camouflage patterns. Contracts were swiftly placed with clothing manufacturers and deliveries of desert combat clothing slowly trickled into theatre so that by the end of the war most front and second line troops had at least one set of desert camouflage uniforms. The designs used for this clothing was taken from the existing tropical jungle sets of clothing, but slightly modified and made in the two colour desert DPM fabric and today we are looking at a pair of trousers in this pattern:
The DDPM comes in a number of variations including a ‘sparse’ pattern that has more of the underlying sand shade showing and more spread out patches of tan. This example however is in the more common regular pattern of camouflage. The trousers are made of a poly-cotton blend and feature a zip fly and button down belt loops around the waist:
The first production run of trousers featured both a zip and button fly, but this was dropped on subsequent contracts and this pair of trousers is of the final Gulf War pattern. A pair of buttoned tabs on each hip allow some size adjustment:
As well as slash pockets at the hips, a pair of large patch pockets are sewn onto each thigh, the top flaps secured by a single button:
A draw cord is fitted into the bottom of each trouser cuff to allow the legs to be drawn in when wearing them to reduce the amount of sand working its way into them and the wearer’s boots:
The trousers have a typical pale gold label as used on many items of clothing in the Gulf War:
Note at the bottom of the label the contract number SL34b/0030. Contract numbers are particularly confusing and this handy guide to Gulf War contract numbers was written by ‘Edward53’ on the IAMC Forum and explains what to look for when identifying Gulf War clothing:
First, some observations on the British contract system. Most British combat clothing ceased to be dated after about 1970. Some clothing and equipment can be identified by pattern alone, but not all. Fortunately, the contract numbering system follows a fairly consistent chronological sequence, and a basic understanding of the contract numbering system allows most items to be pinned down within a year or two. This window is even narrower for the Gulf War, given the speed and urgency with which contracts were placed and the rapid stockpiling of equipment for a ground war expected to last months, but which was over in less than a week.
All standard issue British Army clothing and equipment used in the Gulf War seems to have fallen within the SL contracts range. The relevant contract series are SL31a and b, SL32a and b, SL33a and b, and SL34b. All DC, OC, ST, ESL, ST1, CT1, CT32 and CT34 contracts are later (but note that CT2 and CT4 are early to mid-80s). The SL31, 32, 33 and 34 series all overlapped at various times, and SL32 and SL34 – but not, apparently, SL31 or SL33 – ran on into the post Gulf War period. SL32b seems to have been used for the very earliest clothing production, when it apparently stopped and was superseded by the SL34b series. The SL32a series, however, continued until about 1994. The latest confidently-dateable wartime SL32a contract is SL32a/4661, on a bergen – but SL32a/4616 appears on a 1991 dated bivouac bag, so caution is needed here.
The highest wartime SL34b contract number appears to be SL34b/0126. The next highest dateable one I’ve been able to find is 0246, which dates to June 1992.
So Gulf War contract numbering can be summarized more or less as follows:
SL31 – up to GW1
SL32a – approx mid-4000s up to GW1, higher numbers later
SL32b – up to GW1
SL33 – up to GW1
SL34 – approx 0126 up to GW1, higher numbers later.
At least they didn’t have to quite literally paint their uniforms and equipment then hand their vests to their replacements before rotating out…