Continuing our study of the history of British webbing and its development, this week we come to the RAF’s interwar 1925 Pattern set.
The set that was to be adopted by the RAF had been designed by the Mills Equipment Company as a commercial venture in an effort to garner sales after limited success with its 1919 pattern rifle set. Whilst the 1919 Pattern pistol equipment had been purchased by the Royal Navy, the accompanying rifle equipment had not managed to find a large scale adopter so the company went back and reworked the design into a new pattern that emphasised flexibility of load over the large single rucksack of the earlier design. Gone was the large rucksack in favour of a two-part design that could be made larger or smaller dependent on the role its wearers were performing. The design was finalised in 1925 and the pattern adopted this as its nomenclature. Although associated with the RAF in the United Kingdom, the other users of the new pattern included the Canadian Army and the South Africans who were both early adopters of the webbing in khaki.
The RAF adopted the webbing set in 1927, although it was always referred to as 1925 Pattern, and to make it distinct from the accoutrements used by the other services it was produced from the start in a blue grey colour. Equipment was purchased both for men equipped with pistols and those carrying rifles and bayonets. This requirement was because the RAF was often responsible for its own airfield defence both in the UK and abroad and so there was a requirement for rifle ammunition and bayonets in addition to the revolvers that were standard issue to air crews transiting from one station to another and officers.
The components of the 1925 pattern set include several pieces that are identical visually to their later 1937 Pattern cousins, however genuine 1925 pattern pieces are marked with both an Air Ministry stamp and a date of 1941 or earlier. Up until 1941 all contracts for the RAF were for 1925 Pattern equipment, from 1941 onwards this was replaced with the same 1937 Pattern webbing as the Army but in blue grey. The two sets were interchangeable to a degree and so were mixed and matched in RAF service for decades after the end of World War II with few noticing or caring about the items’ true origins.
- Shoulder Braces: The shoulder braces for the 1925 Pattern set were taken directly from the 1919 pattern set and would be used again with the 1937 pattern design. They consist of reduction woven straps, 1 inch wide at the ends, flaring out to 2 inches wide over the shoulders. Brass tips are fitted to either end of the braces and the left-hand brace has a loop that the right can pass through. These are often mistaken for RAF 1937 Pattern versions, as visually both are identical. True 1925 Pattern versions are dated 1941 or earlier.
- Rucksack: The rucksack is the main load carrying element of the 1925 Pattern set and is a particularly complicated design, leading it to be nicknamed ‘the octopus’ by RAF personnel. It comprises two parts, an upper and lower pack; an early example of scalable equipment. For longer operations, both portions of the rucksack would be worn, for shorter operations however, the lower portion could be removed to give a smaller and lighter set of equipment. This certainly seems to have addressed the criticisms of both the 1908 and the 1919 Pattern sets that they either offered too much capacity or too little depending on which pack and haversack was worn, but nothing in between. The upper portion of the rucksack is the one with the shoulder straps and needs to be worn at all times. It consists of a small rectangular pack, with a pair of straps and buckles going horizontally across it to attach a helmet to when on the march. A short removable strap, with a hook at one end is used to allow it to be quickly taken off the back. The lower portion of the rucksack cannot be worn on its own and consists of a simple open bag, with buckles and straps to allow it to be attached to the upper part. It does not have any top flap to it, the bottom of the upper part serving as this.
- Brace Attachments: The brace attachments, used to connect the shoulder braces to the belt when cartridge carriers were not used, were identical to the 1919 Pattern, but in blue grey. Early examples have an oval loop, later examples have a square one.
- Pistol Ammunition Pouch: Two different ammunition pouches were issued for use with pistols. The most common is a rectangular pouch with a triangular top flap secured with a single press stud, identical to that used in the 1919 Pattern set we looked at last week, but in blue grey. The other pattern of pistol ammunition pouch is far scarcer. This consists of two integrally woven pockets to hold a pair of magazines for the .455 Colt Automatic pistol. Each pocket is secured at the top by a single press stud, and a pair of brass C-hooks on the rear allow it to be carried on the belt.
- Water Bottle Carrier: The water bottle carrier was of the sleeve type, being a simple cover of webbing, with a strap at the bottom to prevent the bottle falling through and two short straps with buckles at the top to allow it to be fastened to the brace ends. The 1925 pattern water bottle covers are often mistaken for the later 1937 pattern designs which are visually identical. The 1925 Pattern examples, however, will have the Air Ministry mark inside and be dated 1941 or earlier.
- Belt: The belt was a back-adjustment type made in three portions. The rear portion had a pair of male press studs to allow the bayonet frog to be secured so it did not slide around the belt, together with two 1-inch buckles at the back to attach the shoulder braces to. The back belt could be attached to either the cartridge carriers for use as a rifle set, or to a pair of side pieces that have male and female buckles to allow it to be used as a conventional belt.
- Haversack: The haversack is a simple wedge-shaped bag, nine inches tall by eleven inches wide and with a flare from two inches at the top to four inches at the bottom. It has a simple top flap secured by two straps and buckles and a pair of buckles at either side that allow it to be worn at the hip, hung from the brace ends. There is no method of wearing it as a pack on the back.
- Holster: Two distinct patterns of holster were issued for use with the RAF’s 1925 Pattern Set. The RAF were using Colt 1911 pistols in .455 Webley Automatic at the service’s inception and so a large, squarish shaped holster was produced with a wooden bung in the bottom, much like the 1919 Pattern had done. A pair of brass C-hooks were fitted to the back to allow it to be attached to the belt and they can be found with two male press studs. This was a modification introduced in 1938 to allow the smaller Webley .380 revolver to be safely carried in the holster. A second pattern of holster was introduced specifically for the revolver. Externally this looks much like the 1937 Pattern version and lacks the wooden bung of the earlier model. It can be easily distinguished by looking at the rear, however, where there is an external channel for a cleaning rod and no top, horizontal c-hook.
In addition to these items, two further pieces of webbing were available to make up sets for airmen equipped with rifles; cartridge carriers and a bayonet frog.
Cartridge Carriers: The cartridge carriers for use with rifles were produced as a handed pair. Each side had four pockets to hold chargers of .303 ammunition, three chargers of five rounds in each pocket to give an overall total of 120 rounds per man. This was slightly less than the 150 rounds offered by the 1908 Pattern set, but more than sufficient for most engagements that RAF personnel might be expected to encounter. The pockets were arranged with three on the lower row, and a single pocket above. Whilst British made examples were woven on a reduction loom, Canada also produced these cartridge carriers, but lacked this technology so their examples were folded and sewn. The cartridge carriers had the Mills patent hook and loop buckle mounted at one side and a wire C-hook at the other to allow them to be connected to the back belt. A large brass buckle is fitted to the top of each cartridge carrier to allow the shoulder braces to be secured through them.
Bayonet Frog: The bayonet frog is particularly distinctive as it has a female press stud on the belt loop to allow it to be secured to the belt, so it does not slide around. The rest of the design is conventional however, with two loops at the bottom to hold the scabbard stud and a loop at the top to secure the handle of a sword bayonet.
(Adapted from an article by the author in The Armourer magazine)