The Evolution of British Webbing (Part 5)- The 1937 Pattern Set

By the early 1930s it was clear that the British Army needed modernising and a review was taken of both the soldier’s uniform and accoutrements under General Sir Walter Braithwaite. Mills were invited to present some new designs of load bearing equipment, which they did and one, the No 3, was accepted for testing in 1932. At the same time, however, trials were also taking place for a new light machine gun and the design finally adopted, the Bren, called for new tactics and a new set of webbing. The intention was for the Bren to provide the bulk of a section’s fire power and for all men in the section to carry extra magazines to help feed it. This meant, therefore, that their webbing had to be able to carry the box magazines for this LMG. The design submitted and eventually adopted had one innovative feature, large box like pouches which allowed a wide range of munitions to be carried, however the rest of the set was a development of older Mill’s designs including elements from the 1919 and 1925 pattern sets as well as a large pack taken directly from the old 1908 set.

The new webbing set was just beginning to be adopted when World War II broke out and would quickly become the dominant set in British service, including being adopted by the RAF and Royal Navy. It would be modified slightly throughout its service life which was long! It was used by the regular forces up until the introduction of 1958 Pattern webbing in the early 1960s, however it would continue in service with the RAF and RN for many more years and was still being used by cadets into the 1980s. It would also be manufactured around the world in India, Canada, South Africa and Australia as well as being adopted post war by many nations across Europe and by the Israelis. Of all the webbing sets we have covered in this series, the 1937 Pattern set is probably the most influential and happily remains cheap and easy to acquire to this day with most pieces only fetching a few pounds each.

  1. Large Pack– This is taken directly from the 1908 set and further details are covered in that post.
  2. Supporting Straps– Again these are taken directly from the 1908 set, however they are used to attach to the L-Straps rather than directly to the rest of the set as in the earlier pattern.
  3. Shoulder Braces– The braces go over the shoulders and support the weight of the webbing set, attaching to the buckles on the basic pouches and the angled buckles on the rear of the belt. They are 1″ wide at either end and flare out to 2″ wide where they pass over the shoulders. Different designs of the brace exist with some being integrally woven, others made up of three pieces of webbing sewn to one another, whilst still others wrap the shoulder piece around a 1″ strap. One of the two braces has a loop to pass the other through and the ends of the braces have brass tips to prevent wear.
  4. Basic Pouch– The heart of the system, the basic pouch is a webbing box which can carry a range of different munitions. The pouch has a box lid that is secured with either a press stud, or later by a quick release fastener. A buckle at the top allows the shoulder brace to be attached and passed down the back and also allows the hooks of the L-Straps to be fastened to support the haversack. The rear of the pouch has a pair of brass C-Hooks which engage with pockets in the back of the belt to hold it securely on. Originally these were attached quite high up which meant the pouch sat too low and was uncomfortable for seated troops. it was later lowered which raised the pouches up and made them more comfortable to wear.
  5. Water Bottle Carrier– Two different patterns of water bottle carrier were issued. This is the skeleton design initially issued and consisting of a frame of 1″ straps that hold the bottle with a pair of buckles to attach it to the ends of the shoulder braces. A strap and press stud hold the bottle in. Later this was replaced by a sleeve design, as used in the 1925 pattern set we looked at last week which was easier to manufacture although the skeleton design reappeared after the war.
  6. Belt– the belt was a single piece, but was otherwise similar to that used in the 1919 and 1925 pattern sets with a pair of angled buckles on the rear to attach to the shoulder braces and a brass hook and loop buckle at the front. The belt was adjusted by having brass C-Hooks at either end of the belt that was doubled back on itself and the hooks then fitted into the pockets woven into the rear of the belt. These pockets were also used to hold the basic pouches in place so they did not slide back and forth on the belt.
  7. Haversack– The haversack was the usual pack used in the field and is a small bag with an internal divider that splits the interior into three compartments. A large flap covers this, securing with a pair of straps and buckles. Two 2″ tabs are fitted to the rear to allow the L-Straps to be fitted and buckles on the base allow the other end of each to be secured to the pack. A pair of 1″ buckles are fitted to the sides of the haversack to allow it to be worn on the brace ends in full marching order, as seen here.
  8. L-Straps– The L-Straps were used to hold the haversack or pack onto the rest of the webbing. They came in a pair, with a 2″ wide strap attaching to a large brass hook which had a 1″ strap fitted at right angles to allow them to be attached and act as shoulder supports to a pack being worn on the back.

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