This week we reach the penultimate part of our series on webbing design in the first half of the twentieth century and one of the more unusual patterns, the 1940 Pattern Cavalry Webbing set.
The British Army had been mechanising steadily since the end of World War I and it had finally become obvious that the age of the cavalry charge was dead by 1918. It is therefore perhaps a little strange that the British introduced a set of webbing dedicated to mounted soldiery as late as 1940, when by rights this form of warfare should have been consigned to the history books. The reality, however, was that the British had found that there was still a use for mounted troops in the near east where the terrain made mechanisation difficult. There were places a horse and rider could go that were just not accessible to wheeled or tracked traffic, indeed this was to be a lesson the British learnt again fifty years later in the former Yugoslavia when mounted infantry were again to be used.
The needs of a man on horseback are quite different to that of an infantryman on the ground. In order to ride effectively, items should not hang down beneath the waist. There was also a need to access certain items whilst on horseback without the risk of dropping them, such as water bottles and rations. These problems had been considered and resolved by the Mills Equipment Company before World War I, so when the War Office came to them in late 1939 and requested a new set of accoutrements they had designs in inventory they could brush off and update to meet the requirements fairly quickly. The cavalry webbing was based around a pair of sliding straps with keyway buckles that allowed the haversack and water bottle to be carried on the back, but by unhooking the keyway buckles, they could slide forward for access whilst still being securely held to the wearer’s body.
The design took the basic elements of Mill’s 1911 Patent and updated them with a haversack that was the same size as that used in the 1937 Pattern system, the ability to carry a standard Mk VII enamelled British Army water bottle and the option to carry Bren mags in basic pouches. The set was to see limited service in the Middle East, but was only produced in one small production run in 1940 and today elements of it are very scarce indeed.
- Shoulder Braces- Again, the shoulder braces are similar in design to that used in the 1919, 1925 and 1937 Pattern sets, with a two inch strap over the shoulders that is reduction woven down to one inches wide at either end. What makes the 1940 Pattern shoulder braces distinctive, however, is that each has a pair of loops added to the widest portion to allow the keyway straps to be passed through and to guide them as they slide back and forth.
- Keyway Straps– A pair of keyway straps were used to allow the haversack and water bottle to move freely, whilst still remaining secured to the wearer’s body. The straps were simple one inch wide webbing straps with a brass chape at one end and a keyway buckle at the other to connect to the stud on the buckle of the cartridge carriers.
- Cartridge Carriers– The cartridge carriers were the most commonly issued method of carrying ammunition for the 1940 Pattern set and consist of a pair of handed sets of pouches. Each is made up of three individual pouches, each of which can hold three chargers of five rounds of .303 ammunition. This gives the set a combined carrying capacity of 90 rounds. Each pocket has a retaining strap sewn under the lid to prevent rounds from falling out when the top flap is open. The cartridge carriers have a brass C-hook on them to allow them to be attached to the back belt and a buckle to allow them to be fastened to each other at the front. The top buckle is unusual in having a brass stud on it to allow the keyway straps to be attached to them when the haversack and water bottle are being worn on the back. They also have a horizontal one-inch wide strap that passes back to secure to these items.
- Haversack– The haversack is much like the 1937 Pattern example in form, being a webbing bag with a top strap secured by a pair of buckles. The interior has a central divider separating the front and rear and the front compartment is further subdivided into two spaces to store mess tins and a water bottle. What makes the 1940 Pattern Haversack unique, however, is that it has a pair of angled one inch chapes and buckles at the top of the rear which attach to the horizontal strap on the rear of the right cartridge carrier and one of the keyway straps. A stud is fitted to the base to connect to the right-hand keyway tab on the back belt.
- Back Belt– Like both the 1919 and 1925 Pattern webbing sets we have looked at previously, the 1940 Pattern set was built around the principle of a back belt and two adjustable side pieces, in this case the parts attached to the ammunition carriage components. The 1940 Pattern back belt is 2 ¼ inches wide and has two angled buckles on the back to allow the shoulder braces to be secured. What makes the 1940 Pattern set unique is that underneath these buckles are a pair of keyway fittings that are used to secure the haversack and water bottle carrier in the stowed position so they cannot move around.
- Waterbottle Carrier– The carrier consists of an envelope that goes around the middle of the bottle, with a strap passing under the bottle with a brass stud on it to attach to the keyway buckles on the back of the belt when it is stowed to prevent it from bouncing around. The bottle is secured into the carrier by a v-shaped strap that goes over the top of the bottle, either side of the spout, and secured with a press stud to the front of the bottle. A pair of angled buckles are fitted to the rear to allow the bottle to be secured to the keyway strap and one of the straps on the cartridge carrier.
In addition to this, the most common elements of the set, additional pieces were available to allow it to carry either Bren magazines or to be set up as an officer’s set.
Basic Pouches– n addition to the cartridge carriers, basic pouches were also issued. These were similar in size and style to those used with the 1937 Pattern set and allowed Bren gun magazines, grenades and rifle ammunition in bandoliers to be carried and so were a simple rectangular pouch, with a top flap secured by a single press stud. It is not quite clear why these were manufactured as mounted units in the middle east only ever seem to have worn the cartridge carriers, but perhaps Mills were trying to future proof their webbing set in case Bren guns were to be issued to mounted units in the future. The Army list of changes also indicated that they were to be used for Thompson or Sten Machine Carbine magazines, which perhaps makes more sense for lightly armed mounted troops. The pouches were sewn to a half belt and a short one-inch wide strap so that they could be attached to the main webbing set in the same manner as the cartridge carriers and were again produced in a handed pair.
Revolver Equipment– Officers’ equipment was also produced for the 1940 Pattern set, with holster, compass pouch, revolver ammunition pouch and binoculars pouch all being catered for. These were made up of permanently attached pairs that were then attached to the same belt and one-inch wide strap as the basic pouches. The revolver case was sized for the .380 service revolver and has the ammunition pouch mounted above it and was worn on the left hip. On the right hip was worn the binocular case with compass pouch above it. The binocular case was stiffened with fibre and had a box lid, whilst the compass pouch was lined with thick felt to protect the delicate instrument.
(Adapted from an article by the author in The Armourer magazine)