It has been common practice for Australian troops to carry at least two water bottles on their webbing for many years. Australian Army operations are often in hot climates where dehydration is a real problem. The downside of a water bottle is that it is bulky even when empty and a water bladder has the advantage that it can be folded up out of the way when not needed. In its simplest form a water bladder is just a heavy duty plastic bag with a sealable spout to allow it to be filled and drunk from easily. A method of carrying the water bladder is also a must as on its own it is an awkward and fluid shape that is not easy to hold or store and that is vulnerable to tearing or puncturing. The water bladder we are looking at today is of the pattern used by the Australian Army during the Vietnam War and through into the decades beyond. It is based on a contemporary American design, as was much of Australia’s equipment in Vietnam. The bladder itself is made of a translucent flexible plastic and is square in shape:
A black plastic screw cap is fitted to allow access to the interior and from the date moulded into the base of the spout we can see that this was manufactured in 1971:
The bladder is then carried in a special green nylon bag with an attached shoulder strap. The bag has a printed camouflage pattern in a darker shade of green-brown and a ‘splotchy’ pattern:
A lift the dot fastener holds the top flap closed, with a tab to make it easier to open:
A belt tab is fitted to the rear of the carrier so that if it is slung over a shoulder, it can be attached to the webbing belt to prevent it from bouncing around:
The shoulder strap is adjustable with a simple metal friction buckle:
A trio of drainage holes are fitted to the bottom of the carrier so that excess water can drain out of it rather than just collecting at the bottom:
The stamping inside the carrier indicates that like the bladder, this was manufactured in 1971:
Despite the introduction of these water bladders, water remained a constant problem for Australian troops during the Vietnam War as one company commander who served in 1971 explained:
One of the principal and inescapable weights that all infantrymen carried in Vietnam was water, and it was a constant problem. The climate was extremely humid, and even the smallest exertion caused heavy sweating. Therefore each man carried six or even eight one-litre water bottles, each of which weighed 1.2 kilograms, and sometimes a waterbag which contained another three litres. The weight of the water alone could be between 11 and 13 kilograms. This water had to last the five days between resupplies, but it was never enough for comfort. Occasionally rainwater could be collected, or a creek might be encountered, which helped to alleviate the problem of dehydration. But thirst was every infantryman’s constant companion.
Despite the belt loop, it was most common to see the bladders just worn over the top of the soldier’s webbing and equipment so that is could be accessed quickly and easily on the march if hydration was needed.