Ice Axe

Following the fall of Norway, the British Army began looking at ways they could potentially retake the country. Norway was rugged and mountainous and it was decided to create a specially trained division for mountain warfare operations and the 52nd (Lowland) Division began specialisation training in 1942. In the event the division would never be used for the role in which it was trained, however during the period it was training, the British Army paid particular attention to the equipping of mountain troops, something that had not been seriously looked at before. A number of special items of equipment were produced for mountain warfare and today we are looking at the ice axe that was issued for use in mountainous terrain:

The ice axe was developed in the nineteenth century and the design chosen by the British Army followed conventional designs of the time and consisted of five main sections:

  • Head – usually made of steel and featuring a pick and adze.
  • Pick — the toothed pointed end of the head, typically slightly curved (aiding both in ergonomics and self-arrest).
  • Adze — the flat, wide end of the head used for chopping steps in hard snow and ice.
  • Shaft — straight or slightly angled, typically wider front-to-back than side-to-side, flat on the sides and smoothly rounded on the ends. Traditional shafts were made of wood.
  • Spike, or ferrule — a, usually steel, point at the base of the shaft used for balance and safety when the axe is held by its head in walking stick fashion.

The head of the British Army ice axe is treated with a galvanising coating that has left it with a matt grey finish:

The spike on the base is made of the same material and is particularly heavy duty in construction to allow it to be used as a walking aid:

In addition the design chosen by the British Army featured a webbing wrist loop to prevent the axe being lost if dropped. It is able to slide up the shaft on an iron ring and a stud prevents it from sliding off the end of the axe:

The axe itself is marked on the head and as well as the /|\ mark, is dated 1944:

By this date the 52nd Division had been reallocated for airborne use, although like Mountain Warfare this was a role it was destined never to fulfil and it would, rather, be used as conventional infantry in Europe in the autumn of 1944. These ice axes were to see use post war as the British Army looked more seriously at the difficulties of fighting in mountainous terrain, however they were always a specialist piece of equipment and are not that common to find so it was very pleasing to be able to purchase this one off a friend over the summer.

One comment

  1. Your 1944 example was made by the famous Cannock edged tool maker Cornelius Whitehouse & Sons Ltd. Other 1943 dated examples all seem to have been made by Brades (William Hunt & Sons of Sheffield) another long established maker of edged tools.

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