Holdall Small Arms

There are many accessories used by the British Army to supplement their weapons systems, including a bewildering array of pouches, tool rolls and spare parts wallets. Identifying quite what weapon each is designed to be used with can be a challenge and today we are looking at an example of what is officially termed the ‘Holdall, Small Arms, Tools and Accessories’. Unfortunately beyond this nomenclature, I cannot find any information as to what exactly it contained, or what weapon it was supposed to accompany. This holdall is a short, dark green bag, with a large external pocket on the front and a green nylon carrying strap:

The end of the holdall is secured by a top flap and a friction buckle:

Opening this up reveals that the internal neck of the holdall secures with a draw string:

The combination of draw string and top flap would offer good weather protection to the contents of the holdall in all but the very foulest weather. The rear of the holdall is much plainer, without the large pocket, presumably to make it more comfortable to carry slung over the shoulder:

A short webbing grab handle is sewn onto the rear here:

The only marking on the holdall is an NSN number printed on the rear:

This NSN code is what has enabled me to track down the holdall’s designation but unfortunately that is all I have been able to discover about the bag. If you can fill in any more of the story on this intriguing bag then please put your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. Some dimensions might help; Overall length most importantly. With the metal buckle I would guess pre-1980, yet with synthetic tape, I would guess not by much. Perhaps a Sterling-Patchett SMG (L3?). Later (if long enough 30”) it might fit the Enfield SA80 rifle.

  2. Possibly an Armourer’s tool and parts bag for ‘house calls’ when detatched or otherwise working outside of a workshop ?

  3. The longer part could be for spare barrels or gas tube assemblies depending n the weapon, with the smaller for larger tools, spare handguards, etc.
    I’m not completely familiar with the L85 rifle since we never used it, but from the looks of the bag, it could carry a few spare bits that might be broken regularly.
    I’m not sure how much of a job changing barrels would be, with the FN it was a workshop job, but it might be easier ? Changing an SMG barrel was pretty simple, two bolts and that was it.
    I know I had a list of the most commonly ‘broken’ parts that would go on deployment although the Base I ran the small arms shop on wasn’t set up for field deployment, the A/C weren’t capable of ‘dirt strip’ operations.
    And I can spell ‘detached’ as not shown in the prior post, my keyboard apparently, can’t.

  4. I think it’s a carrier for the tripod of the GPMG in the Sustained Fire role. Google ‘GPMG tripod holdall’ and the results show an image of the same item which was for sale by a surplus dealer, with the dealer’s ‘part number’ description matching the unique item identifier of the NSN. The link to the seller’s page is dead, but Google has retained an index record.

    • According to the GPMG manual it should hold the tripod and a triangular tripod marker plate; the purpose of which is to mark the position of the tripod together with three pegs that mark the position of legs, allowing the gun and the tripod to be removed and then replaced in the same position.

  5. Possibly. The nomenclature could match either, the generic ‘small arms’ makes it non-specific however the ‘accessories’ could well be extended to include a tripod and extra sight arrangement or remote trigger extension.
    That’s the problem with military descriptions on items, often they’re either so long that you don’t need the tech manual to work on it or so frustratingly vague that you don’t really know what’s inside the packing box until you’ve gotten it open and even then you wonder and the smallest things seem to have the longest names.
    I’m not so sure a surplus dealer would get things exactly right, they’re interested in selling what they have and often will say anything to move their stock.
    I’ve seen a lot of items advertised as being something completely different than what they were used for, especially things I’d used many times, somtimes it was so bad I had to go and tell the clerk to look at the label inside and change the sign. The example that sticks in my head the most is seeing NBC suits advertised as ‘insulated winter coveralls’, whoever bought them at the price the shop wanted was in for a nasty surprise when they fell apart after a week or so and the charcoal inside got all over everything for a half mile around 😉

  6. There’s a reply that I posted to my original post but it has yet to be approved. In short it said this holdall is included in the GPMG pamphlet, and it holds the tripod legs, together with a triangular tripod marker plate used to mark the position of the tripod and gun to enable it to be removed from a position and to reposition the gun on reoccupation of the position.
    There are other cases/holdalls for the sight, spare barrels, aiming posts, etc.

    Yes, I agree that it’s very frustrating, even within the military to identify an item from its packaging label/stores catalogue description, so those without knowledge or records face even more difficulty, and that leads to misidentification. Sadly some surplus dealers also use this lack of knowledge to their advantage to knowingly mislead sellers.

    In the case of this dealer though they do know their stuff, and I having bought from them items I’ve used or have knowledge of within my military trade and specialisms I can report that the items were correctly described, and I’ve never encountered an item misdescribed on their website either.

  7. The GPMG use makes perfect sense and there must have been something to carry spare barrels, tripod, etc. Looking at the shape again this would seem to be it. I was retired before the MAG was in use in my branch and although I’m not completely conversant with it, I do know just enough to be dangerous, I’m also not in the UK, so the descriptions become even more fun to try and decipher 🙂

    It would still make a nice parts bag for an Armourer in the field and I have little doubt some were used for that purpose, I know I’d have had something similar made up in the shops.

    One of the more peculiar labelling incidents I saw was when we received a shipment of some large O-rings of various sizes, for use in MK46 torpedo fuel tanks.
    Each one came in a pristine, heat sealed foil package, factory marked in great detail as ‘sliced pears’ or ‘beef lasagna’ or the like, complete with ingredients list and nutritional values.

    That’s one way to save money I suppose, repurpose leftover IMP bags for parts 🙂 ordnance components and their packages are supposed to be very specific though, especially high tolerance parts like that which need to be properly stored until use or risk a leak of very toxic fuel in a confined space like a magazine, bombbay, or on a boat, or the torpedo failing at operating depth.

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