Before any equipment goes into production for the military it is subject to extensive trials and following feedback the items are modified before going into full scale production. These trials items are obviously far rarer than issue items as they were produced in small numbers and subject o plenty of wear and tear in the process of testing. I have very little trials webbing in my collection, but I was sorting through last week and noticed that one of my 58 pattern poncho rolls was different to the others. After enquiries it turns out that this poncho roll is part of the trials equipment:The design is very similar to the final product, having an external pocket for the pick head:However the quick release straps are secured with press studs, a feature that was to be dropped on the final design:The difference can be seen in this comparison of the trials pattern (lower) with a standard production model (upper):The poncho roll is dated 1957:This indicates it was part of the ‘Number 2 Experimental Set’ manufactured by MECo and issued in limited numbers. There were three different sets used on trials, of which the No2 set is the easiest to find today. This example however survived to see use alongside the similar 58 pattern equipment, as witnessed by the soldier’s name written in black marker on the webbing:The snap fasteners seem to have been rejected as being overly complicated, making it harder to undo the roll quickly and adding to the expense of the design. These snap fasteners were used on all the experimental webbing and are an easy way to identify the components. Sadly my poncho roll has suffered a hard life and the snap fasteners have been removed from the ends and back of the roll, but this is a scarce piece of webbing that I didn’t know I had so I shouldn’t complain too much!
Continuing our on-going look at the various components of British webbing sets, tonight we are turning to the 1958 pattern waistbelt. As in all other webbing sets form Mills, the 58 pattern set is built around the waist belt and the design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary from the earlier 37 and 44 pattern designs. The belt is made of the same pre-shrunk dark green cotton webbing as the rest of the 58 pattern set, but rather than brass, the fittings are made of anodised aluminium. As ever we turn to the fitting instructions for a detailed description:
This is 2 ¼ inches wide and is supplied in two sizes:
Normal- Adjustable up to 40 inches in length
Large- Adjustable between 37 inches and 46 inches in length. Each end of the belt is fitted with a metal hook, which engage in a series of eyelets for adjustment of length. The belt is fastened by a clasp buckle (hook and loop pattern) with slides to hold the two parts of the clasp in position. The two small ‘D’ rings fixed to the bottom edge of the belt are for attachment of the cape carrier. The belt is stamped with a stores number and the size on the inside, at the rear. As is often the case with 58 pattern webbing this is hard to read due to the dark base colour of the webbing set:These belts were to prove very popular and despite 58 pattern webbing having been obsolete for a quarter of a century, the belts are still commonly seen being used as trouser belts by serving service personnel- indeed I myself prefer it to the modern nylon issued belt which is particularly flimsy.
When the 1958 pattern webbing set was introduced officer’s equipment such as compass pouches and binocular cases were not included in the initial design- earlier 37 pattern or 44 pattern examples soldiered on and were attached as best they could to the new webbing set. This was clearly unsustainable as they did not fit properly and were always in danger of falling off- therefore a purpose designed binoculars case was introduced to match the rest of the 1958 pattern set:The case is made of green, pre-shrunk cotton and is far more angular than its predecessors, a box flap is provided to protect the top of the pouch:This is secured by a brass turn button:On the rear C-hooks allow the case to be secured to the waistbelt, whilst a webbing loop above allows the yoke to be passed through to prevent the case from falling forward:This case is marked under the flap, but as is often the case with the 58 pattern equipment this is hard to read due to the dark colour of the underlying webbing:I believe this example dates form 1968, but it is hard to read. This case was made by MW&S, Martin Wright & Sons Ltd. The stores number can be seen below which is a pre-NATO code.
The case would have held the small binoculars No 2 in use since the Great War, the case being well padded to help protect the optics. It must be said that British binoculars were not highly regarded by those using them, and often superior West German brands were privately purchased that may or may not have fitted in the 58 pattern cases.
By the 1950s and after over fifty years of experience with webbing designs, one would have expected the British Army to be able to introduce a comfortable and well thought out large pack when they introduced the otherwise excellent 58 pattern set of webbing. Sadly the pack they did introduce, whilst having some useful innovations, was poorly thought through and uncomfortable to wear. This led to the 58 pattern pack being universally loathed by squadies and spending most of the time consigned to unit transport. For a fuller analysis of the designs shortcomings, Karkee Web has an interesting article here.
For the description of the pack, we turn to the 1959 Instructions for Assembling Web Equipment Pattern 1958 published by The War Office:
This is approximately 17 inches wide and 14 inches deep, with 5 inch gussets:The pack opens at the top and is closed by a flap secured by two straps and buckles. Weather flaps are provided which fold down under the main flap: There is a pocket on each side of the pack which is closed by a ‘box’ lid and secured by a strap and buckle:Attached to the main flap of the pack is a wide strap with a spigot and metal link, and right and left straps with quick-release links and tongue for the retention of the pick handle, or the shovel, in normal ‘marching order’ carrying position:Above this is a horizontal webbing loop to hold the pick, or the shovel, in an alternative position:On the top rear edge of the pack there are two adjustable straps each terminating in a flat hook, for connection to the yoke of the equipment:At the bottom of each side of the pack there is a quickly adjustable strap carrying a spring hook for connection to the rear of each ammunition pouch (or revolver holster) in the ‘fighting order’ of the equipment:On the rear panel of the pack is a white patch for personal identification markings:On the top of the main flap two straps, with buckles, are fitted to hold the greatcoat, or the parka:Two straps, fixed to the top front edge of the pack, cross diagonally over the front of the pack:and are secured on the underside of the pack by two buckles:These cross straps are to hold the steel helmet.
These packs are easy and cheap to find so not hard to add to a collection, but there seems to be very few photographs of them ever having been worn in the field.
The 1958 pattern webbing set included an integral bayonet frog on the side of one of its ammunition pouches. However whilst this was absolutely fine for activities in the field; it was discovered that a traditional bayonet frog was needed to wear with a belt when troops were in drill order, i.e. only wearing a belt and a bayonet frog. The 58 pattern bayonet frog does not appear in the fitting instructions and reference to it only comes from a 1976 stores reference, however it did exist and was given a NATO stores number. This bayonet frog is one such example:In form the bayonet frog mirrors that used with the 1937 pattern equipment, but is made of a thinner and more finely woven cotton webbing than its predecessor. There are two broad loops, one with a button hole at the base of the frog:These would be used to pass the scabbard of the bayonet through and secure it. At the top of the frog is a webbing loop:This is designed to pass over the handle of the bayonet and secure it firmly to the frog so it does not bounce around. Turning to the rear the stitching that holds the frog together can be seen:This frog helpfully has a paper stores label knotted to it, which helpfully provided the stores number to help identify this obscure piece of webbing:The stores number is a standard NATO number, in this case 8465-99-973-9103 and according to the label this frog came from a bundle of eight. Interestingly the frog appears to have been bleached or blancoed at some point in a pale green, however I have not seen evidence of this being done to webbing as late as this so it remains something of a mystery! My thanks go to Andy Dearlove for spotting this at War and Peace and picking it up for me.