Over the years the blog has covered both the 1.5” flare pistol and its associated tins for the flare cartridges themselves. Tonight we are looking at a small pouch that was used to carry the tins of flare cartridges as part of a holster and strap webbing system:The webbing flare pistol holster was less common that the leather one, but did see plenty of service. Whilst it could be worn on a belt, it was more common for it to be slung with a shoulder strap. Sewn to this shoulder strap was our little pouch, and a look at the rear shows a darker patch of webbing where the strap was originally attached:The pouch secures with a single strap and a brass Twigg buckle:Inside it is sized neatly to hold the metal tin containing three flares:This storage method is far safer than placing the tin or individual flares in a pocket and ensures that a flare pistol always has at least three rounds with it, even if the holster is passed to someone new. I am still trying to find any useable photographs of one of these pouches actually sewn to a strap- if it is indeed just a standard 37 pattern shoulder brace then it should not be too difficult to sew it back onto a strap and return it to its former glory.
A couple of years ago we looked at the red RAF 1 inch flare tin here. Tonight, thanks to my good friend Andy Dixon, we are going to look at the scarcer army flare tin in black:Dimensionally this tin is identical to the RAF version, with a removable lid and space for three flares. The front of the tin has the contents printed on it, indicating that this tin would hold 3 green signal cartridges:Interestingly the same information is printed on the inside of the tin. Presumably the Metal Box Company, who manufactured this tin, sometimes printed the same design on both sides of a sheet of tin before assembly:The side of the tin has a date of manufacture, June 1944 and the factory code ‘12MB’:The opposite side of the tin has a run of solder down it where the box was assembled:The lid is a single pressed piece of tin, with an embossed triangle on it to indicate by touch that the contents are green flares, essential for use at night where it could be crucial that the right colour is selected:The lid would have been secured with a strip of bitumous tape to keep moisture out- this was simply peeled off when the user need to get a cartridge out to fire. For some reason the black tins seem to be rarer than the red examples and wartime dated ones are harder to find than post war versions so this is a nice addition to my little flare pistol collection.
It has been a long time since we looked at my flare pistol here, since then I have managed to add a flare cartridge tin to my collection here and now I have found a nice wartime dated flare pistol holster to go with the set. The holster is a large heavy duty affair made of brown leather:As can be seen it is much larger even than a World War One Webley holster, with a very wide section where the mussle of the flare pistol sits to accommodate the flared ends of some models. On the rear is a broad belt loop allowing it to be attached to a webbing belt:This holster originally had a shoulder strap, to help support the weight of the flare pistol, but this has long since been removed. The holster has clearly seen some hard times as all the stitching has been replaced at some point, the original stitching clearly not having survived. The flap of the holster is secured with a brass stud and a leather strap:Under the flap of the holster is stamped the date ‘1944’, a maker’s stamp of HK & Son and an acceptance mark with a /|\ mark:This holster has ‘No 3’ painted on the main body:This suggests it was from a pool of flare pistols kept for some use in a central location and loaned out as needed. My flare pistol fits nicely into the holster:As can be seen there is still plenty of room with this little pistol:This suggests the holster was designed to be able to take a variety of different flare pistols of different shapes and sizes. The use of holsters does not actually seem to have been that common in front line infantry units, in this famous picture of Fusilier Tom Payne, it can be seen he is carrying a flare pistol:However it is tucked behind his ammunition pouch rather than being in a purpose made holster:
My thanks go to Andy Dixon for fixing me up with tonight’s object, an RAF flare tin to go with the 1” flare pistol we looked at here. This little tin held three red 1” flares:The front of the tin has details of the contents “3 CARTRIDGES SIGNAL RED Mk. XIIT”. The top of the tin gives further information warning the user not to break the seal until they are ready to use the flares:These tins were issued with one man and multi person dinghies as part of the survival kit to enable pilots to signal rescuing aircraft or ships in the case they were shot down. As the flare cartridges were made of cardboard they were susceptible to moisture and would then fail to ignite as in the case of a bomber crew shot down in 1941:
Engine trouble caused the bomber to turn back from a raid on Germany. The pilot hoped to reach the English Coast, but was forced to come down in the sea. He said: When the bomber hit the water the dinghy was automatically released and the crew got out on to the wing and clambered into it. The bomber sank. We thought that we were only about 12 or 20 miles out from the English coast. Actually we were much farther out, and in a minefield! If we had known that, I don’t think we should have been quite as happy as we were. We arranged ourselves in the dinghy as comfortably as possible and just sat there waiting for something to turn up. The wireless operator had sent out an SOS, but it was not received. All we had in the way of signalling equipment were two distress flares. We had no compass. We had a few boiled sweets, a tin of food tablets, a few ounces of concentrated chocolate, about a pint of water and a small bottle of rum. We thought it would be only a few hours before we were picked up. About half an hour later a bomber passed overhead on its way back to England. We tried to attract attention but the distress flare failed to work.Luckily these men were eventually rescued, eight days after being shot down. When they worked the red flares would arch high into the sky and the bright light would be visible for miles. The tins were issued in waterproof packets of nine tins with a matching flare pistol:These tins were also produced for the army to use with their flare pistols, but these were black rather than red. This tin makes a very nice accompaniment to my flare pistol:I am now on the lookout for three deactivated 1” flares to fill it with, but these seem far harder to find than the tins.
When the 1944 pattern Jungle Webbing and associated equipment was introduced the pre-existing rubberised poncho was retained; changing colour from tan to dark green. The poncho had been introduced in World War One as the Sheets, Ground, MkVII, the illustration below was published at the time of its introduction:My example is from nearly half a century later, but in form is virtually identical:The fabric is a heavy cotton canvas, prepared with a rubberised finish to make it waterproof (with resultant rubbery smell). The cape has a row of plastic buttons down one edge:These are reinforced on the rear to prevent the material being torn:Note the holes along the edge, these allow two ponchos to be tied together to make a crude shelter. At the ‘neck’ is a cotton tape to allow the poncho to be hung up to dry:The collar has a button and strip of fabric for fastening:These allow the collar to be drawn high enough to protect the back of the neck from rain:This cape has a manufacturer’s mark indicating it was made in 1954 by Strauss and Sons:The 1944 pattern haversack, introduced alongside the green poncho, had a pair of straps at its base that allowed a rolled poncho to be carried safely and still be easily accessible to put on in case of a sudden monsoon rain storm. These capes were practical, but heavy and hot. They were dropped by the British Army in the 60s and 70s in favour of nylon ponchos, but remained in use as ground sheets for shooting ranges and the like where soldiers needed to lie on wet ground. I bought a couple of these six or seven years ago when dealers couldn’t seem to give them away (mine cost £5 each). Since then they seem to have shot up in price and are now fetching £25 or more each.
Tonight we are looking at a pair of used flare pistol cartridges. Flare pistols were used for signalling, illumination at night or distress flares and could fire a variety of different cartridges to suit these different roles. British and commonwealth flare pistols came in either 1” or 1.5” calibres, the pistol we looked at last year fired the former, whilst these two cartridges are for a 1.5” flare pistol:As can be seen the cartridges consist of a heavy card body, with a brass base. There is a coloured band around the body of each indicating the colour of the flare, red and green in this case. The other markings indicate the type of cartridge, Mk 7T, the lot number of the cartridges and at the bottom the manufacturer’s name and dates of manufacture. As can be seen these two date from the 1960s and were manufactured by ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) and IMI (Imperial Metal Industries), both divisions of the same company in the 1960s. The base of the cartridge has a central percussion cap (fired in these examples):Although now empty, the cartridge would originally have contained layers of chemicals to project the flare, ignite it and make it burn as required:These days flare pistols have largely been superseded in the UK by self contained flares that are used once and then discarded. In the civilian setting this is mainly due to the strict firearms laws in the country that make it legally much easier to issue once only flares than a gun that can fire cartridges.
Battlefields at night are dark and confusing places and often some form of artificial illumination is needed. Tonight’s item is a 38mm L5A4 parachute flare from the early 1980s.
The rocket is a one shot device made in the form of a plastic tube with screw on caps at either end. It is fired at an angle of between 45˚ and 90˚ depending on the wind conditions and the flare produces a light equivalent to 80,000 candles that burns for 30 seconds at a height of approximately 300m. Details on how to use the flare are printed on the outside of the tube, with pictures to aid easy use:To operate the flare the user removes the end caps from the top and bottom, revealing a safety pin and trigger at the base:To fire the operator removes the pin and presses the trigger upwards, setting off the flare instantaneously. This example is dated April 1983 and was made by A Schermuly of Salisbury, Wiltshire:Once fired the user would discard the empty tube. This kind of one shot device replaced the traditional flare pistol for signalling and illumination and is still in use today. It is cheap and disposable and once fire the user is not having to carry round a heavy flare gun.