There are a number of reasons why military equipment can be found in mint unissued condition. Sometimes items are produced in such large quantities that there are plenty available for the surplus and collectors market that have never been issued. Other times a piece of equipment is just not fit for purpose and after initial issue to the troops is swiftly abandoned and large quantities sit in warehouses until sold in the secondary market. Finally there is the most unusual set of circumstances where a piece of kit is a good idea, well made and would be welcomed by troops but through administrative blunder is never used and tonight’s object tells this tale.
British troops in Northern Ireland on patrol operations often had to man vehicle check points for long periods of time, standing and holding an SLR with an IWS night sight. This was a particularly heavy and awkward combination and was particularly difficult to handle when slung over the shoulder whilst checking papers of those in vehicles that had been stopped. To counter this problem a special webbing cup was designed that could sit on the belt of the 58 pattern webbing into which the butt of the SLR could be fitted, transferring some of the weight to the waist belt and making the soldier’s life a little easier:The pocket was expandable to comfortably fit the butt, putting enough pressure on it that it did not flop around, but loose enough that the rifle was easily withdrawn:Two methods of attaching to the belt were provided on the rear. A pair of ‘C’ hooks:And a top mounted loop to pass a belt through:This particular example is stamped inside with a date of 1972 and was manufactured by Martin Wright and Sons Ltd:Large quantities of these butt pouches were manufactured and by all accounts seem like they would have been a welcome solution to a real problem. One ex-soldier recalls:
I seem to remember resting my SLR on my right-side 58 pouch, though you had to wear the belt loose and without the yoke to achieve a comfortable fit………………never, ever saw one of these pouches in service.
Unfortunately no-one at a unit level knew they existed and so they were not ordered from stores for issue and instead languished in a warehouse until flooding the surplus market. At this point the market was saturated and despite attempts by some dealers to market them as hexamine cooker pouches (they do fit in but it is purely by chance), huge quantities were burnt as being essentially unsellable. This has now led to a situation where they are nowhere near as common as they once were and for the collector of post war webbing and equipment it is worth picking an example up as a testament to official bungling!
On patrol in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles, British troops had very strict rules of engagement and were only permitted to carry very small amounts of ammunition- normally two SLR magazines, each with eighteen rounds- one in the gun and one in a pouch. Troops also wore body armour so there was a move away from large traditional equipment sets to more minimal belt kits. This example is a representative set like those put together by troops on Operation Banner:As can be seen the set consists of one 58 pattern ammunition pouch and two water bottle pouches on a 58 pattern belt:This set up emphasises the need for hydration during grueling foot patrols, with minimal ammunition needed. One ex soldier describes what he carried in Northern Ireland:
First tour 75 country Tyrone, dress was boots dms with puttees, trousers lightweight, kf shirt, woolly pully, combat jacket with yellow card in breast pocket, green waterproof, sometimes a parka, beret and blacked out badge.
Belt order with ammo pouches and water bottle only, although it was a bit of a waste as we only had 20 rounds. So lots of room for sweets and choccies.
CS gas was developed by the British at Porton Down in the 1950s and 1960s as a non-lethal riot control agent based on the discovery of the compound by American scientists in the 1920s. CS Gas reacts with moisture on the skin, in the eyes, nose and mouth, and in the lungs, causing a burning sensation. Apart from the pain it causes it also results in tears being shed as the eyes go into an automatic cleaning mode. In severe cases coughing and vomiting can occur, especially if the victim is confined to an area of high concentrations of the gas, such as a room. The effects wear off within a few minutes of reaching clear air. The use of CS gas came to prominence in 1969 when it was used to quell civil disorder in Northern Ireland during the so called ‘Battle of Bogside’. The British Army made extensive use of CS gas during the troubles and used both grenades and fired canisters from their Federal Riot guns. As usual with a weapons system, troops need to train on it under controlled circumstances so inert cartridges were produced that only released pink smoke, rather than actual CS gas. These training rounds were clearly marked:The cartridge case is made of aluminium, 1.5” in diameter and has a pair of coloured bands, blue over green. As can be seen it is clearly marked as being an irritant practice round. The rear of the cartridge gives a filling date of October 1974:Turning to the base of the cartridge we can see that the casing itself dates from July 1973 and has a head stamp marking of FPL:The CS projectile itself was a separate piece of ordnance that fitted inside this casing, the cartridge case holding the percussion cap in the base and a propellant charge. When fired at a distance of 100m the cartridge had a delay of between 1 and 5 seconds and then burnt, expelling the CS gas for between 10 and 15 seconds. During the Fall Curfew of 1970 the British Army had fired up to 1,600 canisters of CS and following its use at Lenadoon in 1972 the RUC and British Army ceased using CS gas in Northern Ireland. The Royal Scots report ‘Internal Security training for Northern Ireland’ explained:
When CS gas is thrown in open spaces, such as post war housing estates, it needs to be used in considerable quantities to be effective…
Later the Battalion commander would remark that one of the more damaging consequences of using CS gas was the potential
for it to blow the wrong way and end up in old people’s houses.
Despite the decision to stop using it in Northern Ireland, munitions and training continued in case it was needed at a future date.
Whilst the British Army in the Cold War used standard infantry helmets for its infantry, certain specialist troops used their own designs. A rimless helmet was introduced, with different chin straps depending on whether they were for airborne or armoured use. The shape of the old ‘soup bowl’ Mk II helmet was unsuited for wear in a tank due to the limited space and chance of catching it on things, a more compact rimless helmet helped alleviate this problem, whilst still giving the tank crews some protection to their heads. Armoured troops continued using the rimless helmet shell introduced during the Second World War, modifying it to bring it into line with the requirements of warfare in the 1980s. Tonight’s object is an Armoured Corps Mk II Steel Helmet first introduced in April 1945, however this example dates from the early 1980s:The helmet consists of a manganese steel shell, with a rubber liner inside:As can be seen the top pad is missing and has been replaced by gaffer tape. The helmet is covered in typical scrim of the period:The base layer is hessian sand bagging material, overlaid with a camouflage net and finally with plastic ‘foliage’ on top of that. The sandbagging prevents any shine appearing from the helmet shell under the rest of the scrim.
The plastic scrim is very characteristic of the cold war as it was dropped soon after as it had the unfortunate habit of melting or catching fire! The chin strap for the helmet is the MkIII version, with a quick release fastener consisting of a tongue and staple:The helmet strap also has a NATO stores code, manufacturer and date of 1983 printed on it:Use of this design of helmet was not restricted to land based troops, the helmet was also issued to Royal Navy ships for wear by sailors, though obviously these helmets don’t have the scrim! Many of these helmets have been bought by re-enactors to convert into WW2 Parachutist helmets (apparently its not easy to drill through the steel to add the alternative chin straps though), but I particularly like mine for the straight out of service look it has.