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INFANTRY EQUIPMENT

Part 1

 

The British soldier of the 1980's, like his predecessor had to carry everything he needed to survive on the battle field.  Even in a modern highly mechanised army there were times when the soldier had to carry heavy loads of personal equipment in to battle.

In the 1980's the British army under took its most comprehensive re-equipment program ever; from boots to tanks, nearly every piece of infantry equipment was replaced or upgraded.  Due to the nature of supply and issue which could never keep up with demand the old and new was in use together well into the early 1990's.


During the Falklands conflict the terrain made it difficult for vehicles to operate without becoming mired. So the poor old foot soldier had to result to carrying everything he needed to fight and survive on his back.  Pictures of soldiers marching with over-loaded bergans, some in excess of 105lbs, have become infamously associated with the Falklands conflict.  Though even this is a myth.  Soldiers did Yomp or march to victory across the Falklands, but they did not carry these heavy loads every step of the way.  Company HQ vehicles, tractors and occasionally helicopters took some of the strain, carrying the units bergans forwards where possible. What he did carry every step of the way was the essentials he needed to survive in the field.

Every soldier is issued with his own set of web equipment which consists of a belt, yolk, ammunition pouches, kidney pouches and a large pack. This enables him to carry everything he needs to survive in the field for 24 hours. In addition to this was also given NBC kit, poncho, sleeping bag, entrenching tools and a steel helmet. He also was expected to carry spare clothing, rations, ammunition and any other piece of equipment he required to carry out his duties.

Webbing

Pattern 37  WE

The Pattern 1937 Web Equipment or '37 Pattern webbing as it was known as, and was developed during the 1930's to replace the 1908 webbing that was used during the first world war. It consisted of a belt, cross straps, two ammunition pouches, bayonet frog, water bottle carrier, entrenching tool carrier and a small pack. 

It was used until the introduction of the '58 Pattern web equipment during the early 1960's.  Some units still used the '37 pattern webbing for training even in 1982 and it was on issue to army cadet units well into the late 1980's.

Pattern 44  WE

The 1944 pattern Webbing or '44 pattern webbing was introduced to overcome the shortcomings of the '37 pattern webbing.  It consisted of a belt, yoke, left and right ammunition pouches, water bottle carrier and a large pack. 

In early 1945, quantities of the new webbing started being issued to troops in the far east where it was found to be more suitable and resistant to the tropical climates encountered than the '37 pattern webbing which rotted quite easily in the jungles.

It was still used by troops in tropical areas well into the late 1980's. The metal '44 pattern water bottle and mug, along with the water bottle carrier was a sought after item, especially among those serving with the special forces and  the parachute regiment.

Pattern 58 WE

Developed in the late 1950's as a replacement for the '37 and '44 pattern webbing, the 1958 pattern webbing system was issued from the 1960's onwards and resembled the '44 pattern webbing.  Universally known as '58 pattern webbing it consisted of a belt, yoke, left and right ammunition pouches, a set of kidney pouches, water bottle carrier, cape carrier and large pack. Also developed to go with the new webbing was a new poncho, entrenching tools, sleeping bag, and a plastic water bottle and mug were all designed to fit the '58 pattern webbing.  Latter a new respirator haversack for the s6 respirator was also developed to fit in with the webbing.

The webbing was of a modular design allowing it to be configured to suit the users needs and operational requirements. With he most common adaptation being the position of the cape carrier which was moved to above the kidney pouches. It was found that the '44 pattern water bottle carriers were compatible with the new webbing and it was not uncommon amongst members of elite units to dispense with the standard kidney pouches and use additional water bottle pouches along side the '44 pattern water bottle carriers.

It could be argued that the  '58 pattern web equipment can be described as the last of the war time derived webbing as it owes much of its design to its war time predecessors and served with rear echelon and Territorial army units well into the late 1990's.


Above and below: The '58 pattern WE shown assembled

PLCE

Personal Load-Carrying Equipment or PLCE for short was developed as a replacement for the '58 pattern webbing. First introduced as a trails variant in the mid 1980's it was not until 1990 that it was issued in large quantities, although it was not until the late 1990's that it finally replaced the '58 pattern.

If the '58 pattern was the last war time derived webbing then the PLCE was the first of the the modern webbing to be developed and it later became known as '90 pattern WE. Originally issued in Olive, it was short lived and in 1992 it was made out of IRR DPM material.

The PLCE was designed that the soldier could only carry the essentials and consisted of a belt, 2 types of yokes, 2 twin ammunition pouches, utility pouch, water bottle pouch, entrenching tool and carrier, utility straps, two day sacks and a bergan. 

 

 

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