This page provides some information on the personal equipment used by machine gunners. It is not intended to provide technical information on the equipment but more about how they were used and worn by the Machine Gunners themselves. It will also include a compilation (albeit not comprehensive) of incidental material we have found in our own research.
Technical and historic information on webbing can be found on Karkee Web.
1914 Pattern Equipment
A set of personal equipment made in leather as a wartime expedient to enable wider production outside of those factories equipped with cotton looms to produce webbing. It consisted of a number of component parts in several configurations. The pistol order and rifle order are those used with the Machine Gun Corps.
From the schedule of equipment for a Machine Gun Battalion in 1918, it would appear that the 1914 Pattern leather equipment was that authorised for use with the Machine Gun Corps as opposed to the 1908 Pattern web equipment.
Each ammunition pouch was designed to contain a cotton bandolier of 50 rounds of rifle ammunition in chargers. An additional two chargers were held in small fitted pockets in the pouch itself and were more readily available.
To facilitate the ammunition pouch being used, it was necessary to authorise bandoliers to be issued.
17. Bandoliers for T.F. [Territorial Force] Units.
Approval is given for the issue of two “Bandoliers, cotton” per set of 1914 equipment in possession of units of the T.F., and the T.F. units concerned should be instructed to put forward indents on the local A.O.D. [Army Ordnance Department] for such numbers of these bandoliers (in accordance with the above scale) as may be necessary to meet their requirements.
The leather pouches of the 1914 equipment are each intended to contain one filled cotton bandolier and two chargers, each containing five cartridges, thus making a total of 120 rounds in the two pouches.
Ammunition required for use should be placed in the bandolier, which should be folded as to admit of chargers being extracted without removing the bandolier from the pouch.Army Council Instruction 17, 2nd March 1915.
Army Order 424 of December 1916, as an amendment to Infantry Training 1914, describes the purpose and use of the ammunition pouch.
…The ammunition pouch of the Pattern 1914 Leather Equipment is designed to carry 60 rounds of .303-inch small-arm ammunition in chargers, viz., 50 rounds in the cotton bandolier and 10 rounds in a small pocket, which is provided with a securing strap, and is fitted inside the pouch.
The cotton bandolier should be packed in the pouch so that the stud fasteners of the pockets are placed uppermost; the fasteners can then be undone and the ammunition in the chargers readily withdrawn.
Ammunition is not to be carried loose in these pouches as it is liable to be lost.Army Order 424, December 1916.
1937 Pattern Equipment
Introduced to replace the 1908 Pattern Equipment with mechanisation in the 1930s, and the introduction of the Bren light machine gun. It consisted of a belt and braces with a range of configurations to suit the role of the soldier.
Webbing equipment included metal fittings and many of these were brass, particularly at the start of the Second World War. Army Council Instruction 1423 of November 1940 issued the instruction that these brasses were not to be polished and should be left to dull to avoid observation by the enemy.
To maintain webbing, it had to be cleaned and ‘renovated’ using an approved cleaner, commonly called Blanco. This was originally provided in powder form but shortages in late 1940 meant that a block form of the cleaner was introduced.
Designed to contain two magazines for the Bren light machine gun or a bandolier of 50-rounds of rifle ammunition and two grenades. They were the main component for the infantryman; however, machine gunners did not wear them as they did not need the capacity for Bren magazines. They used cartridge carriers instead.
The Mark I basic pouch had the brass hooks mounted in the centre and this placed the pouch with equal amounts above and below the belt. It was found this caused problems for the seated soldier and a modification was issued in Army Council Instruction 604 of June 1940 that moved the brass hooks down by 1-inch which resulted in a higher carrying position for the pouch. This was then known as the Mark II pouch and future pouches were manufactured in this manner.
Within a machine gun platoon, there was only one Bren light machine gun and, therefore, the men of the platoon did not generally wear basic pouches (described above) unless they were armed with a machine carbine. Instead, the rifle-armed men wore cartridge carriers. These were a pair of pouches, each with two pockets holding two five-round chargers of .303-inch ammunition: a total of 80 rounds per man.
These were withdrawn for service from the Royal Army Service Corps but then reintroduced and the Army Council Instruction confirmed they were used by Motor Transport drivers across the Army. This was presumably as they have a lower profile than the basic pouch and interfered with driving less.
1944 Pattern Equipment
Introduced particularly for fighting in tropical climates, the 1944 Pattern equipment was green lightweight webbing, much finer than the 1937 Pattern that it replaced in those areas. It saw extremely limited use towards the end of the Second World War, with evidence showing it was only distributed in North West Europe to some of the occupation troops arranging to take the surrender of the German troops as well as some of the airborne troops in the Mediterranean (these were all units that had been intended to go to the Far East but were dispatched.
It remained in service throughout the 1950s and 1960s and it was used alongside the 1958 Pattern webbing after that entered service; however, mainly in the Far East and Middle East where a lighter-weight equipment was needed. It also included the General Service Manpack within the equipment.
More information is available in the 1946 manual on the 1944 Pattern Equipment.
- The National Archives, WO 123/58, Army Orders 1916.
- The National Archives, WO 293/2, Army Council Instructions 1915 January to June.
- The National Archives, WO 293/25, Army Council Instructions 1940.