IRISH GREAT WAR SOCIETY

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     Kit and Equipment
 
Service Dress
(British Army)

There were also lightweight uniforms for wear in warmer climates, known as Khaki drill. The Officers' was little different in cut, but the Other Ranks' tunic was distinguished from the temperate service dress by having only the breast pockets. Both were made from a lighter cloth (both in weight, and in shade).

Scottish Variations

Scottish Highland pattern uniforms differed in the wearing of tartan kilts or trews, rather than trousers or breeches, and in alterations in the design of the tunic and jacket to make them resemble traditional Highland ones—notably in cutting away the skirts at the front of the tunic to allow the wearing of a sporran.

 

           1908 Pattern webbing

The 1908 Pattern webbing equipment comprised a wide belt, left and right ammunition pouches which held 75 rounds each, left and right braces, a bayonet frog and attachment for the entrenching tool handle, an entrenching tool head in web cover, water bottle carrier, small haversack and large pack. A mess tin was worn attached to one of the packs, and was contained inside a cloth buff-coloured khaki cover. Inside the haversack were personal items, knife and when on Active Service, unused portions of the daily ration. The large pack could sometimes be used to house some of these items, but was normally kept for carrying the soldier's Greatcoat and or a blanket. The full set of 1908 webbing could weigh over 70 pounds (32 kg).

 

 

The Brodie Helmet

The first delivery of a protective steel helmet (the Brodie helmet) to the British Army was in 1915. Initially there were far from enough helmets to equip every man, so they were designated as "trench stores", to be kept in the front line and used by each unit that occupied the sector. It was not until the summer of 1916, when the first 1 million helmets had been produced, that they could be generally issued.

The Brodie helmet reduced casualties but was criticized by General Herbert Plumer on the grounds that it was too shallow, too reflective, its rim was too sharp, and its lining was too slippery. These criticisms were addressed in the Mark I model helmet of 1916 which had a separate folded rim, a two-part liner, and matte khaki paint finished with sand, sawdust, or crushed cork to give a dull, non-reflective appearance.

 

Gas helmets/masks

 

The first use of poison gas on the Western Front was on 22 April 1915 by the Germans at Ypres against Canadian and French colonial troops. The initial response was to equip the men with cotton mouth pads for protection. Soon afterwards the British introduced the Black Veil Respirator, which consisted of a long cloth which was used to tie chemical-soaked mouth pads into place. Dr. Cluny MacPherson of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment had the idea of a mask made of a chemical absorbing fabric, which fitted over the entire head.  This was developed into the British Hypo Helmet (PH Hood)in June 1915. It had a single mica eyepiece and was treated with a chemical compound called, 'Phenate Hexamine', which offered short term protection to the eyes as well as to the respiratory system. One British officer described it as a 'smoke helmet'; a greasy grey-felt bag with a talc window and certainly ineffective against gas.  It was uncomfortable to wear and visibilty was increasingly reduced if worn for any duration as the warm exhaled breath did not rapidly dissipate; it also meant that the wearer was increasingly breathing-in his own rising levels of carbon dioxide. It is recorded that quite a number men took the risk of taking a 'quick'  breath of fresh air rather than continually breathing their own stale, suffocating air inside their helmet; that of course proved fatal on many occasions. 

The helmet was then modified by providing two individual round eyepieces and an outlet tube for the exhaled breath.  That, at least, greatly reduced the eyepieces 'steaming-up' as the wearer exhaled, and certainly freed the helmet of carbon dioxide.  This helmet was designated as the PHG Hood.However, they were still uncomfortable, and still did not allow good 180° visibility.

 

 

Both the PH and PHG Hoods were prone to 'drying-out' thus making the chemical compound ineffective.  It was discovered that the chemicals were invigerated by soaking them. However, water was at a premium in the trenches and so the only alternative was for the men to urinate on them, hence they became known as the 'P' Hood!!  

Being obviously unsuitable for warfare, the hoods were superseded in 1916 by the canister filter gas mask. This consisted of a face mask connected to a canister containing chemical absorbent materials by a hose.   The face mask  was fixed over the eyes, mouth and nose by straps, which could be tightened at the back of the head to provide a secure seal around the face.  The mask also had integrated inlet and outlet valves to allow only for the passing of filtered air into the lungs and for the expelled carbon dioxide to be exhausted outside of the mask.  The first mask of this type possessed a large cannister and was known as the 'Large Box Respirator'.  Although effective, it proved to be cumbersome and so gave rise to the development of the 'Small Box Respirator'. The modern day gas mask owes its origins to the 'SBR' and remains virtually unchanged today.

 

 

     Weapons

This section contains a selection of some of the many weapons used by the British Army during World War I

 

               Webley revolver                            

Webley pistols were the British Army's handgun of choice from 1887,(and unofficially before then when officers were expected to purchase their own firearms).  The standard-issue Webley revolver before the outbreak of World War 1 was the Webley Mk V, which was formally adopted on 9th  December 1913.  However, there were far more of the earlier model Mk IV revolvers in service in 1914 as the initial order for 20,000 Mk V's had not been completed when hostilities began. 

On 24 May 1915 the updated Webley Mk VI was adopted as the standard sidearm for British officers and other sidearm bearing troops, and remained as such for the duration of the First World War(and into WW2), being issued to officers, airmen, naval crews, boarding parties, trench raiders, machine-gun teams, and tank crews.

 

The Mk VI proved to be a very reliable and hardy weapon, well suited to the mud and adverse conditions of trench warfare. Several accessories were developed for the Mk VI including; a bayonet (made from a converted French Pritchard bayonet), a speedloader device (Prideaux Device), and a stock allowing for the revolver to be converted into a carbine for improving accuracy over longer distances.

 

Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III

 

The iconic Lee-Enfield rifle, the SMLE Mk III, was introduced on 26 January 1907 and was a development of the 'Long Lee Enfield' as the former was considered awkward by mounted troops. Although weighing 8lb 9oz,without bayonet, and having a considerable recoil, the SMLE soon outnumbered the longer type.  It possessed an effective range of between 550yds and 1000yds.

Both versions featured the excellent J.P. Lee designed single sliding bolt action charger fed by a 10 round magazine. The 60 degree angled bolt aided the fast-operating bolt action, and the 10 round magazine enabled a trained rifleman to fire 20 to 30 accurately aimed rounds a minute, making the Lee-Enfield the fastest military bolt-action rifle of the day. 

First World War accounts tell of British troops repelling German attackers who subsequently reported that they had encountered machine guns, when in fact it was simply a group of trained riflemen armed with SMLE Mk III rifles.

The SMLE had a simplified rear sighting  arrangement that allowed a course adjustment of between 200 yds to 2000 yds on a sliding scale with a fine adjustment wheel for accuracies (windage) between 25 yds and 50 yds. The fore-sight is of a fixed dove-tailed blade type.

Pre-1916 Mk III's were equipped with a unique 'volley-fire' sight on the left hand side of the stock, ahead of the magazine and this was used to provide an indirect fire capability at ranges of between 2000 and 3900 yards. It was used by large squads of riflemen for salvo firing at groups of distant targets, such as, dense infantry or cavalry formations.  

 

The SMLE was issued with a 1907 Pattern 17" Sword Bayonet. The blade was of a single true edge type with a fuller (blood channel)on each flank.  The hilt had a basic bird's head 'T' slotted pommel with an integrated spring locking latch.  The more common type had a plain steel cross-guard with a muzzle ring, whereas the less common type had a cross-guard with a hooked quillon. 

 

Vickers Machine Gun

The Vickers machine gun accompanied the BEF to France in 1914, and in the years that followed, proved itself to be the most reliable weapon on the battlefield, some of its feats of endurance entering military mythology. Perhaps the most incredible was the action by the 100th Company of the Machine Gun Corps at High Wood on 24 August 1916. This company had 10 Vickers guns, and it was ordered to give sustained covering fire for 12 hours onto a selected area 2,000 yards (1,800 m) away in order to prevent German troops forming up there for a counter-attack while a British attack was in progress. Two companies of infantrymen were allocated as carriers of ammunition, rations and water for the machine-gunners.

 

Two men worked a belt-filling machine non-stop for 12 hours keeping up a supply of 250-round belts. 100 new barrels were used up, and all the water, including the men’s drinking water and contents of the latrine buckets, was used to keep the guns cool. And in that 12 hour period the 10 guns fired a million rounds between them. One team is reported to have fired 120,000 from their gun to win a five franc prize offered to the highest-scoring gun. And at the end of operation, it is alleged that every gun was working perfectly and that not one gun had broken down during the whole period. It was this reliability which endeared the Vickers to the soldiers that used it. It rarely broke down; it just kept on firing. Demand from the British Army for Vickers machine guns was so high that Vickers had to find new ways of increasing production and by 1915 Vickers had supplied the British armed forces with 2,405 guns.These increases continued throughout the war: 7,429 were supplied in 1916, 21,782 in 1917 and 39,473 in 1918.

Lewis Machine gun

The British officially adopted the Lewis machine gun in .303 calibre for Land and Aircraft use in October 1915. Despite costing more than a Vickers gun to manufacture (the cost of a Lewis Gun in 1915 was £165, and the Vickers cost about £100), Lewis machine-guns were in high demand with the British military during World War I. The Lewis also had the advantage of being about 80% faster (in both time and component parts) to build than the Vickers gun (and was a lot more portable), and thus orders were placed by the British Government between August 1914 and June 1915 for 3,052 Lewis guns. By the end of World War I over 50,000 Lewis Guns had been produced in the US and UK and they were nearly ubiquitous on the Western Front, outnumbering the Vickers gun by a ratio of about 3:1.

 

The Lewis Gun utilised two different drum magazines, one holding 47 and the other 97 rounds of ammunition and had a rate of fire of 500 to 600 rounds per minute. The gun weighed 28 pounds (13 kg), only about half as much as a typical medium machine gun of the era, such as the Vickers machine gun, and was chosen in part because, being more portable than a heavy machine gun (such as the Vickers), it could be carried and used by a single soldier

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