Creating an impression: British Infantry, Temperate Climates 1969-1985

Cold War, Creating an impression

First things first, this uniform is an approximation for airsoft purposes, it’s still a working progress (as any impression should be). It is absolutely not the typical British soldier in several respects, which I will detail.

My reason for putting this load out together was to have something which complimented my M16A1, which really didn’t work well with my WWII British Battledress and 37 Pattern Webbing. I’ll refer to the M16 from this point on as ‘Armalite’, as this was how it was largely referred to by the British at this time.

Also, there is no magazine in the rifle. I know this, I was in the safe zone, hence no magazine in the gun!

Research

Contrary to expectation, British forces have used the Armalite rifle since pretty early on. While the Self-Loading Rifle (SLR)* is the iconic British service rifle of the Cold War, there have been roles where the Armalite has been used as an alternative. These fall into two categories:

  1. Where a lighter rifle with lighter ammunition is required
  2. Where select fire is needed to provide automatic fire where a light machine gun would be unsuitable

The majority of the former situation applied only really to Special Forces units, the SAS, SBS and Pathfinders for example. I’ll do these as separate impressions as there are many variations between operations.

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The latter situation applied in a couple of places, Northern Ireland and the Falklands. Although not in every case, some units were given an Armalite for every ‘brick’ (which was the term used for a group of around four men). This was typically carried by the section commander as a little extra firepower, one supposes as an upgrade on the Sterling SMG, which by all accounts was not popular.

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Northern Ireland, as a Corporal, this chap was probably in charge of a brick, hence the Armalite.

The picture above is pretty typical of urban Northern Ireland in the 1970s, at a later date I shall came back and do this load out as well.

Although Trousers, Lightweight (plain, Olive Drab/OD and DPM 68 pattern smocks were commonly mixed, soldiers also wore matching 68 Ptn Jackets and Trousers, along with mashups including but not limited to: wooly knitted pullovers, trops (tropical issue trousers), flak jackets, private purchase para smocks, not to mention an assortment of water and wind proofs.

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Lieut. General Sir Harry Tuzo, GOC Northern Ireland, (centre) with a Military Police escort in Newry.

Headgear varied depending on the conditions. Berets were common headgear, comfortable and fairly warm. When patrolling through streets on peacekeeping operations these were seen as more ‘normal’ and approachable than a steel helmet, and certainly more comfortable to wear for prolonged periods.

Steel helmets were often worn with nets and heavily scrimmed, as you can see below, however they were worn without scrim during riots,  replaced with a visor.

BRITISH ARMED FORCES IN GERMANY 1945 - 1975

On the feet and ankles, DMS (Direct Moulded Sole) boots were the norm, though private purchase boots were sometimes worn. DMS boots were just to the ankle, so puttees were worn as extra support and theoretically sealing boots against dirt ingress (apparently this is effective against sand). During Second World War, puttees were largely replaced with anklet gaiters, which were much quicker to put on and take off and did not require careful tying. For reasons best know to the higher-ups, after the war the army went back to puttees.

 

*For those outside the UK, you would better recognise the SLR as the FN-FAL, though locked to semi-automatic only.

 

The Impression

This is an approximation for an infantryman not in a frontline role where combat was imminently expected.

On my head, I have a black beret with General Service Corps badge. This is sufficient for now until I decide what regiment to portray. If I wanted to add camouflage to this, loosely folding a scrim scarf over it to cover the colour and break up the outline is historically valid.

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The General Service shirt should, for other ranks, be worn over the collar of the combat jacket.

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The webbing setup is a light belt kit, as used in Northern Ireland where patrols were not usually longer than a day and threats were within a fairly limited scope. This belt did have a First Field Dressing (FFD) attached with electrical tape for fast access near the buckle. Most of this is 58 pattern, with a few exceptions.

The pouches visible in the photo below are from left to right: Left ammunition pouch (with loops for bayonet), compass pouch, 37 pattern ammunition pouch and holster for .455 Webley (this is of course not standard issue, but when running a sniper rifle in airsoft it is  good manners to carry a sidearm). This will be replaced in time with a Browning Hi-power and suitable 58 pattern holster. On the right is a later-issue S6 gas mask bag. When skirmishing I use this to carry my scrim scarf as a gas attack is unlikely, and it is more comfortable to fall on than an S6.

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The trousers are the 68 pattern type. Until you have worn these, it’s not obvious to someone who is used to more modern equipment why ‘lightweights’ were so named. These are more closely related to the Battledress trousers of the last war than to modern issue, they are very thick and heavy, supported by braces and high-waisted. An FFD pocket is stitched on the front like battledress.

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The TRF is a fictitious one, just to complete the look. Under this are corporal stripes that came with the jacket.

In use, this setup is very comfortable in cool, wet conditions. When moving through thick brush and thorns, the jacket and trousers provide very good protection. Even running around quite a lot, I found the clothing breathable and fast drying. I’m yet to try it on a hot day.

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Personally, I am quite fond of the puttees. They provide a little extra support, even with the high-ankle boots. However the trousers do pull out easily, though this may just be that they are on the short side.

With the webbing, it is quick to get magazines out but hard to close in a hurry. I’m producing a set of reproduction M16 pouches to play with to see if they are an improvement.

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Equipment and sources

Most of this equipment is not available as reproduction.

Webbing

In the UK, it is easy to find sets of 58 pattern webbing for next to nothing. Not so long ago people struggled to give it away, but now you can buy sets online easily for £10-25 in worn condition. Silvermans usually has some, and if you want them in brand new they have those too… at a price. They also have some rare trials versions produced in nylon, which was one attempt to make it more suitable for use in NBC warfare.

If you shop around on eBay and collectors groups, you may find it for less.

 

Berets

Berets used in the 60s-80s are much more like modern berets than those used in WWII. A modern one is pretty close, though if you can find a beret with a slightly large crown it’ll look better. With cap badges, make sure they are for a unit/regiment that existed, there have been many amalgamations since the end of WWII.

Helmet

If you wish to wear a helmet, the MkIV turtle helmet is your best option. You can find them in various conditions from £25-40. A helmet net and scrim is used for anything outside of fighting in built up areas.

Puttees

For puttees you want the short, ankle type rather than the long, knee-length ones. You can find these on eBay for £10-15 a pair. If you are buying used ones, make sure the ribbons you tie them with are intact. They should be about 70cm long ideally.

Boots

DMS boots are easily had, for £15-20 used if you shop around. If you want to buy new, Soldier of Fortune have them for £40.

Clothing

GS shirts are available very cheaply, even the most expensive used ones are £7 or so in the UK. At Varusteleka they had some selling for £3 each a while ago. If you can’t find some for some reason, you can also legitimately use ‘Shirt, man’s, combat’ (known as the Hairy Mary), which is a green wool collared shirt. Itchy as buggery, but warm. Nice when you get used to it.

Some soldiers also replaced their issued shirts with US-made ones.

The 68 Pattern outer layers will be the most difficult to find. Looking on eBay will be your best bet, expect to pay £15-30 for trousers and about the same for a jacket. Absolutely DO NOT FORGET to buy a pair of braces. Grey elastic and leather braces as issued can be found for £5-10. Beware of retailers selling items as 68 Pattern when they are not, later patterns of DPM are darker and with chunkier splotches. You can avoid wasted funds by comparing the offerings to the patterns on Camopedia.

Scrim scarves of this era are two-coloured, a sort of weak green-black or green-brown, almost blue-tinted. They are found on eBay, Web-Tex make a good version.

Weapons

Your options for a typical British Soldier are reasonably broad for this era.

L1A1-10

The SLR

Ares produce an L1A1 SLR replica which I’ve heard many good things about. You can get it with a wood stock for early impressions and it comes with black plastic as standard.

L1A1-11

The Armalite

There are of course countless AEG M16A1s that would be suitable and endlessly modifiable. My M16 is a WE gas blow-back, with modified nozzle to remove the locking lugs (which cause no end of problems) and flat hop.

The Sterling

If you want a sub-machine gun, the Sterling was widely used by those in support and command roles. It was also widely detested. Airsoft versions seem to have a custom gearbox so be prepared to modify standard parts for repairs.

The L42A1

 

This was the standard sniper rifle of the Army from 1970, taking over from the No.4 (T). It was a re-chambered No.4 to 7.62 with a new magazine and the No. 32 scope modified for the new cartridge. You can see the progress of the L42A1 being made here at VA.

Side-arms

Side-arms were not issued as standard to British forces, they were for support, command and special forces types. However for Airsoft it’s considered good manners to carry a side-arm if you have a rifle running above 350fps. You can carry a Browning Hi-power in a 58 pattern holster or a revolver as I have. Privately purchased pistols were carried, though frowned upon, bans being enforced more or less depending on circumstances.

 

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Creating an impression: 82nd Airborne, Italy 1943-44

Creating an impression, WWII

This is part of a new series, written by contributors outside of Vintage Airsoft itself (though I am sure I and some friends will have to do some of our own as well). Although I edit, pictures and words are from them and they have done their own research. Accreditation is at the bottom of the article.

82nd Airborne: Operation Avalanche

A less common impression in both the reenacting and airsofting community, as most loadouts are based on the Normandy Campaign.

The equipment pictured can be used for Operation Husky (Invasion of Sicily), Operation Avalanche (Invasion of Italy), or Operation Overlord (Invasion of Normandy). As the war progressed, the standard M42 jump uniform, as well as most of the equipment was phased out in favor of the M43 field uniform.

This is the one of the earliest variants of the U.S. airborne uniform that saw combat during WWII, with most jump uniforms being reinforced after the invasion of Italy in late 1943.

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Head

M1C/M2 Helmet: $99.99-345.00 (UK approx £200 from Soldier of Fortune)

The standard U.S. airborne helmet used throughout the war was the M2 “D bale” helmet. This helmet differs from the standard infantry helmet in that it uses curved fixed bales that resemble the letter “D.” This design was eventually decided to be inadequate as the bales that secured the chinstrap would often break in the field, necessitating constant repairs to helmets when returning from the field.

Due to large demands for airborne helmets, a number of standard M1 infantry helmets were converted with a jump liner and paratrooper straps to meet the demands for M2 helmets.

Eventually the M1C jump helmet was introduced to replace the M2, and added swivel bales to the helmet to prevent the bales from snapping off; however, they were not common until late 1944.

All versions of the jump helmet usually also had an airborne jump liner, which was a standard infantry liner with the addition of “A yokes” to hold the leather chinstrap. This chinstrap was used to secure the helmet to the paratrooper when jumping from aircraft.

The helmet pictured was compiled from various auctions on eBay, full M2s or M1Cs can be found at: At the Front, Jmurray and Soldier of Fortune

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Uniform

M42 Jump Uniform: $150

The M42 jump uniform was the standard uniform for paratroopers during 1943. The uniform was later upgraded with reinforcements at the knees and elbows, and later replaced by the M43 uniform.

The uniforms are common, however At the Front has the most durable and accurate for their price.

 

Khaki summer shirt: $50

The khaki summer shirt was often worn by airborne and infantry under the M42 jump uniform during the summer months. While technically not permitted, this was a common practice due to the hot climate of Italy in late summer.

What Price Glory is one of the few vendors to still sell khaki summer uniforms. (the one pictured is an original)

1937 wool shirt: $50

The standard regulation shirt (not pictured) was worn under the m42 jump uniform. This is the same shirt used under the M41 jacket by infantry; however, there are several photos of paratroopers wearing khaki shirts under their M42s instead of the wool shirt.

At the Front, What Price Glory, and other vendors have reproduction wool shirts, and originals are still plentiful.

 

Insignia

Sewing patches: Each paratrooper was to sew on their own insignia to their uniforms, this lead to a variety in the manner in which the patches were affixed to the uniform. Some would spend time meticulously sewing intricate patterns for their insignia, like the cross stitching pictured, while others would attempt to quickly sew insignia to the uniform, creating a sloppier look to the uniform. Others, especially units like the 509th parachute infantry regiment chose not to sew on a unit insignia.

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Divisional patches should be sewn onto the left shoulder, approximately the width of two fingers below the shoulder seam. American flags should also be sewn two finger widths below the right shoulder seam. Rank patches should be sewn approximately one finger width below the unit patch or halfway between the elbow and the bottom of the unit patch.

At the Front makes quality patches for uniforms, as original airborne patches are nearly impossible to find.

82nd Airborne Patch: $10
The 82nd Airborne was the first airborne division to see combat in the European theater in WWII. The division fought in Sicily, Italy, France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany.

PFC Stripes: $5
Private First Class stripes, added to denote rank of private first class.

48 Star American Flag: $5
American flags were commonly sewn on the arm of invasion forces, leading to several variants of patches or armbands to be attached to paratroopers. Often, these patches would be removed after landing, so their inclusion is not necessary.

Feet

Corcoran Jump Boots: $125-256
Jump boots were issued to U.S. paratroopers throughout WWII, and are still used today. These jump boots are taller than most other boots to secure them to the paratrooper when jumping. The boots should be polished to a shine, as this was a common sign of pride among paratroopers. WWII jump boots should be brown, and polished to a dark brown shine.

At the Front, Amazon, and most other WWII vendors sell brown Corocan Jump Boots.

 

Field Gear

For the invasion of Italy, all field gear should be OD3 (khaki), there should not be any OD7 (green) field gear, as OD7 was not common until D-Day.

Webbing set: (pistol belt, rigger pouches, canteen, entrenching tool) $175
The standard web gear for U.S. airborne in 1943 consisted of a 1936 pistol belt, rigger pouches which could hold four enbloc M1 Garand clips or five M1 Carbine 15 round magazines. The canteens should be stainless steel, as original aluminum canteens contain large amounts of aluminum oxide. The T-Handle entrenching tool allowed soldiers to dig foxholes, clear brush, and could be used as a weapon of last resort. In 1943, the standard T-Handle or shortened airborne T-Handle shovels would be appropriate.

Much of the web gear pictured are originals, the e-tool was from At the Front, and the rigger pouches were from Man the Line

1936 pack system: $60
The 1936 Musette bag and suspenders are an important part of any airborne impression. The system allowed the paratrooper to be able to jump while carrying a pack, and was issued throughout the war to U.S. Airborne forces.

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The pack and suspenders pictured are both originals.

1916 holster: $30
The 1916 holster was designed to hold the 1911 handgun, and was issued to officers, machine gun crews, and other units who were not given an M1 Garand rifle. Additionally, U.S. paratroopers often acquired 1911s from various sources and were able to keep them for the Italy jump.

The holster pictured is an original.

Gas mask bag: $20
The 82nd Airborne jumped into Sicily and Italy still using their training gas masks. These were usually discarded soon after the jump upon the realization that the Germans were not using poison gas. These training masks were replaced by the M6 gas mask and M7 rubberized gas mask bag for the Normandy invasion.

Parachute first aid pack: $14
The parachute first aid pack was a small first aid kit for the individual’s use should they be wounded in action. Soldiers were also issued a separate bandage and pouch, however during the Italy invasion, the content of the second bandage pouch were often stuffed into the M42 jacket pockets.

The one pictured is an original.

At the Front, Man the Line, What Price Glory, World War Supply, and other vendors sell quality reproduction field gear. I would recommend against buying off eBay, as reproductions are often poorly made and poorly dyed.

 

Weapon

M1A1 Carbine (King Arms): $350
The M1A1 Carbine was a M1 carbine with a wire folding stock to allow easier use when jumping from aircraft. The rifle was folded and placed in a scabbard secured to the parachute, and unlike the M1 Garand, could be immediately used upon landing. Carbines were usually issued to machine gun crews, officers, and radiomen; however, there is evidence that some riflemen were issued carbines.

The King Arms M1A1 is CO2 powered, full metal and real wood, giving it a similar feel and weight to the real version. Unfortunately, King Arms did not base their model off the WWII version of the M1A1, and therefore the rifle needs modifications to bring it closer to WWII specifications. Additionally, the rifle shoots at 487fps using .2 bbs, making it difficult to use at normal fields.

KAAG127_3

 

1911 (WE Tech): $95
The Gen3 WE Tech 1911 GI model is an affordable, reliable sidearm. The handgun shoots reliably and possesses a 15 round magazine. A very capable sidearm, and one of the few 1911s made to WWII specification.

M3 Trench Knife: $50
The M3 trench knife was issued to U.S. soldiers who did not have an M1 Garand bayonet. This knife was used as both a fighting and utility knife from 1943-1945.

Rubber knives can be found on eBay for $40, while the M6 scabbard can be found on eBay separately for $20. 

Editor’s note: Other suitable main arms would of course include the M1 Garand, M1 or M1A1 Thompson. You can of course find some rubber knives in the Vintage Airsoft Etsy Store.

 

Vendors

There are a variety of vendors from which to source a U.S. Airborne impression, for simplicity’s sake, the links to quality vendors of reproduction equipment in the United States will be listed instead of the prices for individual items, which are subject to change at any time.

US: At the Front: www.atthefront.com 
World War Supply www.worldwarsupply.com
Man the Line www.mantheline.com

US/UK: What Price Glory www.whatpriceglory.com

UK: Soldier of Fortune www.sofmilitary.co.uk

 

As a rule of thumb, At the Front has the highest quality reproduction uniforms and field gear, however they are more expensive. Man the Line and World War Supply have some items that are of high quality, but others that tend to fall apart quickly. What Price Glory offers a larger selection of uniforms than At the Front, but often are lower quality.

Original items will vary in price greatly, and generally sell for approximately the same price of At the Front. USThey will be the highest quality, and most accurate, but due to age, they may not be as durable as good reproduction gear.

Editor’s note: Apart from strong items like helmets or garments not exposed to the elements such as shirts, I’d personally avoid using original items in the field as they are likely to succumb to wear or loss and it’s sad to lose a piece of history! That said I wear original uniforms for airsoft myself sometimes, just bear in mind historical value.

Text by Jacob Riley
Photos by Roger Harris

Edited by Dominic Evans