Load Bearing Gear from WWII to the GWOT

Let’s take a look at how load carriage changed in the last century. This is not an exhaustive list as entire books have been written about each period but a representation of a basic rifleman’s equipment through the years. The equipment pictured is also the basic “textbook” set up as to try to show all the different variations would be tedious.

WWI – M1910

In World War I the main model of equipment was the M1910 pattern. And in the case of the Marines the M1912. Although the M1912 is essentially just a variation of the M1910. The equipment was centered around the cartridge belt. The belt, and to a lessor extent the haversack, had eyelets to allow for hanging other pieces of gear from. This did allow for more flexibility than other contemporary systems of the time, but in practice was not used much. The haversacks are quite an unusual design by modern tastes. It consists of four flaps that are folded over each other to hold existence gear. It could be extended with a fold down “tail” to hold more but made for a long pack. The small pouch on the top was for the mess tin and accessories. And even when used in the small configuration small items would need to be rolled inside something like a jacket or poncho to keep them from falling through the folds. I have both the M1917 and M1903 (with their respective bayonets) included as both were used. The M1917 actually far exceeding the M1903 by the end of the war.

WWII – US Army
M1910/23/28/42

Why all the model numbers? Well the Army periodically updated different pieces of gear through the interwar years leading to a mishmash of model numbers. The cartridge belt was updated to the M1923 pattern, the haversack was updated to the M1928 pattern, and the first aid pouch was updated to the M1924, later M1942 (pictured), pattern. The canteen cover stayed essentially the same except for some stitching location changes. Even though that is a lot of new models they are still very similar to the earlier M1910 gear. The main differences usually just being buckle and adjustment method changes. This would be the main equipment for the soldiers throughout the war. While functioning the same as the earlier M1910 pattern the use of the haversack in the extend position with the tail down seems to hardly ever be used. It looks like it was more common to make a horseshoe roll with the shelter half around the top. Earlier on the T-Handle shovel and long M1905 bayonet would have been used but in 1944 the shorter M1 bayonet and folding M1943 shovel became more prominent. The shorter M1 Bayonet was typically carrier on the belt instead of the hanger on the haversack as it was too short to reach the keeper.

WWII – US Army
M1936

I include this as even though the M1936 pattern gear wasn’t the standard for most infantrymen it saw widespread use during the war. Typically by officers but also by some of the specialty troops like Airborne units. It consisted of the Musette bag, suspenders and pistol belt. The pistol belt was just a tweak on the previous M1912 belt but the bag and suspenders were all new. It was was popular with those who could use one though as it is much more like a modern backpack allowing soldiers to just through there gear in and quickly remove it without having to refold the entire envelope entity like the M1910/28 haversacks. The only downsides being that it does not have a way to expand its capacity and trying to put a bedroll around the top was a finicky procedure. Also the musette only worked with the suspenders. It could not be worn separately. I have the early pattern shovel and magazine pouch mounted and the later versions below them. I included the carbine as it was most often associated with the M1936 gear and also saw a large amount of front line use in WWII as well.

WWII – USMC
M1941

In WWII the USMC had a much more unique equipment set from the Army than the nearly identical one of WWI. The haversack was more backpack like and could attach or detach a lower cargo section for extra marching order gear. While initially designed to be integrated with the suspenders an update allowed it to be used as a standalone pack. While per the handbook only one canteen and small first aid kit was allotted that was virtually never the case after the initial battles. I have it displayed here in the typical set up of two second pattern canteens and a jungle first aid kit.

Korean War – US Army
M1945

During World War II the Army worked to improve the soldiers’ equipment. The first pieces of the new M1944 equipment began popping up in the latter half of 1944 and the army continued to tweak it resulting in the M1945 pack system. While it did see limited use in the closing stages of the war is was the main equipment used in the Korean War. The M1945 system is sort of a hybrid of the M1936 and the USMC’s M1941. So the top pack is shaped similarly to the M1941 but attaches via the suspenders like the M1936. The extra non essential gear like spare clothing would be carried in a lower detachable cargo bag like the Marines but much larger. The haversack also included a waterproof throat. The bayonet was intended to be attached to the side of the haversack but in reality was almost exclusively worn on the left hip. The basis is still the cartridge belt with wire hangers to allow for pouch placement like it was with the original M1910 gear. (and really with even earlier patterns)

Korean War – USMC
M1941

The Marines still used the same pattern of equipment from WWII except with the update to the closure of the haversack to a solid “throat” instead of ears that folded in to be covered by the main flap. The change was better at keeping small items from falling out and allowed the capacity to be adjusted more easily. That and the integration of the suspenders with the pack was ignored. It was still possible to do but even official pictures no longer show it in use. In the beginning of Korea almost all of their equipment was WWII vintage and therefore the light OD3 in color. As the war progressed more and more items were replaced by new production in the dark OD7. Here I have a mix of the two colors shown. The bayonet was intended to be mounted to the side of the haversack but like the Army was almost exclusively worn on the cartridge belt. One last “change” was a reversion back to the M1910 pattern canteen cover although now in OD7.

In the first half of the century there were some fairly substantial changes to the haversacks but the basic cartridge belt was little change. As well everything here was interchangeable. Aside from the haversack the M1910 system was really a solid well thought out gear suite. And even though those old M1910/28 haversacks can be described as a strap master envelope the idea of being able to increase or decrease the capacity is a pretty forward thinking idea.

M1956 – US Army
Vietnam

The M1956 suite was a pretty major change from the previous systems the Army had used since the turn of the century. While the focus was still on a belt it was now a plain belt that the pouches would be attached to. This allowed a great deal of customization and flexibility of the gear. The back pack style haversack was also replaced with a belt mounted field pack, often referred to as the butt pack. Although it could be mounted on the back as well with an adapter. An interesting aspect of the design was the attempt at creating a universal set of equipment. The pouches were designed to be compatible with M1918 BAR magazines, M1 Garand Enblocs, M1 Carbine magazines and the then in development M14 magazines. Now the fit is not perfect with all of those but it is surprisingly close. The only real problem was with the M16’s 20 round magazines being too short. A shorter model of the ammo pouch was developed but the regular pouch was much more common through out the period. A typical allotment or set up is shown above however in practice the entrenching tool was usually replaced with a second canteen.

M1961 – USMC
Vietnam

The USMC also had a modernization of it gear going into Vietnam. They didn’t start their development until after the adoption of the M14 so their pouches were sized specifically for it’s magazines. Although there are shorter and longer versions of the pouches. The M1961 system is really just a belt and the magazine pouches. The pouches attached by means of snaps the same as the early pistol belts with was an interesting choice. All of the other components are still M1941 pattern (just all green by this point versus the mix of tan and green in Korea). So it wasn’t much of a change, just an update to accommodate the new magazines. As time went on the Marines gradually replaced more and more of the M1961/M1941 gear with the Army’s M1956.

M1967
Vietnam

This is not really an official set of load carriage for US troops. Sort of an addendum and stepping stone. The M1967 was only authorized for use in Vietnam and was never issued in complete sets like the M1956. So it does start to replace parts of the M1956/M1961 gear starting in 1968 but never completely replaces either. The biggest change is the change from cotton canvas to nylon, and then the closure method to the plastic clips. This depiction is just a display of some of the various pieces that would have shown up and not an official set up. The Army and USMC actually both developed their own M1967 sets that are very similar but have slight differences. This gear design wise is pretty much halfway in between M1956 and the later ALICE equipment.

A.L.I.C.E.
1970s – 1990s

A.L.I.C.E gear or “All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment” was the next step in development for US field gear. This was the first time that both the Army and Marines would officially share a pattern of equipment. This is the gear of Grenada, The Gulf War, Panama, Somalia etc. The basis is still the belt and the attachment method is the same clips as the M1956 equipment. and the style and construction of the pouches is very similar to the M1967. The main visual change to ammo pouches is the addition of flaps to hold the grenades. While I’m sure it does hold the standard M67 frag better that the older method of hanging it by the spoon it does limit you to only that grenade type now. According to the manual only one canteen would be issued and the other would have been the rubber/plastic shovel cover but I have yet to see a photo with only one canteen and the shovel not on the ALICE pack/ruck so I have it set up this way. The large first aid kit was also more of a USMC thing it seems as most photos of soldiers seem to only have the small compass/first aid pouch. While ALICE finally did away with the integrated haversack/field pack concept the small butt pack (now referred to as training field pack) was still a fairly popular item.

M.O.L.L.E.
G.W.O.T

M.O.L.L.E. or Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment was adopted in 1997 although units were not fully equipped until 2001-2002 as a lot of the older ALICE equipment still shows up in photos from the early days of the GWOT (I’m sticking with the acronym as the full name is peak cringe). MOLLE was a radicle departure from all the previous US load bearing equipment. Instead of being centered around a belt it was focused on a vest. It is also not backwards compatible with the early gear patterns. It can be done with either adapters or jerry rigging but it was not intended to. Which is pretty notable as even ALICE the pattern just before this was compatible with the pre-WWI M1910 equipment. This isn’t set up as a perfect textbook example but it is reasonable close. This is also a second gen set as the first gen was fairly short lived and honestly a bit wonky. It had a belt that the vest would connect to then the pack would hook into a socket on the belt and so on. A typical rifleman’s set up according to the manual is 3x rifle pouches, 2x grenade pouches and 2x canteen/general purpose pouches. Oddly there is no mention of first aid in the manual. MOLLEs PALs method of attachment allows much greater flexibility and customization that any of the earlier systems. The system has become so popular it has really taken on a life of its own. It is used buy different countries all over the world is some variety now and has a booming commercial market. It has gotten so large that I am not even going to attempt to track down the variations. There are 5 (6 if you differentiate Multicam and OCP) different camouflage patterns of it in the US alone not to mention updates and other small changes over the years. So I’ll stop at the earlier M81 Woodland set.

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