click for big picture

Australian Load Carrying Equipment 1945-1988
by Rick Landers
Arms & Militaria Collector Magazine
Vol 2 No. 4

Following the end of the Second World War, Australia maintained a continuing involvement in the policing of world peace. The 34th Australian Infantry Brigade of three battalions served with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan from 1945 until 1952. On the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, the 67th Australian Infantry Battalion was renamed the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment and became the first Australian Army unit in action in Korea. There they fought with distinction and were awarded the U.S. Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation for their participation in the Battle of Kapyong in April 1951.

Australian forces served continually in Malaya, Malaysia and Borneo between 1950 and 1966 and in Vietnam between 1962 and 1972. D Company 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment was awarded the U.S. Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation for 'extraordinary heroism' at the Battle Of Long Tan in August 1966. The following years of relative peace saw Australia playing a major role in United Nations peace keeping forces with involvement in over twenty such contingents during the last 25 years. In 1991 Australian forces once again saw action in the Persian Gulf.

click for big picture
click for big picture


Despite advances made by other nations in the design of military equipment, Australian forces continued to be supplied with surplus Second World War stores for 15 years or more. Australian members of the British Occupation Force in Japan wore P1937 belt, brace attachments and braces. As their duties were generally of a policing or ceremonial nature, all webbing equipment including mud gaiters was whitened and all brass polished.

Australians serving with the United Nations Forces in Korea were also issued with the P1937 equipment however contemporary photographs show a variety of webbing in use. As fifteen nations had committed troops to South Korea the ever resourceful 'digger' had ample opportunity to obtain the equipment he considered best suited to the task. One item conspicuous in its absence was the entrenching tool. With life expectancy closely related to the speed of digging in, most soldiers preferred to carry a full size pick or shovel.


Recognising the inadequacies of the P1937 equipment, the British redesigned the standard infantry equipment late in the Second World War. The designers were asked to develop equipment that was better suited for tropical issue; this had to be lighter, thinner and with wider shoulder straps. Apart from the introduction of an aluminium water bottle and cup and an improved haversack, the accepted equipment had little advantage over its predecessor. Its introduction came too late to see general service during the war, however it was used by the British and Commonwealth troops serving in the Korean War and the Malayan Emergency.

click for big pictureclick for big pictureclick for big picture
click for big pictureclick for big pictureclick for big picture

Australia did not manufacture the P1944 equipment, nor was it issued within Australia, however troops serving with British Forces in Malaya were issued with P1944 webbing, British clothing and No.5 jungle carbines but insisted on retaining their much loved Owen Machine Carbines.


Australia committed troops to Vietnam in August 1962 when the first elements of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) arrived in country. At that time the Australian Army was undergoing re-equipment from .303 rifles and machine guns to 7.62mm L1A1 self loading rifles and M60 general purpose machime guns. The old khaki drill uniform which had returned to standard issue after the Second World War had only recently been replaced by jungle green clothing. A change in load carrying equipment was long overdue; Australian troops were still issued with the less than ideal P1937 webbing well into the 1960's.

With Australia's entry into the Vietnam War alongside her American allies it was decided to provide uniformity and simplify re-supply by purchasing the current U.S. M1956 Individual Load Carrying Equipment. This equipment was supplied to Australian troops complete with U.S. markings and was described in block scales using the official Army jargon of the day:

U.S. I.L.C.E. <1> Belt, individual equipment, cotton webbing, olive drab, adjustable

The olive drab cotton webbing pistol belt, which is the M1956 model, has a special ball-type fastner which increases the ease with which the belt can be put on and taken off. It utilises eyelets for attachment purposes, and has four sliding keepers used to prevent the belt hooks from becoming unfastened after adjustment to the wearer's waist.

The pistol belt helps to support the field pack and is used to carry the entrenching tool and carrier, ammunition carriers, canteen and canteen cover, and first aid or compass case.

U.S. I.L.C.E. <2> Suspenders, field pack, olive drab

The olive drab cotton webbing suspenders, along with the pistol belt, make up the two basic individual load carrying equipment items because all the rest of the components are suspended from or attached to them. The suspenders are of olive drab cotton webbing and drill cloth, and are adjustable to the individual by means of clamp type buckles.

The suspenders are used to support the field pack and pistol belt. To distribute the weight of the loads evenly, make sure the shoulder pads are centred on the shoulders. The suspenders may be worn without the field pack. When this is done, attach the straps directly to the pistol belt. To keep the weight of the load evenly on both shoulders, attach the rear suspender straps at even spaces from the centre of the rear of the pistol belt.

U.S. I.L.C.E. <3> Field pack, canvas, combat, olive drab, M1961

The cotton duck field pack is 9 inches wide, 8 inches high, and 5 inches deep, with an expandable flap secured by two web straps and buckles. There are two more web straps on the bottom of the pack to permit attachment of other items. A handle is located on the flap so that the pack can be carried by hand.

The back of the pack has two attaching clips and eyelets so that the pack can be attached to the suspenders and to the pistol belt. A plastic card holder is located on top of the pack for identification purposes.

The field pack is used to carry individual rations and equipment that are essential during field operations. It is designed to permit certain items to be carried in a number of different ways to meet changing conditions. The poncho, for example, can be carried inside the pack under the expandable flap; or it may be attached to the bottom of the pack by means of two adjustable securing straps.

Small extra items of clothing, such as underwear and socks, can also be rolled and placed under the expandable flap. Outer clothing not in use can be secured under the pack or under the flap, depending on the location of the poncho. In placing items in the field pack, hard objects should be placed on the outside, with softer items such as clothing on the inside toward the wearer's back.

A series of eyelets at the edge of the pack flap will accomodate the double hooks which were used on the old type field equipment carriers for such items as wire cutters and machetes.

U.S. I.L.C.E. <4> Carrier, entrenching tool, M1956, green, for hinged style shovel

The entrenching tool carrier is of olive drab cotton duck material and atteches to the pistol belt by means of two attaching clips located on the back. An attachment for carrying the bayonet or bayonet knife scabbard is located on the front of the carrier.

U.S. I.L.C.E. <5> Pouch, small arms ammunition, universal

Each small arms ammunition pouch is 4.3 inches wide, 6.3 inches high, and 2.1 inches deep. Plastic stiffeners are provided so that clips of ammunition can be easily inserted and removed. There are two attaching clips and supporting straps on the back of each pouch so that the pouches can be attached to the pistol belt and to the suspenders. Both sides of each pouch have attachments for carrying hand grenades. Each ammunition pouch is designed to carry any of the basic loads of ammunition. With special weapons, it may be necessary to carry more ammunition than the pouches will accomodate. In this event, bandoleers of extra ammunition may be carried in the cross-chest fashion. To place bandoleers of ammunition in the ammunition pouches, make a neat bundle by folding them in accordion fashion and then placing them in the pouches with the bandoleer straps on top. This method makes the bandoleers easy to insert and remove.

Click for big picture

U.S. I.L.C.E. <6> Cover, water canteen, M1956

The cotton duck canteen cover has a felt lining and is attached to the pistol belt by means of two attaching clips located on the back of the cover.

The canteen cover accomodates the canteen. Keeping the felt material on the inside of the canteen cover wet during hot weather will help to keep the water in the canteen cool. The cover must be kept dry during cold weather, however, as the felt material will give limited protection in preventing the water in the canteen from freezing.

U.S. I.L.C.E. <7> Case, field first aid dressing/unmounted magnetic compass

The cotton duck first aid case is attached to the pistol belt by means of an attaching clip on the back. It is closed by means of a flap secured by a glove-type fastener.

The first aid case is used to carry a field dressing or an unmounted magnetic compass.

U.S. I.L.C.E. <8> Strap assembly, carrying, sleeping bag, cotton webbing, olive drab

The sleeping bag carrier is of olive drab cotton webbing. Two securing straps, with buckles, are provided to attach the sleeping bag to the carrier. Two attaching straps. with 'lift-the-dot fasteners, and two tie down straps, with glove type fasteners, are provided for attaching the carrier to the suspenders. The carrier also has a handle so that it may be carried by hand.

The sleeping bag carrier is designed so that the sleeping bag can be carried on the back above the field pack. By means of a quick release system, the sleeping bag and carrier can be dropped quickly in case of emergency.

The L1A2 knife bayonet for the new 7.62mm NATO L1A1 self loading rifle was carried in a standard P1937 webbing frog. These were issued khaki but they were generally blackened for wearing with a blackened P1937 web belt, mainly for parade use.

click for big picture
click for big picture
click for big picture
click for big picture
click for big picture
click for big picture
click for big picture
click for big picture
click for big picture
click for big picture

At last, Australian soldiers were equipped with a fully integrated set of load carrying equipment which was light, rotproof and quite comfortable to wear. However, under battle conditions, a number of inadequacies soon became apparent. The belt and suspenders were universally accepted by combat troops whilst most other items in the set were gradually replaced, redesigned or abandoned.

The field pack was considered satisfactory for patrol duties but the small size limited rations to only one or two days supply. The straps under the pack were rarely used as ponchos and hoochies ('Shelter, individual') were regularly lost on jungle tracks. A plasticised carrier for hoochies was introduced and it was carried clipped to the belt or on the side of the pack.

The ammunition pouches were far too small as they could accomodate only two L1A1 SLR magazines and the grenade attachments were unreliable, prompting routine orders to insist that all grenades be carried within the pouch. A similar situation had occurred in New Guinea twenty years previously and the same solution was applied. P1937 pouches, basic, large (Aust.) were returned into service. Commonly known as Bren mag pouches, they measured 9 inches by 6 inches by 3 inches, with a capacity thirty-one times that of the M1956 pouch.

The sleeping bag carrier was never liked by the troops as it was difficult to assemble in the dark and the bed roll would often fall apart when snagged by jungle foliage. A large back pack into which the sleeping bag and other accomodation necessities could be stuffed was required. The only suitable item immediately available was the First World War P1908 pack which was also returned into service some sixty years after its original introduction.

Whilst the canteen cover with its plastic bottle and its metal cup were considered a vast improvement on the previous issue, its capacity was insufficient. Two canteens and cups became standard issue with a further two to field force units. For extended patrols where re-supply was likely to be unreliable, a 2 quart collapsible plastic canteen was also available.

The folding shovel and its carrier, hated by all soldiers as it meant hard work was carried when ordered. However, with larger pouches and two canteens plus bayonet and machete no space was left on the belt of the average sized man. It was necessary to strap it to the back of the pack or find room within the pack.

What had started as an integrated set of individual load carrying equipment had become individual indeed. With some veterans of the Malayan campaign preferring P1944 pouches to the larger Bren mag pouches, no two sets were the same. With components of the P1908, P1937, P1944 and M1956 equipments hooked together it was obvious that complete redesign was necessary.

Whilst the P1908 pack was adequate, the requirement was for a pack with individual compartments for rations and accomodation stores designed in such a way that it could be easily dropped when battle became likely.

Field pack, canvas, olive drab, 18 inches x 14 inches x 7 inches

A new pack of lightweight canvas construction was introduced with four separate compartments. A central top pocket 9 inches by 9 inches by 7 inches intended for rations was closed by small side flaps and strings and covered by a large expandable top flap secured by two straps and buckles. Two side pockets each 9 inches by 7 inches by 2.1 inches were available for small items. A large, bottom opening compartment 14 inches by 9 inches by 7 inches secured by three straps and buckles carried the sleeping bag.

Two-piece padded shoulder straps with quick release buckles supported the pack and pads built into the back of the pack gave some comfort to the wearer. Two straps and buckles were provided on the pack for attachment of the entrenching tool and a carrying handle and plastic card holder were positioned on the top of the pack.

It was originally intended that the new pack would replace both the small 'bum pack' and the sleeping bag carrier, however, with the demand for more carrying capacity, both packs were generally worn. Later versions of the pack were amended by the addition of lengths of belting sewn to each side to allow the attachment of additional water canteens or ammunition pouches.

Pouch, ammunition, large, 8.3 inches by 4 inches by 3 inches, olive drab

New ammunition pouches were also designed in order to replace the original small U.S. universal pouch. With the exception of their size they were identical to the small pouch however they were marked on the front with the Australian Department of Defence D^D mark (earlier DD markings had a thin arrow between the double D).

Although the grenade attachments were included on the new pouches, the instruction to carry grenades inside the pouch continued and the attachments were generally used to carry the first aid field dressing as well as the toggle rope. The toggle rope, originally made of hemp with a timber toggle, was intended to be linked together for a variety of purposes. It was issued during the Vietnam War as 'Fibre rope assembly, single leg, polyester fibre, 1-in circ. 9ft long'. Although the timber toggle was no longer attached it was still universally known as a togle rope.

A new bayonet frog was also designed and issued to compliment the olive drab equipment. It was basically identical to the P1937 frog with the addition of an Americn style double belt hook. This enable the frog to be supported either by its loop or by the hook.

Hooks were also added to the Australian made canteen covers, giving the wearer the option of carrying the canteen on the belt or hanging below it. This was a complete reversal of the 'above the waistline' principle introduced during the Second World War and most soldiers preferred to attach the canteen to the belt for wearing comfort. With the canteen worn this way the hooks caught on clothing and other equipment and were usually cut off and discarded.

With the replacement in 1964 of the Owen Machine Carbine by the F1 SMG in Australian service, a new magazine pouch was introduced. It was of olive drab canvas carrying four magazines in individually secured compartments. Attachment to the belt was by two loops and two belt clips. It was a rarely used piece of equipment, those armed with the F1 preferring to wear normal pouches which held six magazines. As the usefulness of the sub machine gun as a infantry weapon had came to an end, the F1 was replaced by the M16A1 automatic rifle for section commanders and specialists. The last of the F1 sub machine guns were destroyed by the Australian Government in the mid 1990's.

The Australian version of the U.S. M1956 Load Carrying Equipment continued in service well after the end of the Vietnam War. Australian troops persisted individualising the equipment to suit their needs and preferences. Many carried Army of the Republic of Vietnam (A.R.V.N.) packs or acquired the latest U.S. All-purpose Light Individual Carrying Equipment (A.L.I.C.E.) packs which were available in two sizes. Others preferred to dispense with the suspenders and carry all their gear in pouches attached to their belt.


Care and Use of Individual Clothing and Equipment -U.S. Field Manual FM21, 15 August 1961
Australian Army Block Scale No. 3004/10

click for big picture click for big picture