Load Carriage: WWI to the GWOT (Part 2)

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Last time we looked at the first half of the 20th century. Now let’s take a look at the second half.

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.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The Australian kit that I used from the late 70s to late 80s was almost identical to your 1956 H-harness with bum pack, replaced by some privately purchased ALICE gear around 87-88.

    Two water bottles were minimum, and often 4, sometimes 6. Those were the days of “water discipline”, where company resupply quantities ignored what human bodies required for survival, and we were ordered to conserve water and not to drink so much. Heat and dehydration casualties were therefore common.

    Thankfully, our army seems to have moved on from that sort of stupidity.

    Anyway…thanks for these articles. Very interesting, and brought back a lot of memories…mainly of being burdened like a mule and slogging up hills in insane heat and humidity with pack and webbing straps and clips digging into every part of my body. 🙂

  2. It’s a pretty functional pattern. Besides being on the heavy side now and cotton instead of nylon it would still be usable. I was always surprised at how long the insistence on water discipline stuck around. I would have thought by the 60s that would have gone out the window but no. If you have an pictures of your gear I’d love to see them. Always like seeing other peoples/countries take on a solution.

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