World War One Soldiers’ Loadouts

A reader sent me a link to a pretty cool image gallery showing the basic clothing and equipment of five different major combatant powers from mid-WWI. I have re-uploaded the individual photos in case the original links go dead (click to enlarge each photo).

The kit of a French Private Soldier in the Battle of Verdun, 1916
The kit of a French Private Soldier in the Battle of Verdun, 1916 (collection provided by Paul Bristow, Croix de Guerre Living History Group, photographed by Thom Atkinson)

 

German Private's gear, 1916
Equipment of a German Private in the Battle of the Somme, 1916 (collection provided by Paul Bristow, Croix de Guerre Living History Group, photographed by Thom Atkinson)

 

US Doughboy's gear, 1917
US Infantryman (Doughboy), arrival in France, 1917 (Equipment provided by: Lee Martin, historical adviser, collector and living historian, photographed by Thom Atkinson)

 

British Sergeant's equipment, 1916
Equipment of a British Sergeant in the Battle of the Somme, 1916 (supplied by Nigel Bristow, The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. photographed by Thom Atkinson)

 

Russian woman's gear
Equipment from the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death ( collection supplied by Bruce Chopping, Ian Skinner and Laura Whitehouse of the 1914-21 Society, photographed by Thom Atkinson)

47 Comments

    • Double one with cleaning and oiling parts I am pretty sure was a copy from a Soviet one. There is oil only that is a copy from a IIRC German.

    • These images are in fact more of an exemple of what soldiers would have likely carried/owned during the war than the standard load.

      No, GB’s army didn’t provided every soldier a morgenstern (they even never provided any soldier with any morgenstern. These were built by soldiers and smith on site), German army didn’t provided every soldier a flare gun and French army didn’t provided every soldier a cane, a pipe, a folding lantern, 7 different types of grenades including an on-site handmade one and two flares without a flare gun.

      On the French equipment, many objects shown were not given to soldiers but to squads. For exemple, the “patience” (I don’t know the word in English. The flat brass thing used to clean buttons) and the shoes brush shown just under were given in two copies for 15 soldiers and thus not any soldier was ever given it as a part of its standard equipment : officers were given it on site and distributed it to squads when they felt it was time to clean uniforms. After cleaning, they were taken back by the officer which, in turn, brought them back to his own superiors. Notice that this uniform cleaning kit, in addition to having no reason of be shown on this photo, is incomplete as is lack two brushes and a whip.

  1. Are the 3 different grenades the German equipment shows actually different, or are they just cosmetically inconsistent?

  2. Ian – while you are hitting the surplus stores in Europe you should keep an eye out for the 12-ration boxes of the French RCIR combat meals. WAY better than MREs, by all accounts – supposedly the trading ratio when French and American troops are in proximity is 5 MREs for one RCIR.

    • You just had to bring that one up! I heard from the son of an artilleryman (321st Glider Field Artillery) that NOBODY wanted the issued rations (especially K Rations) and tried to get their meals from locals in Europe whenever possible (do the civilians a few favors and earn your dinner). Did I mess up?

      • Indeed. I’m French and it is well know (and a great source of pride for us) that our RCIR (Ration de Combat Individuelle Réchauffable – Individual Heatable Combat Meal) is considered a very good meal, at least compared to standard soldiers or camping meals.

        It is even quite frequent (well… let’s say almost everybody did it at least one time. Some do it frequently) for French civilians to buy French army RCIR to eat at home or in camping. They are quite expensive but represent a complete day (breakfast, snack, lunch, tea time, snack, diner, second diner and again another snack) and are worth 2500 Kcal. per day + snacks (worth a total of about 1000 Kcal.).

        The ratio is fluctuating between 5 to 7 US MRE or, if possible, small equipments (forward grips for rifles, aftermarket quality cleaning kits, kevlar reinforced laces for the shoes, good pairs of socks, gloves, cigarettes, etc.). In fact, US military forces are considered by the French army as a way to obtain many items (of all sorts) by bartering, including very expensive ones. You don’t imagine how many NVG (yes, NVG !), watches, binoculars of rifle scopes French soldiers bring back home after doing the “Parcours Guyane” or how many Eotech holographic sights were exchanged for food, knives and other typically French stuff.
        I don’t know the usage of getting meals from civilians in countries were US has bases because there is no US base in France, so I cannot confirm nor deny it.

        Some may ask why French soldiers don’t mind giving their good meal for the MRE of lesser quality (in fact of lesser taste. In term of quality, the MRE is quite good : it feeds a man the proper way and in proper quantities). In fact, it is very simple : RCIR are used only in the field, not in base (in base, there is the mess, were soldiers are given handcoocked meals) and the rules are to never eat your food in the field. Eating a good meal cold makes it a bad meal, so French soldiers are more likely to eat something considered from the beginning as a bad meal : there is no difference between cold MRE and cold RCIR, the two are definitely not pleasant to eat.

        • Well put. In terms of good ration tastes (eaten cooked, not cold), I think Imperial Japan had the classiest rations of the time (air meals served to the military officers were good old traditional boxed lunches, the kind one would get from one’s wife or mother) until the USAAF began dousing Japanese farmlands and vegetable gardens with DIESEL FUEL in broad daylight and gunning down school children who had been drafted to help in aircraft production (doesn’t this type of bombing violate the principle of NOT killing noncombatant civilians and causing needlessly cruel collateral damage?). And we’re not even talking about how much good rice wine went to the front…

          • War is a matter of impersonal politics which frequently forget that humans are at the end of the line. Sometimes, horrible things that should not happen happens. War itself is a good example.

            As for the japanese WWII rations, I read the description of it. Even if I admit it was surely good tasting, it seems quite frugal. Rice, barley, millet, few vegetables and meat, some algae to make yourself sushi rolls on the field using what the soldiers fished thermselves… I fear it would have been a hard life for soldiers of the time, as good as the food could have been !

            Alcohol was a fundamental part of rations in ancient times. In France, eau de vie was given to soldiers by officers when morale was low or once a day at fixed hours. Wine and/or beer was part of the standard rations. Some wine producers (as Dubonet) were very reknown and favoured by providing French Army with wine for the rations. At the end of XIXth century, 1.5 liter of wine and 0.5 liter of water was the standard drink per day of a French soldier.

            Let’s remember that wine is a standard drink in Europe (well, nowadays it’s not what it was). In 1990, belgian childrens from age 8 were given wine and beer in the school’s mess (yeah, I admit it’s almost like borderline). In France, wine was considered a beneficial drink for children (cut with 50% water from age 4 tout 8, then pure) and was given to them on each lunch and diner (that is totally borderline) !

          • @ DaveP.

            Uh, to whom is your comment addressed? Did you just imply that either Thibaud’s or my comment somehow overlooked the fact that several units of the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy committed crimes against all of humanity? If so, I did not intend to whitewash the empire. I merely stated that the rations got worse because of circumstances. It is terrible enough that your enemy used civilians as guinea pigs in very inhumane research. But if you decide to retaliate by poisoning your enemies (and for that matter, their kids) by dumping truck fuel on their veggies, you are making yourself worse than your enemies! Just for your information, several lend-lease Grumman TBF’s given to New Zealand were equipped with crop sprays but instead of spraying fertilizer, they were used to throw diesel fuel at Japanese vegetable gardens. I wonder if that violates any part of the Geneva Convention, especially if civilians were the primary victims of the attacks!

            Just think: the People’s Republic of China still wants modern Japan to KOWTOW to it as a vassal state as an apology to all the people that the 20th Century Japanese Empire murdered. The problem is that the current Japanese government is either woefully (or perhaps willfully)ignorant of the actions of the Empire or just so ashamed of the past that it wants to hide the accounts of the atrocities in the closet to avoid having some crazy “social” revolution turn everything into murder-in-the-streets anarchy. And besides, Japan paid reparations behind the scenes.

            From Wikipedia concerning anti-Japanese sentiments in China:

            “China refused war reparations from Japan in the 1972 Joint Communiqué. Japan gave official development assistance (ODA), amounting to 3 trillion yen ($30 billion USD, 90% of which are low-interest loans)[citation needed]. In Japan, this was perceived as a way of making amends to China for past military aggression. According to estimates, Japan accounts for more than 60 percent of China’s ODA received. About 25 percent of the funding for all of China’s infrastructure projects between 1994 and 1998 — including roads, railways, telecom systems and harbours — came from Japan.

            Japanese aid to China was rarely formally publicized to the Chinese people by the Chinese government, until Japan announced that aid was to be phased out. It was finally publicly acknowledged by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao during his April 2007 trip to Japan.

            [skip to politics]

            Some believe that anti-Japanese sentiment in China is partially the result of political manipulation by the Communist Party of China.

            However, the Chinese government at times is also trying to cautiously cool down the anti-Japanese movement, because anti-Japanese riots and attacks have become increasingly common and there are signs showing it is going toward beyond the government’s control. In 2012, during an anti-Japanese riot in Shenzhen, the crowd unsuccessfully attacked the city government’s administrative building and demanded the government to declare war on Japan. According to this view, Mao Zedong and the Communist party claimed the victory against the Japanese invaders as part of their legacy. Initially, there was no need to resort to anti-Japanese sentiment because the principal enemies of the new country were the United States and later the Soviet Union.

            After the failure of the Great Leap Forward and the disruption of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping and other leaders took the country on a path of economic development based on a market economy, without relinquishing the party’s grip on political power. The government resorted to nationalism, including an appeal to the CCP’s anti-Japanese credentials, to reassert its legitimacy to lead the country and defuse the inevitable tensions that would accompany rapid economic growth.

            Today, surveys have shown that anti-Japanese sentiment in China is higher among the current generation than among the Chinese who lived through the occupation of the Second Sino-Japanese War.”

            So in effect, the Chinese Communist Party has just tweaked the environment such that the current generation of Chinese kids wants Japan totally stripped of weapons and enslaved today as punishment for war crimes which were already investigated and closed, even though the reparations were (unofficially) paid and the war criminals were hanged. And you know what? I DON’T PITY THE CRIMINALS AT ALL UNLESS SOME WERE SCAPEGOATS!

            What more do you want?

          • Let him talk, he just wanted to says something ironic.
            If he’s a troll, he will continue saying absurdity from out of nowhere as this one. He then doesn’t deserves an answer.
            If he’s someone with a brain, he will set out arguments. After of course explaining what he ment by saying that. Until then, it’s not our problem. I doesn’t consider myself concerned by his remark and neither should you, Cherndog.

          • Nothing like a good bento box lunch. You very rarely get bad food in Japan. Eugene Sledge said good things about IJA canned rations. He spoke well of the canned scallops in his book “With the old breed.”

          • Yeah, I figured as such. Trying to warm up your rations while in hostile territory will get you killed or simply harassed by the other team…

          • A harsh judgement… I wonder if it is as bad as it is said to be. I will try a US MRE (for science !), someday.
            Czesh rations are quite good, I recommend them if you can have some. Buchty are very good !

          • Actually it means Meal Rejected by Everybody, according to my best bud, E-5 ex-Chemical Recon Ft. Lewis and ROK DMZ.

            NB; beware the pork patty. It’s only actual use is scouring rust off weapons. Brillo pads aren’t as effective at that as the pork patty is.

            cheers

            eon

    • I can agree to that. They are also better than the german field rations. But we normally traded 1:1 – dunno the french loved our stuff and we loved theirs. strange but true.

      • German food is reknown in France. We joke about it being only “wurst und kartofeln” but it is frequent for French people to eat german inspired meals and they have good reputation (mostly for being very nourishing).

        Or maybe is it because we tend to criticize what we have and envy what the other have… In France we say “nul n’est prophète en son pays”, which means “nobody is prophet in his own country”, or “l’herbe est toujours plus verte chez le voisin”, which means “grass is always geener in your neighbour’s garden”. It means that people always consider foreign as better and domestic as worse.

  3. Any idea of comparative weights for the respective kits?
    As to the subject of rations- the airborne forces dropped w/ as few of those as possible and used the saved space for more ammo. I’ve never known a field ration yet that didn’t get old after a bit. Beats the alternative, though.

  4. I’m surprised that a British soldier in the 20th century would be carrying what appears to be a medieval-era mace. While an excellent offensive weapon against knights-in-armor (as it was designed specifically for that role) the mace’s heavy weight and single-purpose function (unless perhaps serving double-duty as a pick-axe when digging trenches [or graves] in rocky soil) would hardly seem worth the hassle of carrying one for those rare moments when it might have had any use whatsoever in the era of repeating firearms.

    And unlike the sword, which lived on as both a tool and status symbol for mounted cavalry and officers, the mace, with its more working-class connotation, lacked any such snob distinction.

    • AA:

      Those are home-made trench weapons for close in fighting where either you can’t raise a rifle to shoot, or bayonet. The trenches were narrow. Plus the improvised weapons were used on raids at night against the German trenches. No shooting to alert other trenches.

      Goohoo (google/yahoo) improvised ww1 weapons, trench clubs.

      R. Brown

      • Whenever fighting got too personal, the soldiers dropped their guns and whipped out blades and bludgeons. In Estonia, there is a story of two companies during World War Two. Both were Estonian, but one was a conscript group in the Waffen SS and the other was conscripted by the Soviet Union. In the deep dark woods, these two groups got lost and then began walking side-by-side. Because both groups spoke their native tongue, neither realized the affiliation mismatch until talking about the top brass got too personal. At this range and with terrible visibility, both the SS men and the Soviet conscripts dropped their guns and drew knives or bayonets. Feeling under each other’s helmets was the way to tell who was who. Soviet conscripts had shaved heads while the SS guys had normal hair! Thus, we have the largest and most awkward knife fight in history… Or am I wrong?

    • Maces were never “working class” or peasent weapons. As a short weapon the mace requires the user to be heavily armored as well. Late Medieval and Renaissance maces were used mostly by men-at-arms (“knights”) against their peers, quite often on horseback. You of course could use a short weapon like a mace with a shield, but by the time maces were gaining in popularity, shields were becoming less common. In any case, the ordinary footmen’s close fighting weapons were always spears and other long polearms (bills, glaives, halberds etc.) prior to the introduction of man-portable firearms.

  5. Horrors of horrors!

    The M1903 Springfield rifle is improperly asembled. The Leather Sling is improperly attached.

    As show in the picture, the upper sling loop is run thru the stacking swivel ring, and since the loop is cut, it could fall out. The lower sling swivel is the one that should be used.

    Proper installation close up picture off the web: http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/uploads/monthly_11_2014/post-104684-0-97057300-1416153700.jpg

    Close up of Stacking Swivel: http://www.rockislandauction.com/photos/51/p_standard/HKC1273-Z-CU80-L.jpg

    Sling assembly comparison photo: M1903 Top, M1917 Middle, Krag-Jorgenson Bottom:
    http://s681.photobucket.com/user/seartrip/media/GreatWar/image_10.jpeg.html

    Using the stacking Swivel: http://www.thedrillmaster.org/2013/01/14/the-stacking-swivel-and-stack-arms/

    I’m surprised at you Ian. Maybe this is a episode of Forgotten Weapons.

    C-90
    aka R. Brown

  6. “In 1990, belgian childrens from age 8 were given wine and beer in the school’s mess (yeah, I admit it’s almost like borderline).”

    This is simply not true.

    • “En Belgique, jusqu’au début des années 80, de la bière (Piedboeuf) était servie dans les cantines scolaires.”

      It is true. Ok, I did a mistake, it was until 1980, but true nevertheless.

    • Some light beer (beween beer and malt soda, around 1.2% only.) were given to kids in the past, when water was judged safe enough. Use lead to a king of tradition…

      Current versions may contains artificial sweeteners…

  7. Re: Morgenstern
    Both sides improvised a variety of medieval weapons for trench raids: bayonets, swords, hatchets, maces, spikes, sharpened shovels, entrenching tools, etc.
    For example: Canadian officer (later General) “Worthy” talked a blacksmith into welding a cog/gear onto the end of a leaf-spring for trench-raiding.

    Trench raiders borrowed pistols from their officers, st

    Those confusing melees eventually forced Germans to issue long-barrelled Artillery Lugers (with clip-on shoulder stocks) to trench-raiders. Some Artillery Lugers were converted to fire full-auto.
    The next step was developing the Bergman submachinegun. Bergmen(?) only reached the front lines during the last year of WW1, but became the father of WW2 submachineguns.

    • I know it is possible to have a full-auto Luger, but generally one shouldn’t try to have that happen. Bergmann’s MP-18 was great at the time, if expensive, but before that there was a rugged “trench carbine” variant of the Mauser C96, with a 40 round detachable magazine and a purposely designed stock for better handling (and to avoid hammer bite)… Melee weapons were necessary but not great when you’ve got an opponent who decides to lob grenades instead… Or am I wrong?

      • Indeed, knives and other melee weapons were rarely used, even if almost always carried. A French author whom I don’t remember the name for now once said “Knife is not the trench weapon. The true weapon of the trenches was the grenade”.

        here is a testimony, with commentary :

        “The knife is very badly considered in the testimony. It is a weapon of criminals, apache [a French name for something like a thug], and not a soldier’s weapon […].
        Fighting and kiling the ennemi is legitimate when it is done with the soldier’s weapons. Cattier wrote : “In the last sape [sapping ? bunker ? casemate ? I don’t know the english word. A small room in the trench], two soldier refused to surrender. My knife hanged at my belt… No, I’m not a murderer. I throw nevertheless twwo grenades in the sapping”. Records of the “coups de mains” [trench-cleaning operations] confirm the ubiquitous carrying of knives by soldiers during the operations. Nevertheless, these records rarely mention its usage during combats (wether it be in French, Colonial infantry or German soldiers). But the small usage of knives during combats doesn’t diminish the violence and only show its lack of efficiency and its poor usage. Stabbing the ennemy involve the ultimate melee fighting. It suppose to be exposed to a knife stab from the ennemy or a counterattack with a firearm before being able to stab him. The knife can then have another function foor certain soldiers : that of a release from the fear, last line of defense against the ennemy, and death. A weapon that serves to protect oneself.”

        Dimitri Chavaroche in “Compte-rendu de recherches. Les coups de main et le nettoyage des tranchées français pendant la Première Guerre mondiale.”

        • “Indeed, knives and other melee weapons were rarely used, even if almost always carried.”
          What about automatic pistols and revolvers? I know France bought huge numbers of automatic pistols (RUBY, STAR and others) and revolvers (S&W copies) from Spain, but what about actual usage?

          • I do not have a first-hand record or testimony at the moment, so I cannot confirm anything that I am about to say.

            I nevertheless have a passage of the document of Dimitri Chavaroche I already quoted which says : “Soldiers are equiped to avoid these melee fightings. They have at their disposal effective firearms : Pistols and grenades distributed to every soldiers before operation. These weapons give great mobility to soldiers and allow to engage the ennemy quickly without exposing oneself. Genade is the most used weapon in the trench, against ennemies hidden in holes and sappings. Pistols and revolvers are very effective at short distance and are very manoeuvrable in the trenches.”

            I would mitigate, as this man never fought with a firearm and doesn’t seem to take account of the reality of combat.

            First, the small caliber of French pistols wasn’t sufficient to cause immediately serious, debilitating, pinning-down injuries. French handguns, which were in .25 ACP, .32 ACP (most of em), .380 ACP (very few)for pistols and 8 mm 92 (200-250 jouls) or even 11 mm 73/90 (170-200 jouls) for the revolvers, were weak.
            Let’s remember that 9 mm Para +P+ of 660 jouls or +P++ of 720 jouls as used in French army is just enough to immediately pin-down an opponent (and only with a well place torso shot).
            Also, war amphetamins were the daily standard of all soldiers at that time, more so during defense against a raid. You don’t shoot as few shots to take out a man filled with speed that you need to take out a sober man. You need WAY more shots (sometimes 10 or 15 times more). Espacially at a time where the Mozambique drill didn’t existed (academically, at least).

            Considering the gozilious difference of raw kynetic energy between modern, overpowered round a these 9 mm +P++ rounds loaded with hollow-point projectiles and standard loading with round-nosed jacketed bullets of the beginning of XXth century of the weak calibers French army used, the usage of war-speed, the powerful (even in today’s standards) handguns in German hands and the low ammo capacity of such weapons, I cannot imagin that anybody considered the Chamelot Delvigne revolver or the Ruby pistol an “effective firearm” which allowed to engage “quickly”.

            Nevertheless, let’s be fair : I have to admit that the doctrine wasn’t the same at that time. French army considered that a small caliber bullet with sufficient energy/surface ratio which was followed by many other same bullets was as efficient as a 12 gauge buckshot shell at the same distance. And… Well, it wasn’t false at all.
            With a .32 ACP pistol at close range (lets say 3 or 4 meters), you can put the 8 or 9 rounds of your magazine in the torso of the ennemy in less than 1,5 seconds and it represents about 30 to 40 grams of steel and lead that travels at 300-320 m/s, which is equivalent to a standard 2 3/4″ buckshot shell of 12 gauge fired at 10 meters from a 16″ barrel.

            Considering the small diameter of the bullet and its kynetic energy, it had no problems at penetrating the heavy wool vests, jackets, coats and overcoats that soldiers wore at that time (the young and powerful .45 ACP was frequently not enough to pass trough this with sufficient energy to cause an immediately pinnin-down injury), which was also a good point in favor of these small and quite weak calibers. This is by the way the reason French army selected the 7,65 mm Longue (.30 Pedersen, let’s cal a cat a cat – do you also say this in English ?) in the 1930’s : low recoil, very easy and fast followed shots, light and handy weapon, low weight of ammunition allowing to have plenty and excellent penetration.

            Then, the doctrine was to throw some kind of gerbe of bullets on the ennemy, many shots in a very short time, pinning him down. Low recoil, short and handy weapon and plenty of spare mags (which was nevertheless a problem with the Ruby…) were then an ideal answer to the very close fighting in the trenches.
            Then, the pistol, even if I have doubts about French soldiers considering it a formidable trench warfare weapon, was surely a quite effective weapon in respect of its intrinsic weakness. I think the Austrians with their powerful and well designed Steyr Hahn or germans with C96 would actually have considered it the pinacle of close combat weapons, save the grenades. A machine pistol of strong caliber with fast rate of fire and equiped with a stock would have been the weapon of choice (history showed it was not necessarily…).

          • Here is a list of equipment of the “nettoyeurs de tranchées”, “trench cleaners” (huge program… and quite evocative name) :

            http://images.mesdiscussions.net/pages14-18/mesimages/19004/grenades.jpg

            It says :

            Vests, helmets, satchel, belt, N°2 Mask, no insignia nor ID cards [this last order is quite frightening !]

            Operating group :
            All – pistol
            Captains and Sergents – 5 frag-offensive grenades & 2 incendiary grenades
            Grenadiers – 10 frag-offensive grenades
            Suppliers – 1 double-satchel of grenades [which, depending of the model of “bissac” (double-satchel) can make a total of 16 to 32 (32 !) grenades]
            Per group – 4 mens with 5 grenades instead of 10 and reinforced wire-cutters

            Protection group :
            Under-officers [French army distinguish Under-officers from Officers] – 5 frag-offensive grenades + pistol
            Corporals and Grenadiers-voltigeurs – Carbine + 10 spare magazines [I insist : not “clips”, but “detachable magazine”]
            Autorifleman team – shooters with 4 magazines and 1st supplier with 8 magazines [no mention of a second supplier].

            So we notice that grenades are really predominant and that all soldiers meant to actually fight are equiped with pistols. The term “chargeur”, which means “detachable magazine”, is used for the carbine. It is quite weird, maybe did the word “chargeur” designated what we today call loading-clips at that time… Or was it a group equiped with some magazine fed carbines which I can’t identify precisely ? Winch 1907 (IIRC) with 20 or 30 rounds magazines were issued late on the war in small numbers to infantry (when aircraft began using their own dedicated weappons), I think it is the best answer, but my knowledge is not that vast.

            Searching for sources last night, I now have quite the quantity of historical testimony written in French (sufficient to write 10 pages). I could also have some in German. I do not speak fluent German (Entschuldigung) but my brother is bilingual, so he could maybe help me to translate it. I could then translate all of this to do a folder which I would send to Mr Forgotten Weapons if he thinks it is worth a publication on his website. I will be pleased to see US and British documents about it as well, if one of you can show me some.

  8. The stahlhelm was painted field grey, until an order of the General Staff, dated July 7, 1918, ordered a camouflage paint scheme. The paint scheme therefore would not seem to be of the 1916 timeframe.

  9. Womens death battalion, odd name. Russian Civil war, I had heard of it. Can’t say I know much about it though, white Russian I think.

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