New Zealand Army Combat Boots – 1945 -1980


Up to the Second World War, New Zealand Army boots generally had leather-soled ankle boots whose design had only undergone minor changes since 1912. Military boot development was catapulted during the Second World War with new designs and materials providing boots suitable for all terrains and climates found on Battlefields worldwide. As the post-war New Zealand Army was reorganised and reequipped to provide a division to fight in the Middle East, the decolonisation conflicts that swept Southeast Asia drew New Zealand into an unfamiliar type of warfare. New Zealand was not experienced or equipped to fight in harsh tropical environments but adapted quickly and became experienced practitioners of Jungle warfare. Initially equipped with British and Australian stocks of tropical equipment, it soon became apparent that New Zealand troops needed modern equipment. By 1959, the New Zealand Army undertook various research and development initiatives to improve its equipment in conjunction with scientific institutions and industry. This article provides an overview of the New Zealand Army’s post-war boot development, transitioning from a boot originating in the 19th century to a modern mid-20th century Combat boot.

Flush with wartime stocks of boots, the post-war New Zealand Army had no immediate need to upgrade its boots. However, by the mid-1950s, the limitations of the current range of leather-soled boots were becoming evident, especially in the jungles of Malaya, and the search for alternatives began for an improved boot design. To achieve this, the Quarter masters branch of the army called on the New Zealand Leather and Shoe Research Association for assistance in developing a boot with increased waterproof properties that could withstand prolonged wear without undue fatigue.[1]

Jungle greens and Jungle boots as worn by New Zealand Forces in Malaya from 1955. NZ National Library Ref: EP/1956/0031-F

In conjunction with footwear manufacturers and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the New Zealand Leather and Shoe Association developed four types of boots, which were trialled by the 2nd Battalion, New Zealand Regiment, in 1958. The latest type of ankle boot with a Directly Moulded Sole (DMS) from the United Kingdom was also tested alongside the four New Zealand samples.[2] From this initial user trial, feedback shaped an interim specification for two types with identical uppers but different soles, one of rubber and the other of leather. Thirty pairs of each type were made, and a further series of trials began with the 1st Battalion at Burnham Camp in early May 1960. Thirty trial subjects were chosen to wear each boot type for three days to see how easily they could be broken in. After that, they tested the boots for wear and comfort until February 1961.[3]

1956 Ankle Boots. Lee Hawkes Collection
Sole of 1956 Ankle boots. Lee Hawkes Collection

The result of the trial was the adoption of the Ankle Boot Rubber Sole (Ankle Boot RS). An ankle boot similar in design to the current boot, the Ankle Boot RS was several ounces lighter than those currently in use, also included was rotproof terylene stitching and nylon laces. The nylon laces were so popular with the troops that all the boots returned after user trials came back without laces. The new design had a “Commando” style rubber sole. The Commando style rubber sole was developed in the 1930s by English rubber maker Itshide, who switched from producing toys and brushes to producing this new kind of rubber sole for use on army boots during WWII. The benefit of the Commando sole was the grip provided by the shape of the jagged cleats on the sole, which proved ideal for providing stability on the roughest terrain. The New Zealand version of the Commando sole had slightly shallower cleats with an angled edge to prevent mud or small stones from wedging between them and was marketed as the “Kiwi Army Boot”. Production of the New Zealand Ankle Boot RS began in August 1961; however, with large quantities of the previous type of boot still in the supply system, it would take until 1964 to waste out the old stock.[4]

As with the previous boot design, the Ankle Boot RS required wearing a gaiter to prevent mud and derbies from entering the boot. The type of gaiter then in use was the 37-pattern web gaiter. Concurrent with the boot trial, thirty pairs of Australian Army gaiters were also tested. The long dark green Australian gaiter was introduced into Australian service in 1945 and had a light metal stiffener up one side to prevent wrinkling and a strap passing under the boot’s instep. Finding favour with the troops, these were also planned to be adopted for the New Zealand Army. However, problems in adopting the Australian gaiter would drive the development of the next iteration of New Zealand’s Army Boot.[5]

A pair of Australian Army canvas gaiters painted black. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C993356

Although the Australian gaiter could have probably been purchased off the shelf directly from Australian manufacturers, such items should have been manufactured in New Zealand. However, it was found that due to the exorbitant costs encountered in producing the Australian pattern gaiter in New Zealand, this project was abandoned, and the gaiter requirement was re-evaluated. Although no specific General Staff requirement was stated, it was decided to develop a calf-length boot to replace the Ankle Boot RS and 37-pattern gaiters with a calf-length combat boot.

New Zealand 37-pattern Gaiter. Lee Hawkes collection

Based on the new Ankle Boot Rubber Sole (Ankle Boot RS), two high boots, type A and B, were manufactured by experienced New Zealand footwear manufacturers Sargood, Son and Ewen.[6] The type A and B boots included hooks instead of eyelets and a strap and buckle arrangement similar to the American M-1943 Combat Boot.  

United States Army M-43 composition sole combat service boot, or “double buckle boot”. https://www.usww2uniforms.com/BQD_114.html

As a result of the initial user trials in New Zealand and Malaysia using the Type A and B boot, the design of the boot was refined into the Type C boot. In May 1964, ten examples of the Type C Boot were manufactured, incorporating improvements suggested by the user trials:

  • The sole and foot portion to be exactly the same as the Ankle Boot RS.
  • The height from ground level to the top of the boot was to be 101/2 inches.
  • There were to be six eyelets on the lower portion of each side of the closure and six boot hooks on the higher portion of each side (similar to the green jungle boot issued in Malaya).
  • The boot tongue was to be of a thinner variety and should not be longer than the height of the boot.
  • There were to be no straps or buckles.
  • The measurement around the top of the boot was to be no greater than 121/2 inches from edge to edge.[7]

Successful feedback on the Type C boot saw a small number purchased and introduced into service in June 1966 to enable further trials to be carried out to determine if the new pattern boots were suitable for combat in tropical conditions. Further trials by New Zealand Forces in South Vietnam and selected units in New Zealand commenced in November 1967

With the New Zealand contingent in South Vietnam serving alongside the Australians, the length of the New Zealand contingent’s supply chain and its low requirements made it necessary to modify the clothing replenishment system and link into the Australian lines of supply, resulting in New Zealand troops in Vietnam receiving Australian tropical clothing and boots.[8] This was a modification of the system used in Malaysia since 1955, when New Zealand troops in Malaysia drew their tropical clothing requirements, including jungle boots, from British sources.

Concurrent with New Zealand’s combat boot development was an Australian programme to develop a modern combat boot. Initially utilising jungle boots left over from the Second World War, the Australians soon developed and trialled a new DMS boot design with leather uppers and a moulded sole. After some initial user trials, an initial order of 10,000 pairs of the new Australian DMS Combat boot was placed in July 1956 for delivery to Australian troops in Vietnam by December 1965.[9]

Australian Black leather general purpose (GP) boots. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1195209

By 1968, New Zealand troops in South Vietnam were officially utilising the trial New Zealand combat boot and the Australian DMS Combat boot. Unofficially many New Zealand troops also wore the America Jungle boot. A survey conducted at the start of the November 1967 trial showed that 108 New Zealand soldiers preferred the Australian boot and only 42 the New Zealand boot. A further survey conducted in March 1968 revealed that 121 New Zealand soldiers preferred the Australian boot. The most significant reasons given for the preference were that the Australian boot was:

  • Lighter and more robust than the NZ item.
  • Had a directly moulded sole.
  • It was made of better-quality leather.
  • Had a vastly superior appearance.
  • It had a very good and snug fit when broken in.
Private Wayne Lindsay, Whiskey One Company, inspects an RSA Christmas parcel from New Zealand circa 1968. Note that Private Lindsay is wearing the American Pattern Jungle boots, and there are Australian DMS Combat boots and New Zealand Combat boots under his bed. Image courtesy Noel Bell via https://vietnamwar.govt.nz/photo/private-wayne-lindsay-rsa-christmas-parcel

Feedback also included the increasingly evident requirement for a Jungle boot similar to the United States pattern to be provided to New Zealand Forces in tropical environments.[10]

After the November 1967 operational and training trials of the New Zealand combat boot, it was found that the recommendations of the various trial teams were not in agreement, and a Footwear Study Group was appointed to review the trial information.[11] In July 1969, the Footwear Study Group concluded that the New Zealand Combat boot, with certain modifications, was superior to the ankle Boot RS in meeting New Zealand training conditions. However, it was agreed that the New Zealand Combat Boot did not meet the tropical operational requirements, and further research was required to find a boot to meet New Zealand’s tropical requirements. US, Canadian, and UK policies supported this, concluding that one boot could not satisfy both a temperate and tropical requirement. It was noted that the Australians restricted their DMS combat boot to South Vietnam, with troops in other theatres outside Australia continuing to wear ordinary boots and gaiters; however, the US tropical combat boot was procured for issue in South Vietnam to the Australian SAS only. Overall, the New Zealand findings were that the main advantage of the New Zealand Combat Boot was that it could replace two items (Ankle boot RS and gaiter); it provided superior ankle and instep support and improved appearance, and it should be accepted as a replacement for the Ankle Boot RS. A tropical patrol boot was also recommended to be developed to meet the specific environmental conditions found in Southeast Asia.[12]

There was little doubt that the Australian DMS combat boot was more popular with New Zealand troops. It was accepted that the DMS production technique proved a superior product, but at the time, New Zealand’s footwear industry did not yet have the required technology to manufacture DMS boots, but there was no doubt that the New Zealand Combat boot would incorporate a DMS sole at a future date as New Zealand industry caught up. However, adopting the New Zealand Combat boot would be based on fiscal reasoning. Based on the 1969 production run of 2893 pairs for New Zealand Vietnam Force maintenance, the cost of a pair of New Zealand combat boots was $10.50 (2022 NZ $200.20), compared to $19.23 (2022 NZ $366.64) for the Australian DMS boots. With the Ankle Boot RS priced at $8.18 (2022 NZ $156.61) and Garters at $1 (2022 NZ $19.15), it was considered that a superior boot was replacing two items (Ankle boot RS and gaiter) with only a slight increase of the cost. [13]

On 3 December 1969, the New Zealand Combat Boot was renamed as the Boot GS (High) and formally introduced into service to progressively replace the Ankle boot RS and gaiter as existing stocks of those items wasted out and all period contracts for their manufacture terminated.[14]

With a stock of 19,120 Ankle Boots RS and 21,612 Web Anklets held in Ordnance Depots and Clothing Stores, the priority of issue for the introduction of the Boot GS (High)was to:

  • NZ Forces in Southeast Asia
  • Regular Force Recruits
  • Regular Force maintenance in New Zealand
  • The Territorial Force

The Boot GS (High) nomenclature had been changed to Boot Mans General Purpose (Boot Mans GP) by February 1971. With 12,126 pairs of Ankle Boot RS remaining in stock, it was anticipated that with issues to National Service intakes and the Territorial Force, stocks would be exhausted by the end of 1971.[15]

During the New Zealand Combat Boot trial, it was identified that cooks of the Royal New Zealand Army Service Corps (RNZASC) required a boot with a flat sole for safety on wet surfaces. Fortunately, the Government Footwear Inspector had developed Cooks Galley Boots at Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) instigation in the mid-1960s. First adopted by the RNZN and then the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), consideration to issuing RNZASC Cooks Galley boots were first made in 1968.[16] With a non-skid pattern rubber sole and a continuous leather front to stop spilt boiling fat and other liquids from entering the boot, RNZASC user trials were conducted from 1970 with initial issues to all RNZASC cooks from 1972.[17]

By February 1974, New Zealand’s Forces in South Vietnam had been withdrawn, and the tripartite Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom (ANZUK) Force based in Singapore had been dissolved. The 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR) and its supporting units remained in Singapore as the New Zealand army components of the New Zealand Force Southeast Asia (NZFORSEA). Logistic arrangements in place since 1955, which allowed New Zealand to rely on the British for tropical clothing and equipment, had progressively been wound down from the late 1960s as New Zealand developed and grew its line of tropical clothing. Although the development of a tropical patrol boot had been recommended to be developed to meet the specific conditions found in Southeast Asia, the transition of New Zealand Army units in Singapore to a peacetime garrison and peacetime funding restrictions saw the requirement for a New Zealand jungle boot placed on the back burner. The Boot Man GP was found to be sufficient for most training in the tropics. Although many individuals purchased surplus American, British or Malaysian jungle boots and some small-scale unit trials did occur, the development of a New Zealand jungle boot ceased.

In 1980 the New Zealand footwear manufacturer John Bull won the contract for the supply of combat boots to the New Zealand Military. Already a manufacturer with a high reputation and experienced in producing military footwear, John Bull’s manufacturing processes were enhanced through a significant equipment and modernisation program. The John Bull-manufactured Boot Man GP was a DMS boot that retained the same style of leather uppers as the previous boot. New Zealand also supplemented stocks of the John Bull Boot GP with the Australian pattern DMS Combat Boot manufactured in New Zealand by King Leo. Both patterns of Boot GP were progressively introduced into service from 1980, with stocks of the previous Boot GP wasted out by 1985.

The New Zealand Army finished the Second World War with pretty much the same boot that had been issued to soldiers in 1912. However, the lessons of the Second World War and developments in boot technology had not gone unnoticed. With the assistance of the New Zealand Leather and Shoe Association, footwear manufacturers and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, a New Zealand Combat boot was developed. Due to the limitations of the technology available to New Zealand’s footwear industry, New Zealand’s efforts would always be five to ten years behind those of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, a viable and cost-effective boot that met most of the training and operational requirements of the New Zealand army throughout the 1970s and 80s resulted from New Zealand’s limited resources. Although this article only provides an overview of New Zealand’s combat boot development, it provides a starting point for further research into this overlooked aspect of New Zealand’s military history.

Boot Man GP (DMS)
New Zealand-made Australian pattern Boot GP

Notes

[1] “General News – Army Boots,” Press, Volume XCVIII, Issue 28883, 1 May 1959.

[2] Although the United Kingdom accepted and introduced it into service in 1961, the UK DMS boot was rejected by New Zealand because, at this stage, it could not be made in New Zealand. “Many Changes in Gear for Modern N.Z. Soldier,” Press, Volume XCVIII, Issue 28958, 28 July 1959.

[3] “New Army Boots Now in Production,” Press, Volume C, Issue 29594, 17 August 1961.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Army 213/19/69 Footwear for the NZ Army Dated 7 August 1969. “Boots and Shoes – Development of Combat Boots,” Archives New Zealand No R17187902  (1963-1969).

[6] 213/19/55/Q(D) Purchase of High Boots for user trials 26 May 1964. Ibid.

[7] 213/19/69 7 May 1964. Ibid.

[8] “New Combat Clothes Being Tested,” Press, Volume CIV, Issue 30802, 14 July 1965.

[9] “Boots Trouble Aust. Troops,” Press, Volume CIV, Issue 30801, 13 July 1965.

[10] HQ NZ V Force 212/19/69 Footwear Trials 9 April 1968. “Boots and Shoes – Development of Combat Boots.”

[11] Army 213/19/69/SD Footwear Study Group 23 October 1968. Ibid.

[12] Army 213/19/69 Footwear for the NZ Army 14 July 1969.Ibid.

[13] Army 213/19/69 Footwear for the NZ Army 7 August 1969. Ibid.

[14] Army 213/19/69DQ(M) dated 3 December 1969. Ibid.

[15] HQ Home Command HC 8/6/1/ORD 1 Introduction of Boots Mans GP 26 April 1971. Ibid.

[16] Army 213/19/69 Footwear for the NZ Army 7 August 1969. Ibid.

[17] HQ Home Command HC 8/6/1/ST Boots Galley Cooks 11 May 1972. Ibid.


RNZAOC School Instructor armlet

Established at Trentham in 1958 and formalised by charter on 5 September 1960, the RNZAOC school’s initial function was to”Conduct courses as directed by Army HQ, to recommend personnel for re-employment within the Corps, to assess and test personnel for star classification (later called Band courses) and to recommend improvements in methods and procedures affecting the Corps.” [1]

Over the years, the school developed into one of the most important units of the Corps, with responsibility for

  • RNZAOC Supply Training,
  • RNZAOC Ammunition Training,
  • Tri-Service IED/EOD Training,
  • Hosting of major Corps Conferences,
  • The development and maintenance of the Corps technical publications,
  • The development and conduct of training in all aspects of Corps activities,
  • The maintenance of the Corp’s history and heritage.

It is known that two armlets were worn by RNZAOC School Instructors during the school’s existence.

With Instructors of the Royal New Zealand Artillery and Royal New Zealand Engineers approved to wear distinguishing armlets, the Army Dress Committee recommended to the New Zealand Chief of General Staff (CGS), Major General Robin Guy Williams, that permission be granted to allow all instructors of the Army Schools to wear distinguishing armlets. This permission was granted on 9 July 1984, subject to the armlet being a standard size and composition.

On 2 October 1985, the Director of Ordnance Services (DOS), Lieutenant Colonel Terence David McBeth submitted a proposal to the Army Dress Committee that dress regulations be amended to permit the wearing of armlets by RNZAOC School Instructors.

The justification by DOS was that with an instructional staff of fourteen, who as well as working within the environs of the school, were also required to conduct instruction:

  • At other military units
  • At civilian institutions
  • To the personnel of other services

required a distinction such as an armlet to readily distinguish RNZAOC School Instructional staff from not instructional staff.

If approved, the RNZAOC Instructors Armlet was to be

  • A 100mm red band (later adjusted to a 90mm band) with a 32mm blue stripe sewn centrally around the band, with
  • An RNZAOC Badge sewn centrally over the blue strip and worn facing outwards.

The manufacturing costs were minimal as the material and tailoring could be provided by RNZAOC Tailors, and the badge provided by the RNZAOC Directorate.[2]

At the meeting of the Army Dress Committee on 6 November 1985, as authority for Army School instructors to wear armlets had already been granted by the CGS in 1984, the committee endorsed the RNZAOC submission and it allowed DOS to arrange production of the armlet.[3]

RNZAOC School Instructors armlet (First Pattern). Malcolm Thomas Collection

Introduced into use by RNZAOC school Instructors, the armlet was worn until 1994, when the RNZAOC School became the Supply and Ammunition wings of the Army Logistic Centre.

With the reorganisation of the RNZAOC School into the Army Logistic Centre in 1994, a new armlet was introduced. Worn by instructors of the Supply and Ammunition wings of the Army Logistic Center, this armlet was the exact dimensions as the original armlet but with the Crest of the Earl of Liverpool in place of the Ordnance Shield. This armet remained in use until RNZAOC was disestablished and the Trade Training School was established as part of the RNZALR.

RNZAOC School Instructors armlet (Second Pattern). Malcolm Thomas Collection


Notes

[1] “Charter for the RNZAOC School,”  in Organisation – Policy and General – RNZAOC (Archives New Zealand No R173115371960).

[2] RNZAOC Directorate 18400/12/ord/1 Instructor armlet – RNZAOC School, dated 2 October 1985. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1985-86,” Archives New Zealand No R17311895  (1985 – 1986).

[3] Army General Staff, Army 220/5/103 Minutes of a meeting of the Army Dress Committee 6 November 1985.Ibid.


New Zealand Military Load Carrying Equipment, 1945 – 1975

Military Personal Load Carrying Equipment, often referred to in the New Zealand vernacular as “webbing”, is the assortment of belts, straps, pouches and other accessories which, when assembled, allows an individual soldier to easily and comfortably carry the tools of their trade, such as ammunition, rations and water to sustain them for short periods. Many period photos of New Zealand soldiers on operations and training from the Vietnam War era to the 1990s provide the impression of an army equipped with an eclectic range of Australian, British and American equipment. This view of New Zealand’s army’s equipment was partly correct. To see how this view was shaped this article provides an overview of the evolution of New Zealand’s military load-carrying equipment from 1945 to 1975.

Commander-in-chief, United States Army of the Pacific, General R.E Haines (right) watching weapon training at Waiouru. 2 May 1970 Evening Post

During World War Two, Operations in Malaya, Burma and the Pacific identified many shortfalls in the suitability of training, tactics and equipment, resulting in the Lethbridge Mission to the Far East during the late war. As a result of the report of the Lethbridge Mission, it was decided to modify the standard 37-pattern equipment to make it lighter in weight, rot-proof and more water-repellent and thus more suitable for use in tropical conditions. This development of the 37-pattern equipment led to the approval of a new pattern known as the 1944-pattern.[1] Post-war, further development of the 37 and 44-Pattern equipment led to troop trials of the Z2 experimental Load Carrying Equipment, which transitioned into the 1958-pattern equipment.[2]

Following World War Two, the Load Carrying Equipment in use by the New Zealand Army was the British 1937-pattern equipment. The 37-pattern equipment was introduced into New Zealand service in 1940, replacing the 1908-pattern equipment that had been in service since 1912. As 37-pattern equipment remained the standard web equipment of the New Zealand Army, the deployment of New Zealand troops to Malaya placed New Zealand in the position of deploying troops to a theatre with equipment that had long been identified as unsuitable. To maintain compatibility with other commonwealth forces in Malaya, 44-pattern equipment from British stocks in Malaya was issued to New Zealand troops in Malaya.

Example of 37-pattern equipment. Image: Simon Moore https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwnMIdynO8Y

. Given the environment that New Zealand troops could be expected to operate in and aware of the developments in load-carrying equipment, the New Zealand Chief of General Staff (CGS) requested and received one set of M1956 Web equipment from the United States for trials in 1959.[3]  The American M1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE) had been accepted for United States Army service, with distribution well underway by 1961.

In October 1960, the New Zealand Director of Infantry and Training demonstrated the following web equipment to CGS.

  • 44-pattern Equipment
  • 58-pattern Equipment
  • M1956-pattern Equipment

A report by a New Zealand Officer attached to the Australian Jungle Training Centre at Canungra supported this demonstration with a comprehensive report describing the research and development of Infantry clothing and equipment undertaken by the Australians. The New Zealand report described the Australian trials of the M1956 LCE alongside the 58-pattern equipment. The M1956 was chosen by the Australians, who intended to manufacture it in Australia.[4] However, it was considered unlikely that either the 1956 LCE or 58-pattern equipment would be available to New Zealand until at least 1965 when the initial distribution to the United States and British armies was expected to be completed. Aware that all 44-pattern equipment had been earmarked for use in Malaysia and that it was still in production, New Zealand’s CGS approved the purchase of 6000 sets of 44-pattern equipment to re-equip elements of the New Zealand Army.[5]

Example of 44 pattern equipment, British Corporal, Malaya, Early 1950s. Image Simon Moore https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=2346362332163840&set=a.421629590114595

Following advice from the UK, the 44-pattern equipment in use with the Fare East Land Forces (FARELF) was to be wasted out as the 58-pattern equipment was introduced, implying that the New Zealand Battalion would need to be equipped with the 58-pattern equipment before the ceasing of maintenance of the 44-pattern by FARELF. With this in mind, a recommendation was made to purchase 6000 sets of 58-pattern equipment instead of the 44-pattern equipment.[6]

Example of 58-pattern equipment. Image Simon Moore. https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=2080097568790319&set=pcb.2080098398790236

In a June 1961 memorandum to Cabinet, the Minister of Defence highlighted that the current 37-pattern equipment used by the New Zealand Army was not designed for Jungle operations and was unsuitable for carrying the extra equipment the soldier engaged in this type of warfare required. No longer used by the British Army in any part of the world, the stage had been reached where the replacement of the 37-pattern should be delayed no longer. As the 58-pattern could not be made available to New Zealand for some time and field trials had cast doubt on its suitability for use in the Southeast Asia theatre, it was considered that re-equipping of the New Zealand Army should proceed with the 44-pattern equipment. The 44-pattern equipment had proved itself and was known to be suitable in the theatre where New Zealand troops were most likely to be employed. It was assumed that by the time the 44-pattern equipment needed replacement, the full facts on the suitability of the 58-pattern and the M1956 web equipment would be available to make a more informed decision on its adoption by New Zealand. It was recommended that Cabinet approve £45645 plus freight to purchase 6000 sets of 1944 Pattern equipment. [7]

By October 1961, it became clear that the 58-pattern was to be the standard issue web equipment for all United Kingdom forces worldwide and that distribution to the forces in Malaya was to happen much earlier date than earlier expected. Because of this, the Army secretary desired further investigations on the suitability of 58-pattern web equipment and, if favourable, confirm costs and potential delivery dates. With the requirement for web equipment again in flux, the submission to purchase 6000 sets of 44-pattern equipment was withdrawn pending further research.[8]

By May 1962, plans for reorganising the New Zealand Army from a Divisional to Brigade Structure were under implementation.[9]  With approximately 50000 complete sets of 37-pattern equipment distributed to units or held in stores, this was deemed suitable to equip the bulk of the Territorial Force and Training units. The 58-pattern equipment was now in serial production and was the standard issue for all United Kingdom troops, with distribution to operational units in Malaya and Germany underway. Information received earlier was that because of limited production, stocks of 58-pattern would not be available for release to New Zealand for some years had been revised. It was now possible that the release of 58-pattern equipment to meet New Zealand’s requirements could be achieved earlier than anticipated. Based on this revised information, New Zealand’s Cabinet approved funding of £58750 on 10 October 1961 for 6000 sets of 58-pattern Web Equipment. [10]

Before placing a firm order for New Zealand’s requirements of 58-pattern equipment, reports received from Malaya in late 1962 indicated that the 58-Pattern equipment was, in its present form, unsuitable for use in operational conditions in South-East Asia.[11] It was anticipated that modifying the 58-pattern equipment to suit the conditions would take two to three years, an unacceptable delay in procurement as far as New Zealand is concerned.[12]

As the decision on New Zealand’s web equipment remained in flux, the New Zealand Battalion in Malaysia continued to be equipped with the 44-pattern equipment maintained under a capitation agreement with the United Kingdom. At New Zealand’s expense, one hundred sets of 44-pattern equipment were also maintained at New Zealand Battalion Depot at Burnham Camp to support reinforcements.

M1956 Web Equipment

As the time factor involved in modifying the 58-pattern equipment was unacceptable, and New Zealand was receiving an increasing amount of American equipment, the decision was made to trial the American M1956 pattern web equipment. The M1956 equipment had already been introduced into the Australian army, so twenty sets were purchased from Australian stocks for New Zealand’s trials.[13]

Following user experience in Malaya revealing that the 58-pattern equipment was falling short of the requirements for jungle operations, a series of investigations and user trials established that the US M1956 pattern equipment was suitable for use by the New Zealand Army. The funding for 6000 sets of 58-pattern Web Equipment was requested to be reprioritised to purchase 10000 sets of M1956 equipment direct from the United States and 400 sets of 44-pattern equipment to equip the increment for the FARELF held in New Zealand.[14]

With funding endorsed by the Minster of Defence and approved by the Cabinet, orders were placed for 10000 sets of M1956 web equipment direct from the United States. The first consignment arrived in New Zealand in early 1964, with 289 sets immediately issued to the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) and 16 Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery.

Instructions for distributing the M1956 web equipment were issued in June 1964 by the Quartermaster General. The initial purchase of 10000 sets of M1956 web equipment was to be issued to the Combat Brigade Group (CBG) and Logistic Support Group (LSG) units. Units of the Combat Reserve Brigade Group (CRBG) and Static Support Force (SSF) were to continue to use the 37-patten webbing.

 NMDCMDMOD (for CMD Trentham UnitsSMDMOD StockIssued SAS/ 16 Fd Regiment
CBG & LSG312230304012028310289
1st Reinforcement Reserve3162606198  
School of Infantry 40    
TOTAL343833304072226310289

As the issue of M1956 equipment progressed, units of the CBG and LSG were to hand back stocks of 37-pattern equipment to their supporting District Ordnance Depot except for

  • 08-pattern packs and straps
  • 37-pattern belt, waist web
  • Frogs bayonet No 5[15]

The 37 Pattern belt, waist web, was to be retained by all ranks as a personal issue authorised by NZP1 Scales 1, 5, 8 or 9. The belt and bayonet frog were to be worn with Nos 2A, 64, 6B, 7A and 7B orders of dress when other equipment items were not required to be worn.

Equipment Maintenance Policy Statement (EMPS) 138/67 issued by Army Headquarters on 20 November 1964 detailed that except for the CBG and LSG, 16000 sets of 37-pattern equipment were to be maintained for use by remaining elements of the New Zealand Army.[16]  EMPS 145/65 was issued on 12 February 1965, detailing the management of 44-pattern equipment in New Zealand. The First Battalion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR) in Malaysia was to remain equipped with the 44-pattern web equipment maintained by the UK under the existing capitation agreement. Other than 100 sets of 44 Pattern Web equipment maintained at the Battalion Depot in Burnham, there was no provision for equipping 1RNZIR Reinforcements and increments of 31 Medium Radio Sub Troop who could be expected to deploy to Malaysia at any time. EMPS 145/65 rectified this by establishing a stockholding of 400 sets of 44-pattern equipment at the Main Ordnance Depot (MOD) at Trentham

Approval was granted in November 1965 by Army HQ for the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps (RNZAC) and NZSAS to blacken their M1956 web equipment. The Royal New Zealand Provost Corps (RNZ Pro) was also approved to whiten their M1956 web equipment. This approval only applied to unit holdings, not RNZAC, NZSAS or NZ Pro members attached or posted to other units.[17]

By April 1967, most of the New Zealand Army was equipped with the M1956 equipment. The exceptions were.

  • The New Zealand Forces in Malaysia and South Vietnam, who used both the M1956 and 44-pattern equipment
  • The SSF, National Service Training Unit (NTSU) and New Zeeland Cadet Corps (NZCC), who still retained the 37-pattern equipment

The manufacture of 37-pattern equipment had long been discontinued, and New Zealand stocks had reached the point where although having considerable holdings of individual items, based on the belts as the critical item, only 9500 sets of 37-pattern equipment could be assembled.

Based on the projected five-year supply to the NTSU, Army Schools, Camps and the NZCC plus 10% maintenance per annum, there was a requirement for 12000 sets of 37-pattern equipment. Arranging production to meet the shortfalls was deemed cost-prohibitive, and as continued maintenance could not be guaranteed, it was decided that additional sets of M1956 equipment were to be purchased. The additional sets were to be purchased on a phased program over several financial years, with 5000 sets of 37-pattern retained for the NZCC.

Disposal of the 37-pattern was to be phased over three years.

  • 1967 all items surplus to 9500 sets
  • 1968 3000 Complete sets
  • 1969 all remaining 37 Pattern equipment less 5000 sets for the NZCC.[18]

M1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment (MLCE)

In 1967 the New Zealand Army trialled three sets of the M1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment (MLCE). Not specifically designed to replace the M1956 equipment, the M1967 equipment was designed for use in tropical environments and was introduced into the United States Army service in 1968.

The New Zealand trials found that the M1967 equipment was comfortable and weight-wise was similar to other web equipment in use. The pack worn on the belt was found to be heavy when fully loaded, and a pack similar in size to the 44 Pattern should be introduced, and the belt pack reduced in size by one-third.

It was identified that all the pouches required stiffening and that the plastic fasteners were not firmly attached to the pouches, although easy to operate. While using Velcro was found simple to operate, it was seen as a disadvantage due to noise and its inclination to pull apart when wet or under stress.[19]

As the M1956 was still being introduced, no further action was taken towards large-scale procurement of the M1967 equipment. However, many elements of the M1967 equipment were included in the design of the M1972 All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE), which was introduced into New Zealand Army service in the 1980s.

Example of M-1967 MLCE. Image Simon Moore https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwj59bifFMk

Although the 44-pattern web equipment continued to be used by New Zealand units in Southeast Asia, by October 1967, the decision had been made to standardise the M1956 equipment across the New Zealand Army, and no stocks of the 44-pattern equipment were to be retained in New Zealand.   All stocks of 44-pattern web equipment held by the MOD in Trentham for 1RNZIR Reinforcements and increments of 31 Medium Radio Sub Troop were issued to 1 RNZIR based at Terendak camp in Malaysia. As this stock held by 1RNZIR was wasted out, it would be replaced by M1956 web equipment. [20]

Large Ammunition Pouches

The Australian experience had shown that although the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR) Magazines fitted inside the M1956 ammunition pouch, it was a tight fit, especially when the webbing was wet. The initial solution was to modify 37-pattern pouches and fit them to the M1956 equipment. By 1967 the Australians had developed an indigenous ammunition pouch for the M1956 equipment., The Australian Ammunition Pouch Large (8465-66-026-1864) was manufactured out of cotton duck material and measured 81/4 Inches high by 4 inches wide and 3 inches deep.

Australian Pouch Ammunition Large

To ascertain the suitability of the Australian large ammunition pouch for New Zealand service, fifty Australian pouches were sourced as a standardisation loan in 1968.[21] Feedback for the troop trials identified a lack of stability in the closure of the lid, causing the loss of ammunition and magazines. Following an investigation by the R&D Section, the RNZAOC Textile Repair Sections (TRS) modified the Australian pouches by replacing the lid fasteners with the same fasteners found on the standard American M1956 pouch and stiffing the fastener tabs. The modifications proved satisfactory in further Army Trials, and a new specification (DRDS-ICE-1) was produced with four Standard Samples provided to 1 Base Ordnance Depot (1 BOD).[22]  The modified New Zealand Pouch was codified in the New Zealand supply system as Pouch Ammunition Large (6746-98-103-4039).[23]

Detail of New Zealand Large Ammunition Pouch riveted lid fasteners

Although the R&D Section had ascertained that the manufacture of the pouches was possible in New Zealand using imported components, the initial production run of 20000 pouches was contracted through the Australian Department of Supply to be included in the current Australian production run.[24]  By 1974 the first production run of 20000 had been completed and returned to 1 BOD for distribution, with 2/1 RNZIR in Burnham one of the first units to receive the new pouches. In May 1974, 2/1 RNZIR submitted defect reports stating that the pouches were poorly designed, with the canvas tongue used to secure the lid failing, pouches becoming insecure, and magazines dropping out.[25]

The investigation by the Directorate of Equipment Policy and the R&D Section found that the faults were not a design problem but a quality assurance issue in that the pouches had not been manufactured following the specification.[26]   Comparing the Australian-manufactured pouches against the specification, the R&D Section identified the following visually detected defects.

  1. Canvas used to manufacture strap-holding assembly instead of webbing.
  2. Clip end strap is wrongly sized.
  3. Release tab is of incorrect thickness.
  4. Polypropylene stiffener not inserted in release tab.
  5. The male fastener is not secured to the PVC stiffener.
  6. The reinforcement piece behind the male fastener is not included (between the PVC stiffener and lining).
  7. Additional smaller reinforcement piece inserted between the outer cover and the male fastener.
  8. Broad arrow marked on the outer cover and not specified.

Of these defects, only serials 3 to 7 were directly considered to contribute to the deficiencies and the initial concerns raised by 2/1RNZIR and would require rectification, and a modification instruction was produced.[27]  Modification of the pouches would take until September 1977 to be completed.[28]

Due to the Broad Arrow Mark included on the first batch of 20000 New Zealand Large Ammunition Pouches, these items are often misidentified as Australian pouches by collectors.

White Web

By 1973, 37-pattern belts, rifle slings and bayonet frogs remained in use as ceremonial items. Whitened using proprietary shoe cleaner and paint, these items were badly worn with the whitener flaking easily and were easily marked by weather, fingerprints and the rubbing of other equipment. The M1956 pattern web belt was not considered suitable as a replacement as it was operational equipment requiring the breaking up of complete web sets to provide items for ceremonial events. Following the British lead, a polythene, four-ply woven fabric of similar appearance and texture to the 37-pattern equipment was approved for use by the Army Dress committee in October 1973 as a replacement for the whitened 37-pattern equipment. With the sling and bayonet frog designed for the SLR, these would be purchased with either chromed or brass fittings. The material for the belts was provided on rolls which could be cut to the required size. Buckles and keepers were 37-pattern buckles and keepers drawn from existing stocks that had been chromed and polished.[29]

Combat Pack

By 1974, one of the few pre-1945 items of load-carrying equipment remaining in New Zealand service was the 08-pattern pack. Long identified as an unsuitable item, several trials had been conducted since the mid-1960s to find a replacement combat pack. Although a few alternative items had been investigated as a replacement, the 08-pattern pack remained the principal combat pack of the New Zealand Army.

In 1969/70, the requirement for 15000 combat packs to replace the 08-pattern pack was identified. Following evaluation by the equipment sponsor, the Australian Army Combat Pack was selected as a basis for developing a New Zealand combat pack. The Australian pack was chosen from a wide range of military and civilian packs, with the design modified to meet the particular training requirements of New Zealand. The modifications to the Australian pack were limited to comply with the following:

  • The pack must be compatible with Australian Army equipment.
  • The pack must be compatible with M1956 equipment currently in New Zealand service.

Against the advice of the R&D section, the Australian pack was modified by the New Zealand Army without a proper study being conducted.[30] The decision to bypass the R&D process resulted in a prototype process that extended from 1972 to 1974.[31] By June 1974, trials on the prototypes resulted in the setting of a standard design for a production run of one hundred packs for further trials.[32]

The New Zealand version of the Australian combat pack was eventually accepted into service in 1975/76. Never a satisfactory pack, the R&D section began investigations to find a replacement in the early 1980s, with the American ALICE pack introduced as an interim replacement in 1984.[33]

New Zealand modified Combat pack

Conclusion

Entering the Second World War with web equipment of the same pattern used since 1912, New Zealand’s Force soon began to be re-equipped with the most modern British web equipment, the 37-pattern from early 1940. Near the end of the war, New Zealand was kept abreast of the development of web equipment, and when New Zealand troops arrived in Malaya in the early 1950s, they were issued with the most modern type available for jungle warfare, the 44-pattern. As the New Zealand Army reorientated from providing a Division to serve in the Middle East to providing a Brigade Group to serve in South East Asia, it could not wait for the British to develop their new 58-pattern for tropical conditions and examine other types. Following Australia’s lead, the American M1959 equipment was adopted in 1964, with components of this type serving thought to the early 2000s. With five different types of web equipment either adopted or trialled between 1945 and 1974, it is no surprise that components got intermingled. This led to Kiwi soldiers’ preferences and experiences leading them to create webbing sets that they found practicable rather than options prescribed in SOPs or instruction books leading to the outside impression of the New Zealand army been one equipped with an eclectic range of Australian, British and American equipment.


Notes

[1] 86/Development/47 (SWV1) Report on the Development of Personnel Fighting and Load Carrying equipment 1942-48 February 1949. “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern,” Archives New Zealand No R17189098 (1944 -1966).

[2] 86/Dev/54 (SVW1) Instruction for troop trials of Z2 Experimental Load Carrying Equipment ibid.

[3] New Zealand Joint Services Mission Washington DC JSM 1/3/13 ARM US Army Load Carrying Equipment (Web) dated 23 September 1959ibid.

[4] Attachment to JTC – Canungra dated 21 October 1960 “Stores – New Infantry Equipment for New Zealand Army,” Archives New Zealand No R17189007 (1959-1970).

[5] Army 246/60/12/SD Web Equipment dated 20 December 1960 “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.”

[6] Army 246/60/12/SD Web Equipment dated 20 December 1960ibid.

[7] Memorandum Minister of Defence to Cabinet dated June 1961ibid.

[8] 246/60/12/adm Army Secretary to Minister of Defence 2 October 1961ibid.

[9] Damien Fenton, A False Sense of Security: The Force Structure of the New Zealand Army 1946-1978, Occasional Paper / Centre for Strategic Studies: New Zealand: No. 1 (Centre for Strategic Studies: New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington, 1998), 111-20.

[10] Army 246/60/12/Q(E) Brigade Group Equipment Replacement Web Equipment dated 8 May 1962 “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.” -pattern equipment

[11] BM 2 to FE16002SD General HQ FELF to The War Office (Brig Q Eqpt) 1958 Pattern Web Equipment dated 4 October 1962: ibid.

[12] 57/62 NZ Army Liaison Staff, London to Army HQ dated 17 October 1962 ibid.

[13] Army 246/60/12Q(E) Sample US Pattern Web Equipment dated 12 December 1962 ibid.

[14] 246/60/12/SD Web Equipment for the Field Force dated 18 October 1963 ibid.

[15] Army Reqn 208/63/Q(E) dated 9 June 1964 -Distribution of M1956 Web Equipment “Cookers – Web Equipment: Pattern ’37,” Archives New Zealand No R17189095 (1940-1971).

[16] EMPS 138/64 of 20 Nov 1964 ibid.

[17] Army HQ Army246/60/12/PS3 of 19 Nov 1965 ibid.

[18] Defence (Army) 246/60/2 of 26 April 1967 ibid.

[19] 1 Ranger Squadron NZSAS, Trial Report US Lightweight Equipment dated 21 March 1968″Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern,” Archives New Zealand No R17189099 (1966 -1969).

[20] Army 246/60/12/Q(E) EMPS 145/65 Frist Revise dated 5 October 1967 ibid.

[21] “Cookers  – Web Equipment: Slings, Bandoliers, Ammunition Pouches: Development,” Archives New Zealand No R17189101 (1968-1970).

[22] Def HQ/R&D Section 82/1974 dated 28 Jun 1974.”Equipment Administration: Research & Development – Projects Personal Load Carrying Equipment: Ammunition Pouches,” Archives New Zealand No R17231111 (1972-1977).

[23] 246/60/2 of 122055ZNOV70 NZDWN to 1BOD Trentham “Cookers – Web Equipment: Pattern ’37.”

[24] Army 246/60/70 dated 9 December 1971. “Equipment Administration: Research & Development – Projects Personal Load Carrying Equipment: Ammunition Pouches.”

[25] FF 65/38/18/SD Modification of Ammunition Pouch item 10 May 1974. “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.”

[26] Army 246/60/17/EP. “Equipment Administration: Research & Development – Projects Personal Load Carrying Equipment: Ammunition Pouches.”

[27] R&D Section Minute no 160/1975 dated 21 November 1975. “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.”

[28] Army 246/60/17/SP 22 Pouches Ammunition 22 September 1977. “Cookers – Web Equipment: New Pattern.”

[29] “Army Dress Committee Decision – White Web,” Archives New Zealand No R17188112 (1973).

[30]  R&D Section 67/1974 Packs Combat date 13 June 1974. “Equipment Administration: Research & Development – Projects Personal Load Carrying Equipment: Waterproof Pack,” Archives New Zealand No R17231110 (1972-1974).

[31] Army 246/60/12/EP Sponsor Enquiry Field Pack Olive Green 2 July 1972. Ibid.

[32] Army 246/60/12/ EP Minutes of the final meeting on the acceptance of the Combat Pack held at Army General Staff on 8 June 1973. “Conferences – Policy and General – NZ Army Dress Committee 1984,” Archives New Zealand No R17311893 (1984).

[33] Inf 26.3 Minutes of a meeting to consider Project Foxhound developments held at Army General Staff 8 June 1984. Ibid.


Operation Dragon Rouge – The Stanleyville Hostage Rescue Operation

Following the Congo’s independence from Belgium in 1960 and encouraged by the competition between the West and the Soviet Union, a large portion of the eastern Congo was conquered by the Soviet-backed Conseil National de Libération(CNL), better known by their nickname “Simbas”. Routing the government forces in a series of offensives from January 1964, the Simba victory was short-lived. By August 1964, the Simba forces were starting to face effective counterattacks and loss of territory to Government Forces. Desperate to force the government into a negotiated settlement and limit the involvement of the United States, the Simbas decided to use the white population as hostages. The fate of the hostages was becoming more uncertain as negotiations faltered. Concerned, the United States and Belgium planned and conducted a series of joint operations from 24 to 26 November 1964 to secure, rescue and evacuate over 1800 European and 400 Congolese civilians. This essay will provide background on the conflict and examine ‘Operation Dragon Rouge’ the rescue of hostages at Stanleyville, and how this operation demonstrated how hurriedly improvised combined forces of well-trained troops could conduct successful operations over large distances under adverse conditions.

Congo Crisis. (2022, November 29). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congo_Crisis

The speed of decolonisation of the Belgium Congo in 1960 resulted in a system unprepared to govern effectively.[1] The post-colonial government was beset by corruption and struggles by economic, political and tribal factions competing for dominance, fueled by the need to control the considerable natural resources within the Congo[2]. Caught between economic and geopolitical manipulations of Belgium, who had a strong desire to retain mining rights, and the United States, who wished to remove communist sympathisers from the region[3], the resource-rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai declared succession from the Congo. The United Nations eventually stabilised the confusing and chaotic situation between 1960 and 1964 and undertook a complex peacekeeping mission to stabilise the Congo[4].

Shortly after the bulk of the United Nations Forces withdrew in 1964, the CNL, Backed by the Soviet Union and China, launched its rebellion from their political heartland of the western Congo[5]. Known as “Simbas”, the CNL troops were a mixture of young men, teenagers and children supposedly inspired by Maoist ideas.[6]

In reality, the political Ideology of the Simbas was much more complex. As noted by the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, most Simba fighters were not inspired by Maoist ideas but instead motivated by traditional beliefs and were often observed to be under the influence of illicit substances[7]. Many Simbas believed that magic water called “Dawa” applied by a Shaman left them impervious to bullets[8]. The Simba’s astounding early successes encouraged this belief, often forcing the opposing Armée Nationale Congolaise(ANC) soldiers to retreat without a fight. By August 1964, the Simbas had much of the eastern Congo under their control, including the provincial capital Stanleyville, where they had ejected a large government garrison without a fight, obtaining a large amount of modern war material. The Simba’s success soon degraded with a loss of discipline, resulting in acts of violence becoming common with thousands of Congolese who were considered westernised, executed with extreme cruelty[9].

ANC forces backed by CIA Aircraft and western mercenaries soon counterattacked, resulting in the Simba defeats and much of the territory they had recently gained lost.[10] By August 1964, concerned by the Simba reversals, the Soviet Union and Cuba took a more active role by trucking supplies from Tanzania and attempting to train the Simba’s in small unit tactics[11]. Fearing defeat, the Simbas chose to use the remaining westerners trapped in their territories as hostages and bargaining chips in the ongoing negotiations with the government, broadcasting over Stanleyville Radio that the lives of western citizens could no longer be guaranteed if the ANC advance on Stanleyville continued.[12]  These threats, matched by emerging horror stories of Simba atrocities by witnesses, forced Belgium and the United States to act.[13]

From August 1964, the United States and Belgium had been working on several plans to enable the release of the hostages, and Operation Dragon Rouge was authorised on 10 November 1964 as OPLAN 319/64 Dragon Rouge. [14]  The concept of the plan was for a joint United States/Belgium operation, utilising United States Air Force (USAF) C130 Hercules aircraft to insert a Belgium Para Commando force directly into Stanleyville. [15]

On 18 November, the Dragon Force assembled on Ascension Island. Intelligence reports necessitated planning for follow-on hostage rescue operations for Bunia, Paulis and Watsa, and to leverage maximum effect; the operation was to be timed to coincide with an ANC/mercenary ground and air offensive operation[16]. Dragon Force deployed to Kamina airfield in the Congo on 22 November, confirmation of the approval for the conduct of Operation Dragon Rouge was received, and the mission was set to go on 23 November.

Airborne at 0045 hours, five C130s carrying the first chalk of 320 Belgium Para Commandos arrived at the drop zone ten minutes before daylight at 0400 hours. On the receiving end of ineffective rifle and machinegun fire, the airfield was secured within 32 minutes, obstacles cleared within 45 minutes, allowing the first aircraft to land at 0540 Hours with the remainder of the force. During the operations to secure the airfield objectives, the chance answering of a telephone provided timely intelligence confirming that the hostages were at the Victoria Hotel[17]. Acting on this intelligence, the Belgians rushed towards the town in armoured jeeps and motorised tricycles, quickly pushing aside any resistance.

Belgian Paras ride in a FN AS 24 tricycle during Operation Dragon Rouge. Stanleyville, Congo-Léopoldville, November 1964.

As the Belgium troops were within a block of the hotel, gunfire was heard. The Simbas had gathered 400 to 600 of the hostages in the square outside the hotel and opened fire, killing twenty-eight hostages before running away[18]. Within three hours of the initial jump, the first rescued hostages had been moved to the airfield and evacuated to safe areas, with the evacuations continuing for two days. The Belgium troops cleared the city, rescuing more hostages and whites that had been hiding, sustaining three minor casualties in firefights with the few remaining Simbas.

U.S. Air Force photos. Some of the hostages after the terrible shooting by the rebels.
http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/resources/csi/odom/odom.asp

By 1100 hours, the lead elements of the ANC mercenary forces linked up with the Belgium troops taking over responsibility for the city, allowing the Belgians to withdraw from the city. After conducting one more jump into Paulis, the Dragon Operations were concluded, and the Belgium troops returned to Belgium within five days. With their will to fight broken by the sudden and decisive action of the Belgium forces, the Simba’s melted away and within six months, their Soviet and Cuban supporters moved on to more reliable clients.[19] With little or no local support, the Simba leadership snuck across the borders into exile, and the rebellion was effectively finished[20].

Congo Crisis. (2022, November 29). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congo_Crisis

The Simba rebellion initially successfully conquered a large portion of the eastern Congo and routed the government forces, often with no resistance. Success brought overconfidence, and the new order soon degraded into an orgy of killing as acts of violence became common with thousands of Congolese who had been considered westernised were executed with extreme cruelty, and it was only a matter of time before the orgy of killing extended into the remaining western citizens. Although the United States and Belgium had differing strategic objectives, the need to rescue the western hostages became paramount. The United States and Belgium military planners demonstrated how a hurriedly improvised combined force of professional and well-trained troops could conduct successful operations over large distances under adverse conditions.


[1] Lt Col W. H. Glasgow, “Operation Dragon Rouge,” Historical Office of United States Army in Europe, https://history.army.mil/documents/glasgow/glas-fm.htm.

[2] Erik Davis, “The United States and the Congo, 1960-1965: Containment, Minerals and Strategic Location” (University of Kentucky, 2013).

[3] Thomas Odom, Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964-1965 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute., 1988).

[4] Henry Longstreet, Congo Rescue, vol. 8, The Elite (London: Orbis Publishing, 1986).

[5] F.R. Villafana, Cold War in the Congo: The Confrontation of Cuban Military Forces, 1960-1967 (Transaction Publishers, 2011).

[6] The Swahili word for Lion in the African Great Lakes region from where the majority of fighters were recruited: Godfrey Mwakikagile, Congo in the Sixties (Da es Salaam, Tanzania: New Africa Press, 2014).

[7] Ernesto Che Guevara, Congo Diary: The Story of Che Guevara’s “Lost” Year in Africa (Centro De Estudios Che Guevara) (Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2011); William E. Schaufele, “Operation Dragon Rouge,”  http://adst.org/2012/09/operation-dragon-rouge/.

[8] Richard Petraitis, “From Simbas to Ninjas: Congo’s Magic Warriors,”  https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_petraitis/simbas-ninjas.html.

[9] Odom, Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964-1965.

[10] Lt Col W. H. Glasgow, “Operation Dragon Rouge”.

[11] Ernesto Che Guevara, Congo Diary: The Story of Che Guevara’s “Lost” Year in Africa (Centro De Estudios Che Guevara) (Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2011).

[12] Robert Krott, “Airborne Rescue Mission to Stanleyville,” Military History 21, no. 7 (2005).

[13] Fred Wagoner, Dragon Rouge: The Rescue of Hostages in the Congo ( Washington, DC National Defense University Research Directorate, 1980).

[14] Odom, Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964-1965.

[15] Lt Col W. H. Glasgow, “Operation Dragon Rouge”.

[16] Odom, Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964-1965.

[17] Lt Col W. H. Glasgow, “Operation Dragon Rouge”.

[18] Wagoner, Dragon Rouge: The Rescue of Hostages in the Congo.

[19] Villafana, Cold War in the Congo: The Confrontation of Cuban Military Forces, 1960-1967.

[20] Odom, Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964-1965.


Kelsey swivel-stock rifle

Due to its isolated location at the culmination of international trade routes, New Zealand has become a well-known centre of resourcefulness and innovation, inventing leading-edge and world-changing products. Some notable examples are; Disposable syringes and tranquilliser guns, the referee whistle, the eggbeater, the electric fence, jet boats, flexible plastic ear tags for livestock, bungy jumping, flat whites and pavlova. While these products have all had a peaceful intent and provided a valuable contribution to the world, New Zealand’s war experience in the twentieth century has also contributed to military innovation. Discussed here is the Kelsey swivel-stock rifle,  a New Zealand invention from the 1950s that allowed a Sten Sub Machin Gun to be fired from behind cover and around corners.

During the latter stages of the Second World War and based on the lessons learnt on their Eastern Front, the German military identified a requirement for aiming and firing weapons around corners and from within Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs). The Germans developed the Krummlauf barrel attachment for the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44) and  Maschinengewehr 42 (MG 42) to meet this requirement.

The Krummlauf was produced in two variants:

  • The “I” variant for infantry use,
  • The “P” variant for use in AFVs to provide cover over blind spots to defend against assaulting infantry

The “I” and “P” barrels for the StG 44 and  MG 42 were produced with bends of 30°, 45°, 60° and 90°. However, only the “I” 30° Barrell for the StG 44  was produced in quantity.

Krummlauf “I” version. (2022, October 28). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krummlauf
Krummlauf “P” variant. (2022, October 28). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krummlauf

With a very short lifespan—approximately 300 rounds for the 30° variant and 160 rounds for the 45° variant—the Krummlauf barrel was under great stress. Additionally, due to the barrel bend, bullets shattered as they exited the barrel, producing an unintended shotgun effect. Developed too late in the war for testing and refinement by the Germans, postwar testing by the United States Army resulted in some modifications; however, the Krummlauf remained unreliable despite these modifications. The Soviets also experimented with a curved barrel, producing an Experimental PPSh with a curved barrel, but with the curved barrel seen as a novelty, interest in the concept was soon lost.

Despite the concept of a bent barrel to allow the firing around corners, proving impracticable, Lieutenant Colonel John Owen Kelsey had seen the need for such a capability during New Zealand’s streetfighting in Italy and set about finding a solution.

Colonel Kelsey was born in New Plymouth in November 1904. Before World War II, he served as an Engineering Officer for two years with the Royal Navy. This engineering background led to his first New Zealand Army Ordnance posting in 1939 as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 13th LAD New Zealand Ordnance Corps (NZOC). Shortly after he arrived in Egypt in 1940, he was promoted to Lieutenant and posted as the Assistant Senior Ordnance Mechanical Engineer (SOME). He became the SOME and was promoted to Temporary Captain a few months later, and in November of the same year, he became the Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services (Equipment) (DADOS E) HQ 2NZ Division. He was also promoted to Temporary Major while holding this position and, in April and May 1941, took part in the campaigns in Greece and Crete. On return from Crete, he was transferred to the British Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) Deputy Director Ordnance Services(DDOS) office for a few months and then returned to 2NZEF as the Chief Ordnance Mechanical Engineer (COME) in August 1941. His duties were extended a year later when he became the Assistant Director of Ordnance Services (ADOS) and COME 2NZEF.

After forming a separate Corps of New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (NZEME) in December 1942, Colonel Kelsey relinquished the appointment of COME and became the ADOS 2NZEF/ADOS 2NZ Division and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Temporary promotion to Colonel followed from February to March 1944 when Colonel Kelsey was appointed as the DDOS of a Corps for operations in Italy.

He returned home on well-earned leave in April 1944 after four and a half years away but returned to the Middle East in September 1944. He resumed the ADOS 2NZEF and 2NZ Division appointments and maintained these responsibilities until the end of the war, completing six years with the division and taking part in every campaign. For distinguished service, Colonel Kelsey was Mentioned in Despatches.

On his discharge, Colonel Kelsey went into business as an accountant at Whakatane but was not very successful and relocated to Auckland, where he obtained a post in the Public Relations Office in Auckland but was subsequently asked to leave. Setting up a public relations office in Devonport, where he slept on a couch in the office because he could not afford to board, Colonel Kelsey set to work developing his Sten Gun adapted to fire around corners.

In June 1953, The Press announced that a Sten gun adapted to shoot round corners had been developed by Colonel Kelsey, known as the Kelsey swivel-stock rifle and that the army had tested it at Waiouru Military Camp. Following the success of these tests, the device was sent to the War Office in London for further examination.

Colonel Kelsey had adapted the Sten gun to have a swivel butt and a unique sight. Unlike the wartime Krummlauf, it was not a weapon with a bent barrel but a standard Sten Gun. The weapon could be used in the usual way, with shooting a round left or right corners enabled by simply resetting the butt to 90°to the parrel and sighted using a unique sight. The sight was based on the principle of the periscope, using prisms with exact details placed on the secret list.

With no reply from the War Office by the end of 1953 and confident with his design and that it could be adapted for other firearms, Colonel Kelsey took out world patent rights and intended to fly to England or America to try to sell the invention to armaments firms. However, despite being optimistic about his future, Colonel Kelsey struggled with the toll of adjusting to peacetime life, business failures, financial difficulties, a failed marriage and some unhappy love affairs and was discovered by the police on the floor of his office in Clarence Street, Devonport, at 5.30 pm. on 8 February 1954. Under his body was a .22 calibre rifle which he appeared to have been holding.

A letter on the table addressed to whom it may concern said he was experimenting “to try to find the reason for dissipation of recoil in a rifle or submachine-gun. This is immensely important to me, now that the Kelsey swivel-stock rifle has proved successful”, he added “that there was considerable risk in the experiments” with a footnote added that the tests were to be made at training grounds near Whenuapai.

After reading some of Colonel Kelsey’s letters in chambers, the Coroner found that there was ample evidence that Colonel Kelsey had many personal difficulties. If he had intended to test the rifle at the time of his death, he would not have needed to write the letters, in one of which Kelsey stated he was “going to die,” The Coroner said he was forced to conclude that the cause of death was suicide by a self-inflicted bullet wound in the head.

With Colonel Kelsey’s passing, the development of the Kelsey swivel-stock rifle progressed no further.

In the 2012 history of the Sten Gun, by  Leroy Thompson, a variant of the Sten Gun matching Colonel Kelsey’s device is precisely described, indicating that the weapon was tested and, although never progressing past the prototype stage, a record of existence along with some photos kept.

L. Thompson, M. Stacey, and A. Gilliland, The Sten Gun (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012).

No other New Zealand Ordnance Officer has held such a variety of appointments on active service. Colonel Kelsey was an OME, SOME, DADOS(Equipment), COME, ADOS, DDOS, and acting CREME. Despite his wartime service and the award of the MBE and Mention in Dispatches, there was no place for Colonel Kelsey in the regular post-war army. Despite his optimistic belief in the success of the Kelsey swivel-stock rifle, Colonel Kelsey struggled to adjust to the post-war world. Without understanding the effects of wartime stress that exist today now, he fell through the gaps and took his own life. Additionally, given the stigma surrounding suicide that has existed for many years, his wartime service and potential achievement as an inventor have never fully been recognised.