Thursday, 23 February 2017

Camouflaging Headgear.

A military helmet violates several of the “five S’s of camouflage”. They have a distinctive shape and silhouette. They may have a surface that appears shiny or unnatural under certain circumstances.

Both Levy and Langdon-Davis have points to make about helmets and their camouflage. Levy points out that in thick vegetation branches hitting the helmet can create noise. In such circumstances, the soldier is advised to carry the helmet rather than wear it. Both writers advocate that the best way to break up the shape of a helmet is by the application of local foliage. This garnish should be replaced when it ages and becomes unnatural looking.

Langdon-Davis notes that many soldiers that he taught assumed that their helmet was adequately camouflaged just because they had fitted the net-cover they were issued. More than half a century a century later and very little has changed! It is commonplace to see soldiers and marines that are wearing their issued helmet cover but have made no attempt to disrupt the distinctive shape of their helmet.

There are two ways commonly used to attach natural materials to a helmet.

One is the use of a rubber band that encircles the helmet. For the WW2 British army helmet Langdon-Davis suggest that two “s” shaped pieces of tin be shaped to keep this band in position. The use of a rubber foliage band is actually more commonly seen with German soldiers. Often the band was made from an tire inner tube.

The other method is to fit a net over the helmet. Some camouflaged cloth covers have loops or straps for the placement of natural foliage. Many do not!

In arid or urban environments plant materials may appear relatively rare. Turning your head into a bush might appear to be a good way to attract attention. However, in such conditions it is still important to break up the distinctive shape of the helmet. The use of natural materials is therefore supplemented by additional means.

Shown above is a competently camouflaged helmet. A competently camouflaged helmet looks nothing like a helmet.

A basic cover has been constructed from hessian, possibly a sandbag. This has a light, natural looking colour that creates the impression of negative space. Cheaper than a camouflage printed cover and more effective. You could paint disruptive blotches on this cover, but it is probably redundant given that the helmet will be garnished further. If you do paint the cover bear in mind the size of the object you wish to disrupt and paint appropriately large blobs of a colour that contrasts with the base colour.

A net has been placed over the hessian. In this instance it is green but the colour probably does not matter that much so long as it is a natural shade. If the enemy gets close enough to see the net colour the matter is probably moot!

A helmet sized net can easily be constructed if you do not have one. Several methods of net making are shown in my knot book. Below is another technique. A camouflage net need not be particularly near or regular. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The net is intended to hold any local foliage that is used. As can be seen, textile “garnishes” have been added too. An important point when added either natural foliage or textiles is not to overdo it. You are trying to disguise the shape, not create a new solid shape. Leave space for natural materials when applying textile garnish. 

Some of the garnish that has been added are strips of hessian. These are allowed to fray and go fuzzy. The owner has also used frayed cloth. He has used green but I would suggest a mid to dark brown to make a covering that will be more useful in urban and desert areas. If you are operating in a predominantly verdant area there will be plenty of local natural materials to prove greenery.
You could use strips of camouflage cloth for garnish. Bear in mind that your headgear may be used in a variety of terrains. Strips of British DPM or US woodland may work well in jungle but not so well elsewhere. Desert DPM, three-colour “coffee stain” or “chocolate chip” may be a more versatile choice. Incidentally, an economical source of camouflaged material for projects is children’s clothing. Camouflaged tee-shirts may be a cheaper source of materials than camouflaged bandannas.

You can tie your garnish directly onto the net. If that proves too fiddly an office stapler can speed the process up. If the staples go rusty and brown, so much the better.

Many of you reading this will have no interest in military helmets. The same techniques of camouflage can be applied to other forms of headgear if you are a hunter or prepper. My preference for such a project is a boonie hat. The brim creates shade, which is a component of camouflaging googles or eyeglasses.

As can be seen, the band around the hat is designed to take natural foliage. On my first day on a certain Caribbean island I brought a cold drink, drank it and then inserted the ice cubes into the pockets of my boonie’s hat bang. Portable air conditioning!

A net can be added to a boonie and textile garnish applied. You don’t actually have to have a camouflage printed boonie as a starting point for this project. Use a single coloured one if it is cheaper. My preference is for lighter colours such as sand or to use desert patterned examples. A company offers “sniper boonies” with a fringed rim. This is a feature that can be emulated.

The Books

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Camouflaging Boots

Another Home guard themed book that I have read recently is the excellent “Home Guard Fieldcraft Manual” by John Langdon-Davies. As you might expect, this book has a lot to say about camouflage.

Langdon-Davies notes that there are several features that give away a British soldier or Home guardsman attempting to conceal themselves. These are the helmet, the gasmask bag (worn on the chest), hands, face and boots. I will discuss some of these areas further on another day. Yesterday’s blog touched on the importance of footwear so let us examine this area today.

Langdon-Davies notes that boots have a distinctive shape. He comments that the only thing in nature that might resemble there shape is a pile of horse droppings. The boots worn by British soldiers at this time were black and often shiny. Nice for parades, horse droppings for camouflage.

It has been said that it takes at least half a century for the collective military mind to get an idea out of its head. Certainly for the rest of the twentieth century most soldiers were issued black boots. While the military favoured black boots most civilian hiking boots were brown. Only in the first few decades of the twenty first century have we seem a wider use brown or tan coloured military boots.

While brown or tan boots are less distinct than black boots they are still noticeably “boot-shaped”. Is it possible to make our “field boots” less noticeable?

A quick websearch reveals that camouflage patterned boots can be purchased. Unfortunately many of this are fashion items or for children. Many of the patterns used are less than ideal. Patterns with a large number of colours often have less contrast between the elements so at a distance “blob-out” to resemble a homogenous single colour shape.

Many modern boots are constructed from several different pieces. Some, such as the Vietnam jungle boot and my beloved Magnums use a combination of nylon and leather for the uppers. Inspired by two-tone shoes (below) a friend of mine suggested that field boots have the uppers constructed with each piece of a different shade or colour. This would break up the distinctive “boot-shape”. Note how the boots in the topmost photo use two shades of green nylon. The second photo below shows some footwear made from a variety of browns, and also orange, which is not so good!

Using suitable gaiters will partially cover a boot. Using items such as scrim to break up the shape may not be that practical since it is likely to catch on underbrush and soak up water.

When I was a young man there was a brief trend in spray painting Doc Martins. I visited one of the street market areas of the city recently and saw numerous hand painted boots and leather jackets on sale, many of them true works of art.

The nylon areas of a boot are probably easy to pattern. Acrylic model paints come with a warning that if they dry on clothing the colour will be near impossible to get out. Thin the paint a little with water so that it coats the nylon fibres rather than collecting in the pores. Permanent marker pens could be used instead.

Painting the leather areas of a boot may be a little more involved. Applying colour is easy enough. What we don’t want to do is affect the permeability of the leather.

Firstly, you may need to remove the existing finish of the leather on the areas you wish to paint. There are products called “leather deglazers” for this purpose. I have also seen acetone and iso-propanol suggested, although the former came with a warning not to use nail-polish removers. Rubbing the surface with fine sandpaper before removing the finish will help the new colour adhere and produce a more matt effect. The previous steps are unnecessary on suede.

Once deglazed the boots can be recoloured. There are acrylic paints specifically marketed for colouring leather or you can use leather or suede dyes. These are fairly reasonable in price and you will only need one or two colours. These products are designed to produce a gloss or semi-gloss finish. Shine is one of the enemies of concealment. A product called “duller” can be added to paints and dyes to give them a more matt effect. It can also be added to the final finishing treatment.

The actual pattern you apply to your boots should disrupt their shape. The different colours should contrast  and elements be of one to two inches width. Rather than “camouflage clothing” think “RAF aircraft pattern”, as shown on the Hurricanes below.

The Russians use a similar patterning for many of their military vehicles. A light sand/ yellow colour is used with darker shade of green or brown. Note that on one of these photos below the pattern uses three colours, but there is very little contrast between two of them. If you shrink the photo size you will see that at a distance this effectively becomes a two-colour pattern.

If your boots are already sand-coloured you will need to add bands and blobs of a darker brown. If they are already a darker brown you will need to add lighter sections.

Once you are happy with your boots and everything has had a chance to dry you will need to apply an acrylic finisher solution. Most of those available give a gloss, satin or semi-gloss finish. If you cannot locate a matte finish use semi-gloss or satin and mix in some of the duller you used earlier.

I have yet to try this myself. Yet another project for when I have more funds.

The Books

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Guerilla Equipment List from Levy.

Levy’s book has many interesting sections. Around page 101 he makes some suggestions as to the equipment that a guerrilla operating in a rural area might need.

His first suggestion is that the guerrilla carry a supply of money. In addition to such funds he suggests:

Monofilament fishing line had just recently been invented so it is probable that the fishing line mentioned above would be braided line. Levy describes it being used for tripwires, communication cords and for tying prisoners. Braided line would probably be more useful as general purpose cordage. For a modern equivalent buy synthetic braided sea fishing line or kite string. Select a tactical colour, with probably being grey the best choice, then brown rather than green.

For a more detailed examination of coloured light and night vision see this article.

The binoculars reflect that Levy often states how important reconnaissance and scouting are to the guerrilla/ Home guardsman.

Like his former commander, Tom Wintrigham, Levy seems to hold a low opinion of the usefulness of the bayonet. In an earlier section he describes probing haystacks and bushes as one of the few things bayonets are good for. In the section on house clearing he cautions that rifles with fixed bayonets are more trouble than they are worth and likely to get caught on furnishings, drapery and endanger comrades. I wonder if he would have held the same views on the shorter bayonets that could be mounted on sten guns that were introduced a few years later.

The “good nine-inch knife” is probably of the type he describes earlier in the book. This would be nine inches long, no more than three quarters of an inch wide, double edged and with a guard. This is clearly not an issue Fairbairn Sykes commando knife, which is several inches shorter.

“Burnt cork” is simply a bottle cork that has been burnt at one end to produce soot that can be rubbed on the skin for camouflage. It might also be used to draw symbols or similar on light surfaces. Contrary to what you may see on some youtube videos the “carbon black” produced is not a carcinogen when used on the skin.

The use of phosphorus matches to create a night sight is a wrinkle new to me. This probably won’t work with most modern matches, but feel free to experiment. The modern equivalent of this list item would be a fire kit as described elsewhere on this blog. This item is also a reminder that poor visibility favours the guerrilla so that it is prudent to have firearms with sights that can be used in such conditions.

Groundcloths and blankets have been covered in several recent blog posts.

A No.36 grenade was a Mills bomb, so “or” may be a typo. Combined with a length of fishing line this could be set up to defend the area the guerrilla was sleeping in.

The technique of wearing socks over the outside of a boot is found in other Home guard manuals. The issue boot of the time had hobnails, making them noisy on a number of surfaces. Wearing socks over the boots allowed the wearer to move more quietly. The socks also made the boot print less distinct, making the wearer harder to track. A study in New Zealand suggests that wearing socks over shoes  gives a more secure footing in snow or ice. (Compare this to the Russian valenki) Also see this page and this for a safer way to move on snow and ice.

The comment about keeping the feet in good condition reminds me of the comments of another writer on guerrilla warfare, Che Guevara. He describes good shoes as a “treasure” for a guerrilla and as one of his priorities. He recommends that reserves of shoes should be accumulated and that covert workshops for the repair and manufacture of shoes be established if necessary.

In the next paragraph Levy recommends woollen clothing. Elsewhere in the book bandannas are suggested for both camouflage and disguise.

The Books

Monday, 20 February 2017

Levy's Filibuster Formation

During the age of pike and shot it became common for commanders to study arithmetic and geometry. Considerable care was given to calculating the size and shape of formations that could be created with the available manpower. The formation kept the infantry safe from the cavalry and if selected correctly maximised the formation’s fighting power.
Modern warfare uses smaller units of men but the formation they are in can still have an influence on their fighting power. Accordingly, my book “Survival Weapons: Optimizing Your Arsenal” includes a section on small unit formations. The sections on teamwork in “Crash Combat” might also be considered to include some aspects of formation.

Someone once told me “The blob and the line are the only formations a squad needs. The lads can work it out from there.” He may have in fact said “blob and file” but “line” seems more logical. We are taught to stand and walk in files in nursery school. Learning the line is more logical for a soldier since the line formation maximises applied firepower. The echelon formation is just a slanted line and the arrowhead is two echelons. To my surprise I have found “blob” using in official WW2 British Infantry manuals. It was used to designate two or three men moving together.

This weekend I read “Yank” Bert Levy’s book “Guerrilla Warfare”. Beginning on page 66 he describes a reconnaissance formation I have not encountered in other works. He calls this the “Filibuster System” or “Staggered Triangle”.

“Filibuster” as a word apparently derives from a Dutch/ Spanish word for “pirate” or “freebooter”. Webster also defines it as an irregular military adventurer” and “an American engaged in fomenting insurrections in Latin America in the mid-19th century”. The latter is very apt given that Levy’s military career included work in South America.

Below is the illustration from Levy’s book. Levy does not specify the distance between soldiers. He gives the usual advice that distances can be increased in open terrain and reduced where visibility is poorer. My personal impression is that the Filibuster is a more open formation than conventional squad formations. Which man is the point man varies with which direction the triangle is moving. “A” would be the point-man when heading north. “B” would take over the duty if the formation changed course to the east. Each man watches the back of the man or men ahead of him.

If an enemy is encountered the two “corners” nearest him can engage him in a crossfire. In a reconnaissance mission this would allow the “far corner” to escape with any information gathered. Alternately he can fire between his team mates or manoeuvre to execute a flanking attack or diversion.

Levy’s illustration shows an equilateral triangle with “C” directly behind “A”. Shown below is an alternative configuration. In actuality these formations are unlikely to be perfect geometrical shapes. The most that can really be said for them is that they will have three (or four) corners and are unlikely to contain any right angles.

Levy remarks that the Filibuster triangle can also be used for larger fighting patrols with two or three men at each corner. For a four-man formation he suggests a “staggered square” variant of the Filibuster. Unfortunately that term does not tell us much and Levy does not provide an illustration. Below are two conjectures on what this formation might look like. Distances between members are not to scale.

The first illustration resembles a parallelogram. Everyone other than the point man follows the rule that they should be slightly behind the man on their right and to the left of the man ahead. This formation can be thought of as four echelon formations joined together.

The second illustration can be thought of as a modified rhomboid or diamond formation. Each man ensures that he is never level with the man to his side. Each man watches the back of the man or men ahead. This illustration also hints at how easily the Filibuster can change to other formations. It can narrow to form a staggered file or file. It can easily form a line, echelon or arrowhead formation, as needed.

Levy suggests that a five-man unit should use a four-cornered Filibuster. The fifth man should be the unit leader and somewhat behind the point man and to his flank.

A six-man unit has the option of forming a pair of Filibuster triangles. These will probably move in echelon, each positioned to support the other. Alternately, the “five-man, four-cornered” formation might be used, the sixth man placed with the unit leader. This is a logical position for the unit’s machine-gun. RPG or mortar. Possibly the corner men will take turns in the centre position, giving them a rest from the concentration and vigilance the corner positions require.

The three-corner Filibuster seems to be a useful starting point for teaching small unit formations.

The Books