Continuing my researches on how to carry
equipment. Last night I read a lengthy paper about the adoption of British PLCE.
One of the points that struck me was the mixed reviews the chest rigs trailed. It
is probably safe to say that for most readers mentioning chest rigs will bring
to mind the Vietnam war.
During this period Soviets and most
countries under their influence used belt pouches for AK magazines. The
examples below hold four 30 round magazines, although versions holding just
three are also known. The side pouch on one of these examples is for an oil
bottle. (The East German example with the splinter pattern shows a nice example
of “staple and tag” closure, btw.) The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) did make
some use of these pouches but a chest rig seems to be a more common option.
Understandably such rigs are often termed as “Vietnam”, “Chicom” or “Viet Cong”
Commonwealth forces did use some systems
that could be termed chest-rigs. One of the photos below shows additional ammo pouches
that could be worn above the belt pouches. Certain variants of the battle jerkin used only a pair of pouches on the chest.
It is more likely that the
inspiration for the Vietnam chest rig was from closer to home. There are
numerous photos of Chinese soldiers in the 1920s and 30s wearing a sort of “apron”
for SMG magazines.
Several types of chest rig were in use by
the Viet Cong (VC) and NVA.
The “simplest” was that intended for use
with the SKS. This had ten identical pockets. Each pocket could hold two 10
round chargers for the SKS, giving a capacity of up to 200 rounds. The pockets
could also accommodate a 20 round M16 magazine so this rig was also used by
some GIs or Vietnamese with American weapons. It is probable that some of these
pouches were used for other items. They appear to be of a size that can accommodate
some designs of grenade.
A variety of SMGs were in use in this
conflict so there were also chest rigs designed to accommodate SMG magazines.
An example is shown below.
The third type of chest rig was intended
for use with the AK-47/ AKM/ Type 56 and related weapons. Typically it had
three central pouches each capable of holding a pair of 30 round magazines. One
or two smaller pouches were to either side. These could be used for grenades
but might have held other items such as loose ammunition, field dressings, cleaning
kits etc. It is worth remembering that these items were often produced at a
local level or homemade so show considerable variation in both colour and
details. Some items had straps that crossed at the back while others are
described as having a loop that passed over the head like an apron.
One of the things to note about these items
is that “chest rig” is something of a misnomer. Often you see the pouches worn
quite low on the torso. A sort of “combat cumberbund”! Perhaps this transferred some of the weight to the pelvis? Rigs such as these can be worn either high or low,
depending on physique, preference, type of rucksac worn etc. NVA/ VC seem to
have kept their actual waist belts relatively uncluttered, often with just a
grenade pouch and a canteen. Items not needed in the assault seem to have been
carried in the rucksac rather than crammed into belt-mounted butt-packs or
kidney pouch equivalents.
The Chicom chest rig has inspired a number
of other designs. The Rhodesians often encountered enemies using this equipment
and developed their own version with four or five pockets for 20 round FAL
The South Africans also adopted the chest
rig. The 83 pattern shown below has a smoke grenade pouch on the left and two
smaller pouches on the right. There are small fittings that can carry a flare,
pen, knife or small flashlight. A rather clever feature is that there is a map/
document pocket behind the magazine pouches. On the other hand the sides seem to have some excess material.
Some commercial imitations have possibly
tried to incorporate too many “bells and whistles”. Some have ignored that a
chest rig can also be a “belly rig”. Another problem is the chest rig is often seen as additional rather than alternate carrying capacity.
The Chicom chest rig is very much a
compact assault order carrying ammo and grenades and little else. When you
start adding pouches for waterbottles, mess tins and rain-proofs it become something
else. The main improvements I would make over the original designs is provision
to carry a couple of field dressings. I’d also add provision to carry a small
fixed blade knife on either the left pouch or left suspender, a snaplink/ carbineer
for empty magazines and a small pouch for a flashlight.