British Bandoliers - Stowage and Use in Action
Updated: Jul 6, 2022
Other websites cover the development and derivatives of British Commonwealth bandoliers in the last century, this entry will cover complementary information for re-enacting - specifically stowage and use in action.
I have a few original bandoliers in my collection and I have been asked to produce an authentic copy at a reasonable cost for events that I support.
Some of my originals were made in the inter-war period and have fill and void stamps spanning 15 years, including key WW2 dates:
Each type of ammunition and the type of container they were packed into were recorded on the fill stamps as well as the filling factory code (for the bandolier and container).
Ammunition was always strictly controlled in the Commonwealth services (it belongs to the reigning monarch for you to smite their enemies). These controls hail back to and conjure up images of Rourkes Drift and the first brass cartridge's for the Martini Henry being so precious that they were issued in small packages from wooden crates that had screwed down lids. Well the small arms ministry and supply and distribution organizations made advancements - but every bullet was still valuable and a rare thing to actually be issued. So for PBI (Poor Blinking Infantry), they were rallied to assembly areas with their rifle and very few with ammunition - they would be greeted by guarded supply trains that issued rations, ammunition and other supplies at the Regiment level. Each rifleman would be issued 200 rounds in 4 bandoliers - from an open container (either a single spam can carrier or a double). 300 rounds nominal load for bandoliers in spam cans - or 6 bandoliers worth - 1,5 PBI worth per can.
Each rifleman was required to carry 2 loaded magazines for the section Bren gun (LMG) - these would be placed in the (rifleman's) left ammo carrier of the P37 web gear - the PBI would have to click in the rounds from the bandolier and chargers within - typically 28 rounds per Bren magazine - they were designed for 30 rounds, but experience showed this could jam more frequently when jammed full. So from the initial 4 bandoliers; 56 rounds are now in Bren mags - or 1.1 bandoliers worth - 12 empty chargers have been generated too - typically tossed back in an empty ammo carrier for recycling (or just tossed). The 4 extra rounds out of one charger could find their way into the PBI right front BD trouser pocket for single loading. A complete bandolier or two can go in the smallpack or largepack if carried, the remaining two were to be packed into the rifleman's right ammo carrier on his P37 webbing along with extra chargers from the third bandolier (8 of them). Alternately a single grenade and a wrapped bandolier.
The bandoliers were folded zig zag style into a stack and then the strap single wrapped around the bundle to lash them together and the final section wrap over the top to make a lifting loop. 4 of the loose chargers can be interleaved between the bandolier zig zag layers. The purpose for this was to present "ready" ammunition within the ammo carrier for quick access (40 rounds) almost instantly - the remaining 50 to 100 rounds can be accessed by opening the bandoliers in a little more time.
This packing and loading really comes into its own when taking conventional (standing, kneeling, sitting, prone) or improvised shooting positions. All troops were trained to shoot the rifle right handed up until very recently - thus the front right ammo carrier is handy for bolt hand re-loads - in any position.
The "ready" chargers are easy to find by feel and are oriented to grab and use. If sustained firing is expected a whole bandolier can be removed from the ammo carrier by grasping the top lop of the strap and pulling up and out - it will unfold readily.
Bandoliers were often handed from man to man, as NCOs were trained to constantly cross load their active and effective shooters from the less active an ineffective. This left and right pouch standardization also allowed the recovery of bulk ammo from casualties in an expedited manor.
The sharp of eye and wit will observe that there are still a few rounds unaccounted for. Well on the order to "load" a PBI trained to sustain rapid fire would put 2 chargers worth into the magazine over an open bolt, easing the bolt closed over the stack of 10 rounds in the magazine, an eleventh round is added to the chamber from the loose examples in the front right BD trouser pocket. The bolt is then "safe closed" to de-cock the striker and lock the bolt. Safety catch "on" to indicate that the rifle is loaded. (cocking piece in the fired / "un-cocked" position). This de-cocking move is unique to the Lee Enfield design and is a virtue of its "cock on close" design. Now in a rapid fire situation, our PBI can hammer out 5, 6 or 7 rounds (typical of a single burst in an engagement) and still load a 5 round charger clip at the end of the action and have 11, 10 or 9 rounds left - as long as he has chargers and bandoliers in his right ammo carrier, he can provide sustained follow on fire - a staple of the Commonwealth Soldier.
Here are markings from original British bandoliers:-
The makers mark for sewing / manufacture of the original bandolier (along one edge) - F.H..&Co. May (19)18.
The first fill stamp in purple ink - includes date stamp (Dec 12 1946), mark of ammunition (Mark 7)and a pictogram of how packaged (Spam Can) as well as Fill Factory/ contractor initials (MG).
After first use the old fill stamps are "X'd" out as part of the re-fill process..