Uniforms and Equipment of the Welsh Army 1900 to 2010

Over the past 110 years the Uniforms, equipment and weapons of the Welsh Army have undergone major changes. From the Dark Blue uniforms of the late 1800s to the modern American MARPAT uniforms of today’s troops there have been many differing styles and colours used. From the earliest Renault tanks of the Twenties to the hyper-modern Stryker Combat vehicles of the 2000's, changes have been for many reasons. Some political, many operational and one or two controversial. However, these changes over the years have molded the Welsh Army into the fighting force it is. The controversy of the first tanks in 1921, the adoption of an unreliable American light tank, the Sheridan, in the late 60s and the successes. The use of MARPAT, Canadian rifles and the Italian MBTs recently adopted in an effort to move away from the US influences of the late 20th century.

1900 to 1920

During the early years of the twentieth century the majority of the Welsh Army were stationed in Wales or on colonial duties in Welsh territories abroad. The equipment they used reflected their location.


Welsh soldiers from an unknown Infantry unit pose for a picture in early 1895, they wear the standard blue uniform of the time.

Army units stationed in Wales had until 1899 worn high collared tunics and trousers in a dark blue cloth. These resembled closely those worn by the Anglo-Scottish Army at the time but with subtle differences. Officers wore black Sam Browne belts and equipment and had a very Napoleonic air to their look. They also had a red and gold blood stripe on the seams of their trousers to set them apart as officers. Other ranks uniforms were similar in style but of a rougher cloth. There also existed a Denim version of the normal uniform in a light brown cloth for use in day to day duties. This uniform had been used for at least 50 years. Head gear was simple pill box type caps for the Officers and French looking Kepis reminiscent of the French colonial armies and even those of the American civil war for other ranks. A pith-style helmet was issued from 1840 until 1904 when a version of the 'soup-bowl' style helmet of the A-S Army was adopted. Colonial units wore a light brown version of the uniform with canvas equipment. In 1900 the Army began to change over to a Khaki coloured cloth for its uniforms. The style remained the same, high collars and leather equipment. These uniforms lacked pockets though and closely resembled Russian army uniforms. The personal equipment remained the same though, black leather for the officers and brown for other ranks. Leather ammunition pouches, a bayonet and canteen replacing the holster and sword of the officers. By 1904 however, Iowerth had become King and decided that the uniforms should be modified by the addition of pockets and that the high collar be replaced with a simpler fold over version. Without realising it the Army had begun to resemble its cousins across the channel. This was also indicative of Iowerths growing fascination with modernity and European countries.

L1904 Other Ranks uniform

Those units deployed to the colonies wore a light brown version of the field uniform made of a lighter cloth. This included lighter versions of the standard headgear and simpler personal equipment made of canvas webbing rather than leather.

The Welsh had maintained strong ties with the Russians since the reign of Rhisiart IV, therefore it came as no surprise to many when, in 1900, the Welsh Army adopted the Mosin Nagant Rifle in 7.92 mm. It, and its carbine version, were in widespread use by all arms of the military alongside the Maxim HMG in its many forms until 1917 when the Russian Revolution put paid to relations with the old Empire.

This forced the Army into the adoption of completely different weapons across the board. At the time the most modern weapons in service were the Lee Enfield No3 Mk1, the Springfield M1903 and the Mauser 98. There were a number of pros and cons to all of these. The Mauser used the same calibre round that the current Army rifle used, the Springfield was a hardy rifle and incredibly accurate. Both of them though only had a five round internal magazine. By this time, following the European War of 1914-18, many Welsh soldiers had fought with the Anglo-Scottish Army and used the Lee Enfield. It was a solid, accurate weapon with a smooth bolt action. The round was slightly smaller, 7.7mm or .303 inch, but incredibly accurate when mated to the rifle and could be loaded in a ten round magazine attached externally and recharged from stripper clips from above. Above all the rifle was incredibly sturdy and 'soldier proof'. All of these factors were instrumental in the Welsh adoption of the Lee Enfield in 1919. At the same time the Maxim was replaced by the Lewis Gun and Vickers. Strangely however the cavalry retained its shorter Mosin Nagant carbines but had them re-barreled in .303 by the Gorfforaeth Arfbais Frenhinol (Royal Arms Corporation) in Wrecsam. Sidearms remained the same Smith and Wesson revolver in .38.

Lee Enfield No3 Mk1 Rifle in .303 or L1919 Rifle as it was known to Welsh Forces. These were license built in Wrecsam.

All of these were produced in Wrecsam by the GAF.

1920 - 1940

Following the rise to the throne of Iago in 1920 the Military began to have more money spent on it. Fighting in Ireland and Greece highlighted shortfalls in equipment and uniforms leading to the adoption of higher quality uniforms but still in the style of the L1904 pattern. The major changes during this period would not come until the mid thirties as the Army adopted webbing resembling the British 1937 pattern. It consisted of a set of cross straps, belt, bayonet frog, entrenching tool, haversack and two ammo pouches. The design was very close in many ways to '37 equipment but differed in that the ammo pouches were shorter and the entrenching tool was closer to the German pattern. It also added a haversack in a similar material to the webbing that was used to carry ancillary equipment such as rations, etc. Some units still used webbing very similar to the Anglo-Scottish pattern 1908 webbing with four small ammunition pouches in a darker green canvas.

During the fighting in Ireland it transpired that there was an issue with the new equipment and uniforms. The Anglo-Scottish Army used almost identical uniforms and steel helmets causing many blue on blues until Welsh forces began to wear gold armlets to identify them to other Welsh units. Some units also began to paint a gold or yellow stripe across the centre of their helmets to aid in identification. German influence in the thirties didn't have much effect on the Armies equipment other than the adoption of Wehrmacht issue entrenching tools. German Half tracks and tanks were used by some units and the Air Force began to wear a similar uniform to the Luftwaffe but in the main there were no major changes.

1940 - 1949

Following the routing of German Forces in mid 1940 the Army consolidated its equipment and weapons. The Lee Enfield, Vickers and Lewis guns were kept in service and in addition the Bren Light Machine Gun was adopted and eventually replaced the Lewis gun. It was at this time that the first M1928 Thompson Machine Guns began to appear from English sources. These were issued to infantry units for use by SNCOs and officers. M1911 pistols also began to be adopted from 1941.

Welsh soldier wearing the L1941 battledress with locally produced L1908 webbing. This was standard uniform throughout the war.

Due to the massive numbers of German 'Advisors' in Wales from 1934 to 1940 there were many weapons left over following the defeat of Wehrmacht forces. Mauser k98 rifles, MG34 machine guns and a smaller number of MP40 SMGs were stockpiled and issued to local defence militias and the Police. Many MG34s being employed on ships of the Welsh Navy and at shore establishments as Anti-aircraft defences. Indeed in some cases it was not unusual to see Infantry units in training using captured German equipment.

Following the arrival of the Americans in the war in 1941 large numbers started to arrive in the country from 1942 onwards. It was from this time that the US started to influence the Welsh military in matters associated with weapons and equipment. In the main the Army received some support from the Anglo-Scottish, uniforms and webbing equipment etc. The Army had adopted Anglo-Scottish style Battledress uniforms, albeit in a better quality cloth and slightly browner in colour, and began to replace its own webbing with 1937 pattern Anglo-Scottish equipment. The steel helmet was of Anglo-Scottish pattern and most of the weapons used were British in design but produced in Wales. From 1943 however, some units began to receive US equipment. These were mainly those fighting in the far east but smaller numbers started to appear with units fighting in Africa. In late 1944 the Army began to adopt the M1 steel helmet in larger numbers, this came at a time that the Anglo-Scottish Army began to adopt the 'tortoise' style helmet that was seen to be less protective and more uncomfortable than the 'soup bowl' version.

1950 – 1980

By now the American influence was beginning in the countries politics, industry and everyday life. The Army began changing over to American equipment and weapons systems. The Lee Enfield No 3 Mk 1 was replaced in front line units with the M1 Garand and the M1 Carbine. This caused some consternation amongst the old timers in the ranks and indeed the higher ranking officers in the General Staff vetoed the deal outright. However, politics, not for the first time, came into play and the adoption went ahead. The M1A1 Thompson was already in service following the Second World War and remained in the hands of many units up until the late fifties. The standard sidearm had been the Smith and Wesson revolver since 1914 albeit in more modern versions as the years passed but by the beginning of the Welsh involvement in WW2 more Colt M1911 automatics were being seen. By 1950 it was by far the more prevalent pistol in Welsh service. These changes caused the State owned armament factories huge problems due to the retooling necessary for the change in calibre from .303 to 30-06. Never the less, by mid 1951 the American weapons were in widespread service with most of the front line Welsh units. Colonial units were amongst the last to receive the new equipment and fielded the older weapons until well into the 1960’s.
800px-Warkorea American Soldiers

Welsh Colonial troops in Korea mid 1951. They wear the now standard M1945 uniform and M1 helmet and are using an M1919A2 machine gun.

A more popular change had begun in the dying days of the war. Many Welsh units had begun to use US equipment and uniforms as supply lines became clogged. By 1950 the Welsh military began to adopt the standard US Army uniform across the board. It was more comfortable, easier to maintain and in the opinion of the soldiers, better looking than the British battledress! The M1943/50 Uniform being initially issued in late 1950 then replaced slowly with the newer OG 107 from 1956 onwards. The M1 steel helmet, on general issue since 1944, was retained with US Marine reversible camouflage covers as standard. Webbing changed also from the locally produced version of the British 37 pattern to a locally produced version of the US M1945 pattern equipment. Thus a Welsh soldier of 1950 looked suspiciously like his American counterpart, the only distinguishing marks being rank and national insignia. Dress and service uniform remained the same however, following the pattern of the British military. Headgear also followed US patterns with the garrison cap only differing with the addition of branch of service piping. All other headgear remained the Welsh standard berets and Kepis.

By the end of the fifties the Army once again began to look at modernizing its equipment. The OG107 uniform remained in service with most of the Army with only Colonial units remaining in the older US tropical Herringbone Twill uniforms. The Sixties brought the adoption of the M1956 pattern webbing, again produced in Wales, the US standard helmet cover and the M65 pattern heavy jacket. Body Armour also began to appear, again an American design. In 1961 the US entered South East Asia and began trialling a new Tropical style uniform. By 1967 the Welsh were also assisting in the theatre. Therefore the adoption by all Welsh Army formations in tropical or hot locations of the US utilities began. This was the first time the colonial forces had beaten the rest of the military to a new piece of equipment. It should be noted that the majority of this equipment whilst being American in design was almost always produced in Wales under licence. The OG uniform was then made standard in 1975 across all three services in a harder wearing material for those serving at home or in more temperate locations.
P02222 016

Major Chris Pemberton on patrol in Vietnam 1968. He wears the standard Welsh Army Battledress and unusually has an M2 carbine instead of the M16A1

In 1962 the Welsh military also began to adopt more US weapons systems. The M16 rifle was trialled alongside the FN FAL and the German G3. It was again politics that won the day as the M16 and its smaller 5.56mm round that won the contract. The Vickers and Bren guns were phased out as the FN MAG in 7.62mm was adopted as the standard General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), the M1A1 Tommy Gun was withdrawn from service as the M16 was seen as the better option and the M1911A1 pistol became the standard across all 3 services. These weapons were to be in service in all of their guises up until the mid 1990s.

1980 - 2011

By 1980 the Welsh military now had almost all US issue kit. From Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) to uniform to weapons, the soldiers of the Welsh Army were almost indistinguishable from US troops. Uniform was the Olive Green Battledress Uniform (BDU), M1 helmet and ALICE LBE. The only differences being the national and rank insignia. Dress uniform remained traditional and more in line with the Anglo-Scottish military and consisted of a uniform similar to the A-S No 2 Dress but in a slightly darker cloth. The only major changes in uniform or equipment would come in line with the US as they adopted newer equipment the Welsh would follow suit. This was indicative of the influence the Americans had on the military of Wales. In 1983 the Welsh Army began to phase out its O G uniform in favour of the newer M81 Woodland pattern uniform and in 1986 began to wear the Kevlar 'Fritz' helmet worn by US forces.

American soldier with L85 DM-SD-02-03075

Welsh soldier wearing standard F1985 Woodland BDU and F1985 Kevlar Helmet test firing British SA80 on limited trials with the Army

In 1989 limited trials of the Anglo-Scottish Army's SA80 series of weapons was undertaken. It was universally slated by all that fired it and the trial ceased. The Welsh Military began to phase out its M16A1 rifles in late 1989 and the adoption of the C7A1 rifle began. This weapon, the Canadian version of the M16A2 was seen as a more reliable weapon and as it was in 5.56mm meant that existing ammunition could be used, the C8 also came into service early in the 90's. 1998 saw the adoption of the SIG Sauer P226 in .40 calibre, replacing the Colt M1911A1 after almost 50 years of service although the Colt was retained for ceremonial and dress uniforms. In 1992, following the Gulf War of 1991 in which the Welsh Army played a small part, the need for a desert pattern uniform was noted. Hence in 1993 the Army adopted the US three-colour BDU. This was used by all services as they deployed to areas requiring this type of camouflage. In a departure from the norm in 2001

MARPAT Desert in use in 2006 in Iraq during joint Ops with the US Army. The C7A1 rifle marks this soldier as a member of an Infantry unit. Note the Lightweight Helmet in use since 2005

the military adopted US Marine style MARPAT digital camouflage uniform in desert and woodland pattern. This is now the standard issue uniform across all 3 services for combat operations.
800px-USMC M249 SAW PIP

MARPAT Woodland uniform worn by LMG gunner of the Border Rifles Pontsenni ranges 2009

The LBE also began to change in the early 2000's to a MOLLE based system. This equipment combined the ability to carry ballistic plates in addition to providing a base to attach many different pouches to. This modular equipment allowed personnel to tailor their load carrying to mission specific parameters and gave a flexibility the older ALICE equipment didn't. The current LBE is made by Paraclete. The old Kevlar helmet was also replaced in 2005 by the US Marines Lightweight Helmet (LWH).

Vehicles - Armoured and soft skin

Prior to 1919 the Welsh Army only operated softskin vehicles such as buses, trucks and car-based vehicles. Its first foray into the Armoured scene came in 1919 when, at the behest of the king, trials began on the next evolution of military tactics. The Welsh military purchased 5 French FT 17 light tanks. These were extensively tested alongside a similar number of Anglo-Scottish Mark A, or Whippet, tanks. These vehicles were met with some horror by the die-hard cavalry officers of the time who, as was to be expected, saw the demise of their beloved mounted warriors on the horizon. The king and many forward looking officers of the Army though, would not be swayed and, following the success of the Renault FT 17 tank in the trials, 55 were bought from France in 1922.

FT 17 tanks of the Welsh Army in Greece during the Greek war

By 1925 the Welsh fielded their first full Armoured Cavalry unit. The 2nd (The King's) Morgannwg Hussars, equipped with FT 17 tanks retrofitted with a Welsh designed 37mm gun, deployed to the new Armour School in Caerwent. The original commander of the regiment, Lt Col Iwan Gruffudd, was dismissed following a row over the loss of the horses that he saw as the correct steed for a Cavalry unit. The new CO, Lt Col Bryan Wyn Williams, embraced the new technology and was a mainstay of the tanks employment in the Army. By 1929 all but one of the Heavy and Light regiments were equipped with vehicles. The FT 17 serving with Light units and the Char B1 with Heavy units having come into service in 1926. The Hussars saw limited combat in the closing stages of the Greco-Turkish war in 1922.

The 1930s saw increased influence from Germany and the Army began to re-equip its Light units with German equipment. The FT 17 being replaced in service by 1934 by German Panzer I tanks and later supplemented with Panzer 2s from 1936. The Heavy Regiments received Panzer 2 tanks fitted with a heavier 37mm gun. It was around this time that limited numbers of Half Tracks were also supplied to the Army under the 'Friendship' agreement of 1933 between Iago and Hitler. Wehrmacht advisors also trained Welsh troops in the employment of these new Tanks and carriers. By 1939 with war looming on the horizon and German forces almost in permanent residence in Wales the Army was fielding three Heavy Regiments equipped with Panzer 2 and three tanks and four Light Regiments equipped with a mix of Panzer 1 and 2 tanks and SdKfz 221 armoured cars. Many of the older French tanks still soldiered on however. The German Army had elements of a Division of Panzers stationed in Wales and in 1940 the tanks of the Welsh
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Welsh Army Char B1 destroyed in fighting near Rhoose in August 1940 by elements of the 1st Panzer Div

Army would go into battle against those of the 1st Panzer Division. Losses were high on the Welsh side, the Germans having fought in Spain and trained more on the vehicles they operated. Thus by the capitulation of German forces in August 1940 the Welsh Armies Tank units were severely depleted. In 1940 the Welsh joined the Allies in declaring war on its former friend.

Welsh Cavalry troopers work on an SdKfz 221 in North Africa 1941

With the Armoured elements of the army down to minimal holdings the government signed a lease/lend agreement with the British and Americans. Crusader VI, Matilda and M2 Stuart tanks were brought into service alongside the remaining Panzer 2 and 3 tanks. Most of these were deployed to North Africa as Wales joined the fight against the Nazis. The armoured cars of the 4th (Prince Cystennin's) Lancers played a huge part in operations in North Africa and were the only unit that had all-German vehicles.

As the war progressed the army re-equipped with mainly US equipment, something that would continue for years, and by 1944 the Heavy units were all equipped with a mix of M4 Sherman, M3 Grant and M10 Wolverine vehicles. Light units employing M3 and M5 tanks and Humber Armoured cars. Later in the war the M8 replaced the Humbers and saw the entire army using US AFVs. The Welsh Army in Jan 1945 had the following equipment.

Heavy Cavalry

  1. 1st Royal Dehubarth Dragoon Guards - M4A4 Sherman, M10 Wolverine
  2. 2nd (Princess Olivia's) Dragoon Guards - M4A4 Sherman
  3. 3rd (Earl Iago's) Dragoon Guards - M4A4 Sherman, M10 Wolverine

Light Cavalry

  1. 1st (The King's) Royal Pembrokeshire Lancers - M5A2 Stuart
  2. 2nd (The King's) Morgannwg Hussars - M5A2 Stuart, M8 75mm Howitzer
  3. 3rd (The Queen's Royal) Hussars - M5A2 Stuart, M8 75mm Howitzer, M8 Greyhound Armoured Car
  4. 4th (Prince Cystennin's) Lancers - M3A5 Stuart, M8 Greyhound

In the 1950s the Welsh again re-equipped with more up to date US tanks. The M24 Chaffee entering service with the light regiments and the M47 with the heavy units. By 1961 the standard had again changed with M48s being used in the heavy units and M41 Walker Bulldogs in the light units. The light units also received Ferret Armoured cars to replace the M8 Greyhound. These remained in service up to the early 70's when the Army again looked at its doctrine and equipment.

M8 armored car with Constabulary markings

3rd (The Queen's Royal) Hussars M8s in Germany 1945. Note the now universal use of US equipment by the troopers.

In 1972 with the Welsh Army having just finished fighting in the Vietnam war, it began to look towards the east and the possibillty of war with the Warsaw Pact. This was in line with its membership of NATO and treaty obligations with the US and the Anglo-Scots. By now the Welsh military had units stationed in Germany alongside the US Army. The 2nd Hussars and the 3rd (Heavy) Dragoons were stationed alongside the US 3rd Armoured in Southern Germany and had re-equipped with new M60 and M551 Sheridan tanks and M113

M577A5 Armoured Ambulance now replaced by the Stryker Ambulance variant

APCs. A mechanised infantry battalion also equipped with M113s were stationed alongside them. The Sheridan was universally unpopular with crews however, and lasted a relatively short time in service, Light Cavalry units in 1978 swapping the M551 for A-S Scimitars in an embarrassing about face from the Ministry of Defence. Support vehicles from the 1960s included the M88 Recovery vehicle, M577 Mobile Command vehicle, M106A1 mortar carrier and a local version of the 577 turned into an armoured ambulance.

The Army of the Noughties

In 2011 the Army's 'Future Warrior' program was finally realised. This included the purchase of M1126 Stryker, C1 Ariete and further M998A1 vehicles. M577 command vehicles still serve alongside the newer equipment. The current Heavy Cavalry, as Welsh Armoured units are known, regimental organisation charts are:

1st Royal Dehubarth Dragoon Guards

Heavy Cavalry (Armoured) Regiment

Caerwent Barracks Casnewydd

CO – Lt Col Christopher Ballentyne

HQ Squadron

2 x Ariete C1 MBT

5 x M577A6 Command Vehicles

1 x M1133 Armoured Ambulance

1 x M1134 Armoured Engineer Vehicle

2 x M998A1 HMMWV

2 x WMIK Ford F350 Armed Pick Ups

4 x Cavalry Squadrons broken down into 7 troops:

Cavalry Troop x 4

3 x Ariete C1 MBT

2 M998A1 HMMWV

HQ Troop

2 x C1 MBT

1 x M577A6

1 x M998A1

Support Troop

1 x M88A1 ARV

1 x M1133 Ambulance

1 x M1126 Stryker – Outfitted as Fire Support Vehicle, manned by Artillery personnel

2 x M998A1

Recon Troop

4 x M1126 Stryker

2 x M998A1

Regimental strength is nominally 651 all ranks. Not including attached Personnel

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