Non Vi Sed Arte -- Not by Strength, by Guile
LRDG, Patrol Equipment
William Kennedy Shaw explained in his book the enormous amount
of special and not so special equipment the LRDG needed. The rations,
weapons and equipment were managed by "Shorty" Barrett,
the supply officer. among the supplies mentioned by Shaw were:
- Chapplies and boots
- Special fuel and oil for the Wacos
- Ammunition for all the weapons
- Mills bombs, land mines, gelignite, sticky bombs, detonators,
time pencils, fuse
- Special rations for the Indian patrols
- Smoke generators, camouflage nets, paint
- 44 gallon fuel cans, jerry cans, water cans.
- And anything else the patrol needed or might need when running
across escaped POWs or stranded airmen.
The task of keeping the patrols well equipped was enormous. Below
are some particulars of the patrol equipment.
See also: Vehicles, Weapons
There is a fuller treatment of the trucks used by the LRDG in a separate section.
All of the trucks used by the LRDG possessed specialty equipment used in the conduct of their missions.
Such items as sun compasses and sand channels are described below.
Initially the vehicles were modified civilian vehicles, later they
were CMP or Canadian Military Pattern vehicles and the ever popular
Willys MB Jeep. Depending on the mission of the Patrol vehicles,
they had a weight rating of either 15 CWT or 30 CWT. CWT is an archaic
British payload weight term for 100 pounds. So a 15 CWT vehicles
is capable of towing 1,500 pounds or a 3/4 ton vehicle.
For the most part, the LRDG preferred 4X2 vehicles. This means the
vehicle had four wheels but only had power going to two of the wheels.
A 4x4, such as a Jeep, means the vehicle has four wheels and power
can go to all four wheels. The reason the LRDG preferred the two
wheel drive trucks is because they tended to have less weight and
used less gas. Gas was heavy and took up valuable space.
While most photographs make it difficult to tell how the trucks
were painted, personal recollection seems to point that 8th
Army Dark Yellow was far from the standard that most current
modeling enthusiasts prefer today. In the sandy desert regions desert
pink and a variety of pastel shades of light green, blue* and, purple
were also used. The reason these colors were used is they were effective
in blending in with the heat and haze of the desert sand. In the
more rocky regions of the desert, mid-stone, slate blue, and
grey were commonly used. There was no standard camouflage scheme
per se , however, each there were standards within each
patrols. Most vehicles were painted in mass at a rear area. I have
received personal notes from LRDG member stating that the vehicles
often showed up very pink!
Besides the colours shown to the right, Black and varying shades
of faded black also appeared on the vehicles. As you can suspect, all
the paints used would also fade in the bright the desert sun.
*There has been extensive discussion over the use of light blue. The Caunter camouflage pattern is said to have used slate gray which over time faded to a pale blue. This may be the case of the light blue on vehicles but personal recollections from LRDG members claim light blue was indeed used on patrol vehicles.
Look under Camouflage Examples for possible paint schemes
Each patrol carried markings unique to the patrol. For instance, T patrol, a
New Zealand patrol had a small kiwi painted on the right front of the truck's bonnet.
on the left front was a "Maori" nickname which began with the letter "T". R and W
patrols had a similar policy with naming their vehicles. Y Patrol, on the other hand carried names of
Musketeers on their Right front fender. According to Ian Chard who heard it from his father, a member of "Y" Patrol,
this was a done more as a private joke between patrol members. Later the trucks took the names of Race Horses.
G Patrol was drawn from the Guards units. As such, their marking consisted
of red and blue or black and red bars with lettering superimposed
in white. G patrol did not name their vehicles, but the patrol commander
flew a small flag from his vehicle when he was riding in it.
Look in Officer Commanding for known and possible
LRDG Jeep with two air-cooled .30 Brownings.
Below are a few sample colors used in painting the trucks First
if the common color used by modelers. In parenthesis is the name
used in official publications:
(note, due to different computer settings, not all colors are going to
appear the same from computer to computer.)
8th Army Desert Yellow
US Army Desert Sand
USAF Desert Pink
Sun Compasses were developed earlier in the 20th Century and used in aircraft and on ships.
When an ordinary magnetic compass is placed next to a large metal mass it doesn't always point
to magnetic north, this is a problem in ships and aircraft. There are various ways to compensate
for this effect used in ships, but it was found that these methods were unsatisfactory when used in
aircraft, and so the sun compass was developed. The compass is not magnetic at all, when you align
it with the sun it points north, (the compass contains a clock which enable it to track the sun across the sky).
There is an entire chapter on this device in "From Lodestone to Gyrocompass" by H Hitchens and W. May,
published by Hutchinson.
Because there are few features to get bearings from in the Desert,
the LRDG pioneered the use of Sun Compasses for navigating the arid
regions. One of the chief duties of the LRDG was to act as pathfinders
for larger units. They also trained navigators from various units
in the art of navigating the desert with a sun compass
(In fact British Soldiers often referred to being in the desert
as "on the blue" a term comparing the desert to the featureless
Along with the Sun compass, The LRDG used the latest, RAF navigational
tables, which were specially obtained by Prendergast from the Navigation
branch at Air Ministry to navigate the desert.
Wray 6x30 (RAF)
Ross 7x50 (Army)
Deinst 6x30 (DAK)
Deinst 10x50 (DAK)
The workhorse binoculars for all major armies in World War II were 6X30 Binoculars manufactured by various optical companies. These same 6X30 binoculars were also the workhorse optics for the LRDG.
Several British optical companies provided binoculars for the armed forces, any of which could have wound up in the hands of the LRDG.
- Kershaw, Leicester, Ross, and Taylor-Hobson were principle suppliers for the Army
- Wray was a principle supplier for the Air Force.
- Barr & Stroud produced binoculars for the Royal Navy.
Other smaller companies also produced binoculars for the British. It is possible that American binoculars produced by Bausch & Lomb and others may have been supplied through lend lease.
The 6X30 binoculars were designated Binocular No.2 and were further identified by a Mk number (II or III) and the manufacturers name. As with many items produced in bulk for the military, the binoculars were manufactured to a specific standard and for the most part they all look similar. In some cases the manufacturers can only be told apart by their distinct manufacturers stamp.
The 6x30 indicates that the binoculars have a magnification six times greater than the human eye and an objective lens thirty millimeters in diameter. Thus the “6” means things would appear six times closer. The size of the objective lenses relates to how much light is refracted to the eye. A larger objective lens will result in a brighter sharper image.
A step up from the standard 6X30 binoculars were the No.5 binoculars. The No. 5 were also further identified by Mk Numbers (I -IV) and a manufacturers name. No. 5 binoculars had a magnification of seven with a fifty millimeter objective lens. The 7X50 binoculars provided far better magnification and a much brighter image. However, No.5 binoculars were less common than the standard issued binoculars as they were more often used in sea service and by higher ranking officers.
While the British binoculars were robust and did the job, German binoculars manufactured by Dienstglas and using Zeiss optics were considered far superior. German tank and platoon commanders were issued 6X30 Dienstglas binoculars and most company commanders and above were issued the more powerful 7X50 Dienstglas binoculars. The highly prized optics often found their way into the hands of British soldiers.
One of the principles jobs of the LRDG was to survey the desert
and find and map passable routes for units to move through. Without
accurate maps, the British would not really know where the enemy
was or how to reach them. Without pinpointing items found on the
actual ground with the maps provided a patrol could not function.
The principle surveying tool was the Theodolite or surveyor's transit.
The theodolite is mounted on an adjustable wooden tripod and then
made plumb or level using plumb bobs and to leveling bubbles.
Example of British WWII Military Transit.
In this case the Director, No. 5 Mk1
The British Prismatic Marching Compass was made of brass and had
a mother of pearl compass card (dial) which glowed in the dark.
Originally issued to officers, it was probably one of the finest
compasses in use at the outbreak of World War II. As with many military
compasses it could be read in degrees or mils. As most know there
are 360 degrees in a circle. There are 6,400 mils in a circle or
17.78 mils per degree. This allowed the experienced user the ability
to plot very accurately using the aiming posts and prism that were
attached to the compass. This compass was used with the sun compass
in navigating of the vast desert.
Prismatic Marching Compass
Patrol Radio, Wireless Set No. 11.
The patrol's main link to the GHQ was the No. 11 Wireless Set.
Wireless Set No. 11 was a portable transceiver developed in 1938.
It was a general purpose low power set. It was a commonly employed
vehicle station (truck/AFV), ground station and occasionally animal
pack station. It's frequency range was 4.2-7.5MHz. MO control. RF
output 0.6-4.5W. R/T and CW. It's normal maximum range was only
about 20 miles unless rigged for long range use.
When set up for long range use the set could could use a six fit
rod antenna or the end fed Wyndom Aerial slung between two 17 foot
tall wooden poles, creating a long range directional antenna.
The patrols relied heavily on Morse communications and as such
their radio operators were drawn from New Zealand's Divisional Cavalry
and the Royal Corps of Signals. Personnel had to have experience
with either the Merchant Marines, or the Marconi Company Long Range
Morse Procedure. Later the radio operators were selected from or
trained by IWOS-The Irregular Wireless Operators School which was
run by G(R) and GHQ, MEF.
The wireless set was located on the right hand side of the Radio
Vehicle behind the driver, in a special compartment cut into the
side of the truck. (Earlier vehicles required the side of the truck's
bed to be dropped in order to access the radio.)
Wireless Set No. 11. mounted in
a restored 30 CWT truck in Australia.
Note the antenna poles above the radio.
Photo courtesy, the LRDG Preservation Society
The Windom antenna was first described by amateur Short Wave radio
operator, L.G. Windom in September 1929. It consists of a half-wave
dipole antenna at its lowest frequency band, with a single-wire
feeder connected off-center, dividing the antenna into pieces of
.36L and .64L, where L (ft) = 468/f (MHz). The single wire feeder
is attached to the antenna at its dividing point by a balun (balancer/unbalancer).
So to break it down in less-technical terms:
- Diplole Antenna: a wire stretched between two poles. The poles
need to be a sufficient distance above the ground in order to
allow for long distance transmission. You probably do not won't
to be under the antenna
- Balun: A device that allows for balanced/unbalanced connection
of a transmitter. In short one line is coming from the radio,
the Balun allows that line to be split and have two lines come
off from it. Think of it as a sort of line splitter but it is
more technical than that.
- Insulators: The antenna is insulated from the two poles holding
it airborne. This is done by connecting it to the poles with non-conductive
While the antenna appears to directional, it is not. It is omni-directional,
that is it transmits and receives in every direction.
Wireless Truck w/Windom Antenna set up for transmission.
Very Lights (Flare
One Method of signaling from a far distance was the use of flare
pistols. The pistols could be used to initiate an attack, help in
locating a lost member or patrol, assist in aerial or ground recognition
of units or a number of other signaling needs
The pistol and holster to the right is the Webley & Scott 1
inch flare pistol. A brass veteran of WWI, it continued to see use
The name Very Light comes from the name of Edward W. Very
(1847-1910). He was a U.S. naval officer who came us with a system
of signals using colored pyrotechnic flares fired from a special
pistol. The flares were used for signaling or to temporarily illuminate
an area. Verey light and verylight or erroneous
but often accepted spellings of the correct name very light.
|Sand Channels and Sand
All LRDG patrol vehicles were supplied with "Unsticking Gear". This gear included a variety of
pioneer tools plus sand channels and sand mats.
The sand mats were long pads made of reinforced heavy canvas.
One side of the sand mats were a sand in color (or painted to match
the vehicles), the other side was a series of red and white stripes.
This is because the sand mats doubled as air markers. In the event
the LRDG needed an aerial resupply the sand mats would be laid out
like a signal T for the approaching aircraft.
The sand channels were a section of PSP (Perforated Steel Planking).
PSP was used extensively in World War II for the construction
of airfields and roads.
The way these devices worked:
Once a vehicle was stuck the sand mats or channels would be placed in front of the stuck wheels that provided the
traction. As the wheels spun the mats or channels would be fed under the wheels which would
then displace the weight of the vehicle over a larger area and unstick the vehicle. It sound easy but in
practice it was extremely labor intensive.
Using sand mats to aid crossing loose sand.
The mats shown do not appear to have a red and white side
Breaking out the sand channels for some deep sand recovery. Note
the Lewis Gun behind the passenger side seat.
Patrols carried special panels that were used on missions to identify
themselves to friendly aircraft. Lloyd Owen mentions the use of
them in his book but does not describe them in any way except to
say they were not standard vehicle markings but the friendly aircraft
were to be briefed of their description. This was to prevent the
enemy from waving a British flag. The problem is the aircraft didn't
always get briefed or failed to see the panels. One of the realities
of working behind the enemy lines was you had a good chance of being
attacked by your own aircraft. Besides these panels, sources say
the LRDG used the following Aerial Identifications.
Probably one of the most important items carried by the patrol was a wooden roundel. This roundel was used to assist
with identification from the air. Working behind the lines meant that the patrols not only had to worry about the enemy but also
friendly aircraft. For this reason a wooden disc was carried with British Roundel on one side, and Swastika in a white circle on the other.
These marking were typically painted on the hoods of vehicles
so that aircraft could identify the occupants easily from
the air. Once a truck spotted an aircraft they would quickly
determine if it was a friend or foe and then display the roundel
on the bonnet of the truck From the air the marking would
appear painted on. This was more deceiving than simply waving
a flag. With the roundel displayed the patrol would then wave
to the aircraft and hope for the best.
Flags were also carried by the patrols and used in a manner similar to the roundels above.
One possibility to aid in the confusion was to wave an Italian flag when approached by a German pilot, in hopes that the
Pilot would be less familiar with Italian vehicles. In any case, due to the nature of the war in the Western Desert, Axis forces
used a lot of captured British equipment and no patrol was ever safe from any approaching aircraft.
As mentioned, only the W/T truck had a radio and it was used to contact
LRDG HQ. to keep in contact between vehicles on patrol The LRDG used signal
flags. Every vehicles had a set a signal flags and the crews used a modified
form of semaphore to signal between vehicles. Sources say they were used
like the old time ships of sail which means they may have been run up
a pole. It is more likely the the flag handle was placed in one of the
numerous mounts located on the trucks or waved by hand.
This is very similar to the hand signals used by foot patrols. The LRDG
used flags that would make the signal visible for a longer distance.
For instance a green flag deployed by the pilot vehicle may tell the
patrol to rally around for instructions. Another flag signal was used
to command the patrol to deploy in single file while another signal would
give directions to travel.
The only flag colors mentioned in books are green and red. There is also
mention of the two tone diagonal flag, perhaps the traditional red and
yellow semaphore flags
While I've not seen a source describing it, night time commands may have
given using a torch (flashlights), with a red or green lens cover. This
was common practice for other units that operated patrols during WWII.
The German 20 liter petrol/water cans. The cans later copied by Americans and
became the standard military issue
5 gallon fuel cans. The American fuel cans were readily adopted by the British. The Germans typically painted a white cross on their cans used for drinking water. This practice was sometimes used by allied forces. However, American fuel and water cans had different type caps which lessened the likelihood of confusing the two.
Furthermore, American fuel cans had the type of fuel (gas, diesel, oil, etc) stenciled in black paint near the top of the can while water cans were stenciled in black letters near the bottom of the can. Water cans were also had a light yellow enamel coating on the inside to prevent corrosion.
Imagine is you will, a paper thin metal cube designed to carry liquids and you have a Flimsy.
The flimsy held four imperial gallons (about five U.S. gallons) of
liquid and it was the standard container used by the British military
when hostilities broke out. They leaked, they were easily damaged,
and they were prone to corrosion. On top of that, it was practically
impossible to reuse them more than one or twice. In fac tthey were often discarded after use to make room in the trucks.
They could not be air-dropped. As a matter of fact they would probably split open if they were dropped only a
few feet. They also were not easy to carry due to the carrying handle and the bulky shape.
Flimsies held four Imperial gallons. There were also similar cans that held one or two gallons. These smallers sizes are sometimes called flimsies but are more apropriately called oil cans .
The smaller size cans were normally rectangular and were sturdier than the flimsies.
Crew applying nets
(The image above has been modified for clarity An LRDG soldier has been airbrushed from the foreground.)
Camouflage nets are issued to crews of motorized and mechanized forces; as such all LRDG vehicles were issued nets. The number of nets per vehicles is depended on the size of the vehicles. Supporting poles are also issued with the nets, however many photos often show the nets simply pulled over LRDG trucks without the use of supporting poles. This was probably done during short stops. When patrols remained in a position for a longer time, more appropriate camouflage and concealment took place.
The nets used were issued for use in the Mediterranean Theater. Despite this, the LRDG felt they were inadequate for desert patrols and added additional hessian (burlap) strips to their nets. In keeping with the lessons learned, the additional strips were pink and light olive in color. These strips were added to the nets at LRDG headquarters in Cairo.
Personal accounts by LRDG members claim that when the nets were placed on vehicles, the enemy could pass within a few hundred of yards and not see the vehicles.
Spare tires were a necessity in the desert and patrols could not have too many.
The tyre size depended somewhat on the vehicle being used but in general they were 16 inch low pressure sand tires.
This meant that the air would be removed from the tyre to lessen ground pressure in loose sand and then the tires would be reinflated
once harder ground was found.
The heat of the desert as well as rocks and a bumpy ride led to
continual tyre punctures. The tires used inner tubes as opposed
to the more common tubeless tires of today. Still, to fix a flat
required breaking down the tire and, patching or replacing the inner
tube and then remounting the tyre. Of course depending on how bad
the puncture, the tyre may be unfixable. Imagine attempting to jack
up a three ton truck in loose sand. It was not uncommon for a patrol
to instead brace the truck so it wouldn't sink and then dig a hole
under the bad tyre and rather than attempt to jack up a vehicle.
The combination of heat and grinding surface of the sand reduce
the life of tires dramatically. This led to blow outs which would
create holes in the tires and inner tubes that were too big to patch.
In this even a new tire would and inner tube would replace the old
one. The crews carried both tires on rims and loose replacement
tires. Often, spares would be covered with heavy paper or cloth
to keep them out of the direct rays of the sun and to aid in camouflaging
the large black circles.
Lloyd Owen described a patrol which was aborted simply due to a
bad batch of tires. The patrol had taken on dozens of spares and
was to the point of leaving working vehicles behind just to order
to have enough spares to press on before Prendergast ordered him
to return to base camp. The entire unit had been given a bad lot
of tyres that would have been fine in Cairo or perhaps even in a
regular military unit but not capable of enduring the rocks, heat,
and punishing sun of the Sahara. Such was the necessity of a quality