M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment

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Standard issue M-1956 LCE components from the manual "Heavy Hints For Light Packs", circa 1962.

The M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment [LCE], also known as the Individual Load-Carrying Equipment [ILCE], replaced the M-1910 olive drab cotton canvas and web individual equipment which had remained in service, with various modifications since that year. The M-1956 LCE came at a period when the United States Army was in the process of adopting a new service rifle, and thus the system is very general-purpose in nature, designed to accommodate ammunition and cartridge magazines for a number of standard issue small arms. The M-1956 LCE remained in service from the late 1950s through the 1980s and set the standard for future United States military load-carrying equipment.

Individual Equipment Belt & Individual Equipment Belt Suspenders[edit]

The M-1956 LCE continued the traditional fighting load concept of an individual equipment belt supported by individual equipment belt suspenders. It differed from previous United States military designs, however, by relying on a single individual equipment belt for soldiers armed with all small arms as opposed to three separate individual equipment belts; the M-1936 individual equipment belt, the M-1923 cartridge belt for the Rifle, Caliber .30, M1, and the M-1937 cartridge belt for the Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, M1918. The olive drab U.S. Army Shade 7 cotton canvas Belt, Individual Equipment is manufactured to United States military specification MIL-B-40158 and is produced in two sizes: Medium, for waists under 30-inches [FSN 8465-577-4925], and Large, for waists over 30-inches [FSN 8465-577-4924]. Earlier production individual equipment belts feature a horizontal canvas weave while later patterns feature a vertical weave. It is secured by means of a brass hook and loop buckle and has two rows of eyelets along the top and bottom for attaching individual equipment utilizing the M-1910 wire hanger. There is a center row of smaller eyelets utilized for adjusting the size of the individual equipment belt.

The olive drab U.S. Army Shade 7 cotton canvas Suspenders, Individual Equipment Belt [also designated Suspenders, Field Pack, Combat, M-1956] were manufactured in Regular [FSN 8465-577-4922], Long [FSN 8465-577-4923], and X-Long [FSN 8465-823-7231] lengths to United States military specification MIL-S-40160. They are additionally adjustable in length by means of sliding metal friction fasteners. Early production individual equipment belt suspenders attach to the individual equipment belt by means of open bent-wire hooks which are attached to the individual equipment belt's upper set of eyelets. Later production individual equipment belt suspenders utilize closing hooks in the rear and open cast hooks in the front. The individual equipment belt suspenders feature a row of web straps over the shoulders for attaching equipment and each side featured a metal rectangular ring where the frontal web straps and the padded shoulder portion joined for additional equipment attachment. The underside of the padded portion of the suspenders is a thinner canvas in earlier-production suspenders and nylon in some of the latest examples.

Slide Keepers[edit]

Slide keepers, (contemporarily known as ALICE clips because they feature in that more modern system as well), were steel right-angled "U" shapes with a sliding flat steel piece which when closed formed a rectangle with length similar to the breadth of the pistol belt which could tightly hold things against it. These were used to attach the various pouches of the M1956 equipment to the pistol belt. Holding equipment close to the belt reduced the bouncing effect of the M1910 wire-hanger attached equipment and allowed pouches to be mounted in places where there were no eyelets (such as the suspenders). Certain older items using wire hangers were compatible with the M1956 pistol belt, but all M1956 equipment and that of the subsequent M1967 MLCE and ALICE systems incorporated slide keepers.

Small Arms Ammunition Case[edit]

In 1956 the US Army employed several types of cartridge belts for soldiers armed with the M1 Garand, BAR belts for those armed with the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, 3- and 5-cell pockets for those armed with sub-machine guns, a pocket for 15 round M1 Carbine and M2 magazines, and two different pockets for the 30 round magazines, in addition to 2- and 3-cell grenade pouches. The M1956 Small Arms Ammunition case sought to replace all of these with a pair of simple pouches capable of holding either a 6-pocket M1 bandoleer of M1 Garand enbloc clips (8-rounds each; total of 48 rounds), 8 x M1 Garand enbloc clips (8 rounds each; total of 64 rounds), 2 x BAR magazines (20-rounds), 4 x M1 or M2 carbine magazines (30-round) or 3 x M26 handgrenades.

The equipment came at a time when the M14 Rifle was being tested, and the ammunition pouch was thus also designed to hold 2 x M14 magazines (20-rounds). It was also later found to be capable of only holding 3 M16 magazines (20-rounds) despite the significant size difference between the magazines. A pouch with dimensions better suited to the 20-round M16 magazines was later produced (See Modifications paragraph below).

The cases were issued in pairs and worn at the front of the belt on either side of the buckle. Like all other M1956 equipment they were constructed of heavy canvas. The top flap was closed by means of a metal eyelet and cloth tab closure. Early models featured a steel plate at the front both to maintain rigidity and to protect the ammunition. Two hand grenades of any type in the US arsenal could be attached on either side of each pouch, with the spoon hooked through a web strap and another web strap with snap-closure wrapped around the top. Like other pouches in the system, the ammunition pouches each attached to the web belt with a pair of slide keepers and, uniquely, an adjustable length strap with a closable hook which connected to the rectangular hook on the suspenders, intended to keep the case upright and transfer some of the weight directly to the shoulders.

Canteen Cover[edit]

With the adoption of the M1956 equipment, the older M1910 1-quart aluminum canteen and WWII-production steel canteens remained in service well into the 1960s, later replaced by a plastic variant introduced in 1962. Both were of similar dimensions and slightly curved to sit comfortably on the hip. As a result the M1956 canteen cover was not fundamentally different from the earlier models with the exception of the use of two slide keepers in lieu of a wire hanger and metal snaps for closure instead of lift-the-dot fasteners. Constructed of heavy canvas with cloth-taped edges the M1956 canteen cover had a synthetic wool felt lining for insulation, and was slightly oversized to accommodate both a canteen and the metal canteen cup in which it nested. Covers produced after 1967 have nylon-taped edges. Typically canteen covers also demonstrate the most visible signs of age, fading easily due to continuous wetting and drying. Originally a single canteen and cover was issued and worn either on the belt between the Small Arms Ammunition Case at the front and the Field Pack (see below) at the rear, or mounted on the side of the Field Pack. Troops in Vietnam generally wore two or more canteens, and this practice largely continued after the war, as, with the adoption of larger complementary rucksacks (see Complementary Equipment below), Entrenching Tools (see below) often migrated to attachment points on the rucksack, freeing space on the pistol belt for another canteen.

Dressing/Compass Case[edit]

With the adoption of the M1956 equipment, a single simple Dressing or Compass Case replaced both the M1938 Compass Case and the M1910 and M1942(Carlisle) Dressing Pouches. This case could accommodate one each of either the standard lensatic compass or one of several individual field dressings in the inventory. A top flap closed by means of a blackened brass snap and the canvas case could be attached to the webbing by means of a single slide keeper. Later production models incorporated a metal-rimmed drainage eyelet at the bottom of the pouch. Each soldier was issued one case for carrying a field dressing, and those whose duties required them to carry the standard unmounted lensatic compass carried another for that piece of equipment. Placement varied with unit standards, but this case was often mounted in one of three places. Either on the horizontal straps on the suspenders (either shoulder and either right-side up or upside down for quick access), on the pistol belt between the buckle and ammunition case, or on the piece of webbing on the side of the ammunition case intended for the attachment of grenades.

Entrenching Tool and Cover[edit]

The M1951 combination tool (essentially the same as the M-1943 but with the addition of a folding pick) remained in the inventory with the M1956 equipment, but a new cover came into use. The new cover was similar in shape to the earlier M1943 cover, reflecting the shape of the head of the folding shovel and incorporating an opening at the bottom for the straight wooden handle. The rounded triangular flap at the top of the cover closed by means of a blackened metal snap in place of a lift-the-dot fastener, and was attached to the pistol belt or attachments on the side of the Field Pack with two slide keepers in place of a wire hanger. Another distinct feature was the addition of a means of attaching a bayonet directly to the Entrenching Tool Cover, saving space on the pistol belt. All bayonets in the inventory at the time, as well as the later models for the M14 and M16, which utilized the same scabbard, used wire hanger attachments, and the E-Tool cover featured a leather-reinforced tab with metal eyelets from which to hang the bayonet, as well as a web strab with metal snap to hold the scabbard against the cover, and keep it from bouncing. The E-Tool Cover also featured leather reinforcement along the top opening to prevent the continual removal and replacement of the E-Tool blade from degrading the canvas. Placement of the E-Tool and cover was generally the same as for the canteen, taking its place on the pistol belt on the other side of the Field Pack or on the Field Pack's side attachment points. With the introduction of larger rucksacks (see Complementary Equipment) in lieu of and supplementing the Field Pack, the E-Tool and cover was often moved to attachment points on these items, preventing the awkward bounce of the handle against the leg, and freeing space on the pistol belt.

Field Pack[edit]

The Field Pack was a square canvas pouch, just larger than a foot square, designed to hold a single day's Meal, Combat, Individual (C-Ration) as well as sparse personal implements like a shaving kit and extra socks. The bed roll was attached externally (see Sleeping Bag Straps). The Field Pack's placement at the rear of the pistol-belt led to it being referred to colloquially as the "butt pack." The first pattern featured a square top flap which closed with a pair of web straps and friction buckles. This design was modified slightly in the 1961-pattern Field Pack (See Modifications below). Common features of both including canvas construction, attachment to the pistol belt with two slide keepers and a pair of eyelets at the top of the pack for attaching the individual suspenders directly to the pack in order to keep it upright and help distribute weight to the shoulders. Both also included a web handle at the top for hand-carriage, web strap along the side with eyelets for the attachment of equipment with either slide keepers or wire hangers, and a pair of web straps at the bottom of the pack for attaching items like the poncho and poncho liner. Both also featured a clear plastic window on the inner side of the pack for inserting a card with name and service number, as well as cloth-taped edges.

Sleeping Bag Straps[edit]

An H-shaped arrangement of web straps just short of an inch in width was issued to secure the bed roll on the back above the Field Pack. At the "H" intersection were a pair of friction buckles, and the straps would go around the roll and be attached at these buckles. The Other end of the straps were designed to be looped under the web strap on the padded portion of the suspenders, through the metal ring at the front of the suspenders and fastened back onto themselves by lift-the-dot fasteners on the straps. This arrangement effectively made use of the empty upper back area to carry the sleeping bag, but the weight of the bed roll and field pack had a tendency to pull the pistol belt up to the soldier's chest at the front. The sleeping bag straps fell out of use with the adoption of larger rucksacks (see Complementary Equipment below) and were not widely used in Vietnam given the lack of need for a sleeping bag in the tropical climate there.

Modifications[edit]

New weapons and field experience led to a few minor changes in the basic M1956 equipment during the 1960s.

In 1961 an experimental quick release pistol belt was introduced (known as the Davis belt). It was almost identical to the previous model but had a stamped metal buckle in which a bent tab fit through a slot, and remained closed through friction. It was brought into limited service, but never replaced the previous belt by any means.

In 1961 some minor changes were made to the Field Pack to make it more practical for field use. The resulting M1961 Field Pack was essentially similar to the M1956 model, but made use of a skirted flap instead of a square one, and incorporated eyelets along the skirt for equipment attachment. It also added a long internal rubber-coated collar to the pack's opening in an attempt to better keep the contents dry.

In 1964, a 2nd Pattern of the Small Arms Ammunition Case were introduced that was missing the plastic stiffener in front. This allowed the case to carry three M14 magazines side-by-side rather than two.

In 1965, slightly modified Small Arms Ammunition Cases came into service to coincide with the adoption of the 5.56 mm M16 rifle. Four of the 20-round magazines fit snugly into the M1956-pattern cases, but their shorter size meant a void space at the top of the case which was too small to be useful for anything else. As a result, cases were produced in 1965 and 1966, identical to the M1956 patterns but slightly shorter. By this point the M16 had been accepted for general issue, replacing the M14s as well as M1 Garands, M1/M2 Carbines, M1918 BARs, and SMGs still in service, so the general purpose nature of these cases was no longer essential. These cases did not necessarily fully replace the M1956 pattern but were issued alongside them.

Complementary Equipment[edit]

Other elements of individual equipment, while not part of the M1956 system, were often used in conjunction. These include:

  • Bayonet - M1942, M4, M5 M6, or M7
  • Packboard - A molded plywood frame with canvas back pad, shoulder straps and lashing cord.
  • M1951 Mountain Rucksack - A cotton duck and leather pack with aluminum frame for extended loads.
  • Lightweight Rucksack - A nylon pack with frame replacing the M1951 Mountain Rucksack in 1963.
  • Tropical Rucksack - A similar but larger pack, augmenting and replacing some Lightweight Rucksacks in 1967.
  • ARVN Rucksack - A canvas pack used by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and some US troops during the Vietnam War.
  • PRC-25 Radio Carrier - A canvas back-mounted carrier with integral metal frame and straps for carrying manpack radios.
  • Radio Accessory Case - A roughly rectangular canvas bag with slide keepers, for spare antenna and handset.
  • XM3 Bipod Carrying Case - A rectangular canvas pouch with slide keepers about one and a half feet long with top closure.
  • Small Arms Accessory Case - Rubberized nylon pouch about 6 by 3 inches, for cleaning accessories.
  • M1916 Holster - A black (at this time) leather holster with wire hanger, for the M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol.
  • M1912/M1918/M1923 Pistol Magazine Pocket - Two-cell pocket for 7-round .45 pistol magazine, attached by web belt loop. Produced in drab, light Olive Drab shade 3, and Olive Drab shade 7.
  • P1956 Pistol Magazine Pocket - Neary identical to the M1923 in Olive Drab shade 7, but with two metal slide keepers on the reverse for attachment to a belt.

United States Military Use[edit]

The M1956 Load-Bearing Equipment was originally adopted for use exclusively by the United States Army while the other services retained various combination of M1910-M1945 style equipment, and the Marine Corps developed its own 1961 pattern. During the Vietnam War however the Army's M1956 and M1961 improvements came into use across the services and remained in widespread service with various independent components of the M1967 MLCE until being replaced by the All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE), of a more practical nylon construction, officially beginning in 1974. Elements of M1956 gear could still be found used in conjunction with ALICE gear as late as the early 1990s, especially the Field Pack, for which ALICE offered no replacement, and the suspenders which some regard as more comfortable than those of the ALICE system.

Foreign Use[edit]

Foreign use of the M1956 equipment could (and can still) be found in nations to which the United States provided military assistance during its period of use, including the armies of the Republic of Vietnam(formerly), Republic of Korea(still actively), certain US-sponsored Latin American organizations, among many others.

Performance and Replacement[edit]

The M1956 LCE effectively equipped the United States Army during a period of changing weapons, and proved effective in its ability to be tailored to different missions and operational priorities. Its influence can be seen in the M1967 MLCE and ALICE equipment which replaced it. The primary downfall of the M1956 equipment which led to its ultimate replacement was its canvas construction, which made it less durable, more absorbent, and heavier than nylon equipment.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • "Heavy Hints For Light Packs", United States Army, circa 1962
  • "U.S. Army Combat Equipments 1910-1988", Rottman, Gordon L., 1989
  • "U.S. Army Uniforms Of The Cold War 1948-1973", Stanton, Shelby L., 1994
  • "U.S. Army Uniforms Of The Vietnam War", Stanton, Shelby L., 1989

External links[edit]

Media related to M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment at Wikimedia Commons

  • Vietnam Gear features information and images of individual equipment utilized by the United States military during the Vietnam War, including the M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment.