Uniforms and Gear in depth: Webbing
Date Written: 2008
Date Published: Winter 2009
Authors: Chris Guska, Sean Foster
Adviser: Raymond Meldrum, President A.P. Co
Raymond Meldrum, President of American Patrol Company, supplier of webbing, field gear and vehicle canvas to films Windtalkers, Band of Brothers, Saints and Soldiers, and many others, contacted me about the possibility of presenting an article on webbing and canvas basics for the reenacting community. After several emails, we arranged a time to talk, and the results of that conversation are the basis of this article. Raymond graciously offered to send me samples of each type of webbing along with various hardware samples as illustrative examples for this and the subsequent articles.
Many distractions and diversions later, I finally got around to publishing what I had written long ago.
The goal of these articles is not necessarily for reenactors to be able to dissect each piece of gear they own, and not so they may tell the public that their pistol belt is made of Mill W530, military spec, shuttle loomed, cotton webbing, type 4a. The hope is to give reenactors a basic awareness of the different types of webbing, and to give a set of tools and knowledge to discern modern (needle loomed) webbing, from vintage (or foreign made, shuttle loomed) webbing. There are dead giveaways to identify modern produced webbing versus vintage webbing, or webbing produced on vintage looms.
This means that at a glance, one can use this simple test as a part of a normal evaluation of an item to help in identifying reproductions.
There are several types of looms that are used to produce webbing, canvas and fabric. For our purposes, we will focus on needle looms and shuttle looms. Webbing produced for use in field gear and canvas during WWII was shuttle loomed – needle looms did not exist yet.
Power shuttle looms were the primary means of industrial production of webbing and canvas from the 19th century through the post WWII era. The industrialization and mechanization of the 19th century revolutionized the textile industry increasing the speed, type and quality of fabric that could be produced. By WWII, shuttle loom technology had evolved to its apex, but obvious shortcomings continued to exist. The shuttle looms were noisy, dusty, prone to mechanical breakage and failure inherent to the use of a shuttle. A new type of loom was developed in the 1950’s and early 1960’s to replace the very noisy and dusty shuttle looms. The result was the needle loom, which could produce 2 to 3x as much webbing in half the amount of space, with far lower maintenance costs. As shuttle looms broke down, or plants upgraded for efficiency - needle looms began to be the dominant loom type in use in the USA. By the late 1980’s, more than half of the mills in the USA had replaced their shuttle looms with needle looms. Many of those used shuttle looms were sold and sent overseas to be used by Asian competitors. Today there are very few (less than 5, probably closer to 1 or 2) companies left in the United States that will produce shuttle loomed cotton webbing.
Manufacturers largely view webbing as webbing – distinguishing by type, class, finish and quality, rather than by shuttle versus needle loomed. The US Government is the same way when they specify webbing for field gear. The US Government does not care what type of loom the webbing was produced on, only that it meets their quality standard as specified.
Shuttle vs Needle Loomed:
One of the first things to check when trying to determine the authenticity of an item is to check the edges.
If you learn nothing else from this article, this is the thing to remember. If its Needle Loomed, its NOT RIGHT - it had to have been made post WW2. Needle looms simply were not around yet. If its Shuttle Loomed, its worth looking at closer as it MAY be original. This is a quick litmus test to see if an item is a modern reproductions.
The edges of the webbing can tell you whether or not it is shuttle or needle loomed. Shuttle loomed will have an even, rounded edge on both side that look identical. Needle loomed will have one rounded edge that will look like shuttle loomed, but the other edge will have a distinct braid pattern. The pattern will look like a girl’s braided hair, with a V pattern running down the edge along the webbing.
This is an example of what both sides of shuttle loomed webbing will look like, notice the linear pattern and evenly rolled edge.
Here is the example of the needle loomed edge - remember, one edge of needle loomed webbing will be rolled like shuttle loomed and the other edge will look like this:
Gear is constructed from webbing parts individually specified by a Mil Letter Number specification. For example, Mil W 530 is a common type seen in use on WW2 field gear. The specification defines the quality standards for strength, weight, quality and finish to which the webbing must adhere to.
There may be several different specification webbing types that go into a single piece of field gear. Most military specs, even recent – don’t specify needle or shuttle, so long as it meets quality criteria.
Note: There are commercial equivalents for most mil-spec. webbing. The commercial equivalents are not required or tested to meet govt standards and though they may be sometimes visually identical, there often wide variations in quality due to strength, width consistency, finish and density of the weaving.
There are 5 basic types of webbing.
For the purposes of this article I will cover types 1 through 4, omitting Type 5, which is parachute harness webbing.
This is a very light weight webbing tape, commonly found in bandoleers, helmet liner suspensions, and the edge binding tape on field gear. This webbing may have diagonal twill lines (as in WWII vintage helmet liner webbing, and bandoleer straps), or it may have a more flat and patternless surface (as in the edge binding for canvas field gear).
Type 1 Needle Loomed OD3 Style 4, HBT
Type 1 Needle Loomed OD7 1 inch
This is a medium/light weight webbing that is commonly found on the pockets, pocket flaps of Garand belts, Para liner A yokes, BAR pocket flaps.
There is an A and B variation to this webbing.
Type 2 SL OD3 1 Inch
A – On some carbine slings – notably the “Chinese lend lease” ones sold by At the Front- Chinstraps on all WW2 helmets
B- Used in most carbine slings.
Type 2B Needle Loomed 1 inch OD 3
Type 2 B Needle Loomed 1 inch OD3
Type 2 B Shuttle Loomed 3 inch OD7
This is a medium weight webbing found on musette bag straps – heavier weight webbings, made in 2.5, 3, 4 – all the same weight. Typically found on suspenders, pack straps, bedrolls, trouser belts, cartridge belt connectors, and canteen hangers.
Type 3 Shuttle Loomed - 1 inch OD3
Type 3 Needle Loomed - 1 inch OD7
Type 3 Needle Loomed - 3 inch OD3
Pistol belt webbing – thick stuff. Used that on CCKW tailgate straps. Various widths, usually has thick visible ridges that run lengthwise.
Type 4 Shuttle Loomed - 3 Inch OD3
Hopefully by now you have an awareness level understanding of the various types of webbing and production methods of webbing involved in original and reproduction gear.
While it would be utterly ridiculous to discuss the types of webbing used in field gear in front of the public at a display - it is a useful tool in determining originality as well as quality of reproductions.
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