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In military terms, 'canteen' was not originally a piece of equipment. The word referred to a place where refreshments and entertainment were provided for members of the armed forces. Remember the Stage Door Canteen from World War II? But at least by the 19th century, canteen also came to mean a portable container for water, carried by infantry.
One of the most common items of individual equipment for ground troops is the military canteen. With the high level of physical activity that is normal in military operations, every person needs a significant ration of water on a regular basis. This need is accelerated in warm climates, but does not disappear even in quite cold environments. The canteen and its accessories provide the vital link between the unit's water supply and the individual soldier on the move.
Modern History of Military Canteens
This section of Olive-Drab.com collects much of what is known about U.S. military canteens from the model of 1910 onward. For such a simple item, there is a surprising amount of detail and development history that is available.
In the U.S. military, the modern era of individual water canteens began with the decision by the Infantry Equipment Board to adopt the aluminum one quart canteen, along with a matching cup and canvas carrier. The M1910 design evolved through WW I and WW II, including a change to stainless steel, different caps and variations in the cup and carrier, but the basic design elements were constant:
The second wave of design evolution led to the 1962 adoption of the M1961 olive drab polyethylene plastic canteen. Although the plastic canteen was almost identical in size to the metal ones, a new nylon carrier was issued to be compatible with the ALICE load carrying system then coming into use. With minor variations, and a new MOLLE canteen carrier, the one quart plastic military canteen remained in use into the 21st century.
The wars in the hot, dry areas of Southwest Asia (OIF/OEF) and advances in medical understanding of military hydration requirements led to new approaches that antiquated the individual canteen. The CamelBak, bottled water, and enhanced logistics for field water supply have revolutionized the process and equipment used to supply Soldiers and Marines with the water necessary to keep them in top condifion under all circumstances.
U.S. Military Canteens
Part of every soldier's basic equipment is his canteen. From World War I, with the M-1910 standard, into the 1990s, the basic U.S. Army canteen (also used by the other armed services) has been 1 quart (.95 liter) in volume. Two quart canteens or larger volumes have been issued, but the almost universal canteen remained the 1 quart size. The design of the canteen cover, also standardized as the M-1910, remained nearly constant for many decades.
In the 1990s, canteen practices began to change with increased use of two quart canteens, CamelBak hydration units and other alternatives to the individual canteen.
More information on specific models of canteens and related individual equipment used by the U.S. military is on these Olive-Drab.com pages:
General Precautions Regarding Military Canteens
Some rules developed from experience will help avoid problems with your canteen:
Find More Information on the Internet
There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.
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