M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment

The M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment, the first major change in web gear since World War II, was introduced in 1956 and was used in Vietnam until the introduction of the nylon M-1967 Individual Load-Carrying Equipment.

U.S. soldier wearing M-1956 pack and webbing inspects a rice stockpile in Vietnam
U.S. soldier wearing M-1956 pack and webbing inspects a rice stockpile in Vietnam.

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M1956 Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment

There was little change in World War II web gear until 1956, after the Korean War, when a major redesign was issued.

Components of M-1956 LBE
Components of M-1956 LBE

The new system of web gear and pack was called the Load-Carrying Equipment (M-1956). As described in FM 21-15, the main components were:

  1. Individual Equipment Belt (pistol belt)
  2. Suspenders (Load Bearing)
  3. Field Pack (butt pack)
  4. Entrenching Tool Carrier
  5. Ammunition Cases
  6. Canteen Cover
  7. First Aid Case/Compass Pouch
  8. Sleeping Bag Carrier

The M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment was lightweight, with only a small pack. Its components were still made of cotton canvas webbing, same as used in World War II, but they introduced the slide clip fasteners (sometimes called Alice clips, but ALICE equipment came later). The slide clip keepers replaced the old-style M1910 wire hooks for all attachments.

The Individual Equipment Belt was manufactured with two types of weave, horizontal or vertical. The belts had metal tab closures and three rows of grommetted holes that could accept the M-1910 hooks from older equipment that could continue to be used.

The Load Bearing Suspenders came in three lengths -- Regular, Long and Extra-Long -- that attached to the top row of grommets of the Individual Equipment Belt.

The M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment remained standard until replaced by M-1967 Individual Load-Carrying Equipment during the Vietnam War. M-1967 equipment was made of nylon, a material much better suited to the tropical conditions of Southeast Asia.

The square shaped M-1956 Field Pack (or "butt pack") was made entirely from cotton canvas. It had grometted holes on the main flap to accept M-1910 wire hook attachments as well as canvas tab loops on both sides for attachments with slide clip fasteners. The M1956 Field Pack attached to the belt with slide keepers and to the Load Bearing Suspenders using grommets on canvas tabs. At the bottom were straps to hold a rolled poncho. The M1956 pack was too small for more than a single day's use so troops in Vietnam either used larger rucksacks, added another bag from the M1945 equipment, or used other expedients.

In 1961 an advanced version of the M56 Field Pack was introduced, a bit larger with a more rounded shape. The M1961 variant had a larger top flap, and a rubber collar in the opening to help keep the contents dry and longer straps. The M1956 pack remained the most widely used.

M1956 Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment was still not light enough, given advances in available materials. In 1962, a set of M-1956 equipment was made up in nylon for testing. The results showed the equipment performed as well or better than the canvas duck M1956 equipment with a savings of almost two pounds of weight. This development was combined with an item issued in 1961 (the Lightweight Rucksack, FSN 8465-782-3248) to form the Lightweight Individual Clothing And Equipment (LINCLOE) Quantitative Material Requirement dealing with load-carrying equipment. After considerable additional work, the M-1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment [MLCE) superseded the M1956 gear.

M1961 LCE Pack
M-1961 LCE Pack. Photo courtesy of Jarkko Lahtinen.

M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment Ammunition Cases

M1956 Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment Ammunition Case
M1956 Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment Ammunition Case. Photo courtesy of Jarkko Lahtinen.

M-1956 Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment Ammunition Cases were marked "Case, ammunition, Universal." They will hold short magazines for the M-14 rifle and the M-16 rifle. The case has slide tab closures attached to a canvas flap and snap closure grenade loops on both sides. The so-called "M56 ammo case" includes an adjustable attachment strap on its back that clips onto metal loops on the Load Bearing Suspenders to prevent wobbling of the case and to distribute the weight better from belt to suspenders (seen at the top, center of the photo).

Another M1956 ammunition case design was issued that fit only the short M16 magazines. Its construction was the same as the Universal case, only shorter. These short canvas cases are rare as M1967 nylon cases soon replaced them, along with all other M-1956 equipment. In Vietnam, troopers sometimes used canteen covers to carry M16 magazines since they could fit six magazines into it.

[Thanks to Jarkko Lahtinen for help with the M1956 sections.]

USMC Web Gear from World War II to Vietnam

The Marine Corps used items from the Army inventory, such as canteens and entrenching tools, as well as the M16 rifle when it was standardized. The M1956 web gear was also used, but the USMC had its own issue of M1961 web gear. The main difference was that the web belt had a row of snap fastener studs down the center line that matched snaps on the equipment items such as the ammo pouch. The pouch would slide over the belt and then snap into the position chosen for it.

There was an M1961 butt pack but it did not see much service and was replaced in 1966 by a lightweight rucksack and frame. These were in turn replaced by ALICE equipment.

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Lance Corporal Ralph H. McWilliams in Vietnam, November 1967, equipped with M1961 web gear, Ka-bar knife, and LRP rucksack
Lance Corporal Ralph H. McWilliams in Vietnam, November 1967, equipped with M1961 web gear, Ka-bar knife, and LRP rucksack.