Military Cotton Canteen Cover

The U.S. military M1910-type one quart canteen was issued in a set with a nesting cup and, originally, a cotton duck carrier. As the canteen evolved from the original M1910 aluminum canteen model, the cover also was changed. The materials of which the cover was made, the flap fasteners, the attachment hardware and other features all went through multiple upgrades and revisions.

Although not originally issued for the purpose, canteen covers were sometimes used by the troops as general carriers for ammunition, grenades, rations or many other uses. Canteens other than the one quart model, such as the Arctic Canteen or two quart Jungle Canteen, had covers designed specifically for them and did not use the standard M1910 cover.

A Soldier wears an M1910 canteen carrier on his cartridge belt, Fort Knox, KY, June 1942
A Soldier wears an M1910 canteen carrier on his cartridge belt, Fort Knox, KY, June 1942.

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Cover, Canteen, Dismounted M-1910

The U.S. military M1910 one quart canteen was issued with a cover, also called a case or carrier, that attached to the utility belt or pack and held both the canteen itself and the folding-handle canteen cup that nested with it.

Early M1910 dismounted canteen cover, with stud fastener button closure of flaps
Early M1910 dismounted canteen cover, with stud fastener button closure of flaps.

The early M1910 carriers were made of khaki cotton duck/canvas edged with fabric tape binding. Two flaps extended the back of the cover past the canteen neck to attachment points on front, holding the canteen securely inside. The first pattern had square-ended flaps reinforced with leather, later changed to smooth curve flap tips, unreinforced. Vertical rows of stitching appeared on the front of the carrier, top to bottom. The bottom was made from a separate piece of fabric, sewn around the edge to the body. On the back, a webbing loop was secured to the carrier body with a rectangle of reinforcement webbing. An M1910 metal wire hook, held by the webbing loop (which, in some versions, contained a metal tube) was used to secure the carrier to the utility belt or pack attachment point. U.S. was stamped on the front of the cover, in the middle or near the bottom. An abbreviated form of the manufacturer's name and production date were sometimes stamped on side, bottom, or under one of the flaps.

Inside, the carrier was lined with blue/grey wool for insulation. In the summer, soldiers were instructed to keep the felt liner wet -- evaporation helped cool the canteen. In the winter, if kept dry, the insulation helped keep the water from freezing.

The M1910-style dismounted cotton canteen carriers were fielded for WW I, WW II, Korea, and the early part of the Vietnam War, but with an evolving set of changes in details of materials and construction as well as color. It was referred to as the "dismounted" canteen cover to distinguish it from the "mounted" cover which had straps for attachment to a saddle.

This table indicates some of the design changes and modifications in features of the M1910 canteen carrier over its lifetime from 1910 to approximately 1960.

Feature Design Notes
Carrier flaps First pattern flaps had square ends, reinforced with leather. Later flaps were rounded and not reinforced
Carrier flaps fasteners
Eagle snap For Army issued canteens, first pattern flaps were secured to the carrier body with stud fastener buttons stamped with an eagle. Both rimless and, by 1915, rimmed buttons were used. The eagle buttons (1911-1916/17) were superseded by Lift-the-Dot (LTD) fasteners on Army issue covers in 1917-1918. Another early variation used twist-lock fasteners.
Carrier seams Rear seam, either partial (top to under the hook reinforcement patch, superseded by a full rear seam, top to bottom, and finally, in 1942, by a side seam
Carrier hook Thin steel wire M1910 hook riding in metal tube under webbing, 1910-1912. Thicker brass hook used after 1912 without the metal tube
Carrier shade/color Following the general soldier's equipment issue, the canteen case was originally Olive Drab #9 khaki (1910-1912), light olive green (blancoed green) canvas from 1912-1916, khaki again until the end of the 1930s, olive drab #3 through early WW II, then olive drab #7 starting in 1943 when there was a general changeover of all web equipment to the darker OD#7 shade. In 1943/44 transitional covers were made, using OD #3 mixed with OD #7 (body vs. binding strips or reinforcement webbing)
Stitching Front typically had seven vertical rows of stitching, except for some examples made in England (1943-1945) which had four vertical rows of stitching. The back was generally free of stitching, except some USMC carriers with many parallel vertical stitch rows.
Neck Some canteen covers gathered at the neck, producing a small pleat or pucker. Others were smooth in this area.
Manufacturer Most by Rock Island Arsenal until WW II when commercial contractors took over production.
Nomenclature Originally, Stock Number 74-C-300, Cover, Canteen, Dismounted. From later WW II, known as Cover, Water, Canteen OD#7 specification MIL-C-1725 with FSN 8465-379-2602 (later NSN 8465-00-379-2602)

Cover, Canteen Mounted M-1917

M1917 Cover, Canteen, Mounted with leather attachment strap
M1917 Cover, Canteen, Mounted with leather attachment strap.

In 1917, a mounted version of the cotton canteen cover was introduced. The body of the cover was similar to the M1910 dismounted pattern, but with a russet leather strap secured by loops on the side and bottom. The leather strap ended with a spring clip hook at the top that attached to the saddle of a mounted cavalry soldier.

The 1941 edition of the Soldier's Handbook (FM 21-100) describes the proper means of attachment:

The canteen and cup, in their cover, are snapped to the right cantle ring. The cover is fastened tight to the saddlebag by buckling the two rear saddlebag cover straps over the canteen cover strap where it passes under the bottom of the canteen cover.

In 1941 the mounted canteen cover was changed to a new design that eliminated the leather strap. Stitched to the rear of the new cover was a full length strip of webbing looped over at the top to hold an M1910 belt hook. The webbing strip was further reinforced at top and bottom by cross strips, sewn to the canteen cover in a way that left open loops for the saddlebag straps to thread through.

M1941 extender strap for M1941 mounted canteen cover
M1941 extender strap for M1941 mounted canteen cover.

In this versatile design, the canteen could be attached directly to any equipment that accommodated the M1910 hook (utility belt, pack, cartridge belt ...) but could also be used with a saddle by means of an adapter/extender called the M-1941 extender strap. The extender is made of webbing with a grommeted rectangular patch at the bottom to receive the M1910 hook, an adjustable vertical strap and a spring clip hook at the top.

The mounted canteens were manufactured from new materials or, in some cases, were adapted from M1910 dismounted canteen carriers. Although officially fielded for use by cavalry troops, they were popular with airborne infantry as well.

Cover, Canteen, USMC

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) adopted their own USMC canteen case/carrier, a design very similar to the U.S. Army M1910 dismounted canteen, but with USMC specific changes. See the linked page for details.

M1956 Canteen Cover

Back of M1956 carrier showing ALICE clips and markings
Back of M1956 carrier showing ALICE clips and markings.

The M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE), also known as the Individual Load-Carrying Equipment (ILCE), was the first redesign of the individual soldier's equipment since WW II. For many items, it was the only major change since 1910. LCE included the M1956 Canteen Cover, a design that was not fundamentally different from the earlier models since the aluminum canteens and stainless steel canteens of WW II remained in use. Changes from the M1910 dismounted canteen cover included:

  • Replacement of the M1910 wire hook with two "ALICE keeper" sliding attachments, named for later use with ALICE load carrying system. A webbing patch held the keepers to the cover.
  • Metal snaps with a smooth black finish replaced lift-the-dot fasteners as flap closures

Like its predecessors, the M1956 LCE canteen case was constructed of heavy cotton canvas with cloth-taped edges and a synthetic wool felt lining for insulation. It was slightly oversized to accommodate both a canteen and the nested metal canteen cup.

In 1961, the M1956 Canteen Cover felt lining was replaced with a synthetic fur. In 1967, the final version of the M1956 canteen cover had nylon-trimmed edges. When the metal canteens were replaced by the military one quart plastic canteen in 1962, the M-1956 cover continued in use until it was ultimately replaced by the nylon canteen cover.

The full nomenclature of the M1956 Canteen Cover is Cover, Water, Canteen, M-1956 (or Cover, Water Canteen) identified with FSN 8465-577-4926.

Canteen Carrier Markings

Most military canteens have markings on the canteen and on the cover. Through WWII, covers typically have "U.S." on the front in black plus year and manufacturer identification on the bottom, back, or under a flap. Marine Corps issue were marked with "USMC" or "U.S." By the 1950s, markings expanded and were more standardized, including nomenclature and stock number (eg, Covers, Canteen, Dismounted M1910 74-C-300) along with the manufacturer. Starting with the M1956 carrier, the full nomenclature, FSN, and other information (eg, Cover, Water, Canteen, M-1956 / FSN 8465-577-4926 / Contract No. / Date) were uniformly stenciled on the lower back, under the webbing patch. This practice was continued with the later nylon canteen carriers, adding more extensive information such as contract number, NSN and more.

It was very common for soldiers to mark their name or service number on equipment, to stencil unit information, or other identification.

Material on this page adapted from "Survey of U.S. Army Uniforms, Weapons and Accoutrements," by David Cole (November 2007 and updates), a classroom reference for the Army Museum System's Basic Curatorial Methods Training Courses, as well as other published sources.

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