British X Type Parachutes, WWII to 1990s

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Not many collectors can afford an original, pre-1960s X Type Parachute. Not many people get to see one for real! This guide is intended to help buyers identify the age/authenticity of a British X Type parachute, its parts and parts suitable to make reproduction display parachutes. It is not an authority on the matter but it more than covers the essentials. Some of what is covered in this guide also applies to aircrew parachutes.
The X Type Parachute is almost certainly THE most successful soldier delivery parachute in history (as opposed to aircrew parachutes). It began life in 1940, remaining in service into the mid-1990s (as the " PX Mk4") when it was replaced by the current LLP Mk1 (Low Level Parachute).
The last variant of the X Type, the " PX Mk4" differs little from the original X Type. In fact, once the front D Rings are removed, a 1990s harness (“ Type X, Mk3”) will more-or-less be identical to an early 1940s harness (“ Type X, Mk1”) For this reason, they are popular amongst collectors and re-enactors. The most significant differences between the wartime harnesses and the PX4 are:
1) wartime harnesses were usually white, with a very small number being dyed green or brown during manufacture (for SOE and possibly Pathfinder Company use - my own theory);
2) there are no D-Rings on the chest for container and reserve parachute on the wartime harnesses. By the mid-1950s, two pairs of D-Rings were fitted, the upper pair for the reserve parachute, the lower pair for personal equipment;
3) there is no dinghy attachment ring on harnesses in service during the 1980s/90s;
4) the pressure plate of the release box (QRF) of the wartime X Type is round and flat. Later variants were identical but with a segment cut away to enable a firmer grip. There are two variants on the PX4 which is larger and chunkier than their predessessors. In all, there are five or six variants.
5) the release box was originally attached to the harness by the upper left lug (as worn). By mid 1944, it was attached by a horizontal strap (Mk2 Harness) but by the mid-1950s (Mk3 Harness), the attaching strap had gone and the method had reverted to the upper left lug.
 
The remaining significant differences relate to the Inner Pack, Rigging Lines and Canopy:
6) In 1956, the Inner Pack used Newey snapper studs to close the rigging line compartment. By the time of the PX Mk4, the rigging line compartment was closed by way of breakable ties. (The author has yet to inspect any confirmed variant of WWII Inner Pack and so can only speculate that snapper studs might have been employed).
7) The PX Mk4 had white Rigging Lines with a black fleck strand. At some time prior to this, Rigging Lines were white with NO fleck strand.
8) Wartime canopies had a vented apex and had 28 Gores. Wartime canopies were typically white but could be any colour, including prototype camouflaged canopies. Fabrics used during WWII were initially Rayon eventually replaced by Nylon - never silk. The PX Mk4  had a covered apex and has 32 Gores. The PX Mk4 has a net skirt at its periphery, an improvement over the PX Mk3 canopy. The term “PX” refers to the canopy, not the harness.

RESEARCH:
British parachute kit of WWII is much sought after so there are many unscrupulous dealers out there keen to make easy cash through a con. Studying photographs, studying verified kit in a collection or visiting the Airborne Museum will help you identify genuine kit. If you use photographs, you'll need to study as many as possible and of the correct time period. If you cannot verify a piece of kit, beware of experts!!!
There is no substitute for viewing the item in person to give it a good inspection...
(This author has used several types of British military parachute, was separately qualified in parachute packing and researches/renovates British Paratrooper parachutes - and still wouldn't consider himself an "expert"!)

THE CONS :
A) Prior to a date in the 1960s, parachute harness webbing was made in WHITE typically with a central dashed woven strand (black twice or black with another colour). After this date, harness webbing was manufactured in TAN with a similar woven strand (black or green). Any British parachute webbing (Paratrooper or aircrew) that's tan in colour WILL NOT be WWII issue. A very small number of WWII harnesses manufactured webbing pre-dyed in green or dark brown: to check authenticity, fold back the webbing layers to see where the thread passes through. Take a close look at the ends of the webbing which are dipped in a fixing substance to prevent fraying. The webbing should be consistent in colour with no signs of tan colour. Signs of tan colour deep in the creases and folds suggests that the harness is a post-1960s harness dyed after manufacture to look like an exceptionally rare WWII harness.

B) Fittings. "Aircraft Materials Ltd" (AML) was created in April 1957. Some of the WWII QRFs are stamped “AML” (usually “AML 5”  but possibly also “AML 3”) but other parachute fittings stamped "AML" have so far proved to be POSTWAR. Older postwar fittings are embossed with the company logo and some later components are dot engraved. If the company existed during WWII and manufactured buckle fittings, it seems that they did not stamp their non-QRF components except, perhaps, with a production code (Similar to the manufacturers of Sten SMGs) – but it’s more likely these fittings were manufactured by smaller workshops, at that time.
(Pictures/YouTube to follow)

The Airborne Womble
MMXIII
 
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