by Jean-Francois Legendre
In January 1942, the standard 250-round belt produced for the infantry was based on the 2,061,072 Patent fitted with two tapered 3-3/16 inches long brass starter tangs riveted at each end of the belt. The starter tangs are stamped with the marking “C3951” which corresponds to the Department of Ordnance drawing number of the complete belt, still bearing the original designation of M1917. The fabric is inked with the reference to the Russell 1936 patent “U.S. PAT. 2,061,072” and cartridge pockets are numbered every 25 rounds from 25 to 250.
The very first 1942 belts were procured at least from both the Russell Co. and the Schlegel Manufacturing Co. of Rochester, NY. They can be readily recognized by the two riveted 3-3/16 inch tangs made of brass and by the fabric made of twill weave. It must be emphasized that all brass tangs provided by Schlegel bear an oval hole. This oval hole is consistently observed so far on all brass starters made by Schlegel both with 100- and 250-round belts. The technical reason for this oval hole remains unknown.
Very quickly early 1942, by changing from the twill weave to a plain weave, it was possible to speed up production to meet increased requirements and include more facilities.
Therefore the second variant with two riveted 3-3/16 inches brass tangs but with fabric made of plain duck weave are observed at least by Russell, Schlegel and Murdock. The brass starter tangs by Schlegel were still exhibiting the oval hole.
By March 1942, material for the starter tangs was changed from brass to steel as copper used in the brass had become a very critical material. Besides at least Russell, Schlegel and Murdock which switched from brass to steel tangs, the other new contractors which started production after April 1942 readily provided their belts with steel tangs only. These steel tangs are found with minor variations of shapes as well as with different rust-protecting surface treatments. Blued, zinc-coated, cadmium-coated and, parkerized are some of the different surface treatments observed from specimens.
It can be noted that the standard 3-3/16 inch riveted starter tangs are tapered all along their length, and therefore require the extra operation of trimming the end of the belt to fit the angle of the tangs. In order to avoid this tapered trimming of the fabric end, and to just keep a straight cut, a scarce specimen is observed by Murdock dated 1942. The part of the riveted steel starter tang in contact with the fabric has parallel sides of the same width as the belt itself. The taper of the tang only occurs after the end of the fabric.
In order to simultaneously avoid the assembly of the two rivets, the drilling of the two holes in the fabric and the tapered trimming of the fabric end, a new one-piece integral starter tang was adopted in October 1942. Two different patents have been granted concerning such integral starter tangs which both have the part in contact with the belt of the same width as the belt. The key objective was to form indents in the tang itself for the positioning and hooking into the fabric.
A first patent was applied for as early as Sept. 14, 1942 by John Otterbein of Middletown, CT and published on Dec. 12, 1944 with No. 2,364,997. For whichever reason, this type of integral starter tang referred to as “integral Otterbein tang” seems not to have received great success and has been observed on scarce specimens dated 1943 by The Warren Featherbone Manufacturing Co. of Three Oaks, MI.
Although filed in Feb. 1943, i.e. almost 6 months later than that of Otterbein, another patent for an integral starter tang was granted to Max Kiessling, assignor to The American Fastener Co. of Waterbury, CT, and published on Oct. 17, 1944 with No. 2,360,501. This is the model, thereafter referred to as “integral Kiessling tang,” which became the standard final design of the starter tangs until the very last productions. When this type of integral starter tang was accepted for service, it was still standard practice to use a tang at each end of the belt.
In May 1943, when steel became even more critical and prepacked disposable belts more widely distributed, the tang was left off one end of the belt, the latter being stitched or glued to prevent unraveling. This one-tang pattern is observed with both the 3-3/16 inch riveted steel tang and the integral Kiessling tang.
Various patterns of colored lines are present in the weave without bearing any specific different meaning. Originally, when M1917 belts were designed, the colored lines were intended basically to indicate the side of the belt where to insert the cartridge projectile first. When the Russell patent came into production, the colored lines became alternate from one cartridge pocket to the adjacent one and were also intended to help visual inspection of the weave of the belt.
From mid-1943 on, green fabric was used instead of white in an attempt to help camouflaging the gun position. Specimens of early 1942 belts by both Russell and Schlegel assembled with two riveted brass starter tangs have been observed with their original white fabric subsequently dyed green. Production of the first months of 1944 and the few months during 1945 have been so far exclusively observed by the author with green fabric.
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