The Reptile House Anniversary V – My top five TRH articles.

The veritable institution which is The Reptile House Blog is celebrating its fifth anniversary, and Rich has been asking a few regular readers for their five favourite articles to reblog.  I was delighted to be ask, visit TRH below to see the five(ish) choices I picked out.

All are great reads, plus the other Anniversary V post throws up some more gems from the back catalogue.

Words: Jay I really liked the idea of a reblog series when Rich Norman – lead writer and curator of The Reptile House – invited me to contribute; and certainly, having an excuse for trawling the back catalogue was a reward in itself. I turned up a few articles I had forgotten about, and re-read […]

via Anniversary V: Jay’s Top Five Blogs — The Reptile House

Review – Special Forces: In the Shadows Exhibit

I visited the National Army Museum’s Special Forces: In the Shadows exhibition last week, taking an afternoon off work to go and see the museum, which I hadn’t visited since its refurbishment. I got rather engrossed in the one exhibit, so didn’t take in the rest of the museum, so will certainly have to go back.

This article will, in short, be a brief write up/review of the exhibit. I won’t share many of the photographs I took of the displays, since I would strongly encourage people to visit themselves.

As far as I am aware, but for a few small displays in regimental museums this is the most in depth curated display that has been publically opened relating to UK Special Forces, and while many books have been published, and the IWM has touched on elements of unconventional warfare with its SOE and Intelligence exhibit, I think this is a first.

Obviously I have a keen interest in UKSF, specifically much of the gear, and also design, so this review is certainly a geek’s eye view. I would characterise the exhibit as being a lot of ‘filler’ in relation to the ‘killer’ (no pun intended). However the ‘killer’ is really, really good.

Firstly I will address the problems I perceived with the exhibit before going on to highlight what it did really well.

The most prevalent problem was that the really good bits of the exhibition were somewhat concentrated spatially, with no real discernible ordering thematically or chronologically.

I believe the general structure was meant to run as follows:

  • Introduction to the concept of Special Forces and need for them.
  • Basic structure of UK Special Forces.
  • The origins of the regiments and units (and precursors) which now make up UKSF.
  • The types of men who join, and the selection criteria they must satisfy.
  • Pretty much everything else.
  • Special Forces in the media.
  • Reflection on why their work remains secretive.

The first four sections were done pretty well, and the stories of the originals were striking, if familiar. I found the inclusion of a couple of artefacts relating to that period arresting, specifically ‘The Complete Folbotist’ written by Captain Roger Courtney, founder of the Special Boat Section, is a concise, witty document which conveys perfectly the period in which it was written.

Taranis Picture Template - In The Shadows 2

It is the ‘pretty much everything else’ section which is problematic. There are some absolutely intriguing and great displays in this section, including a display cabinet with weaponry used by UKSF (I was told before I arrived these were airsoft – they weren’t, everything was 100% real), and an interactive display on Op Barras, moving on to kit setups for SBS MCT operations, SAS assault kit from the 2000s and Op Nimrod, kit from the Malayan Emergency, and SFSG assault kit (this did feature an unfortunate airsoft M4). These displays though were scattered rather haphazardly about however, and the area was dimly lit, with the lights on the glass casing occasionally obscuring the displays (mostly an issue when the kit in the display cases was dark, such as the MCT kit).

Huge amounts of wall space were devoted to ‘interactive’ activities or simply window dressing graphics, for instance between the weapon display case and Op Barras screen, there was a series of large ‘spot the sniper’ pictures of the type occasionally shared around the internet. On the reverse wall a huge manifestation showing the silhouettes of soldiers moving through a jungle took up a large proportion of that section. There was also a ‘special forces game’ played on 4 iPads inset into peli cases – the less said about that the better…

I realise there was likely a requirement to include a number of interactive features, and the exhibit has to cater to a range of people with diverse existing knowledge of the subject, and ages, but the space devoted to these games seemed inconsistent with their worth, and caused the genuinely fascinating things to be condensed and people to jostle around them.

In order to curate such an exhibition, I imagine you would have to balance detailed information with interactivity, and ensure that while people can flow round a space, it wouldn’t become congested at peak times, so not every inch of space can contain detailed, and sometimes too specific, information. I felt that while individual artefacts and displays were very engaging, the whole didn’t quite work. It would have been informative for instance to directly contrast Op Nimrod kit with the more modern CT kit, and highlight the differences and evolutions. Likewise the development of SFSG, and their various setups and missions would likewise have been an interesting section. The contrast between older gear, missions and tactics and newer ones would have been fascinating had they been presented as linked to one another, and it would have made for a clear narrative. It would also have highlighted where things haven’t changed, and much of what worked decades ago may still hold true. The evolution of the threat and what it takes to counter it, and how the skills and dedication of the men must remain at the pinnacle would have been compelling.

The scattered approach to display and lack of any discernible interrelation or narrative between them was perhaps the exhibition’s biggest weakness.

There also appeared to be a degree of pruning in terms of what was covered, with more controversial conflicts such as those in Northern Ireland and Iraq being largely omitted, despite the fact these are among the most publically known. Certainly the omission of Task Force Black seemed incongruous given the media coverage it has received in Mark Urban’s book of the same name (which was lacking from the gift shop section to accompany the exhibit) and ITV’s Exposure: The Kill List.

 

Taranis Picture Template - In The Shadows 3

Despite the above criticism of the layout and relative attention paid to various elements, the exhibit is a must see for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject matter who lives near or is visiting London. At £8 for a full price ticket, and less for the various concessions, it is excellent value, and that’s not even addressing the entire rest of the refurbished and remodelled museum, which is free.

The access the museum has secured to a number of interviews was likewise impressive, from 1Para paratroopers after Op Barras to members of the Special Forces from the 80’s until recently. The genuine attention paid to the founders of the various units who forged the ethos that lives on today is also something that stays with you, and has encouraged me to read more about the unit foundings, as well as their more contemporary exploits.

Unlike many displays of similar items, the kit was authentic and attention to detail excellent, while it had at times a really personal , evocative and occasionally tragic insight into the people behind the various units featured.

I’d strongly recommend any who are interested in UKSF past or present drop the museum a visit, take in the exhibit, and drop a few quid in the donation box at the end.

 

Find out more about the National Army Museum, how to get there and what’s in the museum at:

https://www.nam.ac.uk/

And find out more about the Special Forces: In the Shadows exhibit at:

https://www.nam.ac.uk/whats-on/special-forces-shadows

The Special Forces: In the Shadows exhibit opened on 17 March 2018 and runs until 18 November 2018.

Reveal – L119A2 16in Upper

Courtesy of Dave at Maple Leaf Tactical, and by extension the chap who gave it to him, we have the first public photo of the 16in (technically 15.7in) L119A2 upper – this one apparently normally resides in Poole.

I have seen a picture of a long A2 upper before, and while this new image also has a ACOG and 216A flash hider, the rest of the setup is rather different and more stripped back.

It is interesting to note the lack of simon sleeve and use of a bipod, which hasn’t, to my knowledge, been seen outside the pamphlets on the A1 variant.

 

 

UKSF Impression FAQs – Vol 1

Introduction

In a thread I posted on the UKSF Impressions Facebook group I asked for a few Frequently Asked Questions related to UKSF Impressions which we could try and answer there. I took a few of these, and some which I have noticed posted regularly on that and other groups, such as the L119 Owners Club, and to have tried to answer them below.

I have used the odd bit of information from well informed people, but mostly I have based the answers upon pictured reference material, both public and private. I have avoided referencing things which I have not seen myself.

I am not mates with anyone in any UKSF units, although I do have the odd contact who has interesting information, none of that information is first hand either. The below has been based on careful collection and categorisation and research into evidence, although in some cases the evidence is understandably scant, in others it runs to hundreds if not thousands of images – it may be specifics are not quite right, or there are some noteworthy exceptions evidenced in things I haven’t seen, but I am pretty confident in the broad strokes of the answers below. If you have anything to add or query – get in touch though.

This first volume will be followed by others every so often, please do ask also if you have a question you want addressed in future instalments.

Have UKSF ever used LBT 6094s?

Given the popularity of the LBT6094, and the fact it is a great plate carrier, this question comes up a lot.

Individuals within UKSF, including the SAS, SBS and SFSG have used the LBT 6094 in multicam, although the latter is based on pictures of only one individual.

SBS have been seen using the LBT6094RS version, while SAS have been seeing using the standard version. Dates for usage appear to be from about 2010-2015, however it is hard to be precise.

If using the 6094 in a UKSF kit it would be wise to make sure all the other details are pretty close, to avoid it looking too much like a SEAL kit, and looking at the setups on the few UKSF 6094 pictures about will help greatly in getting the right look and time period sorted.

Taranis Picture Template - 6094

Have L119s been seen with Crane Stocks?

L119A1s have primarily only been seen with the old school CAR-15 style stock, and the later Colt Canada variant of it with the textured surface. Magpul CTRs and ACS stocks become increasingly common in the lifetime of the platform too.

The Crane Stock, or the SOPMOD Stock as it is otherwise known, has been seen however from about the mid-life of the platform. These stocks are uncommon, but have been pictured.

L119A2s have only been pictured with Magpul CTR or STR stocks in FDE.

Taranis Picture Template - Sopmod Stocks

What pistol grips are correct for a UKSF L119?

Lonestar Ordnance Stowaway Grip (commonly called the Storm Grip) is by far the most commonly pictured pistol grip on L119A1s – and is the only example seen on early setups.

Colt A2 standard grips are less common than the above but have been pictured regularly, particularly on mid-life L119A1s.

For later setups, about 2012-2015, more variation in setups and accessories begins to be seen so later era builds can include the below:

Magpul MIAD/MOE type grips, Hogue Overmoulded AR-15 Grip with finger grooves and UTG Model 4 AR-15 Ergonomic Grips do not appear to be particularly common, but have been pictured.

The only pistol grip pictured on an L119A2 is a Ergo Suregrip 2 in FDE. The exact model is abit of a guess, but it’s certainly an Ergo grip.

L119s in use with units other than UKSF (e.g. RMP CPU, RM FPG etc) have only been seen with Stowaway or Colt A2 type grips.

What do UKSF jungle kits look like?

While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and occasional training or operational deployments in the UK have led to UKSF being pictured on several occasions, their training in jungle warfare finds its way onto film much less regularly.

Therefore to get a picture of what they use is a little less straight forward. It combines a combination of using the few pictures available with inference based on how regulars train in jungle operations. Greyed out individuals in the pictures are US MARSOC.

Kit setups appear to be typical light weight uniforms, a mix of Crye and MTP kit, including both shirts and UBACs – the one example pictured in full DPM above predates SFSGs issue of multicam, while the individual in trops is the only pictured example who may well be SAS, while the others are SFSG – so he may have more freedom to look ally (worth noting, the pictures has also been suggested to be a Pathfinder). Headwear is mostly boonie hats, often cut down, while load carrying kit is almost invariably webbing, in many cases it seems to be standard PLCE, although presumably more bespoke options are out there. Comms PPT/Tacmic is on the shoulder, machetes and scarves . There is one guy wearing a Blackhawk Helivest in the picture, and a contact has suggest that the guys have slick lightweight plate carriers in their bags for use in phases where contact is probable – this would be a departure from pictures of USKF in earlier eras where armour wasn’t used in jungle ops.

Weapons don’t hold to any neat categorisation. The SFSG spec L85s pictured for instance forego their PEQ-2s and optics to just run rails and iron sights, while the L119s pictured have a mix of ACOGs and DIS, while some have LA-5s while others do not. L119s are also more commonly the CQB variant, presumably for ease of carrying in dense foliage and due to the very short engagement distances in jungles.

Taranis Picture Template - UKSF Jungle

When did MP5s stop being used?

MP5s have been associated with UKSF since Operation Nimrod, and not without good reason, they were used for many years for CQB and hostage rescue. In recent years however a combination of the fact UKSF have had huge operational experience with the L119 platform, the increasing likelihood of facing adversaries with body armour, and the advances in firearm technology have slowly pushed the MP5 to the periphery.

It is difficult to absolutely categorically pinpoint when the MP5 stopped seeing use. The last images of it in use by UKSF training were 2011, although images showing the Diemaco being used for roles which the MP5 would normally be associated with date from before that point.

MP5s saw use with specialist roles like dog handlers for longer than the rest of the various units using it. 2010-11 would probably represent the last date MP5s were seen pictured, however as early as 2003 Diemacos were being used for some tasks in CT work, and by 2005 they were being carried on raids in Iraq, and later in similar setups for CT training in the UK.

The MP5K seems to have continued to see use for some time after the full size MP5 was last seen, being used as a PDW with snipers and a concealable weapon. It is presumably still used for these roles.

Do UKSF use Warrior Assault Systems?

As a relatively inexpensive brand with durable, quality kit, WAS are popular among airsofters and often represent the first purchase of ‘proper’ kit for many. WAS also has strong credentials as a ‘real steel’ manufacturer, although many try to paint it as high quality airsoft gear, their plate carriers have been used by CTSFOs and PMCs, who trust their lives to the kit, while their various pouches and accessories are used by many soldiers to supplement issue kit.

Therefore it gets asked a lot to what degree it is used by UKSF.

In short – WAS is not greatly used insofar as plate carriers are concerned, however there are a handful of examples of the RICAS Compact and DCS being used by individual operators within the SAS and SFSG – but we are talking about so few they can be counted on one hand. It is presumed these items were private purchase and represented a perceived upgrade to whatever kit they were issued at the time, likely the Paraclete SOHPC – this does not seem an entirely surprising position to me, since I am no great fan of the SOPHC. With the issuing of Crye carriers they seem to have fallen out of use, and certainly haven’t been pictured for many years.

WAS pouches though have consistently cropped up individual kits, especially with SFSG. Their mag pouches and command panels both seemed to be relatively popular, and while their use has dropped off with greater quality and variety of issue kit, for specific roles they are certainly on the radar of the guys in UKSF – I regularly include their excellent foldable dump pouch on my kits, and judging by pictures a few guys do the same.

Surefire FA556SA Suppressor: The UKSF L119A2 Can — The Reptile House

An excellent and interesting write up on the suppressors being used by UKSF nowadays, a bit of news which really informs future builds.  Something we didn’t know last week.

Thanks to TRH and HRW for sharing and authoring, respectively.

Check out the article on The Reptile House below:

Words and pics: HRW In my quest to clone the L119A1 and L119A2, I have been searching out the appropriate ancillaries used on these guns. It has brought me into contact with some very interesting individuals in the firearms industry, which is allowing me to create clone rifles as if fresh from the factory. I […]

via Surefire FA556SA Suppressor: The UKSF L119A2 Can — The Reptile House

HAO Industries L119A2 Project

For anyone who follows high end airsoft builds, HAO will need little introduction. They are a Taiwanese airsoft company who specialise primarily in parts for the Systema PTW platform, but who are increasingly providing for a wider range.

The airsoft company appears to be an offshoot side interest for a larger commercial entity, and as such HAOs product range is somewhat eclectic, and appears to be driven by the interests of those working there. HAO are also far from prolific, with only a handful of products, and very long development times for products.

What HAO do have is a likely unsurpassed adherence to quality and exactitude in replicating real items. They fill a niche in the market for high end gear to fulfil particular interests.

I do not own any HAO products myself, a combination of the fact that as yet, much of their catalogue hasn’t overlapped with the sort of projects I embark on, and secondly, where they do, the prices are substantial. While I haven’t yet bought any of their products, The Reptile House Blog has covered HAO extensively with first hand reviews of their products and insight into their production processes. The details on ‘TRH Blog article on HAO’s new SOCOM suppressors is particularly interesting.

Until a year or so ago HAO had been on my radar as a company who produced great items which features on several builds I admired, but little more. However after L119A2 pictures became public in May 2016, and I was approaching various airsoft manufacturers to drum up interest in an A2 style rail, a process which eventually culminated in the release of the Angry Gun L119A2 rail, I became aware HAO were also interested in making an A2 rail. I contacted them and they confirmed it was in the works, and I sent a batch of reference photos, however my contact with HAO has been significantly less involved than my discussions with Angry Gun. HAO have on occasion teased progress on the L119 Owners Club Facebook group and I have spoken with them every so often to try and glean a little more.

HAO apparently have acquired one of the L119A2 overrun uppers which were released to civilians to work off. The key difference however between the Angry Gun and HAO L119A2 products is that the Angry Gun is produced as a rail to be fitted to a standard airsoft upper, while HAO are looking to produce an entire monolithic upper, as per the real weapon.

giphy

Angry Gun’s approach, with a clever and solid concealed attachment system, vastly increased versatility, catered for pretty much every platform on the market, and cut costs dramatically. HAOs conversely will be made for only a couple of platforms, namely PTW and GBBR (there is talk of a third, although this would apparently come later). This approach also means a HAO L119A2 upper will be substantially more expensive, and presumably will need to include barrel, barrel nut, gas assembly, and also potentially wrenches etc for actually taking apart the monolithic upper. Various discussions with interested A2 fans have produced a variety of guesses as to the eventual cost of the setup. I don’t think until things firm up, HAO even know at this stage, but it is likely to have a price tag to match the undoubted quality.

One final point to note, is that a monolithic upper may preclude production of the 15.7in variant due to the size of the machines used in production. This was a possibility which was raised early on, although after a long stretch of product development I am unsure if it was still the case.

I will publish further articles if and when I learn more on the project to try and keep people abreast of L119 developments.

The pictures accompanying this article belong to HAO Industries.

HAO Industries:  https://www.haoptwart.com/