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The Evolution of the IJA Bread Bag (1889-1945)

Article about: Evolution of the IJA Bread Bag (1889-1945) This is the companion piece to the canteen story, covering its evolution through the same timeframe. Bread Bag or Haversack? The word in Japanese i

  1. #1

    Default The Evolution of the IJA Bread Bag (1889-1945)

    Evolution of the IJA Bread Bag (1889-1945)

    This is the companion piece to the canteen story, covering its evolution through the same timeframe.

    Bread Bag or Haversack?

    The word in Japanese is “Zatsuno”, written 雑嚢 , which means Bag for Miscellaneous items. Besides the odds and ends for daily life, it was indeed used to carry one meal of rations, but that would generally not be bread in the case of Japanese soldiers. So whether I should use the term “bread bag” as translation caused me to pause for a moment, however as you will soon learn that the Zatsuno started out as an IJA copy of the Prussian Brotbeutel, I decided bread bag was an appropriate enough word in English for this article.

    Bread Bag Designations According to Collectors

    This time around, before we simply go on the crusade for facts, and end up with road-kill of debunked myths, let’s survey the road ahead and see what bread bag designations the collector world has coined. Typically these names are derived from the launch of a repro model most often from Nakata.

    Among the collectors in Japan, the following models are recognized and the terms have a wide acceptance, because these are models that Nakata had reproduced at one time or another in its repro line-up.

    1. 3rd Year of Taisho (1914) Model: A smallish bread bag with leather closing straps closed with a pronged buckle. An adjustment clip to adjust the bag size is present at both inside edges.

    2. 7th Year of Showa (1932) Model: A model that switched the closing strap system to web straps which closed by friction buckles.

    3. 12th Year of Showa (1937) Model: While maintaining the same closing strap system, the body of the bag became bigger. The size adjustment clips got discontinued from this model.

    4. 14th Year of Showa (1939) Model: Friction buckles were discontinued and replaced by simple tie strings for closure.

    1889 Prussian Origins

    Records pertaining to bread bags start with a memo dated 7th December 1889 in which reference is made to a set of bread bag and canteen brought back to Japan by an Army Major Tamura on visit to Germany. It further suggests that in view of the fact that the Imperial Japanese Army has yet to decide specifications for its bread bag, perhaps prototypes of canteens and bread bags in quantities for one infantry company, can be prepared based on these German “Jäger” Models for field tests. When you go this far back with army documents, they are all written in brush and ink, not by pen, and the language used is that of the Samurai. Here is how that document looked.
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    Turning to Prussian design as an example to follow was a natural thing for the Japanese Army to do, particularly at this point in history. Major Meckel sent to Japan by the Prussian Chief of Staff, Moltke, had ended his three year tenure in Japan as military instructor only the previous year and he had totally overhauled the army structure and patterned it after the Prussian style. Therefore what suited Prussia was highly likely to serve its sister army in Japan as well.

    Here are the German counterparts of these early days that the IJA based their designs upon. The bread bag shown is the M 1887 that Major Tamura must have brought back from Germany. The leather-clad glass canteen is the Model 1867, which by the time he visited Germany came with a tin drinking cup attached to the bottom and also had lost its shoulder strap in favor of a hook-on arrangement to attach it to the bread bag as seen also in the WW2 canteen.
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    1892 The Bread Bag is born

    Another memo dated 18th February 1890 follows up on the above plans by saying that the prototypes were ready for deliver to the 1st Infantry Division for field tests, with a report due on 30th June 1891. At this time, 60 pieces each of two alternative bread bag designs and 120 canteens were delivered.

    By 14th September 1892 the army had finished developing its new bread bag design. The documentation seeking type approval for official adoption explained that “the bread bag was to be used in association with the back pack and was intended to carry as contents, 30 rounds of ammunition, rations for 1 meal, a canteen of water and a small number of daily necessities. It was to be slung from the left shoulder diagonally to the right hip. Field tests have proved totally satisfactory. The canteen design that has gone through the field tests is still under study.”

    Army Ordinance 68 announcing the new bread bag was released on 29th September 1892 and introduced specs as follows.

    Material: Heavy Hemp cloth dyed with Japanese Oak Bark Extract (Tannin)

    Leather: In natural color

    Hardware: For the shoulder strap, belt hook and canteen hook should be in brass. Other buckles to be painted black.

    I have learned that in the old days, oak bark tannin was used to dye hemp a khaki color in Japan so it must have been in that color range. Note that despite the 1892 IJA bread bag is based on the M1887 German bread bag model, the Japanese version has the belt hook direction reversed to hang from the outside of the belt while the German version grips from behind the belt, which is a better arrangement for preventing the hook from coming off the belt. The Japanese version is done in this manner, because of the rear ammo pouch used by the IJA. When it became necessary to use the rear pouch, it needed to be slid forward along the right side of the belt. In order to do so, the bread bag needed to be easy to unclip from the belt.

    The most notable feature, however, was that the canteen was to be hung inside the bread bag, so it had a hanging hook inside and was therefore quite a large bag. At this time the Germans already hung their canteens outside the bread bag on the D-ring, the same way they did in WW2, so having the canteen inside was an IJA idea.

    This bread bag was in use for more than 22 years, but even re-enactors do not seem interested to go that far back in time, as there seem to be no repro version of this hemp bag.
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    1893 Deficiencies of the 1892 Model

    In spite of the field tests done back in 1890/1891 on two alternative bread bag designs by the 1st Infantry Division, now a year after the new model launch design, deficiencies were being reported by troops that had received them.

    On 25th November 1893 the 22nd Infantry Regiment put in a report pointing out problems and discussed pros and cons of two alternative designs. Whether these two alternatives were the same two that were compared in 1890/1891 or a newly made set is not clear, but they appear to have characteristics as follows.

    Model A (甲号): The canteen fits into a pocket inside the bag instead of being hung on a hook.
    Model B (乙号): The bag itself was more compact and the rear panel and bottom of the bread bag was covered in leather

    The report points out the following problems with the 1892 design.

    1. The bag is much too large and cumbersome, hindering movement. When used in association with a back pack, the bread bag only needs enough space to carry some ammunition, a hand towel and such small items as smoking accessories. In this respect, model B was the better of the two.

    2. The leather backing of Model B was very effective in reducing abrasive rubbing against the thigh of the uniform during movement and allowed more comfort for walking. It also prevented sagging of the bag when putting items in.

    3. The strap with the hanging hook for the belt is too long. In order to prevent the bag from flopping around during action, one needs to adjust the hanging height of the bag so that the attachment point of the shoulder straps lines up with the lower edge of the belt. At this height, the hook won’t engage the belt anymore. Other than that, the arrangement in which the strap hooks onto the belt from the outside is deficient, as it pulls out too easily. The hook and strap need to grip the belt from under the belt to hold it securely. The only drawback of doing it this way is when you want to slide the rear ammo pouch to the front along the belt, the hook is more difficult to get out of the way. This, however, is only necessary once at most during a battle so it is of minimal inconvenience.

    4. The buckle for the shoulder strap needs to be placed at the chest rather than the back like the current model, which brings the buckle under the back pack to rub against ones back to cause undesirable wear to the uniform. It is also not convenient for adjusting the strap length.

    5. The location of the canteen hook in the forward position brings the canteen to flop against the thigh during fast paced walking and also gets in the way of assuming a prone position in firing. Thus the hook should be moved to the other end of the bag.

    6. The canteen drops off the hook quite easily and when one needs to have a drink on the move, the required motion of unhooking the canteen, unbuckling the stopper strap and doing all that in reverse to return the canteen is simply too much trouble. So many would simply keep the buckle undone and also not use the hook. The canteen pocket design is more practical for accommodating the canteen.

    7. The canteen requires a shoulder strap.

    Imagine wearing at your right hip a potato sack of coarse burlap with several potatoes in it. Carrying the 1892 bread bag with a canteen inside it must have been a similar experience.

    The thoughts of the 22nd Infantry Division summarized was to add leather covering to the rear of the bread bag, sew inside a bag to hold the current glass canteen that should get a hanging strap of its own and have a stopper without a buckle and make the hanging strap with the belt hook shorter and reverse the hook’s direction.

    A similar improvement request was also placed by the 5th Infantry Brigade, so the commander of the 5th Infantry Division requested the Minister of the Army on 26th December 1893 a chance to make further tests to narrow down the options. This request was granted on 19th February 1894.

    However, by early 1895, instead of the bread bag, the canteen design, which had been the root cause of many of the more serious complaints about the bread bag, was revised. It now got a shoulder sling of its own and no longer was carried in the bread bag. Hemp was a coarse and abrasive material and that problem remained, but by taking the canteen out of the equation made proponents of the design change lose steam and the issue went to the back burner for the next 4 years.

    1897 Decision Not To Change

    On 11th December 1897, a final decision was reached on the question of whether the 1892 bread bag design needed to be changed. The report to the Minister of the Army said, “The current hemp bread bag was designed not only to carry miscellaneous daily items, but also a canteen inside. However, the canteen specs have been revised so that it is now to be always carried slung from the shoulder. Therefore there are those who now say the bread bag should be shrunk to allow only a few daily items. But there is no need to shrink the bag in order to accommodate less, “as large also serves smaller needs after all.” However, use of the more soft textured duck material is worth considering, as adding a leather backing makes it only heavier and more expensive. It is our final conclusion that the bread bag requires no change at this time.” Actually, this was the same memo that also concluded that putting the soldier’s name on his dog tag was not feasible and that bamboo or wood were not suitable as dog tag material, which I mentioned in the ID tag article.
    It is worth mentioning at this time that though the belt hook facing inside rather than outside like the German model was criticized by the troops in the field, the IJA never reversed this even during WW2.

    Units Excluded from Hemp Bag Issuance

    A July 1904 memo rejecting requests to issue the hemp bread bags to artillery and transport troop personnel reveal an interesting rule about issuing the bags. It says that bread bags were only to be issued to soldiers who carried rifles. Artillery and transport troops were not issued back packs, but tube-packs to be slung across the back, which they claimed lacked space to accommodate things. Therefore they wanted to have bread bags, too. The memo concluded that tube packs offered ample space for the items they needed to carry. The typical carry load the request was based on consisted of a pair of change of shoes, pair of underwear, 2 pairs of socks, rations for 2 days, clothing cleaning and mending kit and miscellaneous personal items.
    Another branch that traditionally did not use the hemp bags were the Kempei, MPs. This was because MPs have been issued special bread bags made of leather. However, keeping stock of such a specialized item for such a minority presence had long caused headaches for the army and they finally decided to abolish the leather MP bread bags and issue them with hemp bags. This decision was announced on 4th July 1913.

    1912 Start of a Round 2 Development

    Finally after 20 years in service, an improvement was being proposed. On 30th July, 1912 a memo was sent to the General Staff Office of the 9th and 13th Infantry Divisions, requesting comparison field testing of two bread bag designs. One was the current bread bag model made of hemp canvass. The other was a new prototype made of cotton duck material. The test was to run for a full year, starting mid October 1912, and a test report was to be filed by the end of November 1913. For this purpose, each division received 75 pieces each of the two bread bags. Key points to be assessed were water-proofing, speed of drying when wet, wear and tear and general handiness. Equal numbers of the two were to be issued within the same company.

    Rationale for the new design was explained as follows.” As experienced in past field maneuvers, the current hemp bags have poor water repellent characteristics and bag and contents tend to get soaked in rain. Also the bag is too large and easily gets over packed, burdening the soldier with excessive weight. Therefore the new bread bag uses water-repelling cotton duck material, which is quite affordable and also the size is reduced to what is minimally required (about 3cm smaller in both width and height). “.

    In the 9th Division, the 7th Infantry Regiment served as guinea pig, and in the 13th Division the 58th Infantry Regiment received the 150 bread bags.

    The tests were carried out, and on 5th December 1913, the 9th Division reported the following results.

    1. Water-proofing: Cotton duck is far superior.

    2. Drying: Cotton duck repels much of the water, hence it does not absorb a lot of water and becomes dry quicker.

    3. Practical use benefits of cotton duck.
    a. Cotton duck repelling water prevents weight gain from the soaking.
    b. The increased width of the shoulder strap eases the strain of weight on the shoulders.
    c. The smoother texture of the new fabric does not hamper the movement of the upper body.
    d. As a result of the above, it greatly reduces wear to the uniform.
    e. The cotton duck is also more fade resistant, so it looks sharper for a longer time.

    4. Aspects where the hemp model is superior
    a. The bag has a partition inside, so being able to separate contents into compartments is handier.
    b. The stiffer texture makes it easier for rummaging in wet conditions.

    5. Durability: One year is rather short for a verdict on wear and tear, and there was no major difference between the two, but
    perhaps the duck has a heads lead on hemp, because it does not fade easily.

    6. Improvement ideas
    a. New version also should have a partition inside.
    b. New version’s adjustment buckle for the shoulder strap tends to slip, spoiling the adjustment, so improvement is required to
    better keep its position.

    The 13th Division also came back with a detailed test report on 6th January 1914, but the result was quite similar. They were only slightly more specific in requesting a two-thirds high partition in the new bread bag.

    The 1914 Model Introduced

    20th June 1914, Army Ordinance 13 introduced the new cotton duck bread bag as follows

    Material: Water repelling earth color cotton sail cloth.

    Shoulder Strap: Cotton Herringbone Weave

    Leather: Natural color

    Hardware: Steel with brown baked-on finish. Hanging hook and its base plate are to be in copper.

    Design as per below drawing. Dimensions are as per sample.

    Current models already in use may be used up. This was an understatement, as they should have written “current stock must be used up before new items can be issued” as you will see below.

    With the above announcement each division got 2 to 3 samples to look at.

    On 6th August 1914 a letter went out explaining that despite the introduction of the new bread bag, they will keep on issuing from old stock in 1915 onwards, because of stocks. Issue of the new cloth material was possible, however, for mending work. Basically, the new bags went directly into inventory just to top up stock.

    One feature that surviving army documents failed to mention was the hook and eyelet system on both ends of the opening, which works to adjust the bag’s carrying volume. The bag was made like a bellows that expanded as needed, but by engaging the hook in the eyelet, one fold would not open and keep the bag slim. This is not obvious in the drawing below at first glance, but it is there and you can see the hook and eyelet, if you enlarge it.

    Surprisingly the collector’s term of Type T3 (Taisho3, 1914) need not be terminated, they got it right for a change.
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    A Duck becomes Dakku and finally turns into a Zukku!

    As a side note, while researching for this article, I learned for the first time the origins of a Japanese word. “Canvass” in Japanese is often called ズック pronounced Zukku. This word also appeared in army documents of the Taisho period (after 1911) to describe the material of the 1914 Bread Bag. However, older documents from the Meiji Era referred to the same material as ダック, Dakku, which was a Japanese approximation for the English, “Duck”. Surprisingly the Meiji people seemed to have a better ear for English. I never imagined that my Zukku school shoes were actually duck shoes. This is because the manner in which Japanese words would be approximated in alphabet went through a transition during this time. The method which is used now to write Japanese names in alphabet on official documents like passports is called the ヘボン式 Hebbon Shiki. This “Hebbon” was actually “Hepburn” from James Curtis Hepburn, an American missionary to Japan in those days.
    Hebbon was not a Japanese mispronunciation, but rather how Hepburn himself wrote his name for the Japanese.

    Another Japanese word that no longer shows any resemblance to its western origins, because of the strange rule applied in those days in conversions between alphabet and Japanese is ランドセル, RanddoSeru, a back pack style leather school pack that Japanese kids wear to school, which is now a great hit in present day China as well. However, the Chinese would be enraged to learn that what they have now welcomed into their country from Japan were “Soldiers”! That is because RanddoSeru was originally the German word “Landser”. In the perverted way that Duck became Zukku, Landser became RanddoSeru back then. Ironically, every single Japanese can say soldier in German, but more ironically no German would ever understand what is being said. Well, now you know that an American played a big part in creating this mess.  

    1930 Type Showa 5 across- the-board Revamp

    The next model, according to collector legend was the 7th Year of Showa (1932) Model. But from here things start to get a bit muddled, as there was no such thing as a Model 1932. What did happen, though, was that there was the 1930 general update of army uniforms and equipment.

    Along with the introduction of the Type 90 helmet and the new canteen, the bread bag also went through a minor change. All earlier spec descriptions mention natural colored leather for closing straps under “materials”, but in the 1930 bread bag description (21st April 1930, Army Ordinance No. 8) there is no leather mentioned, and the drawing provided there has strange looking closing straps with square ends. Ordinance 8 describes material only as “Brownish water repellent cloth, hardware in brown colored metal”. What I guess had happened was that they switched the closing straps to cotton webbing but retained the old “holes and single prong buckle” arrangement. The funny tips of the straps in the drawing must be metal end pieces that prevented the ends from fraying. The hook and eyelet arrangement for adjusting the size of the bag does still appear to be present.

    Is the Showa 7 model then a fantasy? The Showa 5 series served as a master baseline for any future improvements and revisions of items included there until the end of the war. What this means was that every time they changed something which was in Ordinance No. 8 of 1930, they announced the new change as an Army Ordinance partially amending Ordinance No. 8. Thus between November 1938 and March 1945, I counted more than 25 Ordinances issued (sun helmet updates, pilot’s wings, etc were all introduced as Ordinance No.8 revisions). I checked every single one, but there is nothing that matches the descriptions of what collectors call the Showa 7 Model. If originals do exist with Showa 7 dates, I assume what happened was that the closing method was changed to a friction buckle system around that time. If anyone has such early examples, you are very welcome to show them here.
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    1938 Model

    A memo dated 13th April, 1938 gave a heads up for another comprehensive uniform and equipment update to be approved soon. This memo said the bread bag’s carry volume would be increased by two thirds from the current model.

    On 1st June 1938, the change forecasted above came out as Ordinance 31. It did come with an illustration of the bread bag among drawings of numerous other items that got updated by this ordinance, but one can hardly see any difference, because it depicts the bag closed, so no closing straps nor buckles are visible. Also, the ordinance did not include any spec descriptions of the bread bag, so the only new feature one could be sure of was that the size got increased.

    The model that collectors call the 1937 Model, appears to be referring to the model introduced in April 1938, so calling it the 1938 Model is more accurate. However, as the specs needed to be finalized well in advance of the introduction of new equipment, spec drawings and manufacturing details of the new bag seem to have been issued already on 15th November 1937, so the collector’s name is not totally out of sync with reality. This model is very similar to the navy bread bag, which shares the same strap closures. For this reason it is often mistaken to be navy, but one can easily tell the difference by paying attention to the hooked hanging strap. As discussed earlier, the IJA bread bags reversed the hook direction from the original German design, but the navy followed the German style arrangement. In other words, when the bread bag is worn, the IJA bags have the hook facing forward, whereas the navy versions have it facing backwards.
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    The 1940 Model

    The next model known in the collector world was the Showa 14 Model of 1939, but the update log for the bread bag spec sheet from 1943 August dates the spec sheet revision as 4th September 1940. Unfortunately the surviving 3 sets of Army spec books are all missing 2 pages of spec drawings after the revised spec sheet, so I am unable to verify details of the 1940 update. However, it was obviously this change that did away with buckles and made them into tie strings. By this time material supply was getting tight, and by the next month steel canteens were also approved for army use. This was one of the earliest cases of switching from buckles to tie strings, as the canteen stopper strap was changed to this method only in November of 1941, and the general discontinuation of buckles in favor of tie straps was only prescribed on 1st April 1943 through Army Ordinance 23, which was a collection of austerity counter measures applicable to all equipment items introduced back in the Showa 5th change.
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  8. #8


    The Last Ditch

    After August of 1943, further simplifications to the bread bags continued such as angled flap covers instead of rounded in order to reduce sewing time, and the hanging hook was finally discontinued and replaced by tie-strings, etc, but those changes were no longer documented. For changes one can only grasp the approximate timing of the switch by tracking the date markings on surviving examples. The hook getting replaced by tie strings would have been a change under Ordinance 99, dated 10th December 1943 which said hooks, buttons and buckles may be replaced by tie-straps for all equipment of the Showa 5 series.
    The 1945 model also finally omitted the internal partition they had once tried to remove back when developing the 1914 model, but had to keep because of field demand.
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    Bread Bag Wearing Exceptions for WW2

    Most NCOs and men in the army wore the bread bags on the right hip, slung from the left shoulder, but there were some exceptions. Technical NCOs in the engineer and artillery branches, financial and other admin staff and EM technical troops wore it on the left hip, as stipulated by uniform regulations. Also many artillery personnel continued not to be issued bread bags, but those who had them wore them in the standard manner on the right hip. Kempei, technical NCOs and technical EM on horseback did not wear the bags. Military band members wore them only when belonging to a field unit.

    Bread Bag Wear in Tropical Climates

    The 1941 army jungle survival guide gives the following tips about bread bags.

    1. In the tropics, even at the expense of carrying an extra bread bag, at least 2 days of rations, and one change of shirt should be carried by the individual.

    2. The bread bag is a minimum requirement even in the lightest of modes and the increased capacity of the new model should come handy.

    3. In case of carrying sweets in the bread bag, beware of ant attacks.

    Also, I realized that though I talk of smaller and bigger bread bag sizes, readers would find it difficult to get a feel for sizes unless I show a comparison between models. So here is a photo showing the dainty M1914 next to a M1940.

    Also Bread bag Hardware Specs as of 15th May 1941. At that time, material was either aluminum or steel.
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  10. #10


    If you enjoyed reading the evolution series the next one in line is about shelter halves here The Evolution of the IJA Shelter Half (1899-1945)

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