British WWII Era Commando P42 Bergen Rucksack

Item Description

Original Item: Just two days after the end of the Dunkirk evacuation in June of 1940, the British Commandos were created, after a request from Winston Churchill to form an elite butcher and bolt raiding force to generate a reign of terror down the enemy coast. It soon became apparent that such an outfit would need load bearing equipment that would support long-range independent operation, in other words, large capacity, versatile design, and rugged construction. Various things were tried, but the Commandos settled on a design used in Bergan, Norway, and it became known as the Pattern 42 Bergen Rucksack. It was so successful that it continued in use all the way into the 1980s.

IMA is very fortunate to have found just a few of these very rare and historically significant rucksacks. These bergens, as the Commandos called them, were used by most of the special operations troops during the war, including the famous SAS, and were part of some of the most dramatic and daring exploits of WWII.


The Pattern 42 Bergen Rucksack is teardrop shaped, as most mountaineering rucksacks had been before this featuring a large capacity. The main pocket is 16 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and 18 inches high, with a small internal pocket. The main pocket closes with a cinch rope and has a flap cover. Some have zippered pockets in the cover. Three large pockets were attached to the exterior, two side pockets of 6 x 2.5 x 11 inches, and a back pocket of 8 x 2 x 12.5 inches. The exterior pockets close with web straps and buckles of the P37 type.

The P42 was designed to carry large amounts of equipment externally, too. The two straps for the top flap are 23 inches long, permitting large items to be secured under the cover. Outside the top cover is a very long 44-inch strap also for securing equipment at the top of the rucksack. Underneath, two straps of 29 inches with leather slot anchors provide for attachment of material below the bag. Lastly, four 12-inch straps, two on each side, in leather anchors provide external attachment points for longer items. This total nine straps for external stowage.

The pack is supported on a metal frame, a concept that took the backpack world by storm in the 1960s. The frame kept the pack from contact with the soldier’s back. A half waist belt in back and two shoulder straps supported the pack on the wearer. The shoulder straps are adjustable at both the top and bottom for maximum comfort.

The P42 rucksack is made of canvas, with binding on all exposed edges. Straps are web with metal fittings in the P37 style, and there are a number of leather fittings and straps with tongue buckles. If the P42 were made today, it would be too expensive for anyone to buy. The original design was so sound and the quality so high that it continued in service for nearly 50 years.

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