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RAF PRE-WAR IRVIN FLYING JACKET, 1938-9, 'LINKS' MADE - BATTLE OF FRANCE / BRITAIN

A new addition to my collection is this superb, pre-war Irvin Flying Jacket, most likely made by Links and dating from 1938-9. This particular model of the Irvin Flying Jacket features prominently in photos from the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain.


As the photos show, the Irvin is exceptionally well preserved, with a lovely honey-coloured shearling complemented by the chestnut exterior which still maintains its original chroming.


Typical of early Irvins, the Jacket is produced with single panel fronts and just one centre seam to the rear.



The main zipper is an unmarked double-trunnion 'DOT' puller, typical of those used on 1938-9 Irvins. Both sleeves zips are single-trunnion 'DOT' pullers, marked 'Made in England', again a typical pattern of early-made Irvins. All zippers are completed with their original leather puller-tapes.


Under the arm the Jacket has 9 vents, all maintaining the majority of their original painted finish.


One distinguishing feature of the Links Irvin is the rounded profile of the collar. Most other makers produced the collars with squarer ends.



The large 'stand' collar housed a leather strap and metal rings for fastening in the 'up' position if required. To further ensure the collar would remain up, a rear elasticated strap was included, which the pilot could pull over his head to secure the collar in place. Often these are missing from original examples. Luckily my Irvin still has its original strap, still entirely elasticated.




To finish, the Irvin's waist was secured with a leather belt. Again a distinguishing feature of this pre-war Links Irvin is the large, chromed belt buckle which was thicker than other makers, and only used on early Links Irvins.


 

THE HISTORY


The classic ‘Irvin’ Flying Jacket is perhaps one of the most iconic items of flying clothing to emerge from WW2. First designed by American Aviator, Leslie Irvin, in the early 1930s, the design of the Irvin remained very much unchanged until the demands of a war-economy loomed large in 1940. Early Irvins were produced from the Irvin factory in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, with an Air Ministry contract in 1932 expanding the production to other makers (such as Wareings and Links). Official Air Ministry nomenclature designated the Irvin as ‘Jacket for Suits, Flying, Thermally Insulated’ (stores ref. 22c/98, later re-designated 22c/317-324). The pre-war design was a two-piece Irvinsuit, manufactured in sheepskin lined, brown chromed leather and available in 8 sizes. As is evident with the example in my collection, the two-piece construction utilised large leather panels, which proved to be an expensive means of manufacture. This was not so much a concern in the pre-war years, but when hostilities broke out in 1939 it quickly became clear a much more cost-effective means of production was necessary. Consequently, Irvins constructed post-1940 are often found to be constructed with multiple-panels, with some late war Irvins seeming almost patch-work in appearance. By design the Irvin was extremely bulky, and whilst photographic evidence would indicate they were popular with fighter pilots during the Battle of France, they were rarely worn by Fighter Command during the summer months of the Battle of Britain, and more the preserve of bomber crew.

 

References:


Special thanks to David Farnsworth, Mick Prodger and Andrew Swatland.


See also:


Mark Hillier, The RAF Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot's Kitbag, (Fontline Books, 2018)

Mick Prodger, Luftwaffe vs RAF: Flying Clothing of the Air War 1939-45, (Schiffer, 1997)



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