Paratroopers were issued angle head or ‘crookneck’-type flashlights like they are still in use in today’s military. This article is updated regularly with photos that people send me of more interesting variations.
The TL-122, without any suffix, was the very first such angle head model. At least, that’s what I would think, because it was completely made of brass and apart from its general appearance quite different in some details to its successor, the TL-122-A and all following types. Tony Rudenko sent me pictures of 2 variations of the TL-122-A that I hadn’t seen before:
On the right, you see a TL-122 (no suffix) type number which is stamped into the housing. The number is not set in a circle, as is usually the case. This version has metal wedged around the lense so there is no way to replace it with a new one. The lense ring with its ribbed rim is unlike the two other types in my article about the TL-122s.
Another difference that really stands out is the belt clip. It is attached to the back with three rivets, but it also extends to the top, where it is also riveted with two more rivets.
It takes a regular threaded bulb “Number 14” (unlike the other TL-122s using PR9 bulb).
On the left is one that looks like a TL-122-A, but is marked No. 709. Never heard of this type designation before. But other than that this flashlight looks like a regular TL-122-A. It is painted OD green and the the brand is Niagara, which was one of the military contractors. I also have a later plastic TL-122-D made by Niagara.The only thing besides the type no. that differs from other TL-122s is the switch.
In April 2008, someone asked me what the “TL” stands for. A very pertinent question. I don’t know for fact, but “Torch Light” sounds logical. If you look at all the nomenclatures in the quartermaster supply catalog, they are mostly abbreviations (“BG” for Bag, for instance). I know about the TL-29 knife, but this appears in the catalog as part of the TE-33 kit, which also includes the TL-13-A pliers. In this case, TL stands for “Tool Linesman”. But in the same catalog I also found a “Flashlight TL-194 (single cell, waterproof, jungle type)”, so it looks like the TL-designation was used for more than 1 type of flashlight. So I think we can rule out that TL stands for “Tool Linesman” in the case of flashlights, since the TL-194 defenitely is no tool for linesmen, but it IS a flashlight (or torch light).
But then in June 2014, R Bryan sent me his view that I think is a more likely explanation: He disagrees with the “torch light” nomenclature. Few people in the U.S. call a flashlight “a torch”. War Dept Tech Bulletin “SIG 120” dated 14 Nov 1944, refers to flashlight TL-122, plus flashlight models A through D, but does not once call it a torch. It consistently uses “flashlight”. With the flash button on the switch, flashlights could be used for signalling in addition to general lighting. As such, they likely received a tool designation like other tools used by the Signal Corps. Of course other groups used them too, but they likely began original issue as signal equipment.
The Eveready civilian “military type” #2257 was the same model as the TL-122-A. It only became the TL-122-A after WWII started. The TL-122-A body and the battery cover were first made of brass, then steel. Later models were made of green plastic. It was painted OD green, with the lense ring and the battery cover painted black, making it easy to recognise on wartime black and white photographs. The battery cover did not house a spare bulb, like later types, but it had a large O-ring at the bottom. Its construction was quite weak. The connection between the battery housing and the angle head will easily twist off. The TL-122-A was the smallest of all types and was the only one that would fit the flashlight mounting brackets in military vehicles. This early model is now quite rare and much sought after, so it’s the most expensive of all TL-122s.
The TL-122-A can be seen on photographs from the entire war, but especially the early years. You can see many on pictures from the preparations of the D-Day airborne landings, even though the TL-122-C already existed at the time. There is photographic evidence of the TL-122-A used by British paratroopers as well.
There are several manufacturers of the A. Some small differences exist between manufacturers, but even between flashlights of the same make.
There were three different types of lense rings: a round type with smooth sides (most commonly found), a round one with ribbed sides, and a more squarish type which was probably meant to make it easier to unscrew. The TL-122-A used a glass lense, which was prone to breaking quite easily, so the lense ring had to be removed to replace the lense. As far as I have been able to determine, the ones with a round lense ring all have the switch set in a circular recess.
I also know of three different types of switches. The one one the left in the picture below seems to be the least common, the two others about equally rare, but all three are hard to find, especially in good condition. Most of the ones I have seen are missing a lot of paint and have broken lenses. It’s hard to guess which type or make is the oldest or the ‘original’.
Below, at the right, are also photographs of a TL-122-A with what appears to be a black bakelite battery cover and one that got an awful paint job. Don’t repaint yours, the loss of paint is normal and your paint is never going to look the same.
The TL-122-A also came in several different designs of battery caps, depending on the manufacturer. The one on the left is marked ‘Eveready Trade-Mark’, and ‘Made in U.S.A. A National Carbon Company Product’. This is the most commonly encountered make. The one next to it is marked ‘Refill with Usalite batteries’, the ‘Usalite’ logo, and ‘Made in the U.S.A. U.S. Electric Mfg. Corp.’ The one on the right is just marked ‘Niagara’. TL-122-A’s from Usalite and Niagara are quite rare (both companies also made the later plastic models).
A curiosity I recently came across on eBay is this TL-122-A by Eveready, identical to military types, but this one is marked ‘Official Flashlight Boyscouts of America’, and the ‘Be Prepared’ crest where you would have the TL-122-A designation. Like the military types, it was painted green. That’s all I know about it.
Bob Young sent me these pictures. The first would be the first version of the military angle head flashlight. The second is the same as the ones above, but marked Eveready instead of TL-122-A:
The TL-122-A is the only type of angle-head flashlight listed in my copy of the U.S. Military Forces Supply Catalog, dated 15 January 1945. It is listed with the following details:
Service: 7 (that means Signal Corps)
Stock or Model No.: 6Z4002A-1
Item: Flashlight TL122A (Pre-focused, right-angle, spotlight type; 2 cell)
Price $ .62
The catalog also list the following accessories:
Stock or Model No.: 3A30
Item: Battery, BA 30 (f/Flashlight TL L122A)
Price: $ .10
Stock or Model No.: 6Z6761A
Item: Lamp LM 35-A (f/Flashlight TL 122A)
Price: $ .10
You sometimes see spare bulbs offered on eBay, reportedly for the TL-122 flashlight, but I think they could have been intended for any other purpose (bicycle, instrument lights…). Here are some pics I found. The GE-Mazda box is dated 1944, but I see no reference to the official item name and stock or model number.
As the glass lenses broke easily, spare lenses were available. They came packed in cardboard boxes with 20 lenses each. However, these lenses are not list in my Supply Catalog.
Finally, a word on the TL-122-A replica available from What Price Glory. They sell a copy that looks just about perfect. Fortunately we can still distinguish it from an original. Like all WPG items, it’s marked as such, so it can’t be sold as an original. Other than that there are only two very small differnces. Firstly the missing oval hole in the belt clip, and secondly the copper rivets on the switch unit, which should be of brass or iron, as in the photograph on the right.
This is the second ‘crookneck’-type model and the first one made of OD green plastic. Another difference is that it has a spare bulb inside the battery cover. It still has a glass lense, but it doesn’t seem as prone to breaking as in its predecessor. This one here came from a whole box of flashlights that had tank gearbox grease poured over them years ago when they were put into storage. This one came out quite nicely, but many had very rusty belt clips and buttons. Still, it’s the biggest heap op vintage flashlights I have ever seen (photo courtesy of Kenneth Lewis).
The one on the left in the photograph below is marked ‘USA LITE’ and ‘United States Electric MFG. Corp. New York’ at the bottom of the battery cover. The TL-122-B is more easily found than an A or a C, and is usually less expensive. There is also a version with a different design of switch, as can be seen in the photograph on the left.
Ken Lewis (who also sent the picture of the transparent model below) sent me these pictures of a TL-122-B with a plastic switch. I had never seen one like that before. On the battery cap you can see they call it a ballbearing switch.
These photos were sent to me by Benjamin Wachter. It’s a TL-122-B, but marked “TL 122B Fr” and no manufacturer markings. I have no explanation for the absence of the dashes in the name or the “Fr” designation. Maybe it stands for France or French? Otherwise it looks identical to my own TL-122-B.
What Price Glory also sells a copy of the B. It is also well made and can be recognized as a copy by the style of the sliding switch and the way the switch unit is attached to ther body (with phillips-head screws instead of rivets).
The C is virtually identical to the B, but there are some differences other than the text TL-122-C on the angle head. The lense is still made of glass, but it is swaged between rubber and fibre rings. The battery cover has a slightly different pattern and also has an added fibre washer for waterproofing. The switch is identical to the TL-122-B, but the switch unit is no longer directly riveted directly onto the body, but onto a brass plate and a rubber ring. Inside (not visible on the photograph), the rivet holes are also sealed by fibre washers. This flashlight is marked ‘GITS’ and ‘Made in U.S.A.’ at the bottom of the battery cap. Many of the Cs are covered with some kind of white product. You can see some of its residue on the photograph. This is not dirt and you shouldn’t clean it off if you ever find one like that.
Although more recent, the C is now less commonly found than the B, and more sought-after, so more expensive. As far as I know, there are no copies of the C.
Apparently, not only the TL-122-B, but also the TL-122-C was made with a plastic switch. These pictures are from Paul Reijnders. Curiously, it bears no maker’s marks, just its owner’s name carved into the battery cap.
Here are two C’s, made by USALITE. Both are stone mint and in their original cartons. The left one is mine, and the other was sent to me by Ken Lewis. Curiously, my box is marked TL-122-C, but the flashlight is just marked USALITE, where you would normally find the TL-122 nomenclature. Ken’s box looks like a commercial version, yet his flashlight is properly marked TL-122-C.
In May 2015, Nick Moss sent me this photo of a TL-122-C. “Whilst searching in rock pools with my son today at St Margarets Bay, on the Kent coast, close to Dover (UK) we discovered buried in the sand in a pool a USA Lite TL-122-C flashlight. Just googled it and discovered the link to your site. Amazing!”. Imagine this flashlight belonged to a GI over 70 years ago!
The TL-122-D was the last of the wartime manufactured flashlights, but there is no photographic evidence of its actual use by American forces. However, it was re-issued to the French after the war and examples of this type are still available quite easily and in good condition. This one is marked ‘Niagara’ on the side. The main change was the addition of a container for spare filters, screwed onto the battery cap. It also had two lense rings. One keeping the now plastic transparent lense in front of the bulb, and another one for easily changing filters.
TL-122 transparent ‘instruction’ model
This one here’s was sent to me by Ken Lewis (‘Doughboy to GI’). Never seen one like that before. He is not certain what it was for. A pure guess work on it is a Quartermasters instructional item so that you can see the workings. The reason he thinks this, is that he has seen a low ankle brown boot that has a toe cap in the same material in order to show the steel toe cap inside, and this was a quartermasters records item.
Again from Paul Reijnders, this one looks like a TL-122-B or C, but bears no TL-type designation. Also the type of switch is different from all other flashlights you see here. The right hand side and the battery cap are marked ‘Bright Star’. This company also made TL-marked flashlights. As this one is unmarked, I am guessing it may be a version for the civilian market.
This is another one from Paul. It has the crookneck shape, it’s green and looks old enough, but otherwise can’t be identified as a military issue flashlight. But then again, it may be. Given the all-metal construction, I would pre-date it to the TL-122-B and C. The lense cap is identical to the TL-122-A. The switch is of yet a different design. The clip is different in that it doesn’t have a simple round hole, but a shaped hole to easily hang it on a nail (I guess). Finally, there’s the manufacturer’s monogram on the battery cap. I am not entirely sure what letters it’s made up of, but my guess is B S (no shit), so would that make that a ‘Bright Star’as well? Seems logical, but why is the logo on this one different from the other one? I’m afraid your guess is as good as mine (unless your grandma worked at the Bright Star plant).
Post war types
As mentioned before, the crookneck-type flashlight continued to be manufactured after the war and is still in use today with the armed forces worldwide. Manufacturing was not limited to the U.S.A. and similar Chinese commercial varieties are very common. Suffice to say here that if it’s not marked TL-122-something, you don’t want it for your WWII collection.
In June 2017, Tony Fitzgibbon sent me this picture of two TL-122 style torches I hadn’t seen before.
One is an RAF torch marked 5a/ 9105033 with a Broad arrow and the other is an Italian Pagani torch marked TL-122-C. You can see the Italian one has an eyelet for attaching a lanyard above the belt clip.
In the gallery below you will also find detail pictures of all the markings. Note that the British torch was actually manufactured in Britain, and the Italian one in Italy.
The British one has the broad arrow mark. G.E.C. stands for General Electric Company. It is their post-1921 logo, but I can’t say this makes it a WW2 issue flashlight for sure.
The Italian one seems to be of late- or post-war manufacture, due to the TL-122-C marking and the added refinements which may be an Italian trait, but certainly don’t point to wartime standards. Fratelli Pagani Spa. in Milan used to be a battery factory that also made the first electrical flashlights, or so they claim on the VELAMP website, the company’s name since 1972. After WW2 they started making flashlights for other well-known brands too.
The TL-122 flashlights operated on two 1.5 Volt BA-30 dry cell batteries. Below you see a photograph of replica batteries. In Michel De Trez’ book ‘At the Point of No Return’, page 33, there’s also a photograph of a Bright Star brand angle head flashlight and its original box. Next to it is also an OD green D-cell battery. De Trez calls it a TL-22 flashlight. I don’t know if that exists, or if it’s just a mistake.
On the same page, De Trez also speaks of coloured filters used for assembly purposes. The red filter was for 1st Battalion, white for 2nd Battalion, and blue for 3rd Battalion. That leaves me with two questions. One: where did they keep the spare filters? Models preceding the TL-122-D did not have a compartment for filters in the battery cap and I didn’t find any filters in any of the A, B or C lights I have ever seen. As all period photographs are in black and white, this is hard to verify, but I have seen current photographs with green lenses installed. Which leads me to the other question: what other colours were used, and for what?
Thanks to Henri Van Meel, Paul Reijnders and Kenneth Lewis for photographs of their collections.
The Flashlight Museum
I discovered Dave McLellan’s website while working on the April 2008 update. He runs the Flashlight Museum. His collection also includes military flashlight, and he has a page with links to site of other flashlight collectors.
You can contribute too:
This article describes the variety of TL-122 flashlights and accessories that I know of. You are welcome to contribute with any additional information that you may have.