How this flashlight became the most enduring piece of military tech

New gear designs come and go. One troop’s packing list will look drastically different from the next generation’s. Rucksacks have gone through major overhauls since their inception and it feels like uniforms change faster than you can blink. But one piece of military gear has remained virtually unchanged since WWII: the anglehead flashlight.

flashlight and map

Torch, Moonbeam, L-Bend, this f*cking, pain-in-the-ass light; troops have many names for it. (Photo by Sgt. Ferdinand Thomas)

Early flashlights were either huge and bulky or dim and short-lived — both were very impractical for troops fighting in combat. And then the TL-122 was first created.

The design was simple. It gave the flashlight a clip and an ergonomic bend so that it could be attached to a soldier’s body, leaving their hands free for fighting. The easily-interchangeable batteries and bulbs made it that much more desirable.

The design of the TL-122 was available to multiple manufacturers and used by many different countries. Only slight variations were made before the Vietnam War, including the TL-122 D, which gave it a new compartment to affix various filters. The red filter is one of the most useful because red light doesn’t hinder the eyes’ natural night vision and is far less conspicuous to enemies.

modern l-bend flashlight

The red filters forced mapmakers to change the way they printed the maps, making them easier to read under red light. (Photo by Spc. Jeffery Harris)

Later, a third option was added to the simple always-on/always-off switch: signal mode. Now, troops who set their flashlight to “signal mode” could push the button to turn it on and off. This feature re-sparked troops’ interest in learning Morse code, since you could now tap out a message and send it across the light using the tiny, little button. The TL-122 would later be rebranded as the MX991 by Fulton Industries and would be used by troops, law enforcement, and civilians.

Today, the flashlight hasn’t changed much. There have been changes in materials used to create the frame and the original bulb was replaced with a longer-lasting LED. Any modern-day soldier could pick up their grandfather’s anglehead flashlight from WWII and it’ll be practically the same thing they use today.