The United States Army in World War II used a variety of standard and non-standard dress and battle uniforms, which often changed depending upon the theater of war, climatic environment, and supply exigencies.
U.S. Army Combat Uniforms
The United States Army during the inter-war period followed the previous model of having a standard uniform that combined elements of both the basic dress uniform and the basic field uniform. By combining the uniforms, it was thought that time and money could be saved. Included in the clothing system was an olive-drab (OD) wool garrison cap, olive-drab wool trousers, an olive-drab wool shirt, an olive-drab wool four button tunic, and russet brown Type I or II service shoes. An outer jacket or coat, either the Model 1939 "Overcoat, Wool, Roll Collar" or the Olive Drab Cotton Field Jacket in a OD3 was also issued. The standard Army shade was a light to medium olive drab (OD3 - OD7); U.S. Marine Corps used the USMC's pre-war "mustard tan" shade. The basic Army field or combat uniform for temperate or cool climates consisted of the basic wool uniform, without tie, along with a field jacket or wool overcoat, leggings, helmet and web gear.
In the European theater of operations (ETO), the basic wool uniform saw the most use and had the greatest functionality, being able to keep the soldier warm in the winter with its insulation and relatively cool and breathable in Northern European summer weather. However, the Olive Drab Cotton Field Jacket came in for considerable criticism; it was poorly insulated and the light cotton shell provided little protection from wind or rain. In addition, the OD3 coloring was deemed inappropriate for use in northern Europe, as it stood out against most backdrops, making soldiers more visible targets.
A second and less common uniform, the Herringbone Twill (HBT) uniform was issued, made of 8.2-ounce heavy cotton herringbone twill cloth. The uniform consisted of an OD shirt, trousers, and a initially a circular-billed cotton utility hat (later followed by a single front billed cap). Initially it was meant to be worn over the basic wool uniform to provide protection, however it proved to be much better material as the primary uniform for hot weather and tropical climates. The Marine Corps also adopted a version of the HBT utility uniform for combat and training duties in sage green.
The M-1943 Uniform
The M-1943 uniform came into service in the early half of World War II. The uniform was designed as a layered system, meant to be worn over the wool shirt and trouser and in conjunction with a wool sweater and liners in colder weather.
The most recognizable part of the uniform is the standardized M-1943 Field Jacket. It was longer than the earlier 1941 Field Jacket, coming down to the upper thighs. It was made of windproof cotton sateen; most were issued in a new darker olive drab color, OD7. The jacket also had a detachable hood, drawstring waist, two large angled breast pockets, and two lower skirt pockets.
The trousers were made out of the same OD7 cotton sateen material and white cotton twill inner lining, and were equipped with both front and rear pockets. They also had buttoned tabs at the waist in order to cinch the waist. For airborne troops, treated canvas cargo pockets were added to the trousers.
In the ETO, initial issuance of the M-1943 was slowed as a consequence of opposition by some U.S. commanders. However, as U.S. and Allied troops pushed into Germany, more M-1943 uniforms or components of the uniform were issued as the supply situation (including replacements directly from stateside arrived) and the weather became harsher as winter arrived.
The Eisenhower Jacket
In the ETO, the Wool Field Jacket, commonly known as the Eisenhower jacket, appeared in 1943. While originally intended as a field or combat jacket, it was nearly always reserved for service or dress wear. There were several versions made: one version was nearly identical to the M-1941 jacket, but with a rough khaki wool outer; another jacket closely resembled the short wool British Battle Dress jacket. Both versions were produced locally in the United Kingdom, with several minor variations. The jacket was authorized and issued for overseas wear only, though returning troops occasionally wore it.
Experimental Tropical Uniform
In 1943, after extensive testing in the swamplands and jungles of Florida and Panama, the U.S. Army determined that an experimental tropical uniform made of Byrd Cloth (in Britain, Grenfell Cloth), would best protect soldiers from insects and disease while cooling the body and minimizing losses from perspiration. Byrd Cloth, as used in the Experimental Tropical Uniform, was a single-layer uniform of untreated OD long-staple Egyptian cotton, made in a tightly woven herringbone twill to prevent mosquito bites. In use, the uniform was intended to cool the wearer even when continuously wetted, as might be expected in a humid, rainy jungle environment. The uniform featured a short-tailed shirt, trousers with cuffs fitted with half-inch boottop fastening tapes, and a flap-protected fly to keep out crawling insects such as leeches, ticks, and chiggers. Pockets were shallow and kept to a minimum to increase cooling; users carried all their gear in load-bearing belts, suspenders, or in low-mounted field packs designed to minimize body contact (jungle packs). The uniform, always in short supply because of a shortage of Byrd Cloth, was used in combat by members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Mars Task Force (Army 5332nd Brigade-Provisional) in Burma.
Because of the shortage of suitable weaving machines and resultant cost of weaving Byrd Cloth, a less expensive 5-ounce OD cotton poplin shirt and trouser were issued on an experimental basis in 1944 for use in jungle and tropical regions; while reports were favorable, existing HBT stockpiles were deemed adequate, and the uniform was not adopted.
U.S. Army Footwear
Army combat footwear in World War II originally consisted of a basic tanned leather shoe, used with heavy canvas leggings, the Model 1939 "Shoes, Service, Composition Sole", or Type I Service Shoe. This was an ankle-high field shoe made of tanned leather in a dark red or russet color, originally with leather soles. The sole was changed to a rubber composition after 1940 and designated as the Type II service shoe. Soon after the US entry into the war these shoes, which were also used as part of the Class A dress uniform, were replaced with a "roughout" field shoe made from leather uppers with a sueded outer finish, and designated the Type III Service Shoe. The Marine Corps version of these shoes were commonly referred to as "boondockers". In November 1943, the Type II and III service shoes were in turn replaced by a boot, the Combat Boot or Two-Buckle Boot. This boot had a permanently attached a two-buckled leather ankle flap, which was designed to replace the unpopular canvas leggings. The sole was made of synthetic or reclaimed rubber. Due to supply issues, soldiers can be seen wearing both the service shoes with the leggings and the newer combat boot.
Specialized Combat Footwear
A rubber-soled, canvas-top Jungle boot was issued during the war for use by soldiers in the tropical and jungle environments typically encountered in the China-Burma-India (CBI) and the Pacific theaters. The 10th Mountain Division's troopers occasionally wore the Mountain Boot, a low-quarter brown leather boot with a square toe and rocker-type sole, though this boot was phased out in favor of the Type III Combat Boot in the last year of the war. In 1944, the M-44 Combat Boot, a high-top leather boot with full laces was adopted for service, but for the duration it was primarily worn by soldiers on stateside duty.
Parachute troops beginning in 1942 were issued leather high-top lace-up with rubber soled Jump boots, which were intended to provide additional ankle support when landing by parachute. Although these boots were to also be replaced by the new combat boots, jump boots continued to be worn throughout the war.
Overshoes were normally issued to Army units during winter operations. In January 1945, some Army units operating in the ETO received shoepacs for wet winter wear. The shoepac was a leather boot with rubberized lower top and sole, worn in conjunction with the wool ski sock. While it was effective in keeping feet protected from soaking and freezing ground, the shoepac lacked foot support and tended to wear quickly; it also resulted in incidents of foot injuries when a soldier wearing shoepacs on a march in freezing weather stopped to rest, allowing perspiration-soaked socks inside the boot to freeze.
- Uniforms of the United States Army
- Uniforms of the United States Marine Corps
- History of the United States Army
- United States Army enlisted rank insignia of World War I
- Kearny, Cresson H. (Maj), Jungle Snafus...And Remedies, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (1996), pp. 191-195
- Stanton, Shelby L., U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II, Stackpole Books (1995), ISBN 0-8117-2595-2, ISBN 978-0-8117-2595-8, pp. 88-89
- Jowett, Philip S. and Walsh, Stephen, The Chinese Army 1937-49: World War II and Civil War, Osprey Publishing (2005), ISBN 1-84176-904-5, ISBN 978-1-84176-904-2, p. 45
- Mars Task Force: A Short History http://web.archive.org/20090415161500/cbi-theater-8.home.comcast.net/~cbi-theater-8/mars/marstaskforce.html
- Kearny, Cresson H. (Maj), Jungle Snafus...And Remedies, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (1996), pp. 191
- Stanton, Shelby L., U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II, Stackpole Books (1995), ISBN 0-8117-2595-2, ISBN 978-0-8117-2595-8, p. 89
- Stanton, Shelby L., U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II, Stackpole Books (1995), ISBN 0-8117-2595-2, ISBN 978-0-8117-2595-8, p. 242
- Military Uniforms Color Catalog Life Magazine, May 19, 1941
- World War II Living History and Reenacting Information
- 90th Infantry Division Preservation Group Uniform and Equipment Section
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