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United States Army Uniform in World War II

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

M-1941 Combined Uniform

As a result of financial cutbacks to the United States Army during the inter-war period, the standard uniform 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 M-1941 clothing system was an olive-drab (OD) wool garrison cap, olive-drab wool trousers, an olive-drab wool shirt, a wool olive-drab four button tunic, and russet brown Type I service shoes. An outer jacket or coat, either the Model 1939 "Overcoat, Wool, Roll Collar" or the Olive Drab Cotton Field Jacket in a light OD3 shade was also issued. The standard Army shade was a light to medium olive drab (OD3 - OD7); Marine forces used the USMC 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.

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. In particular, 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 light OD3 shade 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 Uniform (HBT) uniform was issued, made of 8.2-ounce heavy cotton herringbone twill cloth. The uniform consisted of shirt, trousers, and a circular-billed cotton canvas utility hat in OD7 shade. Initially it was meant to be worn over the basic wool uniform to provide greater warmth, but it proved to be much better suited for hot weather and tropical climates than the wool combat uniforms. In these climates it was more often than not used by itself, including combat operations in Burma with the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), otherwise known as Merrill's Marauders. It was also issued for training purposes as the “work fatigue uniform”. 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 latter half of World War II. It was also issued to paratroopers, just in time for Operation Market Garden in Holland, September 1944. 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 OD Cotton 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, OD9. The jacket also had a detachable hood, drawstring waist, two large angled breast pockets, and two lower skirt pockets. The M-1943 Field Jacket was issued to troops in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater as well, as it was found that a jacket was required by troops in the field during cool nights in the upper highland regions of Burma and China.

The trousers were made out of the same OD9 cotton sateen material and white cotton twill inner lining, and were equipped with both cargo and trouser pockets. They also had buttoned tabs at the waist in order to cinch the waist.

In the ETO, initial issuance of the M-1943 was slowed as a consequence of opposition by some U.S. commanders, who disliked the M-1943 jacket and instead favored continued issuance of the earlier wool field overcoat. However, as U.S. and Allied troops pushed into Germany, more M-1943 jackets were issued due to the high rate of replacements arriving to replace dead and wounded soldiers.

The Eisenhower Jacket (M-1944)

In the ETO, the M-1944 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 Battledress jacket. Both versions were produced locally in the United Kingdom, with several minor variations. The M-1944 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 penetration by the probosces of female mosquitoes. 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 the uniform was not adopted.

Dress Uniform

The dress uniform varied at different periods and places during the war, as well as varying by a soldier's rank and status in the military. The “Class A” or dress uniform consisted of an olive-drab (OD7) wool garrison cap, olive-drab wool trousers, an olive-drab wool shirt with a khaki cotton tie, a wool olive-drab four button tunic, and russet brown Type I service shoes. The “Class B” or garrison uniform consisted of the above, minus the tunic. Earlier in the war, virtually all soldiers (officers and enlisted men) wore a four pocket tunic modeled after the Royal Air Force tunic worn by the British RAF. While officers had a darker, finer made tunic with cut pocket flaps, the enlisted men wore general issue tunics with square pocket flaps; partially due to the fact that enlisted men generally did not have access to custom-made uniforms. The "earlier" uniform also included a Sam Browne belt. The shirt and trousers of the "earlier" uniform consisted of the basic mustard wool uniform (as mentioned earlier). The uniform also included polished russet brown shoes (Type I), and an overseas cap.

The "later" uniform (focusing on the European Theater of Operations) consisted of the famous Ike jacket with the above mentioned uniform parts. In some cases (generally in the case of an officer), trousers were substituted with a chocolate brown colored trouser. Also, as troops were issued "combat" boots later in the war, it became the fashion to wear the boots polished with the trousers bloused, or tucked, into the boots.

U.S. Army Footwear

Army combat footwear in World War II originally consisted of a basic low quarter 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. Soon after the start of the war these shoes, which were also used as part of the Class A dress uniform, were replaced with a similar "roughout" field shoe made from leather uppers with a sueded outer finish, and designated the Type II Service Shoe. The Marine Corps version of these shoes were commonly referred to as "boondockers"; the term was later sometimes used for Army field shoes as well. In November 1943, these field shoes were in turn replaced by a boot, the Type III Combat Boot or Two-Buckle Boot. The Type III Boot had higher leather tops with a two-buckled ankle flap, intended to replace the unpopular canvas leggings. The sole was made of synthetic or reclaimed rubber. However, soldiers continued to wear canvas leggings and field shoes in some units throughout the war.

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.

Airborne forces entering combat in 1942 and later were issued leather high-top lace-up Corcoran Jump boots, intended to provide additional ankle support to paratroopers landing by parachute in drop areas while heavily loaded with equipment. Armored forces were issued special tanker boots for use in mechanized vehicle-mounted warfare. Tanker boots were made of leather and fitted with leather straps instead of laces, to prevent entanglement with equipment and to facilitate removal when working in muddy environments.

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.

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