This page describes how to create a generic US airborne look for post D-Day. It is recommended that prior to beginning you decide which unit you are portraying, as units varied in the equipment issued.
Towards the end of 1942 and due to numerous complaints about the existing combat uniform, the US Army started to develop a universal combat uniform.
This uniform would standardise issue across all branches of the service. The uniform was based on a multi-layed approach, and would eventually consist of around twenty items.
The uniform was issued for field evaluation with the 3rd Infantry Division on the Anzio beachhead. Due to bad planning the uniform wasn`t available in bulk issue before January 1945, although it was issued to special units ahead of the regular forces.
The first unit to be issued the M43 field coat was the First Special Service Force.
The M43 uniform is a modern looking uniform as most later designs were based on this.
Airborne troops found that the carrying capacity of the uniform was limited when compared with that of the older M42 uniform, so had their trousers modified with the addition of large cargo pockets and supporting straps by the riggers.
By the end of Operation Neptune, the airborne part of the D-Day landings in Normandy, the M42 jump-suits of the airborne forces were all but in rags. Clearly a new uniform was needed.
In 1944 a new type of webbing was authorised for use. The M-1944 system.
This resembled the M-1936 pattern, although now all ranks were issued a musette style ‘field pack’. Extra carrying capacity was achieved by having a ‘cargo pack’ strapped to this, which could be left with the vehicle during an assault.
An instantly recognisable difference with this webbing, is that it was green, as opposed to the tan colour of the M-1936 webbing.
Double Buckle boots
Again in order to standardise the equipment issued to troops, the cherished Corcoran jump-boots were replaced with ‘double-buckle roughout boots’, although photos show troopers wearing Corcorans long after these boots began to be issued.
The double-buckle boot came about as a way to get rid of the WW1 era leg gaiters issued to most US forces.
Initially the boots were made by stitching leather collars to existing stocks of rough-out boots. The term ‘rough out’ refers to the way in which the leather faces. On a boot such as the Corcoran, the rough side of the leather faces inwards, next to the foot. Roughout boots have the rough side of the leather facing outwards.
These boots were authorised for use in November 1943.
The boot would have been waterproofed with Dubbing, although trials have recently shown that this wasn`t as effective as the designers had hoped. This led to thousands of cases of trench-foot reducing the combat strength of units.
Expect to pay around £80 – £100 for a pair of repro Double-Buckle boots. Finding a good, usable original pair is possible, but prohibitively expensive.
During the Operation Torch landings in North Africa (1942) a flag armband was issued to all assaulting troops. This was made of a coated material that feels similar to vinyl. During the Normandy drop a cloth flag was issued, although some photos show the earlier armband having been cut around the flag and sewn onto the jacket. The same applies to the late war US identification, where examples of all three can be identified.
The choice of unit to portray after Normandy is far larger than for that assault as the airborne force was greatly expanded. It is important to decide early on which unit you are portraying, as each unit had a slightly different look. For example, an airborne reenactor friend has researched that:
Helmet nets like the one pictured were virtually withdrawn or worn out by Market Garden, although they can be seen in some photos of 501st/101st units. These were mainly replaced by the small British net that was worn by 101st , 82nd and 17th A/B in Operation Varsity.
First aid packets were only worn by 502/101st in large number on helmet in Market Garden, although there is some evidence of them having being worn in very small numbers by 506th/377th PFA. The 82nd did not wear them in Market Garden, although they were unnerversally on the helmet by the 17th Airborne during Operation Varsity.
Identification flags were generally the cotton/gauze flag for 82nd units in Market Garden, whereas the Oilcloth version was usually seen on 101st troops. This was cut down and pinned or sewn on or worn as a complete brassard. This was the same for the 17th Airborne during Operation Varsity.
The leg ties on M43 trousers also varied. The ties for the 101st were usually OD7 (sometimes OD3) coloured web tape, while the 82nd used folded canvas leg ties.
…….so it’s always best to check your reference before creating your look.
The weapons used are the same as for the D-Day look, and include all the US armoury such as M1 Garand, M1 Carbines and both Thompson and M3 ‘Grease gun’ sub machine guns. Pictures have been seen of troopers using British Bren Guns, which adds an interesting variation to your late war US Paratrooper look, and will certainly get people talking.
Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s
From here on in the sky is the limit for what you add. Check your research to find the right accessories such as gloves, shirt, pullover, rations, gas-mask case, scalf….the list really is endless. A useful item is a greatcoat.
Not only are these very warm, which helps for winter events, but they make the ‘Bastongne look’. A 1950s British or French greatcoat can be bought cheaply and modified, although reproductions are available.
WW2 US Airborne Assaults
The US airborne assaults during WW2 were:
- Operation Torch. N.Africa November 1942
- Operation Husky. Sicily July 1943
- Operation Neptune. Normandy June 1944
- Operation Anvil. Southern France 1944
- Operation Market Garden. Holland. September 1944
- Operation Varsity. Germany March 1945
The World War II GI. ISBN 978-1-84797-033-6
Government Issue. Volume 1. ISBN: 978-2-35250-080-3
America’s Finest II, by Gary Howard. ISBN 0-9549525-0-2
G.I. Collectors Guide, Vol 1. ISBN 978-2-35250-080-3
Osprey. US Army Airborne 1940-90. ISBN 0-85045-948-6
Osprey. US Army Combat Equipment. ISBN 0-85045-842-0
Osprey. First Special Service Force 1942-44. ISBN 1-84176-968-1