This page describes the US camouflage uniforms as used in Normandy and the Pacific, and how to recreate the look.
Few units in the European Theatre of operations (ETO) wore camouflage uniforms, with the majority of GIs wearing plain uniforms. When camouflage uniforms were tried in Normandy, they were quickly replaced with standard uniforms due to ‘friendly fire’ incidents, with G.I.s being mistaken for camouflage wearing German troops.
In the Pacific however, camouflage uniforms saw much wider use, with both the US Army and US Marine Corps.
Camoflage uniforms in Normandy
Just prior to the Normandy invasion there was a limited experimental issue of HBT camoflage uniforms to elements of the 2nd and 30th Infantry Divisions, the 17th Engineer Batalion and the 41st Armoured Infantry regiment, of the US 2nd Armoured Division.
Although the uniform seems to have provided good camoflage for the troops wearing it, the unfamiliar uniforms were often mistaken for the camoflauge smocks worn by the German Waffen SS. This resulted in a number of ‘friendly fire’ incidents.
The uniforms were withdrawn from the ETO, although troops were often still issued with the camoflage uniform as their original ones wore out, and period photos show the type in use until well into August 1944; not always with matching sets, as jackets can sometimes be seen mixed with M1937 wool trousers.
Most photographs of GIs in camoflage uniforms show the M1 helmet garnished with a net and burlap scrim. I`ve never seen insignia worn on the uniforms.
Camoflage uniforms in the Pacific
Both the US Army and US Marine Corps (USMC) used camoflage uniforms Pacific Theatre of Operations (PTO). (They also both used plain uniforms.)
The USMC uniform was totally reversible, which made it well suited to the nature of this theatre of operations, where individual islands could be either sand ( for example: Iwo Jima) or dense jungle ( like on Guadalcanal).
The most common type of webbing worn by GIs in the ETO was the M1928 ‘Doughboy Pack’. An improvement of the WW1 M1910 version, this haversack required the kit inside to be packed around the blanket, which formed the mainstay of the load. It had integral suspenders for fitting to a M1936 pistol belt, BAR gunner’s belt or Garand cartridge belt – depending on the weapon carried.
Water is carried in a M1910 aluminium water canteen. The ‘Carlile Dressing’ first aid pack lives in a small pouch.
Expect to pay about £100 for a reproduction basic webbing set and many times more for original items.
Be warned. The monkey-metal on most reproduction buckles is no where near as good as the originals.
Webbing used in the PTO was less standard, ranging from a full set-up to nothing, and everything in between.
One point to note is the larger medic pouch used in the PTO, and different suspenders and water-bottle holder used by the US Marine Corps.
There was also a reversible helmet cover used in the PTO, which was worn both with the camoflage uniform and with the plain HBT uniforms; like by John Wayne in the movie ‘The Sands of Iwo Jima’.
About the M1942 camoflage uniform
Development of camoflage uniforms began in 1940, long before the US entered the war.
Designed by horticulturist Norvell Gillespie, the two-piece camoflage HBT uniform was originally developed for jungle fighting. It is partially reversible, with a sand pattern on the inside. However the pockets are only on the green side of the uniform.
The HBT (herringbone twill) jacket has a gas-flap and plastic buttons that are hidden to prevent snagging. It also has reinforcing patches on the elbows.
The trousers also have a gas-flap on the button fly, with large cargo pockets.
Expect to pay around £100 for a reproduction M1942 camoflage uniform, and another £20 for a helmet net and scrim.
About the USMC M1942 camoflage uniform
The first camouflage uniform issued to the USMC was the Army’s M1942 one-piece HBT uniform. This proved as unpopular as the plain ‘tankers overalls’, being to hot for the Pacific climate, and too heavy when wet. The one-piece design also proved difficult, and many Marines cut their own ‘bottom flaps’ in their uniforms for when nature called.
In 1943 the USMC adopted it`s own two-piece camouflage uniform which saw limited use in the battles of the Solomon Islands. It was made of the same reversible material as the Army version, but had flap-less pockets with a black printed USMC insignia on the breast.
This first USMC camouflage reversible was issued to the Marine raiders who used them in action at New Georgia Island in July 1943 and where later issued to the rest of the USMC. By November 1943 and the battle of Tawara the USMC were mainly equipped with the camo uniform, although it was not uncommon to see units wearing a mix of camo and plain green HBTs.
The World War II GI. ISBN 978-1-84797-033-6
Government Issue. Volume 1. ISBN: 978-2-35250-080-3
G.I. Collectors Guide, Vol 1. ISBN 978-2-35250-080-3
Osprey. US Army Combat Equipment. ISBN 0-85045-842-0