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MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELLTHE
US ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. NORTH-WEST EUROPE

INTRODUCTION

The GIs who hit 'Omaha' and 'Utah' beaches on 6 June 1944 were members of the finest-equipped mechanised army ever assembled. As Allied, and particularly American strength continued to build up in Normandy, the threadbare but still potent Wehrmacht soon came to realise they had an elephant by the tail. After the August break-out from Normandy and the landings in the south of France the ever more powerful US armies aggressively pursued the Germans across France in a classic demonstration of exploitation warfare. Even so, in some quarters there was still some jealous questioning as to the professionalism and endurance of the lavishly supplied and self-confident GI. Some British and German leaders, harking back to the US Army's blooding at Kasserine Pass in February 1943, wondered if the Americans would prove to have a glass jaw when the going got tough. (This was not, it must be said, a doubt harboured by any who had seen the fighting in Normandy from close up, from either side of the front.) The 'Battle of the Bulge' in December 1944 would be the test.

Heavily attacked by superior German armour, outnumbered and without air support, the US Army was on its own in the Ardennes. A large portion of the green l06th Division held its position for a short time and then gave way in the biggest US surrender since Kasserine. The surprised Americans bent - but did not break. Bastogne was stubbornly held, and Germany's finest remaining Panzer troops were constantly bedevilled by skilled US delaying actions. By 1 January 1945 the Wehrmacht had suffered crippling losses without even approaching their objective, and the line was soon restored. The Battle of the Bulge had proven the battle worthiness of the GI, and was, in Prime Minister Churchill's words, 'truly an American victory'.

Supply crisis in the ETO

Despite America's apparently limitless manufacturing capacity and generous scales of issue for almost every necessity, one factor had a baleful effect on US operations - and on the daily conditions faced by many US soldiers - throughout NW Europe in the second half of 1944. The problem was not producing what was needed, or shipping it to Europe; it was getting it out of the ships and up to the front-line units when, where and in the quantities required. The overall supply situation in the ETO was poor, clue in about equal measure to shortages of transportation and bad decisions on logistics taken by the staff at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces).

This portrait of a war-weary sergeant is typical of a US tanker in the ETO in the winter of 1944/45. Note the connector jack on his right shoulder, hanging from his helmet; this connector pulled out easily if a crew had to abandon a burning tank in a hurry. Shortly after this photo was taken its subject, Sgt John H.Parks from Mill Creek, Indiana, was killed in action in Germany.

Eisenhower's staff had planned for a steadily progressing advance with the Allies reaching the German border in early 1945. This would give time to clear the ports in western France and to move supplies forward in a timely fashion. While the battle for Normandy ran behind schedule, the leap across France in August/September 1944 quickly outran all logistical planning. With the now distant ports still slow to clear, supplies continued to come in over Omaha beach. The 'Red Ball Express' priority trucking route (so named for the red mark used in the 1930s on priority railroad cars) gave some relief, as did the use of aircraft for cargo runs to the front. Railroads would have been the most efficient means of transport, but France's network, ripped up by Allied bombing in the weeks before D-Day, took a long time to rebuild. The opening of southern French ports after the 'Anvil' landings in August made some difference; but the failure of the British/Canadian Twenty-First Army Group to seize the estuaries at Antwerp, the greatest port in the Low Countries, left the Allies logistically adrift. The grand pursuit across France by the 1st and 3rd US Armies, and by Twenty-First Army Group in the Netherlands, ground to a standstill in September; and each of the Allied army commanders sought to pressure SHAEF into granting him priority of supply as they argued over the conflicting strategies of 'narrow thrust' and 'broad advance'. Such absolute basics as ammunition and gasoline became critical items. Eisenhower opted to bring ashore more combat units, but the transport to move them to the front was already consumed in running supplies to meet existing demands. Some 60 to 100 cargo ships collected off Cherbourg, waiting for dock space; and in September it began to get rainy and cold.

Ardennes, December 1944: coming in from manning a night roadblock, these three GIs (including two carrying bazookas) are lucky to have cold/wet weather footwear - in the foreground, four-clip M1942 overshoes. The man on the left wears the big fitted woollen anti-gas hood for warmth. From the diamond shape of the shoulder patch on the centre man's overcoat these soldiers could be from the 5th or 26th Divisions.

Stocks of gas, ammunition, blankets, tyres and winter uniforms all became critically short. The new buckled combat boot was now being issued, and it was felt that if treated with dubbin it would serve well enough as a winter boot for France. The war, however, was in Belgium, on the German border and in the Vosges mountains. The new boots were found to have little capacity to resist water or give warmth. With the Battle of the Bulge raging in December, winter overshoes and shoepacs became a priority; during that month the US Army in the ETC) lost 56,000 men to non-battle causes such as frostbite and trench foot - by January 1945 these losses were almost equal to battle casualties. Winter boots finally arrived in significant numbers by late January. Overcoats and the new M1 943 four-pocket combat jackets were also in short supply, since they had not been ordered or brought forward from the rear area Communications Zone (COM Z). The winter of 1944/45 also caught the US Army with few white camouflage suits (reversible anoraks) available at the front. White cotton bedsheets were pressed into service, cut and sewn by local civilians, QM and the GIs. Besides whitewashing vehicles and helmets, some men actually oversprayed their uniforms and equipment. Issue hooded snow camouflage suits finally began to appear in January. With the rapidly approaching spring the demand for such special items receded; and the Belgian ports also began to open.

SERVICE DRESS

Enlisted men

The US Army started the war wearing the M1939 four-pocket drab brown 18oz wool serge coat and trousers for service dress (Class A). Until the issue of the 'M1941' Parsons field jacket this was also intended to be one of the Army's field uniforms. The coat had two patch breast pockets and two inside skirt pockets, both with flaps. The back had bi-swing shoulder gussets, belt hooks and an integral cloth belt across the small of the back. A russet leather belt with plain brass bar buckle was to be worn with the coat until its deletion in 1941. The open lapelled front of the tunic closed with four 1-inch diameter brass buttons bearing the eagle seal of the US; half-inch eagle buttons were used for the pockets and epaulettes. In 1942 a simpler M1942 coat, without a bi-swing back, became the standard issue. Rank insignia (see MAA 347 for NCOs' rank insignia chart) were sewn on both sleeves above the elbow in OD green on black felt; silver-on-black stripes were also used. The four-pocket coat was made limited standard in September 1944 in favour of the M1944 wool field or 'Ike' jacket.

Creased wool serge trousers (M1939) were worn with the service coat, usually of the same or a slightly lighter shade of drab brown. In the ETO the drab, long-sleeved wool shirt was worn initially with a black but more commonly with a khaki necktie. The shirt had two breast pockets with clipped flaps and a buttoned front and cuffs. With the issue of the slightly darker 'Ike' jacket in 1944/45, both the older pants and newer matching equivalents were to be seen. Russet leather ankle boots or shoes were worn with the four-pocket service dress; with the new 'Ike' jacket, shined buckle boots were commonly worn; trousers were tucked into the boots paratrooper-style, or worn loose with low quarter shoes. Most shirts and pants were made with an extra length of material behind the buttonholes; this 'gas flap' would supposedly protect the skin against blistering agents.

A brown drab visored or 'saucer' hat with a russet leather visor was the initial issue service dress hat. A flat sidecap - the 'overseas' or 'garrison cap' - in brown drab and summer/tropical khaki versions was soon authorised and became the standard issue. Initially, the edges of the turn-up flap or 'curtain' round the base of the cap were piped in branch-specific colours, and a regimental crest or branch-of-service collar disc was sometimes worn on its left front. Piping soon became optional, and unpiped caps were commonly seen. The popular overseas cap was cheap, light and easy to pack; it acquired a nickname based on the female anatomy.

Officers

The M1940 officer's hip length tunic ('coat') was generally similar to the enlisted version. It used a wool/barathea material of approximately 15-26oz weight, with a softer feel than the enlisted man's wool serge. The colour can best be described as a dark greenish/chocolate brown (officially, OD 51 dark shade). The breast pockets were pleated; the M1940 had bi-swing or pleated back seams and four brass buttons down the front. It was commonly worn with a russet Sam Browne belt with the crosstrap and twin-tongued thick bar brass buckle. The M1942 coat eliminated the bi-swing back and replaced the bottom button with a smooth plastic one, which fitted under an integral cloth waist belt with a slip-through brass buckle, replacing the Sam Browne. Officers' tunics also sported a half-inch wide drab cloth braid around each cuff. Warrant officers wore the same tunic with greenish cuff braid. (See MAA 342 for officers' and warrant officers' insignia.) Beige/khaki trousers or breeches - called 'pinks' - were to be worn with this tunic. Russet brown shoes, khaki shirt and black (early) or khaki necktie completed the uniform. This outfit was sometimes called 'pinks and greens'; and it was said by some British - in rueful jest, given their own clothes rationing - that Yank officers were obviously not as rich as everyone said if they couldn't afford to buy uniforms with matching trousers.

October 1944: this retiring 5th Division master sergeant wears the four-pocket M1942 dress coat (tunic). The left sleeve shows below the rank insignia the five bars marking two-and-a-half years' overseas service in World War II; the three chevrons of one-and-a-half years' overseas during World War I; and ten re-enlistments. Below this is the officer's drab braid cuff trim, signifying his previous commissioned service in World War I. The light streak on the breast pocket is a scratch on the negative.

ETO jacket

When the first GIs arrived in England in 1942 they saw the British battledress uniform (BD). A limited number of BDs were issued to the Americans; and their warmth, and the neat appearance which could be achieved with the waist-length two-pocket blouse, was well liked. (US senior officers were presumably judging not by the coarse serge 'Other Ranks' issue blouse, but by the privately tailored versions worn by their British counterparts.) By regulation US general officers are given a wide latitude in personal dress; Gen Eisenhower especially liked the short blouse, and had a sort of American version tailored for his own use, with a tighter fit and smoother cloth than the serge original.

The ETO staff then began to push for an American version, and in 1943 the ETO Quartermaster brought out the first model; this was essentially a version of the 'M1941' Parsons field jacket but made of the same rough, heavy-textured wool serge as the BD, warm and easy to care for. It featured exposed plastic buttons, 'handwarmer' pockets with flaps, a buckle-across waist tab and bi-swing back pleats. The second model to be produced looked more like a standard British BD blouse, with exposed plastic buttons, (lapped patch breast pockets, epaulettes and a bi-swing back pleat. The ETO jacket was not an uncommon sight, particularly among Air Corps units in Britain. The QM in the States could not get the rough BD wool serge, but was making its own plans for a short blouse-style jacket.

Greenham Common airfield, UK, 5 June 1944: one of the famous sequence of photos showing the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces, Gen Dwight D.Eisenhower, with men of the 101st Airborne Division. Speaking here to a lieutenant, 'Ike' wears the jacket he made famous; the paratroopers wear their M1942 uniforms, with tactical helmet markings - here the white heart of the 502nd PIR. The right-hand man has a general purpose ammo bag slung on his chest.

M1944 'Ike' jacket

Based on recommendations from the ETO, the QM in the USA designed a short version of the four-pocket service coat. This new jacket was made from a slightly darker drab material; matching trousers with flapped rear pockets were also manufactured. The jacket had epaulettes, two pleated breast pockets with pointed flaps, buttoned cuffs, all buttons concealed, and a belted waist with take-up buckles on each hip. Unlike the British issue BD blouse, but like the ETO jacket, it also featured open lapels. The QM intended for this jacket to serve as both a field and service jacket replacing the four-pocket tunic; GIs were suppose to have it loose fitting for field wear, and to use it as a liner under the M1943 four-pocket combat jacket. However, the GIs had other ideas: they had it tailored tight and wore it almost exclusively as a service jacket.

This 'wool field jacket' first began limited issue in mid-1944 and was an immediate success, being universally nicknamed after the general who had shown the way. Because of limited availability, many GIs based in England had their four-pocket service tunics cut and retailored into a brass-buttoned version of the short 'Ike' jacket. Alter VE-Day GIs were issued the M1944 jacket almost exclusively. Rank was worn on both sleeves; insignia were in OD green on black felt, silver on black, or, more commonly, the newer green-on-black version.

An officer's version of the 'Ike' jacket was produced in dark green/chocolate (OD shade 51) and was worn with appropriate insignia; the officer's cuff trim was usually in a dark shade. This jacket - of which custom-tailored variations were also seen - was worn with either matching trousers or 'pinks'.

Branch colours and insignia

Each branch within the US Army had its own distinctive colour. This colour was only normally seen on flags, in some of the embellishments on officers' dress blue uniforms, in the cord piping on the curtain of enlisted men's overseas caps, and in the cords of the old campaign hat.

Each branch also had its own collar insignia. For officers these were of cut-out design, normally in brass but in some cases with additional coloured enamelling; chaplains' insignia were silver. They were worn on both lower lapels of the officer's service coat, below cut-out 'U.S.' national cyphers on the upper lapels. When in shirtsleeve order the branch badge was pinned to the wearer's left collar and the rank insignia (see MAA 342 for chart) to his right. Enlisted men wore the national cypher and the branch insignia on brass discs on the right and left upper lapels respectively.

The colours and insignia of the major branches normally encountered in combat zones are described in the table on page 8.

Distinctive insignia

Many units were authorised to wear heraldic-style crests in coloured enamels, which were sometimes displayed in the ETO on the officers' and enlisted men's service dress when out of the line. They were displayed by officers centred on the service coat epaulettes, top inwards, and by enlisted men on the lower coat lapels; EMs could also pin one to the left front of the overseas cap.

Normandy, summer 1944: an officers' orders group at a battalion HQ of the 29th Division (the censor's pen has scribbled over the right-hand man's patch). All wear the so-called 'tanker's jacket'; the man sitting in the middle has a fighting knife sticking out of his custom-made buckled leather legging. The kneeling man has British-made hobnailed boots, and an officer's bar painted on his helmet back; in the ETO all officers and NCOs were supposed to have a 2in-wide white bar painted here, vertical for officers and horizontal for NCOs. While not universally applied, these were commonly seen throughout 1944/45.

Shoulder patches

During the American Civil War the Union Army began to use cloth identification patches, distinctively shaped for each corps and coloured for each division, and normally worn on the headgear. The British Army used many complex systems of distinctive sleeve patches at battalion, brigade and divisional level during World World I; these 'battle badges' were normally geometric shapes in solid colours, identifying units within a formation by their colour, shape and number. General Pershing also authorised the use of shoulder patches within the American Expeditionary Force in France, but the war ended as they came into issue. These differed front most of the British systems in being actual insignia rather than systems to identify units. By World War II the use of such patches - officially, 'shoulder sleeve insignia' - within the US Army was common.

A division used a standard patch throughout its organisation, usually based on the previously designed World War I patch. In general these were embroidered multi-coloured patches, worn at the top of the left sleeve. The symbols used ran the gamut from heraldic designs, through visual references to the home state, to punning plays on words. Independent units, corps and armies also used patches, as did the Army Air Corps. Corps patches were normally blue on white, and commonly used Roman numerals. Those CIs not assigned to specific divisions usually wore corps or army patches.

Gen Davis, the only black general officer in the US Army during World War II, was a veteran whose service stretched back to the Spanish- American War of 1898. He served or support and QM staffs in the ETO, and was partly responsible for the integration of squads and platoons of black GIs into infantry combat units in the winter of 1944/45. Here he wears a custom-made woollen 'ETO jacket' with exposed buttons and 'hand-warmer' slash pockets.

SELECTION OF ARMY BRANCH COLOURS & INSIGNIA

BranchColour/sInsignia
Army Air ForceUltramarine piped w. golden yellowWings & propeller
ArmoredGreen piped w. whiteWWI tank
CavalryYellowCrossed sabres
Chaplains (all-officer branch)BlackCross (Christian);
Two tablets & Star ot David (Jewish)
Chemical Warfare ServiceCobalt blue piped w. golden yellowBenzol ring & crossed retorts
Coast ArtilleryScarletCrossed cannon, shell in red oval
Engineer CorpsScarlet piped w. blueCastle
Field ArtilleryScarletCrossed cannon
InfantryLight blueCrossed rifles
Medical DeptMaroon piped w. whiteCaduceus
Military PoliceYellow piped w. greenCrossed pistols
Ordnance DeptCrimson piped w. yellowFlaming shell
Quartermaster CorpsBuffEagle surmounting wheel, crossed sword & key
Signal CorpsOrange & whiteCrossed signal flags & flaming torch
Tank Destroyer unitsGolden orangeM3 SP gun (halftrack)
Transportation CorpsBrick red piped w. golden yellowWinged car wheel, on shield, on ship's wheel
Women's Army CorpsOld gold piped w. moss greenHead of Athena

Airborne units displayed an additional 'Airborne' title above their patch to show their status; they also wore a parachute, glider, or later a combined patch on their overseas caps. All armoured divisions and independent tank battalions used the triangular Armored Force patch divided red/yellow/blue (for the antecedent artillery, cavalry and infantry branches) differenced by divisional and unit numerals. (It was only after VE-Day that they began to add strips to the bottom of their triangular patches bearing their nicknames, the 2nd Armored Division's 'Hell on Wheels' being among the first seen.)

Patches were machine-embroidered onto khaki cotton cloth; original World War II patches sometimes show the khaki around the edges, and have a soft off-white rear surface. Some patches were fabricated overseas by local tailors, and bullion-embroidered versions were sometimes available. GIs who served in combat with more than one organisation were authorised to wear the patch of their original combat unit on the right shoulder of the service dress, at the same time as the current patch on the left.

Fourragères

In World War I both the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions were awarded the right to wear a fourragère or French-style left shoulder cord, in the green flecked with red of the Croix de Guerre ribbon, as a collective decoration to mark their service to France. In World War II members of those divisions were also authorised to wear it as a remembrance of their forbears' service, but this was rarely seen; actual World War I veterans still in service sometimes wore the fourragère, however.

During World War II the French began once again to award the fourragère to US units; the great majority of these awards were made near the end of the war. When seen worn by GIs the cords tended to be of the old World War I issue; the fourragère for the World War II Croix de Guerre had a slightly different coloration, of red flecked with green, and was in particularly short supply. Post-war GIs wore both kinds. Availability of these items from ruined and only recently liberated France was naturally disorganised. There were two design variants; one was a simple plaited cord, intended to be worn from the left epaulette button down the back of the shoulder, passing forward under the armpit and fixing by a loop to a front button, with a hanging brass ferrule. The other, more elaborate version had a long extra length of smooth cord which was supposed to be arranged under the epaulette so as to hang on the outside of the arm in two loops. Unknowing GIs did wear them on the correct shoulder, but in any number of ways. These cords were also awarded by the Belgian and Dutch governments. The red/green Belgian Croix de Guerre fourragère was worn on the right shoulder; the orange cord of the Dutch Wilhelm's Order was worn on the left, passing into the breast pocket. (Examples are illustrated on Plate H.)

D-Day, Utah beach: two 4th Division medics work on a wounded comrade. Note the 'Ivy' patch on the left shoulder of the casualty's HBTs - not a usual practice in Normandy. The wounded medic still wears his assault gasmask and yoke-style web harness. Medics generally went in on D-Day wearing a minimum of red cross markings.

Most units seem to have been semi-officially notified of their authorisation to wear these distinctions soon after YT.-Day. It commonly took until the 1950s for the official orders authorising these awards to be confirmed.

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