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MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELLTHE
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.
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.
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.