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​American Tactical Gear Through Time Part 3

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The first major conflict in the 20th century also happened to be one of the most brutal. WWI was marked by a terrible collision of circumstances: technology exceeding tactics. The results of this were technological inventions such as machine guns taking advantage of mass charge tactics still in use by most militaries. Due to the immense number of American soldiers fighting in the war, many sweeping changes were made to the U.S. military’s tactical gear. For the first time, resemblances can be seen to modern tactical gear. 

One of the most obvious changes that separated WWI from previous American conflicts was the use of metal helmets. The M1917 steel helmet was actually issued when American soldiers arrived in France! Clothing consisted mostly of a wool or cotton khaki coat (many factories were unable to dye the uniforms the original olive green), with matching trousers that were often wrapped at the bottom. For winter use, a heavy wool trench coat was issued as well. Any modern day soldier understands the importance of foot care. Proper foot care in the modern military is widespread and for good reason. The condition known as trench foot was a result of prolonged exposure to damn and cold conditions during the war. These conditions were so severe that the British Army suffered 20,000 casualties from it in 1914 alone! Shoe technology would continue to evolve to meet the harsh demands many soldier’s feet would face.

The tactical pouches of WWI strongly resemble modern pouches, with a bandolier containing six ammo pouches. Each pouch contained two five-round clips (these were actually clips, not to be confused with modern nonsense referring to magazines). Other notable appearances that have become standard U.S. military tactical issue include the canteen (with canteen cup), the entrenching tool (endlessly useful),

The “backpack” of WWI saw major practical advances over the essentially “rolled up blanket” style of the 19 th century. Numerous internal pouches allowed a variety of items to be sorted and separated without being dumped in a heap in the center.

The pouch systems allowed for a more diverse collection of personal items (one no longer need worry if there soap would fall into their daily rations)! Some common items included: 3 days rations in a can (of course!), shaving kit (apparently the relaxed grooming standards of the Civil War didn’t catch on), a sewing kit (ripped pants suck), a mess kit (spare the mitts, use the fork and knife), and a bar of soap (in case it rained I guess). 

One of the most notorious items to see first time issue to U.S. soldiers was the gas mask. Still marked as the largest U.S. military conflict that involved chemical weapons, a gas mask wasn’t just something that sat in the bottom of your gear in your hut, it stayed with you at all times. Despite being banned by the 1907 Hague Convention, the vast majority of powers in WWI used them extensively earl on, until the rise of the gas mask diminished their effectiveness. The first major chemical agent attack was by the Germans using chlorine gas, a gas that causes damage to the face and lungs, resulting in death from asphyxiation. The insidious mustard gas would follow in 1917, a far nastier agent. Mustard gas would settle in the soil for sometimes weeks at a time, causing symptoms such as blistered skin, vomiting, internal and external bleeding, and attacking the bronchial tubes in the lungs.

The lessons learned from WWI would prepare the U.S. military to create some of the most iconic tactical gear and weapons leading into WWII. Tune in for the next article as we explore the tactical gear of the greatest generation!