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American Tactical Gear Through Time Part 4

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Following the devastating events of WWI, the United States saw a very quiet period leading up to WWII. The military saw very little changes until WWII was fully underway (due in no part to the Great Depression that kept funding minimal years earlier). The United States would once again undergo significant wartime changes to become a dominant global military power.

Due to the sheer size and variety of U.S. military units used at the time, there were vast arrays of standard tactical gear issued. To keep this article at a reasonable level, we will focus on the late WWII period tactical gear (seen in many iconic battles in both Europe and the Pacific).
The most striking difference between the gear of WWI and WWII was the adoption of the M1 helmet. The iconic M1 helmet saw production of around 23 million and didn’t get phased out of the U.S. military until the 1980’s! Its steel design offered increased protection for the head over the shallower WWI style helmet (pictured left).

Much of the tan and olive drab gear from WWI remained in heavy use for most of WWII. This was due mostly to the fact that the amount of gear required to arm the military for WWI left millions of pieces of surplus tactical gear that hadn’t seen use. One item that saw modification however was the ammunition belt, officially named the 1923 cartridge belt. Improved design meant easier use of the 10 pocket, 80 round capacity belt system used to feed the famous M1 Garand rifle. The cartridge belt also featured suspenders that will help distribute the weight of the belt and its contents, including: a small first aid pouch, canteen, and bayonet.

Other parts of the U.S. soldier’s equipment load out remained largely the same. The extra bag pictured in the middle of the photo to the right was a second style pack issued to Airborne and mechanized units. Inside the soldier’s haversack included among other things, a variety of possible tools including: entrenching axe, entrenching tool (spade), barbed wire cutters, and many more. Almost all of the U.S. soldier’s non-combat related items were in his haversack. Items such as food rations, shaving kit and mirror, extra clothes and socks, and creature comforts such as photos, books, and tobacco.

A final notable difference experienced during WWII was the evolution of footwear. Early WWII footwear for the U.S. were ankle high leather shoes with canvas leggings worn over them that strapped underneath the sole. As you can imagine these were considered a major pain and were heavily despised (and consequently oftentimes not worn). The initial alteration of the shoe was to include a standard rubber sole, giving the shoe the new “Type II Service Shoe” name.

After a Type III shoe with a different suede finish was made, the military finally dumped the shoe in 1943 with the major jump forward to the M43 “double buckle” Combat Boot. The double buckle designation was most likely to note that the two buckles replaced the need for the much maligned leggings. A real leather boot with a touch rubber sole? Sign me up!