VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS
The 9th MEB landed in strength on the shores of Vietnam on the morning of 8 March 1965. Tasked with providing security for the airfield at Danang, Marines of Brigade Landing Team (BLT) 3/9 had spent the previous six weeks en route from Japan. After pitching up and down in ships of the Amphibious Task Force anchored out in the South China Sea the Marines were anxious to get ashore and get to grips with the Viet Cong. In fact, as they hit Red Beach 2 the 1,400 fully equipped and combat-ready Marines were met by a gaggle of press cameras, welcoming banners, and shy schoolgirls who presented the startled Leathernecks with garlands of flowers. That afternoon BLT 1/3 were flown into Danang airport on C-130 transport aircraft. The decision to deploy the Marine Corps to Vietnam's northernmost province was based on the reasoning that South Vietnam's only deep water port would be best utilized by the US Army, who lacked the Marines' amphibious capabilities. The northern provinces, grouped together under I Corps Tactical Zone (ICTZ), would remain the Marines' area of operation for the rest of the war.
In 1962 an effort was made to standardize uniforms worn by different branches of the service, and the Army's OG107 utility uniform and black leather combat boots were issued in place of earlier Marine items. Though the change-over would take some time, it was in this uniform that the majority of Marines arrived in Vietnam. This rifleman of BLT 1/3 is equipped for an 'administrative' move and as such carries the maximum amount of equipment.
Headgear is the Ml Steel Helmet with Leaf Pattern Camouflage Cover common to the Marine Corps and the Army. The cover, which fitted tightly over the helmet shell, was reversible from a brown-dominant pattern to the more usual green-dominant leaf pattern, as shown here.
Body armour is the Marine Corps M1955 Armor - Body Fragmentation Protective - dubbed the 'flak vest'. The M1955 was an upgraded version of the M1951 vest developed by the Corps during the Korean War. The Marines were pioneers in the use of body armour and placed far more emphasis on its wear than did the Army. Throughout the war most Marine riflemen would wear a vest for their entire tour. Issued with the vest was the Korean War vintage Lower Torso Armor - Type M53, commonly known as the 'flak diaper'. These were universally considered to be too restricting for the protection that they offered, and were immediately discarded.
This rifleman's load bearing equipment is the Marine Corps' unique M1961 Web Gear, comprising rifle belt, suspenders (worn under the body armour), and four pouches holding one 20-round M-14 rifle magazine apiece. An M6 Bayonet in its M8A1 Scabbard hangs from the grommets below one magazine pouch.
The World War 2 era plywood Packboard (1), little seen in Army service by the 1960s, was a favourite with Marines doomed to carry bulky loads. Used throughout the war to transport such items as mortar and recoilless rifle ammunition, it was also used by riflemen for personal gear, as here. A Marine Corps M1941 Haversack (2) is attached first, then other items of equipment are tied to or hung from it. Here an M1943 Entrenching Tool (3) is secured to the pack in its canvas carrier. A metal ammunition can (4) is strapped below the haversack, attached to which is a Marine Jungle First Aid Kit (5). The regulation blanket, together with a sectional tentpole and pegs, are rolled inside the 'Mitchell' pattern camouflage Tent Shelter Half (6), which is worn in bedroll fashion strapped to the haversack.
The weapon is the 7.62mm M14 Rifle, the successor to the old Ml Garand. The M14 in its standard configuration was a semi-automatic weapon, but could be converted to fully automatic fire with the installation of a selector. A bipod was fitted when the rifle was used in the fully automatic role.
When the Marines landed at Danang in March 1965 they were assigned to the protection of the airbase perimeter. Initially confined to the base's eight square miles, the Marines found life tedious and frustrating: instead of sallying forth into the countryside to fight the infamous Viet Cong as they had expected, the men found themselves digging bunkers and filling sandbags. Marine engineers were put to work modernizing the facilities at Danang; meanwhile men sweated up the beach man-handling equipment ashore from anchored supply ships. To the Marines sitting in fighting positions around the airbase perimeter this was not the war they had come to fight. Drained by the unaccustomed heat and plagued by ever-present mosquitoes, they were initially forbidden to run patrols outside the wire. More Marine units arrived in the following months to set up further enclaves on the coast. These areas, such as Chu Lai and Phu Bai, would become major Marine bases as the war developed.
The uniform worn by this First Lieutenant is peculiar to the first few months of the war. The Marines' M1958 Cotton-Sateen Utility Uniform was unique to the Corps, and was obsolete by 1965, having been replaced by the Army's OG107 utility uniform. Some career officers and senior NCOs within the Corps, however, continued to wear the older uniform, though it would disappear entirely by the end of that year. The shirt featured two chest pockets with concealed buttons and an internal map pocket. The Marine's characteristic 'eagle, globe and anchor' stencil was applied to the left pocket. The trousers were full cut and had two rear pockets, one closing with a single exposed button. The Marines had their own trouser belt, shown here, of khaki web with an open face brass buckle. A 1956 version of this uniform was made in a herringbone twill (HBT) material, and though occasionally seen was even rarer than the sateen set. The embroidered name tape was an affectation of the 3rd Marine Division (3MARDIV), who had them made up on Okinawa prior to embarkation for Vietnam. The undershirt is another item peculiar to this stage of the war. The issue undershirts were white, and when orders for Vietnam came through some units dyed these green with varying degrees of success, resulting in some peculiar shades, as here.
Boots are standard black leather combat boots as worn by the Army. Again, some earlier Marine types were worn by traditionally-minded personnel until they wore out. Headgear is the Marine Corps Utility Cap, known (as is all Marine headgear) as a 'cover'. The utility cap was a World War 2 era item unique to the Corps, worn here as per regulations and starched into shape - it would soon collapse in the tropical heat and monsoon rains, to assume a less smart appearance.
The items worn on the M1936 pistol belt are typical of a junior field grade officer, and include a .45 cal. auto pistol in an M1916 holster, an M1910 aluminium canteen in an M1943 cover, and a twin-cell magazine pouch for the pistol. The Knife, Hunting 7" w/Sheath (or 'K-Bar', after the principal manufacturer) was another World War 2 item that had become a Marine trademark. The knife had a parkerized steel blade and a handle of compressed leather washers. By 1965 these knives were issued in dark brown/black leather sheaths, though the older russet brown examples were still to be seen. The map case is a Korean war item officially called a Dispatch Bag. Having no means of attachment to the belt, the case is worn slung over the shoulder.
The pack is the Marines' M1941 Haversack worn as a light marching pack. The haversack, unchanged since World War 2, was in fact only a component of the Corps' M1941 pack system, which included a knapsack and the belt suspenders. These items could be worn in several configurations, from the haversack alone, as here, to the field transport pack', which was the haversack coupled to the knapsack and draped with the bedroll and tent/shelter half. A grometted flap on the top face of the haversack and a buckled strap at the bottom secure the folding entrenching tool in its M1943 carrier.
The 1st Infantry Division landed in Vietnam during the summer of 1965. Deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas, it arrived at Bien Hoa on the banks of the Dong Nai river outside Saigon. The 1st Infantry Division was one of the rapidly escalating regular Army combat formations despatched to Vietnam. Collectively known as the 'Big Red One' after its distinctive shoulder insignia, the Division would prove to be one of the Army's hardest fighting outfits. The 1st Battalion of the 2nd Infantry was one of the Army's oldest and proudest units. Established in 1808, it fought in the War of 1812, the Mexican and Civil Wars as well as World War 2. The soldiers of the 2nd Infantry represented the vanguard of a superbly trained and equipped battle-ready army of soldiers anxious to earn their Combat Infantryman's Badges.
This Specialist, Fourth Class - newly arrived, tired and bewildered, at Bien Hoa - typifies the appearance of the many thousands of combat troops who would land in Vietnam over the coming months. His uniform and personal equipment are worn as per regulation, and would remain unchanged until the adoption of the tropical combat uniform. OG107 utilities are worn over a white undershirt, with shirtsleeves neatly rolled and trousers bloused into black combat boots. The black web trouser belt with brass roller buckle was worn with all Army work and field uniforms. Full-colour insignia are worn, including the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 1st Infantry Division adopted in the last days of World War 1.
Headgear is the hated 'baseball' utility cap, here one of the many better-quality examples which were widely available through Stateside Post Exchanges. It was a common practice, especially during large scale deployments, to affix the unit's enamelled 'Distinctive Insignia' or crest to the front of the cap - here that of the 2nd Infantry.
Personal equipment is the Army's M1956 Individual Load Carrying Equipment (LCE) introduced in 1957 with the M14 rifle that this man carries. Also suited to the new M16 rifle, the M1956 gear would be standard throughout the war. Made from olive green cotton-canvas with blackened alloy fittings, the M1956 system introduced a number of new concepts to personal equipment. First was the 'vertical slide-keeper' method of attaching items to the belt, which eliminated the bounce effect of the old double hook system by securing items against the belt rather than hanging them from it. Secondly, the equipment included an integral Combat Field Pack which, in theory, eliminated the need for a separate rucksack. In practice it became apparent that the field pack was wholly inadequate for operations of any length. The equipment is illustrated here in textbook configuration for an infantry soldier.
The Individual Equipment Belt and items thereon are supported by the Belt Suspenders or 'H-harness', which was lightly padded to spread the weight across the shoulders. Two Universal Small Arms Ammunition Cases are worn on the front of the belt and additionally secured to a D-ring on the suspenders. These universal pouches were designed for the M14's 20-round magazine, but could also accomodate M16 magazines and a variety of other ordnance, from shotgun shells to grenades. The Combat Field Pack, universally known as the 'butt pack', is centred on the rear of the belt and supported by the suspenders. At this stage the old style aluminium canteens were still on issue and were carried in pile-lined M1956 Canteen Covers fitted with slide-keeper attachments. The M1951 Combination Tool or 'entrenching tool' is worn in its M1956 carrier, which featured a leather attachment tab and web strap to secure the M6 bayonet in its M8A1 scabbard. The First Aid/Compass Case could be worn on the belt, attached to a universal pouch or to the suspenders, as here.
During the five months after the Marines landed at Danang the Viet Cong avoided a confrontation. However, in August the Marines carried out their first major operation of the war - Operation 'Starlight'. Fortuitous intelligence had located the position of the 1st Viet Cong Regiment on the Van Tuong Peninsula fifteen miles from Chu Lai. A pincer attack was quickly conceived to cut off and destroy this enemy formation; in true Marine Corps tradition the operation involved a sea-borne assault. On the morning of 16 August, Marine A4 Skyhawks strafed landing beaches as forty-ton 'Amtrack' landing vehicles disgorged men of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. On the landward side the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines were set down by helicopter to act as the hammer to 3/3's anvil. 'Starlight' was a resounding success for the Marines; over one thousand VC were killed and, more importantly, it was seen that the elusive enemy could be matched and beaten in a head-on fight.
This Marine RTO wears the third pattern 0GW7 utility uniform. Recognition features of this final pattern are the shirt's V-cut pocket flaps and buttoned sleeves. Marine Corps enlisted personnel optionally displayed their rank in the form of blackened metal pin-on insignia on both collar points.
Headgear is the Ml steel helmet with reversible camouflage cover. The field expedient helmet band cut from a car or truck inner tube was a Marine Corps peculiarity throughout the war.
Personal equipment is the M1961 Rifle Belt and M1941 Belt Suspenders, here an older khaki set of World War 2 vintage. A .45 cal. auto pistol is worn in its M1916 leather holster.
The AN/PRC-10 FM Radio was common to both the Marine Corps and the Army at this time, though it would shortly be replaced in Vietnam by the PRC-25. The unreliable PRC-10 typically remained in service longer with the Marines,' in keeping with the Corps' tendency to fall behind in the issue of new equipment. The radio and its attached battery box was issued with its own web carrying harness, though in Marine use it was commonly secured to a plywood packboard, as here - the advantage being that additional items of personal gear could also be carried on the packboard. Here a Marine M1941 haversack is attached below the battery box, together with a rolled rain poncho and two M1910 canteens. The M18 Colored Smoke Grenades were used to help helicopter pilots gauge wind direction as well as identifying enemy/friendly positions. The M18s were available in yellow, green, red and violet. The M14 Incendiary Grenade was Thermite-filled, and was used to destroy caches of enemy food and equipment.
One of the most novel innovations of the war was the air assault, the cutting edge of the Army's new doctrine - 'Airmobility'. For the first time infantry units had at their disposal vertical assault capabilities that brought a previously unheard-of degree of troop mobility. Airmobile operations would dominate the battlefields of Vietnam for the rest of the war, enabling US commanders to overcome the difficulties of troop movement due to hostile terrain and lack of roads. The main purpose of the air assault was to place combat troops on or close to their tactical objective. Fresh troops could be delivered to the scene of battle unwearied by tortuous ground approach marches. It took something in the order of two minutes to land troops from a typical twelve-aircraft formation: thirty seconds to flare and land, a minute for the troops to disembark, and a further thirty seconds to clear the landing zone. However, it might seem like a lot longer to the aircrews if the LZ was a 'hot' one, i.e. under enemy fire. Each infantry division was assigned a Combat Aviation Battalion. The 25th Aviation Battalion was the airmobile asset of the 25th Infantry Division, arriving in April 1966 and departing December 1970.
Other than the pilot and co-pilot, helicopter crews at this time wore the same OG107 utility uniform and black leather combat boots as ground troops. The shirt in this case bears the full-colour rank insignia of a Specialist 5th Class and the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 25th Infantry Division.
The APH5 flight helmet is shown with the tinted anti-glare visor in place; when not in use it could be retracted and locked into position by pulling up on the visor knob. The helmet illustrated has been overpainted dark green on top of the white factory finish. The name 'Catalina Islanders' is a typical personalization, and probably refers to the hometown of the aircraft commander.
The flak vest is standard ground troops' M1952 Body Armor. Aircrew, particularly crew chiefs and door gunners, were extremely vulnerable to ground fire and, until the introduction of specially developed aircrew armour later in the war, most wore standard infantry vests. The M1952 was developed during the Korean War and was worn right through Vietnam. The vest contained a filler of semi-flexible layers of ballistic nylon cloth with a quarter-inch layer of sponge rubber over the ribs and shoulders; the sponge rubber served as a shock-absorbing layer to alleviate contusions and fractures from the impact of missiles. The vest closed with a full-length zip fastener, and could be adjusted to fit by laced closures at both sides. Two chest pockets were provided, as were shoulder straps, and two rows of web hangers for grenades, etc.