VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS
The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was ordered to Vietnam in the summer of 1965 as a permanent replacement for the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Due to the war's rapid escalation the 173rd remained in-country and the 101st was assigned as the 'fire brigade' reaction force for II Corps Tactical Zone. The various infantry battalions of the Brigade were among the finest combat units in the US Army. The men who wore the famous 'Screaming Eagle' shoulder patch were all qualified paratroopers and were proud of their Division's illustrious heritage. When subdued versions of the shoulder sleeve insignia were introduced as compulsory wear later in the war, the 101st largely ignored the order and continued proudly to wear their full-colour patch.
The steel helmet is fitted with an Ml-C Parachutist's Liner with its distinctive web A-straps and chincup. The issue elasticated Camouflage Helmet Band was intended as a camouflage aid, but was more typically used in Vietnam to hold small items that the owner wanted to keep either close to hand or dry - e.g. cigarettes, matches, toilet paper, etc. Here one of the most common items, a plastic bottle of insect repellent, is shown.
On the OG107 utility shirt this paratrooper wears his Division's shoulder sleeve insignia, basic jump wings and the single chevrons of his rank. The trousers have been modified by the addition of patch pockets on the outside of each leg - a common practice in Airborne units at the time.
The M1956 LCE is worn in typical fighting order with various items attached. The olive drab Plastic One Quart Canteen was introduced as a replacement for the aluminium type and by 1966 was the more common of the two. M26A1 Fragmentation Grenades are carried on the universal pouches, correctly secured by their levers with a retaining strap passed through the safety rings. The metal snap-link or 'O-ring' attached to the harness on the left shoulder was used for rappelling from helicopters, and as such was a distinction of Airborne and Air Cavalry troops. A plastic angle-head flashlight with red safety filter is also worn on the front of the suspenders.
The man's sleeping gear is rolled and secured in the Sleeping Bag Carrier illustrated here. Sleeping bags were rarely issued in Vietnam; most troops got by with at most a poncho and the quilted Wet Weather Poncho Liner. These camouflage poncho liners were hugely popular, being extremely lightweight yet retaining the insulating properties of a heavy blanket. The liner is shown rolled inside an early rubberized poncho and hung from the H-harness by the straps of the carrier. The awkward nature of this arrangement is clear, and points up the need for a suitable rucksack for line units. An inflatable air mattress was issued, but rarely carried by experienced troops, though it was useful for floating equipment across jungle streams.
Slung over the right shoulder is an M18A1 Anti Personnel Mine Carrier, commonly called a 'Claymore bag'. This two-compartment cotton bag was issued to transport the M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel mine along with its accessories, though it was also used throughout the war as a carry-all for ammunition and personal kit.
The weapon is the newly introduced 5.56mm M16 rifle in its original version with three-pronged flash supressor.
By the end of 1966 the conflict in Vietnam was no longer a guerrilla war. Though the local VC were still active, the war was now being fought between two main force armies. The US strategy was initially dictated by the need to support and protect the build-up of ground forces; in early 1966, however, the Marine Corps was put on the offensive. Operation 'Hastings' was initiated to counter North Vietnamese formations infiltrating into South Vietnam across the so-called De-Militarized Zone. Scouting by Marine reconnaissance units had pinpointed the presence of an entire North Vietnamese Army division, and six Marine and five ARVN battalions were sent in against it in the largest combined operation of the war thus far.
The Marines were helicoptered into the area around the 700-foot-high feature known as the 'Rockpile'. During the following days the Marines fought hard, repulsing several NVA assaults. On 28 July, as they were leaving the area, the Marines were subjected to a massed human-wave assault by the North Vietnamese. Riflemen fixed bayonets onto their M14s as the fighting became hand-to-hand. After a four-hour battle the Marine rearguard pulled back to the safety of the main body's perimeter and the area was abandoned. 'Hastings' ended in August, though the infiltration routes across the DMZ would remain a major Marine responsibility throughout the war.
This Corporal wears OG107 utilities with his rank affixed to the collar points. White undershirts were still optionally worn under the utility shirt.
Marine Corps web gear is shown here in typical fighting order. Each ammunition pouch holds one 20-round box magazine and features a grommetted flap from which other items could be hung. To one pouch is attached a Three Pocket Grenade Carrier, a World War 2/Korean War item unique to the Marine Corps. Holding a total of six fragmentation grenades - two per pocket - the carrier was generally worn against the thigh, where it could be additionally secured with a leg tie strap. The M8A1 bayonet scabbard is also hung from an ammunition pouch, though like the grenade carrier it could also be attached directly to the equipment belt.
A unique feature of the M1961 rifle belt was the row of studs between the rows of eyelets. This was the female' half of a snap-fastener - the 'male' half of which was located on the rear of the ammunition pouch to prevent the pouch sliding along the belt. The Marine jungle first aid kit worn centred on the rear of the belt was a sectional pouch containing basic first aid equipment. In practice the contents varied but would typically include pressure bandages, adhesive plasters, and sodium chloride/bicarbonate mixture for treating burns. The M1941 belt suspenders were two separate straps which attached to the upper grommets of the belt. It was common practice to join the two together where they crossed in the rear with some type of metal ring, though wire, string or the safety ring from a grenade were all used. Some Marines acquired a set of Pads - Shoulder, Heavy Load which were worn in conjunction with the M1941 suspenders.
The Marines had employed armoured vehicles in Vietnam from the outset and by 1966 had a number of tracked vehicles in service. Most widely used was the Landing Vehicle Tracked Personnel 5 (LVTP-5) of the armoured amphibious companies. This amphibious tractor or 'Amtrack' was the Marines' equivalent of the armoured personnel carrier used by the Army. Designed for ship-to-shore transport, the LVTP was commonly used for ferrying troops in inundated areas and coastal regions. Amtracks of the 1st Armored Amphibious Company had turret-mounted 105mm howitzers. The Marine Corps also made wide use of the M-48 Main Battle Tank and its M-67 variant known as the 'flametank'. One vehicle unique to the Corps was the 'Ontos', a small tracked vehicle armed with six 106mm recoilless rifles. The Ontos (from the Greek, meaning 'the Thing') was designed as an anti-tank vehicle but was much employed as an infantry support weapon and bunker-buster. It would later prove immensely valuable against entrenched enemy snipers on the streets of Hue.
The Combat Vehicle Crewman's Helmet or CVC was common to the Marine Corps and the Army. The helmet featured built-in earphones and a boom-type microphone compatible with the vehicle's internal communications equipment. Often seen worn with the CVC were the Sun, Wind and Dust Goggles used by drivers of tracked vehicles to protect the eyes when on the move. A neckerchief fashioned from a triangular bandage is similarly used to keep dust out of the nose and mouth.
OG107 utility trousers are worn with black combat boots and a white undershirt.
The internal ballistic plates of the M1955 body armour can clearly be seen through the fabric of the cover. These overlapping curved Doron plates provided protection to the vital areas of the abdomen and lower back. The rest of the vest is constructed of thirteen layers of flexible ballistic nylon including a three-quarter collar. The 'rope-ridge' on the right shoulder was designed to prevent the sling of a rifle from slipping off. The vest, like most body armour, would protect the vital areas from low velocity fragments from grenades, booby traps, etc., but would rarely withstand small arms projectiles.
Armoured crews carried a variety of sidearms as personal protection, the most common being the M1911A1 pistol. Shoulder holsters were favoured due to the limited room inside a vehicle; this example is of World War 2/Korean War vintage.
The ammunition can holds linked rounds for the .50 cal. machine gun with which many armoured vehicles were equipped.
Early in the war infantry commanders realized the need for specialized units to gather intelligence on enemy activity in their own particular area of operations. Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) were formed within most Divisions and separate Brigades, often of platoon strength or less. The primary task of these small teams was to locate and monitor the enemy so that manoeuvre battalions from their parent unit could engage them. LRRP unit members were volunteers; picked for their bush skills, they had to be adept at all aspects of silent patrolling. In 1967 these provisional LRRP units were officially authorized and redesignated as Long Range Patrol (LRP) companies of approximately one hundred men. Other tasks entrusted to LRP units included surveillance and target acquisition for airstrikes, ambushes and prisoner snatches. Because the four-man teams operated within enemy controlled areas resupply of food and ammunition was not always possible; consequently, special freeze dried meals were developed. These 'LRRP rations' became much sought after by conventional troops because of their light weight as compared to C-ration cans.
LRP team members were allowed to purchase indigenous camouflage clothing, the most common being the ubiquitous 'tiger-stripe' pattern. The uniform illustrated is typical of garments made under a Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP) contract or a Vietnamese copy of such. The uniform was made of a medium weight cotton, and the colours of the pattern have an overall warm ochre tone which some collectors refer to as the 'gold' variant. The shirt features chest pockets which close with a double-button flap, and a small pocket on the upper left sleeve intended for a field dressing but commonly referred to as a 'cigarette pocket'. The trousers feature two rear and two thigh pockets each with a two-button flap, as well as an additional cigarette pocket on the lower left leg. All the pockets on this uniform are typical of Asian-made garments, having a bellows gusset on one vertical edge only, allowing the pocket to expand to some extent when full.
The locally-made 'boonie hat' is manufactured from a similar, though not identical, tiger-stripe fabric to the uniform. These hats were produced in all the variations of camouflage pattern and weight of fabric, and would rarely match the uniform exactly.
The tropical combat boots are the second pattern with ankle supports and a spike-resistant aluminium insole to counter the punji-stake booby traps at which the VC were so proficient. Gloves are the M1950 Leather Glove - Strap Closure which have had the fingers and thumbs partially removed; called 'Recon gloves' as they were favoured by reconnaissance-type personnel such as LRPs, they protected the haitds from thorns and vines while allowing unimpeded use of weapons and radios.
It was common practice for LRPs and other deep recon troops to use M1956 canteen covers in lieu of universal pouches to carry rifle magazines, due to their larger capacity. To the suspender yoke behind the neck is taped a can of Serum Albumin, a blood volume expander used to maintain the blood pressure of severely wounded casualties until they could be evacuated.
The Indigenous Ranger Pack or 'ARVN rucksack' was popular with many US personnel who appreciated its light weight and generous capacity. The cotton-duck pack, with its two external pockets, was mounted on a sprung metal X-frame which kept the load away from the back. The ARVN rucksack was originally produced for the South Vietnamese Rangers and was based on a captured North Vietnamese Army pack. One of the rucksack's advantages was that it sat high on the back, allowing full use of the rear of the pistol belt, which was not the case with some US packs. A first pattern Two Quart Collapsible Canteen in its nylon carrier is attached to the top of the rucksack. Four one quart plastic canteens are also snap-linked to the pack - the dried LRRP rations took a lot of water to reconstitute.
On the M16A1 rifle is fitted an AN/PVS-2 'Starlight scope' - a first generation battery-operated nightsight which worked by magnifying the ambient light emitted by stars.
In the early spring of 1967 the Marine Corps was engaged in what were dubbed the 'hill fights' around the Khe Sanh combat base. Hills 558, 861 and 881 North and South dominated the landscape around the combat base as well as important incursion routes from the North. In the unexpected cold and darkness of the north-west monsoon the Marines experienced some of the most savage fighting of the war as they drove the North Vietnamese from the four peaks.
A number of the rifle battalions engaged in the hill fights were the first Marine units to be issued the 5.56mm M16 rifle. Nearly four pounds lighter than the M14 it replaced, the M16 quickly became the subject of some controversy. On 22 May a letter from an unidentified Marine was read into the record in the US House of Representatives, blaming the new rifle for many of the Marine deaths during the hill fights. It was discovered that the M16 was not as forgiving of field combat conditions as its predecessor, while a shortage of cleaning gear and the basic lack of experience in its care all added to the Marines' initial distrust. Within months these problems would be resolved, and the M16 would become dependable - if never as well loved as the old M14.
The Ml helmet is worn with its web chinstrap typically fastened up around the rear. The rubber retaining band holds packets of C-ration toilet paper and a C-ration plastic spoon is tucked into a foliage slit on the camouflage cover.
The tropical combat uniform is a mismatched set of a second pattern coat and third pattern 'rip-stop' trousers. This third version of the uniform was manufactured either from the original cotton-poplin or from the new 'rip-stop' fabric. This latter was basically cotton-poplin which incorporated a nylon weave which greatly increased the strength of the fabric. Under the tropical coat is worn a Marine winter weight woollen shirt for additional warmth in the monsoon chill of the Khe Sanh hills.
Web gear consists of an M1961 belt, two M1956 canteens, and a K-Bar utility/fighting knife on the left hip. This example is of World War 2 vintage, originally issued in a russet leather sheath which has been polished or dyed to comply with a 1963 directive which changed the colour of all Marine Corps leather items from brown to black. Suspenders, if worn, are obscured by the body armour.
Ammunition for the M16 is carried loaded into magazines in the cotton bandolier draped around the chest. Experienced Marines soon learned to load the magazines with 18 or 19 rounds, as the full 20 were found to put a strain on the spring and cause malfunction.
The AN/PRC-25 FM Radio became available to the Marine Corps in early 1967 as a replacement for the largely unsatisfactory PRC-10. The PRC-25 was partly transistorized and, depending on the terrain, had an average optimum range of 3.5 miles, though far greater distances could usually be reached. The radio was issued with a choice of either a sectional long range antenna or a shorter 'tape' antenna, as here. Attached to the radio's carrying frame are a spare parts bag, a Claymore mine bag and a selection of signalling grenades.