MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELL
THE US ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. THE PACIFIC
A rubberised drab canvas j long raincoat (M1938) was i standard. This unlined 'slicker' was liked in Europe but was too awkward and heavy to carry around all the time (and unfortunately, it also gave GIs the same silhouette as greatcoat-wearing Germans). This raincoat had a five-button front and a broad vented back panel.
Leyte, 1944: this kneeling rifleman from a 96th Division machine gun team provides a classic view of the GI in the Pacific theatre. Note his smudge-camouflaged helmet, jungle first aid kit, two canteens, and M1936 musette bag worn as a pack (with a weapons cleaning kit protruding).
The Marine issue camouflage poncho was quickly copied by the Army in green for Pacific use. It served GIs as a tent section, groundsheet, equipment cover, and rainwear. It was issued first in a heavy treated canvas (weighing 3.21bs - 1.4kg) and later in a form of straight green ripstop nylon (weighing 1.2 lbs - 0.5kg). It had a drawstring neck but no hood; the edges could be snap-fastened together to make sleeves.
The GI used 'improved M1910' webbing accoutrements throughout the war, these incorporating various improvements made since that date. Early war webbing was khaki to light green in colour, and much of it still bore World War I manufacture dates. As the war went on webbing gear was produced in a steadily darker OD green. Though metal snaps (press studs) were used on webbing items the most common fasteners were the so-called 'lift-the-dot' (hereafter, LTD) closures; these featured a sprung collar engaging with the neck of a raised stud, and functioned better when cold, muddy fingers were fumbling to open or close pouches. Webbing field gear was usually ink-stamped 'US'; it was produced by numerous manufacturers, and their stamped company names and dates were usually to be found inside a pocket or on the back. Various items like canteens, bayonets and aid pouches were hung by hooks from the many black metal eyelets along the edge of the webbing belts. By 1944 the QM started chemically treating all canvas gear to slow the rotting process common in the Pacific.
The basis of the rifleman's harness throughout World War II was the M1910/23/36 series cartridge belt; this had two five-pocket sections, each pocket holding two five-round steel stripper clips for the 03 rifle or an eight-round clip for the M1 Garand. Limited numbers of the M1938 12-pocket belt were also issued. Cavalry pattern M1910 cartridge belts were also used, and can be identified by a missing pouch on the left front. Additional expendable six-pocket cloth bandoleers (holding 60 rounds or six Garand clips) were issued to riflemen as they went forward into the line; a knot was tied in the cloth strap to adjust it.
The plain webbing M1912/36 pistol belt was intended for GIs who had no need to carry a rifle cartridge belt. Like the latter, the pistol belt had numerous metal eyelets for mounting associated web equipment as well as the M1928 backpack.
For the Thompson sub-machine gun a rarely-seen haversack-style pouch and strap were developed to hold a single drum magazine. A five-pocket pouch set with LTD fasteners was quickly issued for use with the 20-round box magazine, to be worn on the pistol belt. A three-pocket (LTD) pouch was available very late in the war for the 30-round magazines of the Thompson and M3 'greasegun'. A narrow haversack-type pouch for 30-round magazines was also available in the ETO.
Corregidor, February 1945: the airborne landing by the 503rd PIR was supported by an RCT from the 24th Division landed from the sea. The island was garrisoned by some 5,000 Japanese, mostly ensconced in massive tunnels; this 24th Division .30cal machine gun team watch over a damaged tunnel exit (the majority of the Japanese accidentally blew themselves up in two attempts to sortie out). Note, right, the characteristic method of carrying the basic first aid pouch hooked below the bigger jungle kit.
The M1937 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) belt had six BAR pockets each holding two 20-round magazines. Older belts of World War I manufacture were used early in the war, and many were retro-modified by the addition of a sixth pocket and the now standard smaller 3in bronze/steel belt buckle. A three-pocket bandoleer-style BAR pouch set was also made.
The M1936 web suspenders could be worn with any of the web belts to help distribute the weight of the belt order, but were initially issued only to officers for use with their M1936 'musette' bag. Simplified M1944 suspenders were issued late in the war. The notorious M1910/28 haversack (backpack) was overly complex when fully loaded, and an 'awkward carry'; being supported by suspenders rather than complete shoulder straps, it could only be worn in conjunction with the cartridge/pistol belt. In the assault it was packed much lighter and smaller. Unfortunately, to get something out of the pack it had to be laid out and fully opened. A blanket was carried by GIs rolled in a canvas shelter-half either in the lower pack section, or more commonly fastened horseshoe-style around the outside. As generally disliked as it was, the M1928 stayed in regular service throughout the war.
The M1943 jungle pack was the first issue replacement for the old M1928; essentially a long bag, it had integral shoulderstraps that allowed it to be worn without hooking it to a belt. It was made in both green canvas and camouflage pattern. GIs liked it, but it was never put into full mass production. The shortcomings of the M1928 were finally addressed in the M1944/1945 field packs. These very similar designs had two components - an upper field pack and suspenders, with straps for the attachment of a lower cargo valise, which could be left behind when going into combat. Made of dark green canvas, the M1944/1945 packs saw only limited issue before VJ-Day.
The M1936 field or 'musette' bag was normally used as a haversack (as was the M1943 gasmask bag). Officially an officer's item, it was also commonly used as a backpack by connecting the two carrying strap hooks to the D-rings on the front of the M1936 suspenders.
The canvas shelter-half was usually carried wrapped around a blanket horseshoe or folded within the pack. As with most 'pup' tents, this canvas sheet buttoned together with a partner's half to form a low two-man tent. Four wooden tent pegs, rope and a wooden tent pole were included in the set. Ponchos could also be snapped together to form a shelter. In the Pacific, a well- liked hammock was issued in 1944; unfortunately, GIs in the front line obviously could not expose themselves above ground to use it - and it proved to have a limited lifespan of only about 45 days, due to rot.
The long M1905/1942 bayonets were carried on the left side of the pack or belt; the common 10in (25.4cm) M1 bayonet was usually carried on the belt in a scabbard of laminated green plastic. The old M1910 'T-handle' or the M1943 'E-tool' (entrenching tool) had canvas covers which could be hooked to (he belt or the back of the pack. The M1908/1938 wirecutters were carried on the belt in a LTD open-top pouch.
Ulithi Island, Carolines, 1944: an officer and men from the 81st Division disembark. The carbine-armed officer carries an entrenching tool, a long M1 bayonet, two canteens, a large jungle aid pouch and a first aid bandage pouch hooked to his rifle cartridge belt, supported by M1936 suspenders, and a slung haversack. The radioman has an SCR 300; and note the two nozzles of the inflatable lifebelt worn by the right hand man. Issued in 1943, the jungle first aid kit consisted of a field dressing, insect repellent, iodine, petrolatum (burn ointment), a tourniquet and some bandaids.
A large multi-purpose haversack-style canvas ammunition bag was produced in 1943; this could hold a metal ammunition can (e.g. 250 rounds for the .30cal machine gun), multiple grenades or rifle grenades In 1944 special three- and two-pocket grenade pouches were issued, each pocket holding two grenades. These unpopular items hooked to hang below the web belt, with tie-down leg tapes.
Medical orderlies wore a set of large pouches (M1942) to hold their supplies; they could be attached to the pistol belt as a pair, and came with special shoulder yoke suspension webbing. Some medics preferred to use plain haversacks or musettes instead.
All GIs carried a field bandage in a M1910/1942 pouch (LTD) on the front of the waist belt; a single-snap (non-LTD) version of the M1942 pouch was also made in England. The dressing was contained in a brass, canvas or plastic case. In the Pacific a more extensive 'jungle' first aid kit came in a larger, two-snap flapped pouch usually worn on the back of the belt.
The issue stainless steel M1910 canteen was based on the World War I aluminium version and held one quart; the World War I type had an aluminium cap, the M1942 version a black plastic cap. The one-pint canteen cup was carried in the bottom of the insulated canteen carrier the canteen nesting into the cup and carrier. Early in the war some canteens were also made with a black or dark blue enamelled finish. In the Pacific it was not uncommon for GIs to carry two canteens into action. The company and year of manufacture is usually marked on both the canteen and cup. Small air bladders and later specially made bladder canteens were uncommon but popular in the Pacific for holding potable water. Water purification tablets and chlorine were sometimes carried.
Messkits based on the World War I pattern were used by all GIs for hot chow in the field. The two plate sides and the utensils could be hooked together and dipped into hot water for cleaning; the plates were made to clip together so that both could be balanced in one hand. In combat the most common mess items carried were canteen cups and spoons only. A small, simple hinged can opener usually came in the ration packs but was sometimes kept on a GI's 'dogtag' cord.
Soldiers initially used the voluminous green cotton barracks bag to cany the rest of their clothing and gear; this was soon replaced by the long strapped canvas dufflebag. Normally stamped with the owner's name, this was left behind when a soldier deployed to the front A smaller waterproof tie-top bag was also issued to protect packed items (a similar bag is still on issue to this day).
The GI's food came up to the front lines as B-, C-, D- and K-ration packs If the soldiers were lucky their food would be prepared by company cooks and brought up in thermal marmite cans. Small squad stoves, 'canned heaf or G2 explosives could also be used to warm rations' Toiletries, tobacco and candy were usually issued free to GIs in the divisional area.
The stainless steel 'dogtags', rectangular with rounded corners, were issued two per man and were worn around the neck on a chain or cord. Upon death, one tag was left with the body and the other was returned to unit headquarters or used to mark the grave. (It is a macabre myth that the dent on the edge of the tag was provided so that it could be easily driven between the teeth of the dead.) Dogtags were stamped with the soldier's name, service number, religion (C, P or H), blood type, year of tetanus shot, and next-of-kin address - this latter was subsequently deleted.
Upon entering the Army a GI was assigned an eight-digit service number. Regular Army soldiers' numbers began with a '1', National Guardsmen's with '2', and draftees' with '3'. Officers' serial numbers began with 'O', and their ID tags were sometimes stamped with their rank.
The B-rations were group canned meals in large quantities - 5-in-l, later 10-in-l (i.e. five meals for one man or one meal for five men). They were popular with the GIs, but too bulky to carry in combat unless you had a vehicle.
The D-ration was a 4oz chocolate and wafer bar, commonly included in the other ration packs. It could withstand temperatures of 120°F without melting, and was originally designed as an emergency ration. It was intended to taste bad to prevent it being eaten casually; this concept was soon reversed, though to little discernible effect. One veteran described it as 'very difficult to eat, hard as a rock, and rather bitter... I would shave it into small fragments to prevent tooth fracture'. It was nicknamed "Hitler's Secret Weapon' due to its effect on some GIs' bowels.
The Oration was originally limited to a range of only three canned meals: stew, hash, and pork and beans. In addition it usually included a D-bar, crackers, hard candy, dextrose (energy) pills, and coffee, cocoa and lemonade mixes. GIs found the very acidic lemonade powder mix to work excellently for scrubbing floors, but rarely took it internally. The Oration pack was heavy (51bs - 2.26kg) and bulky. Its contents were intended to be eaten only for a day or so, but front line GIs often had to eat them for weeks at a time, and rapidly grew to hate them.
By mid-1943 an accessory/condiment can of cigarettes, gum, toilet paper and water purification tablets (halazone) were added. A spaghetti meal was also added in 1943, and the range was extended until ten meals existed by mid-1944, with hash being dropped; and caramels were substituted for the dextrose pills. The Orations were especially hated by Pacific GIs who had been dealing with them since 1942; the up-dated C eventually won acceptance, if no admirers. A soldier of the 37th Division said of the Cs, 'We hated them until we ran out and started to starve. Then the hash, wiener and beans, beef stew with a biscuit and condiment cans became winners'.
The K-ration became available in 1943 and was designed (initially, for paratroops) as an individual combat ration that was easy to carry and consume; two Ks could be carried for every C. They came in breakfast (veal), dinner (spam), and supper (sausage) meals, with condiments, cheese and crackers, candy and gum, drink mixes, toilet paper and smokes. The waxed ration boxes would burn just long enough to heat coffee water; they were originally issued in plain buff with black lettering but were later printed with colour-coded patterns. One veteran's summation was that '... usually the K variety was favoured over the C, but both were rather unappetising after weeks of the same'. (Units in Europe temporarily assigned to the British sector received English 'Compo' rations, much to their dismay.)
In the Pacific special jungle rations were tried out in 1942-43. They included spam, dried fruits/peanuts, crackers, cigarettes and gum. This ration required too much water, and was too bulky, though GIs appreciated the fruit. In intense combat GIs usually ate only the candy and gum and dropped the rest. The Pacific theatre assault (candy) ration addressed this fact with 28 pieces of assorted hard candy, gum, cigarettes and a chocolate peanut bar. It was first issued in February 1944 and remained popular. Rice was also issued to GIs in the South-West Pacific.
This GI photographed in the USA in 1942 seems less than enthusiastic about his canned rations and chocolate D-bar. He wears the prewar blue denim fatigues under his early-pattern Parsons jacket; his wool overseas cap is piped infantry light blue and bears the enamelled regimental crest of the 29th Infantry.
Canned composite/luncheon meat - or as it was universally known to GIs, 'spam' - was a component of most of the rations, and they tired of it quickly. The main advantage of this meat was that it kept without refrigeration. It was provided to Britain and Russia in huge quantities during the war; Kruschev later declared that this 'Roosevelt sausage' sustained the Red Army. Unlike some other foods in the wartime USA it was never rationed.