Originally written by Jedburgh July 2016.
During WWII the U.S. Army mounted the largest battle it has ever fought. Against three major countries, in nearly every part of the world. Because the U.S. Army was so completely unprepared for the war, many ideas and techniques were created simply from scratch. From the idea of Parachute troops to large multi-Divisional scale Amphibious assaults, the results were unparalleled. During the war many different precautions were taken to help stem casualties in as many different areas as possible. One of these measures taken was the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps’ outfitting of soldiers with protected clothing and equipment in the potential outbreak of large scale gas attacks as seen in the First World War.
During the First World War, soldiers were first equipped with gas masks to counter the early Chemical threat. However, as casualties mounted it became clear that blisters agents were also being used and soldiers were suffering because of gas contact with the skin, not just breathing it. During the Second World War, the Chemical Corps outfitted troops with specialty items to give them maximum protection against the gas threat. As we know now, the gas threat in WWII was non existent – however the U.S. Army was still taking precautions and issuing Anti Gas equipment and clothing to soldiers on nearly every major landing during the war. Many thought that with the Axis forces growing desperate they may resort to Chemical Weapons.
We will cover the U.S. Army’s effort to provide soldiers with protection for arguably one of the largest and most technically and methodically planned operations of the war, D-Day.
In the beginning of the war, the U.S. Army fielded many uniforms that were deemed not suitable or needed additional protection from gas. These items generally were the Shirt, Flannel, OD which was a simple shirt with placket along the front. A later more practical open collar shirt was designed with troop input. These woollen flannel uniforms along with fatigue uniforms such as the Herringbone Twill Uniform, or the Parachutist Jacket & Trousers needed additional protection.
The Army’s method to protect unprotected areas was to implement a special flap behind the opening of the shirt, and along the cuffs. Inside the trousers, an additional fabric flap was added behind the button opening. This would help in case of blister agent attack, and give at least minimal protection. These uniforms were given the nomenclature “Special”. On the Quartermaster Corps tag located on the clothing, it will read ” SHIRT, FLANNEL, od, COAT STYLE, SPECIAL.
Notice the flap that extends across the open “convertible collar” to provide protection for the normally exposed skin. These were usually cut out as most soldiers did not fear gas attacks.
Original Quartermaster Corps document outlining Anti-Gas needs.
The “Protective” uniforms were the same as the “Special” uniforms, just already treated with a chemical called CC-2 Chloramide. CC2 was invented during the 1930’s although wide use impregnating garments doesn't begin really, until early in WWII.
The U.S. Army’s famed 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) noted in it’s ‘S-4 Report on Landing, Occupation and Tunisian Campaign, from November 8, 1942 to May 9, 1943.’ – “Impregnated clothing was issued to troops only to be carelessly abandoned.”
1st Division “Big Red One” soldiers in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. These men were the first to be issued them but were “carelessly abandoned”.
Quartermaster document detailing the need to save “special” designated uniforms for anti-gas, but to be issued it nothing else is available. This seems to be why so many “Special” designed Coat Style Flannel Wool OD are worn in conjunction with non-gas flap versions.
D-Day – the preparation
“During this time, we had all been ordered to turn in one jumpsuit to be impregnated with some kind of stuff” —“We received our jumpsuits and put those suckers on. I want to tell all they were the lousiest, coldest, the clammiest, the stiffest, the stinkiest articles of clothing that were ever dreamed up to be worn by individuals” – Edward Jeziorski, 507th PIR (1)
Members of F/506 PIR, 101st Airborne read Eisenhower’s Crusade letter on board their airplane before they leave for landing zones in Normandy. 1Lt Carl MacDowell, (jumpmaster) Sitting left are Pfc. Don Emelander, Pfc. Tom Alley. Sitting right T/4 Bill Green. 5 June 1944. Notice the white residue and slightly darker uniforms.
For the Airborne one set of the ‘Suit, Parachutist’ was to be turned in to be reinforced and impregnated for the invasion. For the Infantry forces, they were to be issued one set of Herringbone Twill, or OD woollen trousers & shirt, either Protective or Special which had been impregnated.
Document from the European Theater of Operations United States Army (ETOUSA) Administrative History Collection.
Voices From the Past
“I had four or five hand grenades, a full cartridge belt of ammo, an SCR536 radio, an M-1 Rifle in Griswold bag, musette bag, canteen, gas mask, first aid pouch, entrenching tool, bayonet, and heaven knows what else. They also made us wear, in addition to GI shorts, long underwear and OD’s under the impregnated jumpsuit. The next morning, the first opportunity I got, I cut off those damned long johns” – Ray Geddes, Company G, 501st PIR (2)
“On June 6, we put on our battle clothes. We rolled up our old clothes to be sent back to camp. My impregnated pants were an inch too small around the waist, and my shirt was a size too small” – T/5 Gerald M. Cummings, Service Company, 327th Glider Infantry (3)
“We decided that our impregnated clothes we had on were beginning to burn us, and that was a good chance to change our impregnated clothes at the next hedgerow.” – Joseph S. Blaylock, 20th Field Artillery, 4th Division. (4)
“All our clothes were chemically impregnated to protect us against gas attacks. They were very, very uncomfortable because no moisture could evaporate through the cloth. In hot weather they acted like a rubber raincoat” – Spencer F. Wurst, F Company 505th PIR (5)
The jumpsuit has two phases for our purposes. Pre & early invasion, and after. When troops are boarding the planes and early in the campaign, they obviously have CC2 treated uniforms visible. It is only later when troops start to shed, boil or burn uniforms. Boiling uniforms appears to have been common, using large Calvados pots native to the Normandy region. These suits when boiled appear much lighter, and are cleansed of any chemicals. One should strive to appear as if before the boiling, rather than after – for re-enacting purposes.
Fresh Parachutist suits as worn by the 2/503rd PIR (Later to become the 509th PIB). Notice the very light tan colour that is much different than the Normandy era photos.
Notice these 101st mens’ suits compared to the previous photo
Notice the white residue in the folds of the clothing
This wounded trooper appears to have a treated suit, unboiled
The suits are very dark here
Lt. Rodney Parsons, XO of E/502nd and Capt. William Bolton, CO of D/502nd
Doc Lage’s medic convoy on the way to Hiesville, France. 2/502nd Medical team
Notice the white residue typical of CC2
Sometime in the evening of June 5, 1944 a “stick” 101st Airborne troopers board their C-47 transport before their jump into history in the skies of Normandy.
Doc Lage’s medic convoy from 2/502nd
The removal of CC2
Captain Lillyman of the 101st Pathfinder unit. This interview takes place later in the Normandy campaign, and typical of the 502nd to be in OD flannel wool uniforms with just a Parachutist jacket worn, and no trousers. The jackets have probably been boiled at this point to get rid of the chemical.
Very interesting to see Cpt Lillyman with his plain boiled M42 jacket, I can only assume that the boiling process has also gotten rid of the camouflage paint that he and other pathfinders applied pre-Normandy jump. Why, they are wearing wool trousers and not the M42 trousers is a mystery.