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 woolen 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.
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 doesnt 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.”
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)
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 woolen trousers & shirt, either Protective or Special which had been impregnated.
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 reenacting purposes.
The removal of CC2
I used a commercial waterproofer to get the same look. I soaked it for a few days and let it drip dry. It added noticeable weight and darkened the fabric. It is stiff, and oily feeling.
(1) – Voices of Valor: D-Day June 6, 1944 by Douglas Brinkley and Ronald J. Drez.
(2) – D-Day +60 Years: A Small Piece of History By Jerome J. McLaughlin. p.61
(3) –The American GI in Europe in World War II: D-Day: Storming Ashore
By J. E. Kaufmann, H. W. Kaufman. P.118
(4) –D-day by Those who Were There By Peter Liddle. p.102
(5) Descending from the Clouds: A Memoir of Combat in the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division By Spencer F. Wurst, Gayle Wurst.