Today’s Army Service Uniform (ASU), which is the military uniform worn by United States Army personnel in situations where formal dress is called for, including workday situations, has its roots in the “army blue” uniform that harkens back to the Revolutionary War. Yet, during the earliest days of the American Revolution—before independence was even declared—the uniforms worn by the American colonial forces differed greatly and weren’t even originally slated to be blue.

When the Continental Army was established, the soldiers had no actual uniforms. In 1775 the Continental Congress adopted brown, not blue, as the official color for the uniforms. This was already a popular color with the New England Provincials. Various regiments were distinguished by different color collars, cuffs and lapels, while the cut of the coat was similar to the British, albeit plainer. The plan under General George Washington was to have the Continental Army all in uniform by the beginning of 1776, but this was only partially successful.

After a few months of campaigning, the earliest uniforms were already worn out, while there were also shortages of brown cloth. As a result many regiments used the colors of blue or gray instead. This increased when, in the spring of 1778, a shipment of blue coats arrived from France. This may have influenced Washington’s decision to issue a General Order that formed the basis for the first American dress regulations. The infantry were to be clothed in dark blue with different facings and distinctions to denote the states from which the soldier came. White facing was used for New England, red for the Mid-Atlantic and blue for the South. Musicians wore uniform coats in reverse color, however.

This European-style military dress was in scarce supply, but American hunting dress—the type worn by frontiersman in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and which derived from Native American clothing—was used as a supplementary solution. Washington had some 10,000 sets furnished to the army.

Revolutionary Headdress

Military fashion in the era generally followed styles embedded in civilian society and this is seen in the cocked hats or tricorn hats that were worn by the major powers, including the Continental Army. There were attempts at military elitism, where field officers attached red or pink cockades to their hats, while captains displayed cockades in yellow or black. There were several different styles of the tricorn hats, but typically these were worn with the front corner directly over the left eye, which was done to avoid a conflict while carrying the musket.

While popular, the tricorn hat was not the only headdress worn by the Continental Army, despite Hollywood misconceptions that would suggest otherwise. Another style of headgear that was popular was the “liberty cap,” which was a wool knit cap that would be rolled over the ears in the winter. Contemporary illustrations suggest it was common to have the words “Congress” or “Liberty or Death” embroidered on the front.

Cavalry units followed European traditions and wore helmets made of either leather or brass, but this generally depended upon available supply. The American dragoon-pattern helmets were inspired, and likely even supplied, by the French. This dragoon helmet could thus be considered the first true American combat helmet.

Small Arms Of The Continental Army

The American small-arms industry was barely in its infancy during the Revolutionary War and as a result most American soldiers carried smoothbore flintlock muskets, including the British “Brown Bess” as well as French-made muskets. As the war progressed, the colonial forces obtained Dutch and even Prussian muskets. While this supplied the Army and ensured that the men could be armed, this also resulted in many different types and sizes of calibers. There were efforts to standardize the muskets by regiments, but even by the war’s end it was anything but a standard affair.

The American Continental Army also made some use of rifles, which were only introduced in the colonies circa 1700 by German and Swiss emigrants. These long guns had greater range and were more accurate than the smoothbore muskets, but these took about three times as long to load, and were prone to being put out of action in bad weather. Moreover, the rifles of the era lacked a bayonet. Riflemen therefore couldn’t stand or charge in the line of battle and as a result the rifle was essentially removed from general service by 1781.

Flintlock pistols were used primarily for personal protection and were much like private-purchase sidearms used in later conflicts, so many officers and men of higher stature carried these as an extra weapon. The accuracy of pistols was not good, and most had an effective range of less than 20 feet, while the loading time was still limited to just two or three rounds a minute.

Officers up to and including captains carried swords and/or espontoons (half pikes), while most soldiers, apart from riflemen, relied on the bayonet in combat. Due to the differing sizes of the calibers of the muskets, the bayonets had to be practically tailor made to the particular firearm.

Equipping The Troops

Unlike the soldier of the modern era, who had special-made packs and a plethora of equipment, the Continental Army soldier basically headed into battle with his uniform, his weapon and little else. Each soldier carried about 30 rounds made up into cartridges ahead of battle, and these were held in waterproof leather cartouche boxes that also held a musket tool and a supply of flints. Powder pouches and cow horns were also used.

In addition, each soldier also carried a haversack, usually made of linen, to carry food rations and eating utensils that included a fork, a knife, a spoon, a plate and a cup. Soldiers were equipped with a canteen that was made of wood, tin or glass. Additional items included flint and steel for starting a fire, candle holders, a comb, a mirror and a razor for shaving. 

WAR OF 1812

Following the Revolution, the American uniform evolved, and as with other nations, the military uniforms reflected the civilian dress of the era. At the close of the Revolution, blue coats with red facings were ordered for all troops, and these were adorned with white metal buttons for foot troops and yellow painted buttons for artillery.

The U.S. Army went through a series of uniform changes in the early 19th century. A new uniform coat was introduced in 1810, and it was blue with red color and cuffs. A “coatee” with red collar and cuffs, and a 10-button front closure, was introduced in 1812. This short-tailed coat was meant to be solely issued in blue, but fabric shortages saw some coatees made of drab, black, brown or even gray cloth, thus the early War of 1812 Army was one that was varied in colors.

In May of 1813, the new U.S. Army uniform regulations were further revised, and the new uniform coatee was to be single breasted with a 10-button front closure. The red collar and cuffs were eliminated. White trousers replaced the tight-fitting gaitered pants, which were long enough to cover the tops of the soldiers’ shoes. This uniform would remain in service with only minor alterations for the next decade.

The Army Shako

The May 1813 regulations introduced a new cap, or shak,o that was a direct copy of the Belgic type utilized by the British infantry. These were known as the “tombstone shako” because of the slight extension at the top of the cap.

The shako had widely replaced the cocked hats, and this was considered an improvement as its visor helped shade the wearers’ eyes. These were made of heavy felt and leather, and likely were based on the early top hats that were popular in civilian use during the era. It was usually adorned with an ornamental plate or badge on the front.

Small Arms of 1812

The principal small arm used by the U.S. Army in the War of 1812 was only a slight improvement over the muskets used a generation earlier in the Revolution. The U.S. Musket Model 1795 was a copy of the .69-caliber French Model 1763 Infantry Musket, and these were made at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and at Harper’s Ferry in Virginia.

Inventor Eli Whitney also produced a version of the Model 1795 Musket, which incorporated technological features including a rounded hammer face and a slanted pan. Whitney had delivered some 10,000 muskets to the U.S. Army under a July 1812 contract. Muskets manufactured under this contract feature the manufacturer mark “N. Haven” on the lock plate.

Light Dragoons were also raised on an as-needed basis for service during the War of 1812, and while not a permanent establishment of the Army, because of the expense of obtaining and maintaining horses, these troops were armed with only sabers and pistols.

Equipment of 1812

The U.S. Army introduced a new pattern of accoutrements for the .69-caliber musket in 1808. The pre-war shoulder slings can be distinguished from the wartime examples as the earlier patterns were made of white buff leather. Due to shortages of buffalo hides, the equipment made after the start of the war was produced solely of black leather, although buff was used again in the immediate post-war period.

The accoutrements included a waist belt, a cartridge box, a knapsack, a bayonet carriage, a haversack and a canteen. The black leather cartridge box had multiple compartments that held extra flints and an oiled rag for keeping the arms coated and in working order.


Between the end of the War of 1812 in 1815 to the beginning of the Mexican War in 1846, the United States was not involved in any military campaigns against a foreign power. Moreover, the only serious military operations during this period were conducted by part-regular and part-volunteer forces against hostile forces on America’s frontier.

The American Army was at one of its smallest sizes, but despite this fact, throughout the 1820s and 1830s the standard uniform continued to evolve, as did the Army itself. The westward expansion of the country revived the importance of the dragoons, and in 1833 the United States Congress added a Regiment of Dragoons to the Army establishment, while a second regiment was later formed in 1836.

Throughout the early 19th century, the appearance of the Army on the parade ground looked different from that of the Army that took to the battlefield. Dress and field uniforms were often one in the same. A new uniform coatee was introduced with the 1833 regulations. It featured worsted epaulettes, which replaced the shoulder wings of the previous coatees, and had nine buttons on the front. Wool lace continued to be used—with white for infantry and yellow for artillery—while the new dragoon regiments also utilized the yellow lace. The non-commissioned officer rank was determined by a combination of button arrangement, lace on the cuffs and by a red worsted wool sash that was worn by some sergeants.

Stovepipe Shako & Forage Caps

The most significant change in the uniforms to occur in the years leading up to the Mexican War was in the style of headdress. The tall “stovepipe” shako was adopted by infantry and artillery in 1832. It featured brass or white metal badges and fittings—either crossed cannon barrels for artillery or bugle-horn for infantry—as well as a tall plume that varied in height from 8 inches for enlisted men to 12 inches for senior NCOs.

While the stovepipe shako was widely used on the parade ground in the field, most soldiers donned a black leather forage cap (Pattern 1833), with the latter being further updated in 1839. This version—the 1839 forage cap, or wheel hat as it was also known—saw service from the late 1830s through the mid 1850s. The cap featured a vertical visor, a tall headband and a stiff reed welting around the crown.

Uniform Regulations Of 1847

Following the start of the Mexican War, the new U.S. Army uniform regulations of 1847 authorized new chevrons for non-commissioned officers, which were to be worn on both sleeves above the elbow, pointed upward. These chevrons were made of worsted wool tape in white for foot troops (infantry) and yellow for mounted troops.

The regulations called for a sergeant-major to have a chevron that consisted of three bars and an arc; a quartermaster-sergeant to have three bars and a tie; a first-sergeant to have three bars and a lozenge; a sergeant to have three bars and a corporal to have two bars.

The 1847 regulations stated, “Non-commissioned officers and privates, as well as musicians, who shall have served faithfully for the term of five years, shall be permitted to wear a chevron on the sleeves of their uniform coats, above the elbow, points up; and an additional chevron on each arm for every additional five years of faithful service. And those who have served in war, shall have a red stripe on each side of the chevron.”

Mexican War Small Arms

Weapons development progressed slowly in the years following the War of 1812. The U.S. Army adopted the Model 1816 Musket and continued to use the Type II (a.k.a. the Model 1822 Musket) throughout the 1830s and even during the Mexican War. In 1831, Secretary of War Lewis Cass began to look for a replacement, and he convened a blue-ribbon panel to conduct a study for the Model 1816/22 Musket’s replacement.

In 1835, the U.S. Army adopted what was to be the last regulation flintlock musket. Referred to by some authors as the M1835, large-scale manufacturing didn’t begin until 1840, and thus the musket is commonly known as the U.S. Model 1840 Musket. The first prototypes were produced at Harper’s Ferry, and the original Ordnance Regulation written in 1839 does refer to this pattern as the “New Model 1835 Musket,” but later printed versions dated 1840, and all subsequent publications, call it the “Model 1840 Musket.”

By either name the musket was manufactured between 1840 and 1844 at Springfield Armory, and by some individual contractors as late as 1848. Ironically, this pattern of musket was not manufactured by the original pattern maker, Harper’s Ferry Armory.

The Model 1840 was largely out of date by the outbreak of the Mexican War, and was in the process of being replaced by the U.S. Model 1842 Musket, which was the first U.S. musket to be produced with a percussion lock. The percussion cap system was a major step forward as it was much more reliable and far more resistant to weather.

The Model 1842 was the last smoothbore .69-caliber muskets—and thus still based on the Model 1816 line— but it is notable for the fact that it was the first U.S. weapon made at both the Harper’s Ferry and Springfield Armories with fully interchangeable parts. A total of 275, 000 Model 1842s were produced between 1844 and 1855 with 103,000 made at Harper’s Ferry and 172,000 at the Springfieldrmory.

The.54-caliber Model 1841 Rifle was also used during the Mexican War. It was made by Harper’s Ferry Armory yet sometimes called the “Mississippi Rifle” due to the fact that it was widely used by the Mississippi Rifle Regiment under the command of future Confederate leader Jefferson Davis. Dragoon regiments also utilized the.52-caliber Hall-North Carbine, which was a modification of the Model 1819 Hall Breech-Loading Rifle; both were manufactured by Simeon North of Middletown, Connecticut.

In addition to the muskets and the carbines, sabers were widely used by the dragoon regiments, and the most common version was the Model 1840 Heavy Dragoon Saber, which was manufactured by N.P. Ames in Springfield, Massachusetts. It featured a blade that was nearly 36 inches long.

Pistols were also issued to dragoons, and carried in a saddle holster. These included the S. North Model 1819 Flintlock Pistol, the Johnson Model 1836 Flintlock Pistol, both in .54 caliber, as well as the Model 1842 Percussion Pistol, which was introduced just prior to the outbreak of the war.

Updated Equipment

The equipment and accoutrements utilized by the U.S. Army changed little following the War of 1812. In 1816 the most major change was the reintroduction of buff leather. It wasn’t until 1828 that an improved 1808 cartridge box was introduced; and it featured inner flap and ears. The front flap was embossed with the letters “U.S.” along with an eagle within an oval wreath.

The formation of the Regiment of Dragoons saw the introduction of the Pattern 1834 saber belt, which was still made of white buff leather, but this was in turn replaced with the Pattern 1839 saber belt, which was used by all U.S. cavalry during the Mexican War. It also saw the first use of the oval brass “U.S.” plate that was later used in large numbers during the Civil War. A long strap was designed to be worn over the shoulder to support the weight of the saber, much like the European-styled “Sam Browne” belt.

In 1839, the U.S. Army began to replace the older infantry accoutrements, and this included a narrow, white buff leather waist belt with the oval brass “U.S.” plate. A new Pattern 1841 Cartridge Box was introduced, along with a version for the Hall Carbine, and both were designed for waist belt carriage only. It featured two belt straps stitched to the back of the box along with a single tin for cartridges. The Rifle Cartridge Box also had an implement pouch under the front flap, which was designed for use with the Model 1841 Rifle. However, there were no rifle regiments in the regular U.S. Army, so these cartridge boxes were primarily used by the militia companies.

The Civil War

Despite the common misconception that the American Civil War was fought between armies in blue and gray, it was a colorful affair. In fact, it has been suggested that the Civil War was the last conflict in which the United States saw such as diverse and colorful variation of uniforms. While the wars of the 20th century would feature a number of specialized uniforms, the Civil War was the last colorful conflict—in the most literal sense—for the United States Army. Many volunteer units were outfitted in colorful attire with flashy hats and various accoutrements.

However, it is true that the bulk of the Union Army marched off into battle with the expected blue coats. The regulations of the 1858 and 1860 established the uniform that would define the Union soldier in the bloody conflict that sadly pitted brother against brother. The regulations that defined the standard called for a Parade (Dress) Uniform, a Campaign Uniform and the Fatigue Uniform, with the latter two primarily being worn in the field.

The Service and Campaign Uniform consisted of a coat in Prussian blue, which was tight fitting and worn almost to the knee; trimmed in arm of service piping and featuring French-peak-styled cuff trim for enlisted ranks. Company officers wore an untrimmed single-breasted coat, with shoulder straps that signified rank and branch of service, while cavalry and mounted artillery were outfitted with a short jacket that was more practical for riding. Field and general officers wore a double-breasted version, which often featured black velvet collar and cuffs. The difference with the Fatigue Uniform was that it lacked pockets, had a fall collar and was of a looser cut.

With both the Campaign and Fatigue Uniforms, the Union soldiers wore sky blue trousers for enlisted men and company-grade officers, while NCOs wore the same but with a vertical stripe in arm of service colors. General officers, field officers and staff officers wore Prussian blue trousers that matched the coats; with General officers trousers were trimmed in double gold striping while all other officers wore piping to match their branch of service. Leather gaiters were issued to the regular troops but these were quickly discarded as these proofed impractical for the army on the march.

Union Headdress

The standard campaign headgear for the Union Army consisted of a black felt Hardee hat, also known as the Model 1858 Dress Hat and nicknamed the “Jeff Davis” hat. It was named after William J. Hardee, a career officer in the United States Army from 1838 until he resigned his commission to join the Confederate States Army in January of 1861. Hardee had published Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Manoeurvres of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen, popularly known as Hardee’s Tactics, and it became the best-known drill manual used on both sides of the war.

The U.S. Army regulations called for the Hardee hat to be adorned with a brass hat device and wool hat cord to denote the branch of service of the wearer. This included sky blue cords for infantry, scarlet for artillery and gold for cavalry. The brim was pinned up on the right side for cavalrymen and artillery, and on the left for infantry. The hat was prominently worn by soldiers in both the Union and Confederate Armies at the start of the war but most soldiers found the black felt to be too hot and heavy for general wear.

Many soldiers opted for the Fatigue Uniform’s regulation forage cap, sometimes referred to as a “kepi.” These were based on the tight-fitting caps that the French Army introduced in the 1840s, and the forage cap became the most common form of cap worn by the U.S. regulars and volunteers especially in the eastern theater of the war.

Regulations called for the Model 1858 Hardee Hat to be worn with insignia, and this included a national eagle to hold up the brim and a branch insignia on the front for artillery, infantry, cavalry, engineers and the Ordnance Department respectively. Despite what movies and TV have suggested, the regulations actually only authorized the wearing of the company letter on the front of the forage can, but many examples are seen with insignia. Officers often purchased a more ornate version of the forage cap that more closely resembled the French Army model known as the chasseur cap.

Union Small Arms

A large variety of small arms were used by the Union soldiers during the Civil War, including a large number of obsolete weapons like the Model 1842 Musket as well as other curiosities.

The most notable might be the .58-caliber rifle musket, which was authorized in July 1855 then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and was the first rifled weapon that was to be produced for general use by the U.S. Army. Both the rifle and the rifle-musket were based on the Maynard patented priming system, which utilized a roll of caps in a compartment in the lock that advanced when the weapon was cocked. The primer was expensive, time-consuming to produce and unreliable in damp weather.

Due to these facts, the M1855 was quickly replaced by the M1861 Rifle-Musket, which eliminated the Maynard priming system. Also known as the Springfield Model 1861, it was a Minié-type rifled musket and commonly known just as the “Springfield.” It was the most widely used U.S. Army weapon in the Civil War. It had a barrel that was about 40 inches long and it weighed about 9 pounds, with an effective range of 200 to 300 yards. It utilized a percussion cap and trained troops were able to fire at a rate of three aimed shots per minute.

The Union Army and the Confederate Army were forced to import small arms throughout the conflict, and this included the .577-caliber British Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle-Musket. In addition to the rifle-muskets, a variety of carbines were used by cavalry, and this included the Spencer, which featured a magazine in the tube of the buttstock that allowed it to hold several rounds of .56-caliber in a metallic cartridge.

A variety of revolvers were also used by cavalry and light artillery, as well as being carried by officers. The most common were the .44-caliber Colt New Army Model 1860, the .36-caliber Colt Navy Model 1851 and the .44-caliber Remington Army Model Revolver.

The 1840 Dragoon saber saw use in the Civil War, alongside numerous other swords, including the Model 1860 Light Cavalry Saber and Model 1840 Light Artillery Saber. Bayonets were also issued almost universally to infantry soldiers. However, despite the Hollywood image of dramatic cavalry and bayonet charges, less than one percent of all casualties in the American Civil War were inflicted by an edged weapon.

New Union Equipment

The white buff leather that had seen use from the end of the War of 1812 and through the Mexican War was finally replaced with all-black leather accoutrements in 1851. All existing buff leather in use was ordered to be blackened, as were the white linen haversacks in use at the time.

A new rectangular eagle belt plate with a silver wreath was introduced for use with the saber belt, while the oval “U.S.” belt plate that had been introduced for use with dragoon regiments was issued to the infantry for use on the equipment belt. Soldiers were further issued with a two-bag, canvas knapsack, painted in the same manner as the haversack and this was to replace the box knapsack in 1855. In 1857, a new .58-caliber Rifle-Musket Cartridge Box was introduced for use with the Model 1855 Rifle-Musket, and it was to remain in use throughout the war.

During the war, the Union Army authorized the use of tanned, waxed leather as a substitute for the buff leather, which was in short supply, so as a result, the two were often used side by side depending on availability. The canteen made a general appearance in the ranks beginning in 1858 when the Philadelphia Depot began contracting for an “oblate spheroid tinned sheet iron” canteen. It was carried with a sky blue cloth cover and a tinned iron cup.

As the war progressed, the equipment evolved as well, notably with tanned leather equipment replacing the older buff leather items. The 1858 New York Depot canteens also featured a chain attached to the stopper loop, which wasn’t standard with the Philadelphia Depot version.

Spanish-American War

The post-Civil War era saw a vast reduction in size of the U.S. Army and the Army Quartermaster Department was left with large quantities of uniforms and equipment. At first it was thought that the cache would last for years. However, by the early 1870s, many of the most needed sizes were already being depleted. As a result of the shortages, from the early 1870s to the 1890s, there was a general lack of uniformity in Army clothing, especially for soldiers in the field. Period photographs note that even men in the same company outfitted in variations. Throughout this period, the U.S. Army uniform and headdress underwent a number of changes.

None of this was fully resolved by the end of the 19th century when the U.S. Army found itself engaged in a number of “Uncle Sam’s Little Wars” that included the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion from 1898 to 1902. In the years leading up to these small wars, the U.S. Army wore a blue uniform, including the M1884 full dress frock coat, which was in essence an update of the Prussian Blue Campaign Uniform, worn a generation earlier. The same year saw the introduction of the 1884 pattern brown cotton canvas fatigue uniform, which proved to be far more practical in the conflicts with the Native Americans.

By the outbreak of the war with Spain, the small U.S. Army was being outfitted with the 1898-pattern khaki uniform blouse. There was still a lack of uniformity in the ranks however, as in just one year there were no less than four patterns of the khaki field service coats being issued. Some of these even included the British Pattern 95 Foreign Service Tunic, which the U.S. Army procured in Hong Kong.

Because of production problems the uniforms were only issued as soldiers deployed, and as a result some units were still issued with the dark blue M1883 sack coat and matching blue trousers. Many soldiers serving in Cuba opted to remove their wool blouses and instead wore just the light campaign shirts, which were a dark blue. The same shirts were also worn in the Philippines, and after the war with Spain, soldiers began to sew on rank chevrons. As a result the Spanish-American War and subsequent Philippine Insurrection could be seen as the last war in which the U.S. Army blue was worn into the field as part of the combat uniform.

Grand Army Headdress

Following the Civil War, both the Hardee hat and the kepi were replaced. The U.S. Army followed other nations in adopting a dark blue/black spiked helmet—one closer in design to the British Home Service helmet than the German Pickelhaube. This helmet remained part of the dress uniform but was also used in garrison duty in a limited capacity, while the felt campaign hat became the de facto headdress of the U.S. Army in the field.

The hat was reflective of civilian headdress of the era, and by the Spanish-American War the M1885 campaign hat was widely issued and became the standard cover for all ranks. The crown could be formed in a variety of ways, and usually was formed with a regulation “fore and aft” indentation.

Rear echelon troops and some officers wore the M1887/89 pattern sun helmet, which was made of cork and similar in design to the British- and French-pattern sun helmets. Despite the common misconception, the American cork helmets were not made in Great Britain but were in fact made by Horstmann Brothers and Company of Philadelphia, a well-known dealer and manufacturer of military uniforms. In addition the standard undress, everyday headdress outside the field was the M1895 forage cap, which featured a rounded visor that likely helped it earn its moniker, “the train conductor’s cap.” Neither the sun helmet nor theforage cap was favored by the troops.

Updated Arsenal

Firearm technology made numerous advances between the end of the American Civil War and the war with Spain. The muzzle-loading rifle-muskets were replaced with a variety of rifles, and American military planners learned from some mistakes made during the Indian Wars of the 1870s to 1890s. As a result, in 1892 the U.S. Army held a competition to find a replacement for its aging Model 1873 Springfield “Trapdoor” rifle, which proved most disastrous in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

The Danish .30-caliber bolt-action Krag-Jorgensen magazine rifle won out at the trials at Governors Island, New York. The rifle was approved and production began at the Springfield Armory in 1894, but changes were made an improved Model 1896 went into production, with many of the Model 1892 rifles being returned to the armory to be rebuilt. A carbine version was also used by the cavalry of the Regular Army as well as by the majority of volunteer cavalry units. Because of shortages, many older rifles, including the infamous M1873 Springfield, were carried by state volunteer soldiers.

The aging .45-caliber M1872 Colt Single Action Army revolver was issued throughout the war, with many being refurbished, with its 7.5-inch barrel shortened by some 2 inches. It was reissued as the “Artillery Model,” and it was used alongside the more modern Colt New Army and Navy revolvers, the M1892 and M1894, respectively. 

Spanish-American War Loadout

Numerous variations of equipment and accoutrements were used by the Regular Army and the volunteers during the Spanish-American War. While there were attempts to standardize the equipment, the problems went back to the end of the Civil War when there were large quantities of equipment left in storage. By 1870, due to heat and poor storage conditions, almost all the equipment on hand was condemned as unserviceable and efforts were made to come up with replacements.

Throughout the 1870s, a variety of patterns were considered, including a brace system based upon one used by the British Army. In the 1880s. soldiers in the then small U.S. Army were using a mix of old Civil War patterns, experimental items and even equipment made locally. It would take until the 1890s for the problem to be somewhat resolved.

The introduced of the .30-caliber Krag-Jorgensen Rifle saw that a new Mills double-looped cartridge belt was adopted; and it held 100 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition. The belt was dark blue and secured with a C-shaped, brass, heavy wire clasp. A cavalry version was also introduced, and it had 12 additional loops, six over six for the .39-caliber revolver cartridges. The Mills belt was distinctive in that it was made of machine-woven web canvas rather than leather, and as a result, it proved ideal for the tropical climates of Cuba and the Philippines. The Ordnance Department further supplied the soldiers with a stamped metal canteen, haversack, knapsack and eating utensils.

The situation for the volunteer soldiers was a bit more chaotic and virtually every type of accoutrement and equipment used by the U.S. Army dating back to 1874 was used. Canteens and knapsacks dating from the Civil War were dragged out of storage to equip the troops.


Following the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Army reconsidered the uniform that its soldiers would wear in the field. A number of changes were made, and in December 1911 the War Department published the new Regulations for the Uniform of the United States Army.

When America entered the Great War (World War I) in the spring of 1917, its small Army was outfitted in the M1912 khaki tunic that was made of olive drab wool. The standing collar coat was lined, and it featured four patch pockets with single-point flaps. There were five large front buttons and four small pocket buttons that bore the American eagle device. The tunic was worn with the M1912 semi-breeches that were tapered to fit into the M1910 canvas leggings, which covered the M1904 “marching shoes.”

As the U.S. Army prepared to head “over there,” its 200,000-man peacetime Army swelled to more than 3 million in a short time. After the first units arrived in France, the battledress of the U.S. Army was modified slightly. The M1918 tunic, still in olive-drab wool, was simplified by the placing of internal pockets with external flaps. While the M1912 semi-breeches remained in use, puttees in olive drab replaced the canvas leggings, which looked neat and smart but proved to be too fragile for the rigors of trench warfare. Likewise, the marching shoes were replaced by the M1917 boots, which were more up to the tasks of frontline combat.

Officers wore essentially the same uniform as the men, although the tunic and matching breeches were a slightly lighter shade of drab. There was also the addition of a single line of drab lace on the cuff. Riding boots or other tall boots were popular with officers, but junior officers at the front often wore puttees and the M1917 boots.

While not widely issued some soldiers did wear the M1910 khaki summer or “tropical” uniform in the summer months of 1918. It was cut to the same pattern as the M1912 uniform and still worn with leggings. It was a lighter material but not as durable and thus not widely used at the front.

The Doughboy’s Tin Hat

The felt campaign hat of the Spanish-American War was replaced after the war by a new version, dubbed the 1902 Service Hat. This had a similar shape, but it gave way to the M1912 campaign hat, which was made from khaki-brown rabbit skin felt with its peak shaped the “Montana” style. Due to the sudden increase in the size of the U.S. Army, most soldiers were instead issued with French- and British-made overseas caps.

By America’s entry into the war, the combatant nations were issuing steel helmets to their respective soldiers at the front. The American military planners opted for a number of designs, and some were even field-tested in France, but the bulk of the American forces were issued the Model 1917 steel helmet, a near direct copy of the British MkI steel helmet. It was made of manganese steel and painted with a non-reflective khaki-brown paint with a sand finish.

Expeditionary Force Small Arms

Although the U.S. was able to equip its fast-growing army, small arms were in a short supply when America entered the war. The U.S. Army noted a number of failings with the Krag-Jorgensen rifle and carbine and replaced this with the M1903 in .30 Springfield, which became the stand issue rifle in 1905. It was relatively short at 43 inches and weighed under 9 pounds. It could be fitted with the Model 1905 bayonet that measured 16 inches.

While the Rock Island and Springfield Arsenals worked to keep up with demand for the Springfield rifle, the military turned to civilian manufacturers, including Remington and Winchester, which were already producing the P14 rifle for the British. The P14 production was modified to switch from the British .303 in caliber to the American .30—and these Model 1917 rifles (commonly called the U.S. Enfield) headed over there.

Many officers and NCOs, as well as runners, machine gunners and even cavalrymen, were issued pistols. The now infamous .45-caliber Colt Model 1911 automatic pistol was officially adopted and went into production just in time for the war. However, as Colt was unable to meet the demand for the automatic pistols, the Army procured revolvers from Colt and Smith & Wesson. The new pistols were an upgrade of the Model 1909 revolver but chambered to .45 caliber, and as a result it required half moon clips to hold the Army cartridge in place.

A variety of other small arms were used by the Doughboys in France. One of the most infamous was the M1897 Winchester 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun. It was so hated by the Germans that they lodged a formal protest to Geneva over its use! In addition to the M1905 bayonet, soldiers were issued with two types of fighting knives—and both are known for their respective “knuckle duster” handguards that allowed the knives to be used for punching as well as stabbing.

Great War Equipment

If the U.S. Army was trying to play catch up with the European powers in small arms and helmet development when it entered the war, it could be argued that the Americans were already leading the way with equipment and accoutrements. While leather was still being used by the various combatants, the United States Army had been utilizing canvas gear since before the Spanish-American War.

The Doughboys were equipped with the M1910 rifle belt, which included 10 pouches that held five-round charger clips, giving the soldier a total of 100 rounds. Attached to this “web belt” were a first aid pouch and the M1910 aluminum water bottle (canteen) with its own cup that together was fitted into a fabric carrier lined with felt for coolness. The belt fastened to the M1907 suspenders that held the M1910 haversack, which contained rations, a washing kit, the M1910 shovel, a bayonet and other gear. The downside to the M1910 pack carrier system is that it could not be worn without the belt and was thus complicated to assemble.

The M1910 rifle belt was updated with the M1917 cartridge belt that still featured 10 pouches, but these were fastened by an improved stud system, the so-called “lift the dot” type. Additional cartridges could be carried in a bandolier that was made of light khaki cloth. Soldiers at the front lines were issued with the M1917 gasmask, which was a copy of the British “small box respirator.” Although not authorized for wear, many U.S. Army officers adopted the policy of wearing the “Sam Browne” belt, which was widely recognized by all combatants as the symbol of officer rank.


After the American Doughboys came home from France, the American peacetime Army was once again reduced in size. However, by the time the United States entered World War II in 1941, it would already be on track, if not quite ready, for action. The look of the American soldier in the field in the early days of the war would look vastly different than the soldiers who marched into Germany and Japan in 1945.

When the war broke out, the soldiers in the Pacific were outfitted in the Army’s khaki “chino” shirt and trousers, while the Model 1917A1 “Kelly” helmet—an updated version of the World War I era steel helmet—was finally being replaced by the new M1 steel helmet. Meant to be the summer service dress and field uniform, the khaki uniform only saw use in the Pacific, most notably in the Philippines.

The American GI was quickly outfitted with the M1941 Parson field jacket, which was worn over the olive-drab wool shirt. The jacket was based on a civilian jacket at the suggestion of Major General James K. Parsons, and the material was notable for being somewhat wind and water resistant. Officially “Jacket, Field, Olive Drab,” it was adopted for use in June 1940 for use with both winter and summer uniforms. This uniform, along with wool pants, was used in the North African and Italian campaigns, but proved to be inappropriate for use in northern Europe as it stood out against most backdrops.

This gave way to the M1943 field jacket, which was introduced as a universal garment for all branched services. The color was darkened to olive drab shade 7, and it featured two large chest pockets and was often issued with matching trousers that had two large cargo pockets on the side. This could be layered and worn under the M1943 winter uniform with a heavy wool coat, or worn alone as a warm-weather garment. In the Pacific, the U.S. Army followed the United States Marine Corps’ style of dress with the HBT (Herringbone Twill) shirt with long, unpleated pockets and matching trousers with thigh cargo pockets. A wide variety of specialized uniforms were also devised for paratroopers, tank crews and aviators.

With millions of men and women in uniform, the Army grew dramatically, and this reflected the large and complex structure of the force. Rank insignia was widely refined as was the use of shoulder patches to designate a unit. Officially designated “shoulder sleeve insignia,” these featured symbols that ran the gamut from heraldic designs through visual references to a unit’s home state to punning plays on words. Those GIs not assigned to specific divisions usually wore corps or Army patches.

The adoption of the service trousers prior to the war meant the elimination of the puttees that were used in the trenches of France a generation earlier. These were replaced with the M1938 dismounted leggings, which were made of khaki canvas and laced up the side with a cord. These were updated in 1942 when the canvas changed to olive drab and the hooks and eyelets were changed from bright brass hooks and eyelets to blackened steel. These leggings were used with the khaki summer uniform and the M41 uniform.

At the outbreak of the war, most soldiers in the U.S. Army wore basic tanned leather shoes—the Model 1939 “Shoes, Service, Composition Sole,” or Type I Service Shoe—along with the leggings. The sole was changed to a rubber composition in 1940 and this was designed as the Type II Service Shoe, while it was further refined with a “roughout” field shoe made from leather uppers with a sueded outer finish and designated as the Type III Service Shoe. This gave way to the M43 Combat Boot, the so-called “double buckle” or “two-buckle boot,” which as the named denotes had two permanently attached buckles and was designed to replace the leggings.

The Steel Pot

Throughout the interwar period, the American military relied on the M1917 helmet, but as the clouds of war were gathering, the Ordnance Department in cooperation with the Infantry Board and private industry looked to develop a new helmet. The result was the Model 1 or M1, which was standardized in June 1941.

It was made from a single piece of Hadfield manganese steel with a stainless steel rim that was later changed to manganese steel. To each side of the helmet a fixed stainless steel wire chinstrap loop was spot welded, but due to breakage of the welds this was changed in 1943 with a hinged loop that was less prone to breaking. The hinged loop could also be bent over the internal liner to help keep it in place. This hinged loop would be seen on all M1 helmets to follow.

The M1 helmet was designed to have a separate liner that featured a suspension system that was based on football helmet liners of the era. This interior liner had the shape of the steel helmet, but it was made fiber shells that were glued together and covered with varnished cloth. These absorbed moisture and quickly lost their strength and durability, and were replaced with a resin-impregnated-cloth version that was used throughout the war and beyond.

The M1 was the most widely used helmet, and a special paratrooper version that featured a chincup system for use in jumps was also introduced. There were also several other specialized helmets for tankers, aircrews and for use aboard ships.

Arsenal Of Democracy

During WWII, the United States was known as the Arsenal of Democracy, and in addition to tanks and airplanes, American factories produced millions of small arms. This included new production of the M1903 Springfield rifle. One of its makers, the Remington Arms Company, found that the tooling was worn out and thus it sought approval to change and simplify the rifle to speed up production while improving performance. Thus World War II-era M1903s can be found with stamped parts and an improved yet simpler “peep” rear sight.

However, the rifle that defined the WWII experience for the GI was the .30-caliber M1, also known as the M1 Garand in honor of its designer, John Garand. It was the first semi-automatic rifle to be generally issued to the infantry. It was cleared for procurement in 1935, yet there were some production issues; after the rifle was slightly redesigned in 1940, it went into full production. The M1 was a gas-operated rifle that utilized an eight-round clip that gave the American Army a slight advantage in firepower and shot-to-shot response time over its enemies. The M1 was issued with several different bayonet types, including the M1905 bayonet, the M1941 with a 16-inch blade and the Model 1905E1 with 10-inch blade.

Alongside the M1, the American soldier carried a variety of small arms, including the lightweight M1 Carbine, which utilized a similar gas operating system as the M1 but fired a much more compact carbine round. A paratrooper version with a folding stock was also developed.

The infamous Thompson submachine gun, or “Tommy Gun,” was developed during World War I but arrived too late to see service. Instead, in the interwar period, it became a favorite of gangsters and bank robbers like John Dillinger, but also with law enforcement. It was used at the start of the war with a 50- or 100-round drum magazine, but this proved to be too heavy for most soldiers to handle and revised 20- and 30-round box magazines were introduced. The Thompson originally was designed with its cocking handle at the top of the receiver along with cooling fins on the barrel. This was modified as the Thompson M1 and later the Thompson M1A1 with a plain barrel without fins, a simplified rear sight and a 20 or 30-round box magazine, while the cocking handle was moved to the side of the receiver.

Due to the cost of the Thompson, the U.S. military sought out a cheaper alternative and found it in the M3 submachine gun, also known as the Grease Gun. Produced by the Guide Lamp Division of General Motors, it entered service at the end of 1942. It was an automatic-only, blowback-operated weapon that fired from an open bolt. It had a 30-round detachable box magazine and a telescoping metal wire stock.

Some unlucky GIs were issued the Browning Automatic Rifle, also known as the BAR but never called “the bar” by the soldiers of the era. Designed in 1917 by John Browning as a .30-caliber, gas-operated, select-fire, air-cooled, automatic rifle, it fired from an open bolt fed by a 20-round detachable box magazine. It was a reliable weapon but proved to be too heavy to accurately fire as a shoulder-aimed weapon, and it had too few rounds to be used as a fixed light machine gun. The BAR saw limited use in World War I, but was refined throughout World War II and by war’s end was outfitted with a bipod to add stability for a soldier in a fixed position along with a carrying handle.

The GI’s Gear

One aspect of the American GI heading to Europe and the Pacific that was largely unchanged from the Doughboy of WWI was in the infantryman’s load, which was developed and later modified in 1910. The web gear was largely unchanged at the entry of America in WWII, and it included a cartridge belt with pockets, each one holding two 5-round clips of rifle ammunition, as well as a haversack, a pack carrier, a canteen and a cup within the insulatedover and a set of mess gear within a pack. The soldiers carried a bayonet scabbard with bayonet along with an entrenching tool with a cover, and these could be carried either attached to the cartridge belt or on the haversack. GI officers and mechanized troops were issued the M1936 field bag, usually called a “musette bag,” which was used to carry part of the equipment.

With the introduction of the M1 rifle, the M1923 belt, which was an upgrade of the M1910 belt, was found to be acceptable as it could hold 80 rounds of M1 ammunition in clips, as opposed to 100 rounds in stripper clips. However, the belt was further modified as the M1938 belt and provided a GI with the ability to carry 96 rounds total, while a mounted version offered the ability to carry 88 rounds plus a pouch to hold two .45 automatic pistol clips. The next major change was made in 1944 when all the web field gear was changed from the light khaki color to OD shade number 7.

The M1938 belt was not universally liked and many soldiers, including officers, senior NCOs and those whose positions called for the use of a pistol or carbine, used the M1912 pistol belt. This belt proved to be more flexible as different items, including ammunition pouches for the carbines or Thompson clips, could be easily attached. Additional ammunition was also carried in lightweight OD cotton clip-pouch bandoliers that could be slung around the neck.


The American soldier who served in the “police action” in Korea looked little different than the World War II GI. The U.S. Army retained its successful M43 field uniform, and in the summer months, soldiers wore the jacket over the HBT fatigues. In the cold winter months, the jacket was worn over a woolen shirt, a sweater and a liner.

An improved version of the jacket, known as the M51, was introduced. It had snap pocket closures instead of buttons and the trousers had an additional side pocket, previously only seen in the paratrooper version of the pants. The same leather M43 double-buckle boots were used throughout the Korean War.

Advanced Helmets

The M1 helmet remained in use with some minor changes, including a new chinstrap system that featured the T-1 chinstrap with an improved hinge that allowed it to be better adjusted while holding in the liner. The T-1 chinstrap featured metal clips that allowed the removal from the helmet for easy replacement, along with a ball and claw buckle. Many of the M1 steel helmets were WWII surplus that were repainted a slightly brighter shade of green, OD shade number 7.

The M43 peaked field cap was widely used in the winter months as it featured earflaps that helped keep the soldiers’ ears and face warm. The M51 field cap, which was produced with a rigid lining, was popular with soldiers and offered a kepi-like appearance.

Korean War Small Arms & Gear

As with the uniforms, the American GI headed to Korea with virtually the same small arms that saw service during WWII. The firearm that saw the biggest upgrade was the M1 Carbine, which was originally intended to have a selective-fire capability. This was only added in the M2 Carbine version, which was developed at the end of WWII and used throughout the Korean War. Both the Korean War M1 Carbines and M2 Carbines had a ramp-style rear sight and a front barrel band with a bayonet lug.

The M2 featured a select-fire switch that allowed for full automatic fire at a rather high cyclic rate of 850 to 900 rounds per minute. The M2 was issued with a 30-round magazine, but it fared poorly, as did the M1 Carbine, in the cold weather and lacked significant stopping power against North Korean and Chinese soldiers who were wearing multiple layers of thick clothing.

An updated version of the M3, designated as the M3A1, was introduced in 1944. It had several new features including a recess machined into the bolt that allowed it to be cocked with the user’s finger, and the ejection port and cover were enlarged. The M3 and M3A1 were used in Korea, and the Ithaca Gun Company produced some additional 33,000 submachine guns. It was officially retired from U.S. service in 1957 but remained in use with armored vehicle crews until the 1990s.

The field and web gear was virtually indistinguishable from that used during WWII, and in fact much of it was likely WWII-era surplus. Period photos suggest that early khaki equipment was used alongside the later OD equipment.


While the U.S. Army didn’t utilize the cotton khaki uniform after the early stages of WWII, it was the standard summer uniform throughout the early stages of the Cold War, but this gave way to the OD shade number 107, a cotton utility uniform that was introduced in 1952 and gradually replaced the HBT uniform of WWII. It was issued with matching trousers and worn with high-lacing black combat boots. The jacket featured straight shirt pockets while the trousers lacked any thigh pockets.

Soldiers heading “in country” were issued with the tropical fatigues, including the first pattern that was made of olive green shade number 107, wind-resistant cotton poplin with two slanted bellows-type breast pockets and two bellows-type lower pockets. The second pattern was virtually the same, but all the buttons were covered to prevent snagging in the jungle conditions; a third pattern was produced in either olive green shade number 107, wind-resistant cotton poplin or olive green shade number 107 cotton rip-stop, and it retained the slanted pockets, but the shoulder loops, gas flap and adjustment tabs of the earlier patterns were removed.

In 1967, rank insignia was changed over to a subdued (black on olive green) pattern, and in 1968, all insignia worn on the tropical combat uniform was changed to subdued. At the same time, rank insignia for enlisted personnel was moved from the sleeve to the point on the collar. Following the Koran War, the U.S. Army’s distinguishing insignia was introduced and worn above the left pocket on both the field and utility jackets.

Camouflage was not widely used during the Vietnam War despite misconceptions made by movies and TV. However, some long-range reconnaissance patrol units were issued with the early leaf-pattern camouflage, which was also issued to some U.S. Navy SEAL units. Members of Reconnaissance Team Zeta, which conducted covert cross-border operations under the auspices of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam: Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG), often wore private-purchase tiger-stripe camouflage that was never officially used by the U.S. Army.

The Army’s tropical combat boot, or jungle boot, was considered one of the most successful clothing innovations of the conflict in Southeast Asia. Its development began in 1955 as a way to address the problems of footwear in WWII and Korea. The boots were styled after the M43 boots but featured a rubber-cleated sole with a leather foot portion and all-nylon uppers. This design proved superior to other tested patterns. A spike-resistant insole was made so overlapping strips of steel, encased in fabric, could be inserted to provide extra protection to the wearer.

Tropical Headgear

The M1 helmet once again saw action in combat during the Vietnam War. The color was again changed in 1966 to Munsell Y10, a lighter shade of olive green. The T-1 chinstrap was replaced with a cotton and nylon web chinstrap with a chin cup and adjustment buckles on both sides.

The helmet’s liner was improved and laminated nylon material replaced the old resin-impregnated cotton duck model, which offered less ballistic protection. The liner featured an adjustable suspension band and nape strap to stabilize the liner to the head, but this proved to be largely unsatisfactory. Helmet liners were worn without the metal helmets, often featuring decals of the unit as well as enlarged rank insignia.

In the field, the M1 helmet was worn with a cloth helmet cover that was designed to reduce the sheen and the outline of the wearer’s head. The covers were printed with a disruptive camouflage pattern (the Mitchell pattern) and were duotone—with a left pattern in green colors for spring and summer and brown colors for fall and winter. This pattern was better suited for temperate climates, such as the United States, rather than the tropical zones. It didn’t match any of the camouflage uniforms worn in country in Southeast Asia.

The sun helmet, or pith helmet, was authorized early in the war as part of the utility uniform. It was introduced prior to WWII and saw service as a training helmet and in rear areas of operation, and in Vietnam it was issued to engineer and support troops. It was gradually phased out in favor of the helmet liner, in part because of the difficulties in supplying multiple helmets, but also because some senior officers had convictions that the sun helmet symbolized former occupation attire while many troops had the feeling that it too closely resembled the North Vietnamese Army’s sun/pith helmet.

Utility and service caps, along with Australian-style “slouch hats” and locally produced “bush hats” were also widely worn in Vietnam. However, General Creighton W. Abrams disliked the unmilitary appearance of the hats and eventually prevented further shipments of the hats to Vietnam. Berets were worn in Vietnam, but the only officially sanctioned version was the “wool beret, Rifle Green army shade 297,” which was authorized for members of the Army Special Forces.

Vietnam Small Arms

The Vietnam War is usually associated with the M16. However, a number of other small arms played a major role in the conflict. This included the M14, which was developed from the M1 with modifications that included a shorter receiver, a select-fire capability and a detectable box magazine that could hold 20 rounds.

The M14 was developed to be used as an infantry rifle in the semi-automatic mode as well as an automatic rifle for close support. The military thinking of the day was that it could simplify logistical requirements of the infantry, and the M14 actually excelled as a replacement for the M1. It proved to be too light as an automatic rifle, and that role fell to the M60 machine gun instead. At the same time, the wood of the rifle stock would swell in heavy moisture, so it was not deemed ideal for Vietnam.

Studies throughout the 1950s and early 1960s indicated that higher firepower could win the engagements of the era, and the military began to consider replacements for the M14. The United States Air Force was the first to adopt the lightweight 5.56mm, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle. It featured a rotating bolt that was actuated by direct impingement gas operation, and was constructed of steel with an aluminum alloy receiver and composite plastic stock. The M16 had a rough baptism of fire, but with improvements to the ammunition as well as training in cleaning the weapon, many of the problems diminished.

The M60, which fired the 7.62mm NATO round, was used within the rifle squad in the role of squad automatic weapon. It essentially replaced the aging .30-caliber M1919A6 machine gun, and it could fire disintegrating-link belts at a rate of 600 rounds per minute and had a removable barrel that could be easily changed to prevent overheating.

The Vietnam War also saw the introduction of the grenade launcher as a personal weapon. The M79, which was a single-shot, break-open, shoulder-fired weapon, was adopted by the Army in December 1960 and was immediately popular with infantry soldiers as it could drop grenades into a 24-inch circle from up to 150 yards away.

Load-Carrying Equipment

After the Korean War, the U.S. Army developed a new equipment system dubbed the Load-Carrying Equipment, M1956. While still based on the M1910 web gear, this new version included an individual belt, suspenders (Load Bearing), a field pack, an entrenching tool carrier, universal ammunition cases, a canteen cover, first aid and a compass pouch as well as a sleeping bag carrier. The M1910 double belt hook was replaced with a new style of sliding clip. The system, which was based on the British Pattern 37 system, allowed for the universal ammunition cases to hold ammunition for a variety of weapons.

However, the M1956 Equipment didn’t work well with the new M16 rifle, and the ammunition cases were redesigned to accommodate the weapon’s magazines, while additional equipment including the rucksack were introduced to fill any voids. The M1956 Load-Carrying Equipment was made of OD shade number 7 cotton canvas, but it didn’t hold up in the jungles of Vietnam. The M1967 Modernized Load Carrying Equipment, which was constructed of nylon and plastic, was introduced, but it was intended to be used as an interim system and was issued as components for use with the prior system.

The All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) was only introduced in 1974 as the war in Vietnam was winding it down. It would be used in the latter years of the Cold War.


The U.S. uniform evolved steadily after Vietnam. In 1982, the U.S. Army introduced the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), which featured the M65 field coat in the new woodland-pattern camouflage as well as the desert camouflage as the Desert Battle Dress Uniform (DBDU). The BDUs were subsequently used in actions in 1983 during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, and again in Operation Just Cause, the 1989 invasion of Panama. During the Gulf War in 1991, the DBDU was used, and it featured a camouflage pattern known as the “chocolate chip pattern” because it featured a base pattern of light tan with broad swatches of light brown and two-tone bands of brown that resembled chocolate chip cookie dough.

The DBDU was replaced by the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU), which was the same pattern and cut of the DBU, but it featured a three-color desert camouflage pattern of dark brown, pale green and beige. It was used by the U.S. Army from 1992 to 2004, including the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The DCU proved to be unsuccessful in either Afghanistan or Iraq and was subsequently replaced in 2008 by the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), which is the current battledress of the United States Army. It utilizes the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), which blends tan, gray and green to work equally in desert, woodland and urban environments. The ACU jacket uses hook-and-loop-backed attachments that allow for use with name tapes, rank insignia and shoulder patches or recognition devices such as the American flag. The first pattern ACU jacket further featured a zippered closure that was reinforced with Velcro, while the ACU trousers featured Velcro pouches for knee pad inserts. Velcro has been phased out in favor of buttons, which are silent and work better in dust, mud and snow.

The ACU is worn with the Army Combat Boots, which are tan-colored, rough-side-out cattle hide leather with nylon duck upper. These feature a waterproof but breathable membrane along with safety options, including limited flame resistance, thermal insulation and liquid fuel penetration protection. The soles are shock absorbing and abrasion resistant, while the boots have a combination of eyelet and speed-lace system.

In 2015, the U.S. Army announced that the UCP will be replaced by the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP). In addition to the actual camouflage pattern, the new ACU with OCP will included redesigned shoulder sleeve pockets with a zipper opening, no trouser drawstring, a button on the lower calf pocket, two pen pockets on the sleeve instead of three, and the elimination of the elbow and knee patch hook and loop. Internal elbow and knee patches will be removed.

Body Armor Upgrades

The M1 steel helmet, which had been worn since World War II, was finally phased out in the early 1980s when the Army introduced the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT), which consisted of a Kevlar helmet and a ballistic vest. The system first use in combat in 1983 during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, and was used in Operation Just Cause, the 1989 invasion of Panama, and during the Gulf War in 1991 and in operations in Somalia in 1993, as well as in various peacekeeping operations.

In 2003, the U.S. Army began replacing the PASGT with the Advanced Combat Helmet, which is based on the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH). These are designed to provide protection from a 9mm bullet, and feature a pad suspension system with a four-point chinstrap. The design has less flare than the prior design to allow for greater mobility of the wearers’ head. The MICH was designed for special operations use that allowed it to interface with tactical headsets and microphones.

The new ACH/MICH is worn as part of the Interceptor body armor, which consists of an outer tactical vest (OTV) lined with Kevlar and two small-arms protective inserts. As with the helmet it was developed to stop a 9mm round with minimal deformation. The armor features a PALS webbing grid that makes it compatible with the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment (MOLLE) as well as the older ALICE system.

Modern Small Arms

Variations of the M16 have been the standard small arm of the U.S. Army since the end of the Vietnam War. The M16A2 entered service in the 1980s, offering a select-fire operation of either semi-automatic fire or three-round bursts instead of full-automatic fire. It was deemed that burst-fire mechanisms allow ammunition conservation for troops with limited training and combat experience.

The U.S. Army also introduced the M4, a carbine version of the M16A1. It features a small, retractable buttstock and a shorter barrel, and the M4A1 version is capable of fully automatic fire, allowing it to be used as a submachine gun in situations such as house-to-house fighting.

The M1911A1 pistol, which was introduced prior to World War I and which saw service through the Vietnam War, was replaced in 1990 by the mil-spec M9 Beretta, a locked-breech, semi-automatic, recoil-operated pistol. It featured a 15-round, double-stack magazine and has reversible release button that can be positioned for either right- or left-handed use.

In addition to the M60 machinegun, which has remained in service, the U.S. Army adopted the 5.56mm M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), a full-automatic, gas-operated, magazine- or belt-fed firearm. It could be used as an automatic rifle to support an infantry squad and provide suppressive fire or as a light machine gun when fired from a stable position.

While the M79 grenade launcher was popular with troops, its primary user was only lightly armed with a pistol. This was corrected with the introduction of the M203 Grenade Launcher that attached to the under-barrel of the M16. It fired a 40mm grenade similar to the one used by the M79 while still providing the soldier with a rifle.

The MOLLE System

Much was learned about military equipment during the Vietnam War and the MLCE was updated as the All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) in the 1970s. While its usage was short lived, some of the improvements and changes remained in subsequent systems. The most notable is the reduction of holes in the web belt, from rows of three to only a top and bottom hole—thus eliminating the middle hole, which was seldom used anyway—and the addition of a plastic quick-release belt from the metal T-loop buckle

A special individual Tactical Load Bearing Vest (TLBV) was designed to replace the ALICE system, but its usage was limited to Special Forces and other select units. It was notable for featuring woodland-pattern camouflage, Kevlar ballistic fabric and olive green woodlands-pattern nylon.

Instead, the U.S. Army adopted the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment (MOLLE) system, which feature modularity through the use of PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) webbing that allows for rows of heavy-duty nylon stitched onto the vest for attachment of accessories. It was first introduced in 1997 and saw use by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, signaling an end to the old web-gear system. Beginning in 2004, the equipment was changed over to the three-color desert camouflage pattern and, in 2006, to the gray tone of the universal digital camouflage pattern. With the U.S. Army adopting a new pattern of camouflage, it is likely the MOLLE system will see a new color in the not-too-distant future.

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