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Thread: WWII British Uniforms Guide: British Army

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    WWII British Uniforms Guide: British Army

    I've got nothing better to do, so I thought I'd do a few quick guides on British Uniforms of WWII, as a general guide to those who wish to portray those sadists who have gotten bored of women saying "you look handsome" when they see you in an American uniform and instead want to hear "you smell funny"! There'll be quite a few of these, covering all three services.

    British Army 1939-1940 - temperate combat uniforms

    At this stage of the war, there were two uniforms that were worn by British soldiers: the very recognisable and well known 1937 pattern battledress (BD)uniform, and the largely obsolete 1922 pattern service dress (SD), the former supposedly replacing the latter, however many units had not been re-equiped at the early stages of the war, and thus went to war wearing this rather old fashioned uniform.

    Equipment carried at this stage was either 1937 pattern webbing (with MkI bren pouches, and blancoed a colour known as "Pea Green"), or 1908 pattern webbing (similarly obsolete in the British army as the 1922 pattern webbing, and blancoed either Pea Green or "Buff", another shade of green), both in what was called "battle order", with a small pack/haversack replacing the large pack/rucksack. The primary weapon carried by the average infantryman was Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Number 1. Mk. III or MkIII* with the 1907 sword bayonet . During this period it is not uncommon to see pretty much any combination of webbings and uniforms, with some BD wearing units still equipped with '08 webbing, some with '37 webbing, some SD wearing soldiers with '37 pattern webbing, etc. Worn at the front, and easily accessible would be a MkVI Gas mask bag (AKA the Indiana Jones Bag), and at the back, either over or under the pack, would be carried a gas cape.

    In combat the primary headgear would have been the MkII helmet covered with a hessian (burlap) cover, whereas at base the Field Service Cap (side cap, chipbag, and other names to rude to print), and certain unit specific headgear such as the Glengary would be worn.

    Footwear would be the toecapped amunition boot, and underneath the tunic a khaki wool shirt with a white neckband, or a WWI style "greyback". Insignia would consist of rank insignia on the sleeve, and perhaps cloth slide on regimental titles on the eppaulletes (although these were supposed to be removed), as well as cap badges on caps

    1937 Battledress, 1937 Pattern Webbing. The webbing is the wrong colour, but it gives you the idea


    1922 Pattern Service Dress;



    Walking out variations
    At this stage, walking out uniform would consist of the BD or SD worn with or without a webbing belt, a field service cap, regimental caps, or "coloured" field service caps (which were in regimental colours). Brass regimental collar badges and shoulder titles were worn on SD, and sometimes on BD.

    A selection of Coloured FS caps


    Officers variations
    In much the same way both BD and SD was worn by soldiers, the same goes for the officers. SD was usually worn with a Sam Browne and Puttees, BD would have 37 Pattern webbing (pistol order) and was worn with an open collar (often with serge faced lapels), with a shirt and tie underneath. Boots were usually brown as opposed to black, and headgear would often consist of the SD cap. For walking out, officers Service dress would be worn with brown shoes.

    Officers Service Dress, left (me) shewing walking out. Centre shewing battle order


    Other Variations
    There were of course other variations, the most notable being cavalry regiments, who wore spurs and britches and leather equipment on parade in service dress, and rifle regiments, who had black plastic buttons as opposed to brown, and officers wore black boots and black Sam Brownes in Service Dress. Drivers, cavalrymen, tankers,corpsmen, gunners, and others had variations in the webbing throughout the war

    (more to come)

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    1939-1940: Tropical Uniforms

    In this period, change came somewhat quicker in some respects, slower in others. The prewar 1897 second pattern khaki drill service dress (KDSD) was phased out very quickly for the large part as war began, although some ceremonial units retained it throughout the war and was issued until 1943 to units in India, even if it wasn't worn. The aertex shirt was introduced for all ranks in 1938, and very few units did not have them at the start of the war, largely because units could have them made up at local tailors to save waiting for them to come over from the UK. Shorts were ubiquitous, usually without a Field Dressing Pocket at this stage, and 1908 webbing was usually worn, except by Bren Gunners (who got 37). Headgear was usually the Wolseley Pattern Pith Helmet, or the Cawnpore helmet in India (excpet on parade). Then there are Bombay Bloomers, trousers in their various patterns, officers bush shirts, unit specific uniforms... It's all rather confusing! Footwear would be the ammo boots, or chupplis, with hosetops and either long or short puttees

    However, to keep it simple:

    Egypt, 1940 Marching Order:

    India, 1940, drill order:


    KDSD with 37:


    Walking out
    During the day, shirts and shorts with a belt and a pith helmet, or temperate headgear. During the evening, trousers, KDSD tunic or shirt and temperate headgear

    Officers variations
    At this stage, officers wore a uniform vary similar to the OR's when on campaign. For walking out, either officers Khaki drill service dress or a Bush shirt was worn.

    Officers service dress

    Bush shirt

  3. #3
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    VERRY cool post! and great looking gear you have too..thanks.

    Doug C
    *** Sim-Sala-Bim....Ala-Ka-Zam, Ala-Ka-Zap !!! ***

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    I'll Lock Up Smithy's Avatar
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    Great info and nice collection of uniform items Cobden

    Do you have anything from 2NZEF in your tropical collection? Just interested as one of my great uncles was with 7th Anti.tank.
    "Lead, they're shooting at us!"
    "That's OK, they're allowed to do that."

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    Keep it coming!
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    Call Me a Cab J. M. Stovall's Avatar
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    Great photos! Love it!
    J. M. S.
    A lot more Bing than Bogey

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    1941-1943 -Temperate

    At this time, the uniform remained fairly similar to that as worn in 1940, except that 1922 Pattern Service Dress had been entirely replaced by 1937 pattern battle. The cloth slide on insignia was being replaced by sleeve insignia naming the regiment, formation, and arm of service.

    Equipment underwent a small amount of change, with the Mk.II ammunition replacing the Mk.I's. These had the belt attachment buckles set lower down then the Mk.I and thus sat higher on the belt. The MkVI gasmark bag was replaced by a simpler MkVII, which was increasingly not worn. Most of this will be covered in future sections, or has been covered previously.

    Other, specialist, uniforms started to crop up in this period, such as equipment for paratroops including the Denison smock

    1941-1943 - Tropical

    Largely the same as the early war, with KD shirts and shorts (at this stage with field dressing pocket) with 37 pattern webbing. The Pith Helmets were slowly discarded in this period, as were the formal KDSD uniforms. Certain fashions started to pop up to, most notably the corduroy trousers and chukka boots worn by many officers. Later in this period, the bush shirt was introduced as a walking out item for all ranks, although some adopted this for combat. A battledress type trouser was also introduced with a map pocket along with a field dressing pocket, worn with a shirt or bush shirt.

    Of course, many officers managed to procure other items such as Irvin flying jackets and duffel coats, adding to further confusion, and the tendency to mix temperate and tropical uniforms in North Africa. With the Invasion of Italy, US Lend Lease Battledress uniforms were often worn (although not worn in Europe). This had a fly front buttons, but exposed pocket buttons, and was darker in colour to the British Battledress. In the far east, KD uniforms were starting to be dyed a jungle green colour for combat in late 1942, and in 1943 KD uniforms were made in JG colour, and slouch hat started to be worn.

    British Private, 1st Essex Regiment, Walking out Dress, India, 1943:

    1942/43 battle uniform shewn second from left

  8. #8
    Familiar Face Zeropositive's Avatar
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    where did u get the old skool british army kit?
    Was it made for you or you get it in Beltring?

    Cheers

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    1944-45 -Temperate Uniforms

    Combat
    By this stage, 1940 (austerity) pattern BD was starting to be issued. This was simpler then 1937 pattern, in that it had no fly buttons on the front or pockets, and had a button on the Field Dressing Pocket on the trousers. The GS cap was also introduced in this period and replaced the FS cap. Webbing was now blanco a shade known as KG3. In combat, insignia was not supposed to be worn, although it often was (and most re-enactors do, to emphasise what they are portraying). The MkIII turtle helmet replaced the MkII for several units, mainly those that landed at D-Day. In North West Europe the SMLE Number 4 replaced the Number 1. MkIII(*), and the "pigsticker" bayonet replaced the elegant sword bayonet.

    Front view of 37 webbing circa 1944. Full Marching order. Note that the rifle and bayonet are wrong for North West Europe in this period, as is the Machete! The uniform itself is correct for North Africa 1940-42



    This shews 40 pattern BD and a MkIII helmet (left) and 37 (which was still more common) and Mk II helmet on the right. Note the helmet netting differs from 1940, and the number four the chap on the right is carrying. Note further, the chap on the left has MkIII quick relase ammunition pouches - these are more post war, but were seen wartime


    Walking Out and Parade
    On parade, a GS cap (which looks like a cow pat), webbing belt, bayonet and frog, and gaiters were worn. For walking out, either the GS cap, or headgear as described in 1940. BD was worn by OR's in a similar manner to officers, with a collar and tie and the BD collar open, with webbing belts but no gaiters or other equipment.

    Officers would have worn SD for walking out, however this had also been simplified for reason of austerity and had no pocket pleats and had no bellows pockets on the hips. The Sam Brown was increasingly replaced by a barathea "self belt", previously reserved for the mess

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    1944-1945 Tropical Uniforms

    By 1944 the focus had moved away from the Med (uniform speaking) to the Far East. In 1944, the most common uniform was JG aertex shirt with JG battledress trousers which were the same as those introduced in Khaki in about 1942. The slouch hat was the most popular headgear, although MKII helmets and GS caps were often worn. The SMLE No. 1. Mk III was the main weapon, but the bayonet was shortened. Webbing was usually dyed jungle green to match the uniform. In 1944 a tropical battledress uniform was introduced, with a aertex top which was worn outside the trousers in the same way as temperate battledress, and special battledress trousers. The former, in KD, saw limited use, however the JG version (made in India) was worn in 1945 by many units. The trousers were not worn in WWII, instead the earlier type were worn. 1944 pattern webbing, and the Mk IV helmet were also introduced for the jungle war, but never saw action in WWII. JG was also not worn on formal parade; KD being used for that.

    JG uniform, 1944:


    Next stop: Royal Navy!

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