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WWII British Uniforms Guide: British Army

Discussion in 'WWII' started by Cobden, Jun 28, 2007.

  1. 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)
  2. 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. Doug C

    Doug C Practically Family

    :eusa_clap VERRY cool post! and great looking gear you have too..thanks.

    Doug C
  4. Smithy

    Smithy I'll Lock Up

    Great info and nice collection of uniform items Cobden :eusa_clap

    Do you have anything from 2NZEF in your tropical collection? Just interested as one of my great uncles was with 7th Anti.tank.
  5. Rooster

    Rooster Practically Family

    Keep it coming!
  6. Great photos! Love it!
  7. 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: [​IMG]

    1942/43 battle uniform shewn second from left
  8. Zeropositive

    Zeropositive Familiar Face

    where did u get the old skool british army kit?
    Was it made for you or you get it in Beltring?

  9. 1944-45 -Temperate Uniforms

    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
  10. 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!
  11. jeep44

    jeep44 One of the Regulars

    Can't forget the ubiquitous Dispatch Rider. There was a whole assortment of specialized uniform bits for him, such as the three-buckle boots, the "Pantaloons, Motorcyclist",the DR helmet (which used the same shell as the airborne and armored helmets), and the all-covering DR Mac.
    I took this photo a number of years ago,and I have since accumulated absolutely everything a DR would wear,or have on his bike,right down to a live Webley revolver, and a dummy Sten.

  12. Mike1939

    Mike1939 One of the Regulars

    Well done Cobden! :eusa_clap
  13. benstephens

    benstephens Practically Family

    Just to add to Steve's very excellent post, here is something I wrote a while back speciffically on battle dress.

    It is a bit long and dry, but I thought I would post it.


    Battledress was quite an inovative uniform when it was designed in the 1930s, and quite forward thinking (I belive the German and American had copies of it later on in the war, but that I may be wrong). It was designed on 1930s Ski clothing, which unlike the uniform being worn until then (Service Dress) allowed a items to be placed underneath it, while still retaining a uniform appearence from the outside.

    Trunks is right about the collar linning, but the true 1940 pattern BD is also wrong for very early war (Not the 1940 pattern Austerity, which is the one without pleast on the pockets and exposed buttons)

    1940 pattern was a different shape to the early pattern (I wont call it 1937 pattern, as I have never seen this on an original label)

    The Early pattern BD, had the breast pockets in line with the second button from the top, had a baggier looser fit, unlined collar and labelled 'Blouses battledress serge'. The early pattern trousers had only a single expansion pleat in the shell dressing pockets and the tabs at the ankles

    The Shell dressing pocket was the first Item to be modified in 1940 with a button being added and the pocket being made slightly bigger, then the tabs were taken off the trousers. The revolving shank button was replaced by a vegetable plastic one on the shell dressing pocket.

    After the introduction of the 1940 pattern BD in , an austerity pattern was issued in 1942, this was the most modifications carried out to the battledress uniform, resulting in a much slimmed down and tighter fitting uniform in comparison to that which proceeded it.

    Even the Austerity pattern BD was modified as well. The Early 1940patt Austerity BD had two inside pockets, but by early 1943 this had been tailored down to one. The Early 1940patt Austerity Trousers started off with a cotton lining at the kidneys, but this was changed somewhere in 1943/44 to the shirt material lining to add extra warmth for the kidney area.

    Early wartime BD also had Brass buttons, this then changed to Gun metal, which can be seen on early Austerity pattern trousers as well, and the vegetable plastic through out

    In 1946 the Battledress was modified again. This time the colar had a tab closure, and pleats were placed back on the pockets but the buttons were left exposed, plus some other tailoring modifications.

    The trousers were almost identical to the 1940 patt austerity, but had double brace buttons.

    The most radical change was in 1947, with the 47 patt battledress. The collar was talored open, but could be closed if need be, and the tousers had the the shell dressing pocket removed and the map pocket moved onto the side of the leg. Pleasts were added and the height of the back decreased.

    This pattern was soon superceeded by the 49 patt, which again so another re-design of the collar (the 47 patt one was what they called a shirt style collar) and the trousers remained very similar to the 47 patt ones.

    So in a brief Summary

    We have Early BD -
    Unlined Collar, Breast Pockets lower,Baggy, Single expansion pleat in shell dressing pocket, Revolving shank buttons on the epalutes.

    May 1939-
    Pockets moved up 1/2"

    May 1940-
    Collar linning authorised

    June 1940-
    Trousers to have Double expansion pleat in shell dressing pocket, fastened with revolving shank button.
    Battledress Slimmed down and to be labeled 1940 patt.

    July 1940
    Buckle to be changed to a toothed buckle, rather than smooth one

    June 1941-
    Trousers loose tabs at bottom

    June 1942-
    1940 Pattern Austerity BD (Introduced 1942) Sometimes is labbelled 1942 pattern, or 1940 pattern (Austerity)

    Pleats removed From Pockets, Buttons now exposed. Belt loops gone, Vegtable buttons used on epauletes and shell dressing (Plus all other positions)

    March 1943-
    Single inside pocket specified instead of two in blouse

    Not sure on date-
    Lining changes from Cotton Drill in Kidney area of trousers to wool

    Late war
    Lining changes in trousers again to Denim

    I am sorry for the long post, and this is by no means definitive, but they are the major changes. If people are really interested I can give you pictures of each style and modification of the battledress as it went through the war (although this will take some time, as I will have to dig each example out and photo it, so dont expect it quickly but I am happy to do it!) I can also go into AV treating, War aid and Canadian as well. But you are probably all asleep by now anyway!
  14. Rooster

    Rooster Practically Family

    Bring it on, I'd love to see it!
  15. Speedster

    Speedster Practically Family

    Cobden and benstephens, this is amazing. :eusa_clap :eusa_clap
    Bring on the pictures.:)
  16. Cheers Ben! Battledress isn't really my area (oddly enough), and there are likely to be errors, so any additions greatfully recieved. There are so many variations that it is nigh impossible to include everything, however if I've missed something, feel free to add photo's etc.
  17. benstephens

    benstephens Practically Family

    I actually thought what you had written Steve is very good, perhaps one or two details could be tweaked (They are not incorrect, just perhaps a little vague)

    It is refreshing to know that someone in the hobby is actually reading and not making up information to suit themselves.

    I was merely adding the battledress post to enhance and elaborate on a specific part of your guide.

    Kindest Regards

  18. PADDY

    PADDY I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Be bored 'more often..!'

    If this is what boredom drives you to, then drive on and produce more of this great narrative please.
    The splendid photos just enhance the whole thing and I'm sure that I am not alone in praising your work here, so 'thank-you!':eusa_clap
  19. mikepara

    mikepara Practically Family

    Cobden, what a great set of pics and a great collection. However here's my nit-pick. Re:

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

    Well sorry, but the webbing is not the wrong colour! It's just been freshly blancoed.
    Blanco, a nasty green paste that must be slightly diluted and smeared on your webbing otherwise the RSM will have your guts for garters.

    Point 2. Sort your 'Present Arms' out you slovenly creature! :mad:

    Present Arms: (From the slope.)
    Sieze the rifle with the right hand at the small, both arms close to the body.

    Raise the rifle with the right hand perpendicularly in front of the centre of the body, sling to the left; at the same time place the left hand smartly on the stock, wrist on the magazine, fingers pointing upwards, thumb close to the forefinger, point of the thumb in line with the mouth; the left elbow to be close to the butt, the right elbow and butt close to the body.

    Bring the rifle down perpendicularly close in front of the centre of the body, guard to the front, holding it lightly at the full extent of the the right arm, fingers slanting downwards and meet it smartly with the left hand immediately behind the back-site, thumb pointing towards the muzzle; at the same time place the hollow of the right foot against the left heel, both knees straight. The weight of the rifle to be supported by the left hand.

    Now go away and practice 300 times... The King is coming! :D
  20. mikepara

    mikepara Practically Family

    Great to see Jeep! My father was a DR, serving right through to the Malaya Emergency, where he was knocked off his bike by an ambush wire. The Communist Terrorists then tried to shoot him with his own weapon as he lay smashed on the road. Somehow it jammed so they battered him with it before leaving him for dead in a monsoon ditch. He never knew why they didn't shoot him with theirs. Perhaps they thought him fatally wounded by the wire and battering.

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