The United States, Germany and Russia started experimenting with camouflaged uniforms in the 1930’s. Camouflage was already used for vehicles, airplanes and stationary guns. In this video, I will cover the two main armies which used camouflage, namely Germany and the United States.
Of course soldiers would already use materials available at hand for camouflage such as branches, leaves grass or mud but here I talk about the uniforms that were designed with some kind of disruptively patterned military camouflage.
The U.S. Marine Corps used camouflage uniforms and gear in World War II, but only in the Pacific where camo fit naturally with the jungle fighting encountered there.
In the European Theater of War camouflage uniforms were experimentally used by units of the 2nd and 30th Infantry Division. Although these provided good camouflage, the pattern was easily confused with the German Waffen SS pattern.
Early in World War II the Marines used the camouflage pattern one piece jungle suit developed for the Army, in the field since 1942. The fabric was printed on both sides, with a a 5-color jungle pattern on one side and a 3-color beach pattern on the other side. Although it was natural to assume that the camo cloth would provide concealment in the jungles of the South Pacific, in fact Marine units found that plain olive drab clothing was less visible when troops were moving. Camo only had the advantage when held still, such as when used by a sniper placed in a static position.
In addition, the Marines had the same complaint as the Army about the one-piece suit — you had to get undressed to take care of toilet functions exposing your skin to the plentiful insects and thorns. The one-piece suit gave way to a Marine Corps designed two-piece camouflage uniform which then, during 1943, was replaced by cotton sage-green herringbone twill utility uniform. Supply in combat zones was mixed and individuals used the uniform parts that were available to them and suited their preferences. In 1944 a further redesign of the two piece camouflage uniform was adopted. The jacket had larger, deeper breast pockets with a snap closure, accessible from outside or inside. The trousers had large cargo pockets front and back, also with snap closures. This uniform first saw service in Saipan (June 1944) and was used mixed with the earlier versions of the uniform through the end of the war. When used by the Marine Corps, the left breast pocket of both the one-piece and two-piece camouflage uniforms had “USMC” stenciled over the Eagle, Globe and Anchor Marine Corps symbol.
By the time of the landings on Guadalcanal (August 1942), the Marines had been outfitted with the then-new M1 steel helmet. In USMC use, the helmet was covered with a camouflage cloth cover, almost universally seen as the symbol of a Marine in combat. The cover was a component of the 1942 camouflage uniform and had the dual reversible color scheme. The 1944 version had slits pre-cut to attach locally obtained materials to the cover for further concealment.
Like the Army, the Marines carried a shelter half such that two men together could assemble one two-man tent. A camo version of the OD canvas shelter half was issued in 1943 as was a reversible camo print poncho. One of these is often seen as the outer wrap of the horseshoe blanket roll on Marine backpacks. The camo roll was used whether or not the camo uniform was issued to the same unit.
The Reichswehr which is the Army of the Weimar Republic started experimenting with camouflage patterns for Wehrmacht uniforms before World War II and some army units used Splittertarnmuster (“splinter camouflage pattern”), first issued in 1931, and based on Zeltbahn shelter halves/groundsheets. Waffen-SS combat units used various patterns from 1935 onwards. The SS camouflage patterns were designed by Johann Georg Otto Schick, a Munich art professor and then the director of the German camouflage research unit at the request of an SS Major, Wim Brandt. Brandt was an engineer and the commander of the SS reconnaissance battalion (SS-Verfügungstruppe), and he was looking for better camouflage. Schick had researched the effect of light on trees in summer and in autumn. These led to the idea of reversible camouflage clothing, with green summer patterns on one side, brown autumn patterns on the other. In 1937, the patterns were field tested by the SS-VT Deutschland regiment, resulting in an estimate that they would cut casualties by fifteen percent. In 1938, a reversible spring/autumn helmet cover, smock, and sniper’s face mask in Schick’s forest patterns on waterproof cotton duck were patented for the Waffen-SS. The patent is said to have prevented the Wehrmacht from using the patterns, which became a distinctive emblem of the Waffen-SS during the war. However, patented uniforms were worn by some other units, including from 1941 the Luftwaffe, which had its own version of Splittertarnmuster as well as the Kriegsmarine (navy), the Fallschirmjäger (paratroops), and the Waffen-SS. The 1945 Leibermuster was planned to be issued to both the SS and the Wehrmacht, but it appeared too late to be widely distributed.