Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

USMC WWI Uniforms - Colors

This topic kind of reared its head over on TMP and I thought I would engage an extra resource and kind of blurt out the results over here (not over there). We tend to class WWI as a modern war and from the standpoint of warfare it broke a lot of new ground but within that classification we tend to make assumptions about somethings that just weren't true. One of these is uniforms and in particular the US Marine Corps uniform from the period. In a modern war you have the tendency to think that everyone will be wearing the same uniform and because of modern processes those uniforms will look the same. WWI is a transition period and uniforms from that time still show a lot of variation in fabric and color even when, in theory, they are manufactured according to specifications.

I had a brief email conversation with Owen L. Conner, Curator for Uniforms & Heraldry at the National Museum of the Marine Corps about this subject. He confirmed a couple of things for me. 
1) USMC Forest Green during WWI is not the same color as that used in WWII, it is close however and in 15mm or even 28mm you aren't really going to be able to tell the difference. Mr. Conner described the WWI uniform as Emerald/Field Gray Green and the WWII uniform as Forest Green mixed with a bit of Olive Drab.

2) Giving the same specifications to two different manufacturers of WWI uniforms was likely going to produce two different shades of Forest Green. So even a Marine stepping right off the boat into WWI France could already be in a mismatched uniform.

3) The museum refers calls uniforms displaying the divisional badges as parade ground uniforms. The badges did not appear on most uniforms and helmets until after the armistice. Now obviously some must have existed on uniforms prior to this but it would be considered rare. Apparently they were sometimes applied to the gasmask bag as well.

4) Reports of the use of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on the helmet are overblown. It certainly did happen but its primarily associated with the period between WWI and WWII.

I have a few pictures that Mr Connor was kind enough to send along with our emails which I'll share with you below. He also recommends "US Marine Corps in World War I, 1917-1918" (Men-At-Arms Series, 327) by Mark Henry, an excellent and affordable resource (which I already have, nice to have it confirmed by an expert though). So on to the pictures:

First up is a WWI Army Jacket, which is much greener that I thought it would be.
We follow that up with a WWI Marine Jacket, very similar but you can see the style differences, It is hard to see the color differences here, but its more apparent in the side view. I think the bright lights of the exhibit are washing out the color.

Here is a Navy Corpsman's gasmask bag. Note the Divisional symbol which was applied after the armistice, at least according to Marine Corps Records
And we follow that up with an example of non-matching uniform colors probably coming from two different manufacturers or possible even different lots of cloth from the same manufacturer.
So there we have it, a brief look at the colors of WWI Marine Corps uniforms.

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