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U.S. Army Tent: Shelter Half

Second Army Tennessee Maneuvers. Company F, 347th Inf Reg., 87th Inf. Division, stands for inspection.  (Signal Corps Photo: 8 May 1943)
Second Army Tennessee Maneuvers. Company F, 347th Inf Reg., 87th Inf. Division, stands for inspection. (Signal Corps Photo: 8 May 1943).

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18 Apr 1945 Esteemed American war correspondent Ernie Pyle killed by Japanese machine gun fire, island of Ie Shima off Okinawa.
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Tent, Shelter Half (Pup Tent)

Shelter Half Pup Tent erected

The fundamental unit of shelter for the U.S. Army in the field -- since the Civil War -- is the two-man pup tent. Each pup tent is made up of two shelter half pieces that fasten together with a row of buttons (up to late World War II) or snaps along the ridge line and, with poles, ropes and stakes, make up one pup tent. The buttons are matched to a row of button holes. The snaps are two sided. With either system, any pair of shelter half pieces can be fastened together with a watertight closure along the top line. The shelter half is approximately 7' long by 5' wide.

The tent half with its stakes and poles weighs about 5 lbs. for each soldier, 10-11 pounds total. To erect the tent, two soldiers work together as shown in this section from FM 21-15 "Care and Use of Individual Clothing and Equipment" (15 Feb 1977). The rectangular part of the shelter half forms the pitched roof of the tent while the triangular end forms a back wall at one end and a flap door at the other. The early World War II tents had no front flap so the tent was open to the elements. Grommets along the base of the tent have loops of cord which attach to the tent stakes.

The unit of issue is this set of components:

  • One shelter half (cotton duck material during World War II, cotton sateen fabric since the Vietnam War era).
  • One folding tent pole or 3 pole sections to make one pole.
  • Five stakes (wood during World War II, stamped aluminum today).
  • Rope guy line, approx. 7 feet, loop on one end.

Shelter Half Tent Poles

Shelter Half Pole Section

Prior to World War II and until the new equipment caught up with the troops in the field, the tent pole was a single folding unit, in three joined sections. From late World War II the tent poles were made of three seaprate wood sections, each with a metal ferrule on the hollow end and a metal tip on the other end (as in the photo). Three are joined together, pin into ferrule hole, to make a complete pole. The pin at the top is slipped into a grommet at the front or back of the ridge line of the joined shelter half pieces to hold up the center of the triangular tent, supported by a guy line at each end stretched to a ground stake. The wood is painted OD and may be stenciled with US, the makers name and dates.

Pup Tents in World War II, Korea and Vietnam

The 10th Cavalry Regiment, recently transferred to Ft. Riley, Kansas from Ft. Leavenworth is shown in bivouac, 28 May 1941
The 10th Cavalry Regiment, recently transferred to Ft. Riley, Kansas from Ft. Leavenworth is shown in bivouac, 28 May 1941.

In World War II and Korea the shelter half was made of cotton duck, originally open in front but gaining a flap later in the war. The shelter half went through the same color changes as other equipment, from khaki or OD #3 early to mid-war then to darker green OD #7 late in the war. When the tent material was khaki, the poles and stakes were unpainted, plain wood. When the olive drab #7 color was adopted, the poles and stakes were painted to match. Tents of this era are stamped with a large "US" on the outside panel and have the contractor and date inside. Early tents used brass buttons to attach the halves and to close the flaps; later tents use snaps. Brass or steel hardware was blackened.

The pup tent was used by virtually all units, although there was often not enough time to set them up in combat zones. Sometimes the best a soldier could do was lay it down as a ground cloth and sleep on top of it. In formal bivouac areas, neat rows of pup tents were the norm. When a soldier had to provide for himself individually, the shelter half could be used as a rain fly, wind shield or as a blanket.

Sewing Pup Tent Shelter Half Pieces, 1941
Sewing Pup Tent Shelter Half Pieces, 1941.

The photo on the left was taken during June of 1941 and is captioned: "With the grace and dexterity of a master dressmaker, this attractive young woman fabricates "pup" tents for the expanding war army at the Langdon Tent & Awning Company." You can see the "US" stamped on the tent near the woman's left hand.

In Vietnam, the tropical climate did not encourage use of the pup tent. It was issued and carried but was more likely to be used with a poncho to keep the rain off, or as a ground cloth, than to be pitched as a tent.

In the late 1960s (Vietnam War era) an adaptor kit was issued. Instead of one pole (3 sections) in the middle of each end, the adaptor allowed an A-frame to be made of two poles (6 sections plus the adaptor) on each end. That got the pole out of the middle and allowed it to lie along the diagonal edge line of the roof. It was something more to carry but made the tent more roomy and usable plus easier to get out of in a hurry.

U.S. Army Shelter Half Today

Shelter Half Folded

The shelter half is still issued today as NSN 8340-01-026-6096. It is now made of "Cotton Sateen Fabric", 8.25 oz. per square yard. The pup tent is still supplied with 3 wood pole sections and 5 aluminum pins, plus a guy rope (with each half) as in the photo. NSN 8340-01-026-6096 is called Tent, Shelter-Half and is mildew resistant and water repellent with an overall length of 12 feet, 9 inches (with flaps). The technical manual for the Shelter Half is TM 10-8340-221-13.

Find More Information on the Internet

There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.

For good results, try entering this: army shelter half or pup tent. Then click the Search button.

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