Tanker Uniforms

One of the distinctive features of the war that started in Europe in 1939 was the extensive employment of armored forces. The amazingly successful German Blitzkrieg technique was based in large part on the use of masses of tanks. The Russo-Finnish conflict of 1939-1940 introduced the use of tanks on a large scale in winter operations in a sub-Arctic climate. The United States Army, building up its armored forces rapidly as a major feature of the expansion program begun in 1940, gave serious attention to the study of armored operations in winter weather.

Crew of a tank destroyer with their Christmas turkey. 5th Army, Bisomo Area, Italy, 1944
Crew of a tank destroyer with their Christmas turkey. 5th Army, Bisomo Area, Italy, 1944.

Today in WW II: 4 Dec 1941 German Gen. Rommel abandons the siege of Tobruk, Lybia .  More 
4 Dec 1943 Second Cairo Conference with Roosevelt, Churchill, and Ismet Inönü of Turkey [Dec 4-6].
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Armored Forces Clothing in World War II

The Quartermaster Corps was called upon to develop special items of clothing warm enough to protect tank crews in severe winter weather. Key features desired were that the uniform should be close fitting with a minimum of protrusions, so that it could be worn in the close quarters of a tank interior, and so it would not catch on obstructions and slow a man getting out of a burning vehicle.

Based on these requirements, the following items were designed for the Armored Forces early in 1941 and were manufactured and issued to units before the end of the same year. Click to link to the Olive-Drab.com page for more detail on the individual items.

These items were extensively tested in early 1942 by the 4th Armored Division at Camp Pine, New York. In addition, items developed for mountain and Arctic troops were tried out to see if they were superior for armored use. The Camp Pine tests offered conditions typical of the northern U.S. in winter, but were not as severe as northern Europe or Siberia, a factor taken into account in the further development of clothing and equipment.

Light tank training, Montford Point Camp, NC, April 1943
Light tank training, Montford Point Camp, NC, April 1943.

The winter combat clothing developed for the armored forces' use in 1941 was revised in the Spring of 1942 based on the Camp Pine tests and experience to date. It was observed that armored forces had to perform their combat duties on vehicles and also on the ground. They tended to be more continuously on the move than other troops. At the same time, they had to spend periods of inactivity while riding, a time when they were at risk of freezing and infection. There was a struggle within the QM Corps over whether it was better to extend the use of the "tanker uniform" to all armored forces or if it the tanker gear should be restricted to the actual armored vehcicle crews and the rest of the force be equipped with general cold weather clothing based on the layering principle, the M-1943 Field Jacket in particular. In the end, the decision was made at HQ to restrict the use but troops in the field made their own distribution more widely.

In the painting on the left, a detail from "The American Soldier, 1945" from the U.S. Army Center for Military History, the tank guard is wearing a Tanker Jacket over his Tanker Overalls. This was the planned method of wearing the combination, but it was also common to see the roomy overalls put on over the jacket.

To show the difficulty of keeping warm in the winter of 1944 in Europe, here is one soldier's description of what he wore:

This is what I wore from the inside out: cotton G.I. underwear; a sleeveless sweater knit by my wife and too small to wear over much; a set of 50 percent wool long handles; and an army wool shirt and trousers. Next was a G.I.-issue sweater which buttoned around the neck, followed by a tanker's combat suit which consisted of a blanket wool lining inside a cotton shell. This was in two pieces with a zipper jacket with knit cuffs and overall-like pants with a big top with suspenders and a back that came well up over your kidneys. To this was added an officer's overcoat which had two layers of cotton twill on the outside and a button-in wool liner.

It is important to note that before, during and after the development of the special Winter Combat Uniform, the armored forces relied on the standard clothing issued to U.S. Army forces. When the Winter Combat Uniform was not available due to supply problems or when the weather was warm, the tankers commonly wore the Suit, One Piece (ie, coveralls) or the two piece HBT or cotton garments, same as other soldiers.

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