One of the first cold-wet weather footwear solutions developed for the WW II soldier was the shoepac (or shoe pac), developed in the early 1940s and widely distributed in 1944-45. Although it had many deficiencies, it was still the best available specialized boot for winter conditions in Europe, Alaska, and other cold regions.
Soldier applies dubbing to the leather of his shoepacs, Kiska, Alaska, 1942-1943.
The critical need for special footwear for soldiers exposed to cold temperatures was recognized early in the global conflict of WW II. The Army started the war with only rubber overshoes and boots, derived from commercial models. U.S. Army Quartermaster personnel looked to Alaska and other cold territories for existing solutions. One of the warmest known boots was the mukluk, standard with Eskimo populations since deep in the past. The Eskimo version used reindeer skins and fur, with grass for added insulation. Commercial substitutes had to be developed that the Army could put into mass production with uniform quality. After many experiments, a suitable design was adopted in 1942 (Boots, Mukluk Stock No. 72-B-1130 - 72-B-1132). The white Army mukluk had a canvas, calf-top-length upper and porous leather sole with a thick insulating insole. It had canvas laces for adjustment and a drawstring at top. It was permeable so perspiration vapor would escape and reduce the risk of frostbite. When worn with heavy socks it was quite warm.
However, the mukluk was not waterproof, so its usefulness began only after temperatures fell well below zero and all water was frozen. It was fine for snow conditions, but not for wet slogging or standing in a foxhole. For cold-wet environments with temperatures above freezing, the shoepac was developed, a new invention not known to Eskimos.
Shoepacs, QMG photo, early 1940s.
The shoepac consists of a moccasin shaped foot of rubber and a laced top, coming well up the calf, of waterproof leather. It is intended to be worn with felt insoles and one or two pairs of wool socks. The shoepac is well adapted for use with snowshoes, and for its time, it was the best footgear for wear in the Arctic fall and spring when the temperature is not extreme and the ground is muddy or has slushy snow. However, early production ran into problems. The U.S. Rubber Company controlled a patent on the join between the rubber bottom and leather upper, preventing the Army from using other contractors. This was resolved and other contractors were allowed, but they all used different lasts, some of which were quite ill fitting. Production in 1941-1943 was uneven and some had to be withdrawn from supply channels. Users complained of a lack of arch support and shoepacs tended to wear out quickly.
There were three models of Shoepacs in the August 1943 Quartermaster Catalog:
Shoe Pac, Low: Stock No. 72-S-8598 to 72-S-8620 (10 inch)
Shoe Pac, High: Stock No. 72-S-8400 to 72-S-8420 (16 inch)
Shoe Pac, 12-inch: Stock No. 72-S-8750 to 72-S-8770 (12 inch, improved sole attachment)
Shoepacs in World War II
In the Aleutian Islands Campaign, heavy foot injuries were noted among Army troops wearing standard leather boots. Based on this experience, the Army standardized shoepacs for winter footwear, the Shoe Pac, 12-inch, M1944 (Stock No. 72-S-8790 to 72-S-8824).
The M1944 shoepac had a 12 inch upper, a steel shank, and a more waterproof seam between the leather and rubber (Stanton,
P255). In the summer of 1944, following the D-Day landings, shoepacs were ordered for the European Theater of Operations (ETO) for the coming winter, but most divisions did not receive shoepacs until late January 1945. Even when available, shoepacs were found to be too light for the European winter, especially in mountainous terrain. Newer production shoepacs solved problems with arch support and the separation of uppers and lowers, but not before many of the unsatisfactory shoepacs were foisted on ETO troops.
Experience proved that since the feet of the shoepac are made of rubber, perspiration cannot escape easily, and frost will form inside in cold weather, making the boots stiff and cold, They are adequate for active soldiers in temperatures down to about zero degrees F, and for inactive men in temperatures down to about 15 degrees F, provided their socks and insoles are dry.
In addition to problems with the shoepacs themselves, there was an initial lack of training on how to use them safely and effectively. Soldiers experienced cold-weather foot injuries when wearing insulated shoepacs because their feet perspired excessively when marching and the moisture froze when the soldiers stopped moving. New training circulars were distributed and the chain of command made mandatory rules for wearing time as well as change of socks and felt insoles.
By mid-1945, a report from the Army Chief of Staff was able to say:
The rubber-bottomed, leather-topped shoepac, worn with heavy ski socks and a felt innersole, overcame the heavy incidence of trench foot among our troops fighting in cold and extremely wet climates.
Shoepacs in the Korean War
The terrain in Korea provided another test for shoepacs. The cold-wet of the Korean fall and spring were handled well by the shoepac, now produced under updated specifications approved on 26 May 1950, but the shoepac was no match for the depths of the Korean mountain winter where temperatures dropped far below the design range. They were better than rubber overshoes, and nothing superior was available, so the winter of 1950-1951 found soldiers and Marines depending on the generally inadequate shoepac.
In Korea, shoepacs were issued with two pairs of insoles as well as six pairs of wool socks (ski or arctic type). Training hammered in frequent exchanges between the feet and the alternate pairs stored inside clothing, next to the body where they will become dry and warm before their next rotation. This discipline was critical. Without it, feet will freeze within an hour, encased in ice formed from the soldier's own perspiration.
However, telling combat soldiers and Marines to change their socks is easier said than done, even when the risk is frozen feet. Squad warming tents were set up where possible to facilitate changing, with men rotating in and out of the tent every twenty minutes or so. When no warming tent was available, it was agony to pull off shoepacs and shoes in the extreme cold to change socks and innersoles. But sweat soaked feet invited frostbite, so socks were changed.
Shoepacs were better than available alternatives, but were mostly hated by the men. Before the winter of 1951-1952, the solution arrived in the form of the insulated Mickey Mouse boot, the forerunner of modern cold weather footwear.
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