Most soldiers have carried an intrenching tool since before the 20th century. Intrenching Tools have usually been in the form of a shovel or a pick mattock that can be used to dig a foxhole, slit trench, or enable other common field tasks. In a crunch, the intrenching tool also becomes a hand to hand weapon, quite effective when used forcefully. It is also called the "Entrenching Tool" or "E-tool" with the alternate "e" spelling as common as the "i" spelling.
The intrenching tools in use at the time the U.S. entered World War II underwent rapid development through the war years and thereafter as experience and new materials enabled much better tools to be produced.
1st Infantry Division Soldier Carries M-1943 Intrenching Tool on Cartridge Belt
Mittelscheid, Germany, 26 March 1945.
Today in WW II: 21 Jan 1942 Rommel's second offensive drives the British 8th Army back almost 300 miles, halting on 4 Feb between Gazala and Bir Hacheim, 30 miles west of Tobruk, Libya.
U.S. Army Intrenching Tools: Before World War II
Prior to World War II, the Army had a set of hand tools for the individual soldier in the M-1910 series:
- Intrenching Tool, M-1910 with cover/carrier
- Pick Mattock, M-1910 with cover/carrier
- Axe, Hand, M-1910 with cover/carrier
Each soldier had one Intrenching Tool, M-1910, a shovel with wood handle shaft that ended in a T, and a metal shovel blade. The Haversack, M-1928 has a canvas tab with eyelets near the top, under the meat can pouch, for attaching an intrenching tool cover M-1910. Several soldiers in each squad would be issued the Pick Mattock, and a web carrier that hooked to the pack or pistol/utility belt. The double-bladed pick had a heavy metal head, with a short wooden handle that slipped out of the head when stored. The Axe, Hand, M-1910 was also issued selectively, with its cover/carrier. Before World War II the canvas covers were all khaki in color, stamped "US".
Several variations of each of these M-1910 intrenching tools were produced and other tools in the same category were developed for special needs such as mounted cavalry and airborne units. These tools persisted in service through the inter-war years and continued to be used through World War II, as in the photo on the right showing a soldier of the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division on Omaha Beach, 8 June 1944. Click the link for a good photo of the M-1910 intrenching tool on the USMC M-1941 pack.
U.S. Army Intrenching Tools: World War II and Korea
One of scores of items that made life a little easier and safer for the World War II soldier was an improved intrenching tool. Unlike World War I where soldiers spent most of their time at the front in, in World War II the emphasis was on individual shelter and the need to construct hasty foxholes. For that reason, the intrenching tool became an indispensable piece of equipment, as necessary as a weapon in many settings. One Quartermaster observer in Tunisia in 1943 noted:
"This is one of the few items that the fighting soldier will not discard, but will actually carry right into battle with him. It is probably the most useful utensil that he has in his possession. In every new position he takes, either advancing or retreating, it is absolutely necessary that a foxhole be dug. When foxholes are needed, they are usually need IN A HURRY -- and DEEP!"
The M-1943 Intrenching Tool was a combination shovel, hoe and pick ax, with a wooden handle and folding blade. It could be easily carried, assembled, and required almost no instructions for use. These were issued starting in 1943, but the M-1910 continued in use through the end of the war.
The M-1943 had a one piece handle that was permanently attached to the blade via an adjustable hinge. Using a large nut to loosen or tighten the connection, the hinge could be freed so the shovel and handle could be set up in a line (use as a shovel), at a right angle (use as a hoe), or folded over (to store in its cover). The khaki or later olive drab canvas M-1943 cover had a foldover flap with snap closure and a hook on the back for attachment to a utility belt or pack.
The M-1943 shovel went through a series of improvements without changing the basic design. The biggest change was the M-1951 version that added a pick, hinged and attached to the same pivot as the shovel so it too could be folded out or laid flat for storage (photo, left). The M-1943 cover would fit the M-1951 intrenching tool.
During the winter of 1950-51 in Korea, intrenching tools were discarded by combat units while they were actually engaged with the enemy. The reason was that the ground was frozen and the tools could not be used. The quartermaster of the Division did not become aware that these tools had been abandoned until the spring of 1951, when the ground began to thaw. Commanders then wanted replacement intrenching tools as rapidly as possible. But the number of replacement requests on this item was too great for the depot at Pusan to fill. It was necessary to airlift them from Japan. Unfortunately, this used air space vitally needed for gasoline and ammunition.
The "Carrier, Entrenching Tool, M-1956" design was very similar to the M-1943 design, still made of canvas, but added an eyelet flap and retaining strap on the outside front of the intrenching tool cover so that a bayonet could be attached (photo, right). Tabs of leather protected wear points. The M-1956 cover was introduced as part of the M-1956 Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment, the first major redesign after World War II.
Typical markings include "US" on the outside of the cover, "Carrier, Intrenching Tool" inside with contract, date and other markings. The tool itself may be stamped "US" and with the manufacturer (Ames among others).
U.S. Army Intrenching Tools: Vietnam and Later
The M-1943 basic design was finally superceded with the tri-fold shovel, known as "Intrenching Tool, Collapsible, M1967". The "Carrier, Intrenching Tool, Collapsible" was made of olive drab nylon fabric and had the ALICE style keepers instead of the wire hooks of earlier models. Later versions of the carrier were hard plastic (photo, below).
The black coated metal shovel design has a handle that folds in two places, controlled by a single large nut that can be opened or tightened by hand. The tool can be arranged as a straight shovel, folded at the hinge point to be a hoe, or fully folded up so that it stows completely inside the carrier with no handle protruding as was the case with the M-1943 design. Part of the edge of the shovel is serrated to form a saw.
The carrier case is normally marked "US" and is intended to be attached to the Individual Equipment Belt or to tabs on the ALICE pack. "US" is also stamped on the side of the shovel handle one one side, while the manufacturer (Ames among others) and date are on the other side of the handle.
The LC-1 hard plastic case for the "Carrier, Entrenching Tool, M-1956" has attachment keepers and drainage holes. It closes with two snaps. The NSN is 8465-00-001-6474.
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