After World War II, newly independent nations with armies of their own modeled their uniforms on those of such countries as Britain and the United States, but conflicts in various parts of the world required further modifications to suit function and climate.
illions of men had been called upon to fight in World War , and millions of uniforms, guns, and items of equipment had been produced for them. When the war ended, these were returned to the stores, while the vast majority of soldiers went back to civilian life.
This private of the Chinese People's Liberation Army in the Korean War is wearing a quilted coat and pants, with a fur hat for the bitter cold of the Korean winter. He has on old-fashioned puttees and what can best be described as slippers.
These U.S. troops ore in camouflage coats and pants, with helmet covers. The bulging pockets on the jackets and pants, the pouches for items such as ammunition, and the grenade and machete give an indication of the personal kit carried.
These stores, and particularly those of Britain and the U.S., were sold to smaller countries all over the world. In Britain's case, this happened as part of the process of the dissolution of its empire. The British government had called on the peoples of the empire to provide troops to help in the war. The colonies had supplied literally millions of men, and now they wanted to be paid back— with independence. As this began to take place, the new countries needed armies, and these were clothed and supplied from British stocks. In many cases, they wore virtually the same uniforms that they had worn before achieving independence.
[Not U.S. troops, but French paratroopers in Indochina in the early 1950s.]
In the immediate postwar years, the armies of India, Pakistan, and many African and Middle Eastern countries dressed in basic British tropical uniforms; however, by the early 1950s, this changed when better-quality American equipment came onto the international market. This combination led to some strange situations. Israeli troops wore U.S. uniforms, so in the first Arab-Israeli war, American-dressed Israeli forces were facing British-dressed Arab forces. Stranger still, after the partition of India into India and Pakistan, troops facing each other across the border were all dressed in British uniforms.
Israeli paratroopers in the 1990s. The soldier in the center is wearing a ballistic nylon helmet and Kevlar body armor under his tunic, both of which give good protection against small-arms fire and shell splinters.
A new type of war, the Cold War, was brewing between the West, led by the United States, and the Communist bloc, led by Russia. It was called "cold"
This U.S. infantryman is in an NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) suit. The suit, with its built-in gas mask, enables the wearer to operate in an environment that would otherwise be fatal. The powder is a part of the protection.
because it rarely became a shooting war between the main countries. Fighting usually occurred between smaller countries who were influenced by these two powerful countries. These were almost proxy wars, where the forces of the smaller countries were armed, and clothed, by their respective superpowers.
This proxy warfare meant a shift in the main theater of warfare, from Europe and North Africa, to Southeast Asia, starting with Vietnam, or French Indochina, as it was then called. There, the French, who had been forced out by the Japanese, tried to retake control from the largely Communist forces, who had fought an Allied-supported guerrilla action against the Japanese army and now wanted independence. Once again, the French forces wore a combination of American and British uniforms.
In 1951, North Korean forces, supported by Red Chinese troops, invaded the United Nations (UN)-backed South Korea, and the Korean War began. Unfortunately, the UN forces were not prepared for the severe winter conditions. The Communist forces, on the other hand, wore distinct uniforms that gave superior protection from the weather. This was in the form of light gray or brown, double-breasted jackets made of thickly quilted material (there were both long and waist-length versions) and trousers. Puttees might still be worn with them, as were thin sandals, although most wore boots when they could get them. Helmets were unusual among the Communist forces; they preferred caps with large earflaps to give protection from the bitter winds. Russian-style fur-lined hats were most popular.
Most of the UN and South Korean forces fell back on America's 1943-style uniform with its multilayered approach. Even British forces took to wearing the U.S. field jacket and overtrousers on top of their battle dress, because the former had a high degree of wind and rain protection. U.S. Arctic-issue caps with large earflaps were also popular; like the field jacket, they were made from wind- and rainproof material on the outside with a woolen lining.
This modern British soldier is in camouflage battle dress. His face is camouflaged, and his helmet has a camouflage cover, which has strips of material attached to the netting, in the same way as the large camouflage net behind.
Meanwhile, in Malaya, Britain was carrying on a war against Communist-backed guerrillas in different conditions. Here, it was hot, steamy jungle fighting, and these conditions dictated a different uniform. Troops here favored the bush hat, fatigue shirt, and waterproof trousers, all in olive green or khaki,
"HARD" AND "SOFT" ARMOR
Originally known as bulletproof vests, or flak jackets (the latter name springs from the garment issued to U.S. bomber crews to protect against German flak, or antiaircraft fire), body armor comes in two categories: soft and hard. Hard armor is the heavyweight variety used by bomb-disposal teams, using solid ceramic plates in an imitation of the breastplates of pre-20th-century cavalry. Hard armor can deflect even high-velocity bullets. Soft armor, on the other hand, is lighter and gives protection against low-velocity (pistol or submachine gun) ammunition. It does not always stop rifle rounds, but it does make the wounds they cause less serious.
worn with high, laced-up jungle boots made mostly of canvas (the wet conditions would rot leather boots in a few weeks). British uniforms, and the tactics they used, had been drawn from their experience against the Japanese in Burma, and would be drawn upon by Australian and U.S. troops in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War saw a great expansion in the use of some earlier innovations. The use of the bulletproof vest, or flak jacket, among U.S. troops became extremely widespread. In addition, camouflage was emerging with new patterns, such as the famous "tiger stripe," and there was a growth in the use of camouflage makeup for the face.
Since Vietnam, the trend has been for smaller armies made up of multispecialist professional troops. Their training is intensive and expensive, and great emphasis is now placed on giving them as much protection as possible. This takes two main forms: body armor and nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare suits. Vietnam War-period flak jackets weighed a lot. They were fastened at the front with zippers and press studs, and in combat, this proved to be a weak spot if the jackets were not correctly fitted. Around the bottom of the flak jackets was a band of material fitted with eyelets, from which the wearer could hang equipment. In the 1980s, the Israelis expanded on this design by fitting ammunition and equipment pouches directly to their flak jackets. They were not the only piece of body armor; U.S. combat boots had a steel plate in the sole to protect against booby traps made of sharpened bamboo stakes.
Body armor poses the same problem as medieval plate armor. More armor gives more protection, but there is a trade-off: armor constricts movement, so more armor means less movement. What remains is a balancing act. Most modern jackets are designed to cover the wearer from neck to hips, leaving the arms and legs free. In this way, running and firing are not overly hampered, while the more serious targets—the head and chest—are protected by the helmet and the flak jacket.
Todays bulletproof vest is made from new synthetic materials, such as Kevlar, which are tough but light—6 to 11 pounds (2.7 to 5 kg) on average. To enable them to be put on and removed quickly—necessary in the case of surprise attack or for medical treatment—they use Velcro fittings, usually under the arms. This makes them easier to adjust to different sizes, while at the same time avoids the weak spot provided by the earlier front-fastening models. The new, lightweight materials mean that some are designed to be worn under a combat jacket, making it easier to get to all the gear packed in the combat jacket's pockets.
Several thin layers of bulletproof material provide far better protection than a single thick layer. The 1990s U.S. Army PASGT (personal armor system— ground troops) flak vest is made from several layers of Kevlar ballistic cloth over trauma-shield padding to protect the wearer from injuries created by the force
of the bullet hitting the vest. Many countries' vests include pockets in the front and back for plates of additional hard armor to give extra protection. The American vest also features a high collar to protect the neck: this, together with the Kevlar helmet, creates a virtual shield that protects from the groin to the top of the head.
The modern helmet is no longer made of steel, but of layers of ballistic fiber, which, unlike its predecessor, will protect against small-arms fire. It, too, has a trauma lining and is made to fit over ear defenders, personal two-way radio, and night-vision sets.
NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL, AND CHEMICAL SUITS
Nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) suits are part of the individual protection equipment issued to the modern soldier. In the late 1960s, this consisted of a gas mask and a rubberized gas cape. These days, most troops carry two suits: one to wear, and one spare, made up of trousers, a smock (both with Velcro fasteners), overboots, and gloves. The whole suit is hot, sweaty, and
This officer of the 1 990s Spanish Special Operations Group is wearing a one-piece combat coverall in Spanish camouflage, with cargo pockets, and a balaclava helmet.
uncomfortable to wear, but ultimately preferable to the alternative. The suit is completed by a gas mask that includes a microphone, optional air supply, and dark eyeglasses to protect against flash.
Other new uniform materials include fire-retarding fabrics, such as carbon fiber, for tank crews and special forces suits. The latter, usually in black, often incorporates special features, such as fire-retardant pads on the elbows and knees to allow the wearer to crawl over hot surfaces.
This Operation Desert Storm USAF soldier wears desert camouflage fatigues, including a slouch hat, in 1991. The darker webbing seems wrong, but the contrast is effective in breaking up his overall shape.
armor are just a small part of the kit carried by modern soldiers. New weapons and equipment have meant an ever-increasing load for troops, which includes weapons, ammunition, rations, water, spare clothing, shelter, sleeping bag, NBC suit, first-aid kit, specialist equipment, personal kit, and much more. Improved carrying systems and webbing have meant that the weight can be better distributed, but the load can be as much as 100 pounds (45 kg), a substantial increase from the 70 pounds (32 kg) carried by their great-grandfathers in World War I.
Uniform design has been influenced by changes—technical, social, and scientific—throughout the last century. Industrialization and the need to equip huge armies led to standardization. More efficient weapons led to the end of bright colors and the introduction of khaki and other drab colors, while shelling resurrected the steel helmet, and gas masks were introduced to counter certain chemical weapons.
By World War II, standardization gave way to uniforms tailored to meet the needs of different specialist units, while the use of camouflage, introduced by the German army, became widespread throughout the world. The 1943 U.S. uniform led the way in introducing the idea of a uniform made up of several layers of thin, weatherproof cloth, while the first experiments in the use of the bulletproof vest were made.
The end of the century saw the introduction of the specialist professional soldier, prepared for the use of gas, biological, or nuclear warfare. Levels of personal protection were hugely increased in the form of flak jackets, NBC suits, and the use of flame-retardant materials and Kevlar helmets.
At present, experiments with high technology in the form of night-vision goggles, personal computers, and personal radar are leading the way to the creation of a super soldier. Work on materials that can self-camouflage or cut down the wearer's body-heat emissions to make them invisible to infrared is pointing the way to a whole new generation of uniforms. More and more women are now serving in the armed forces on equal terms with their male colleagues and, as such, they are wearing the same uniforms and carrying the same equipment.
When looking back over the century, from the cavalry regiments with their bright, gold-braided uniforms, swords, and shining helmets, to the ultracamouflaged, high-tech super-warrior of today, it is fascinating to imagine what directions the uniforms of the 21st century will take.
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