M1941 Field Jacket
Olive Drab Cotton Field Jacket (also known as OD Cotton Field Jacket and, unofficially, Parsons Jacket, M1938 or M1941) is a field jacket used by US Army soldiers, most famously during the beginning of World War II. In 1941 it started to be phased in as a replacement for the wool four pocket service coat of World War I, but around 1943 it was replaced in turn by the improved M1943 model. Due to wide adoption, the M1941 is usually recognized as a symbol of the World War II American G.I.. The jacket was made in a light shade of olive drab called OD number 3.
The First Field Jacket
Through World War I, soldiers in the United States Army wore a comfortable loose-fitting wool four pocket field garment, which Lieutenant General Edmund B. Gregory, the Quartermaster General, later (1946) explained had then subtly changed to a tight-fitting version suitable only for garrison wear. He further pointed ot that this followed the general pattern adopted by most major armies of the world during the post-WWI period, but proved to be rather impractical. At the end of the 1930s, the Army moved to adopt a new outer garment that was intended to be more utilitarian and provide better protection in combat. The army's first attempts included adding a pleated "bi-swing" back to the service coat, a change adopted with the M-1939 Service Coat.
The first field jacket was based on a civilian jacket suggested by Major General James K. Parsons, for whom it was unofficially named. Unlike the service coat, the material for the jacket was more wind and water resistant. A further reason for adopting a field jacket made of a different material was that shortages of wool were expected. The jacket could be worn with both winter (OD wool) and summer (khaki chino) uniforms as well as fatigue uniforms. The Olive Drab Cotton Field Jacket was standardized and adopted in June 1940 for use by all members of the US Army for wear with both the winter and summer service uniforms. Jackets of similar design were later also adopted by the Navy and Marine Corps.
The designations of "M1938", "M1941", or "M41" are technically incorrect. The Army Quartermaster Corps, who developed clothing, used model numbers sparingly and only used them to differentiate two or more similar types of garments from one another. In 1940, there was only one field jacket, so there was no need to give it a model number.
The jacket was modeled after a civilian windbreaker design, and was constructed of an olive drab shade 3 cotton poplin outer shell with an olive drab wool flannel lining, with shell color on new jackets was a pale pea-green color, but faded fairly quickly with heavy use and sun exposure to the more common beige-green. The jacket had a front zipper front closure with a buttoned storm flap. The jacket also had buttons at the collar for closing the lapels to warm the neck region, as well as buttoned adjusting tabs on each side of the waist and at the cuffs to seal in body heat, and buttoned shoulder epaulets. There were two front slash pockets and a notched lapel collar. Earlier models of the jacket (M-38 Parsons jacket) do not have the shoulder epaulets, but the two front slash pockets had buttoned pocket flaps and a thinner half-belt back seam.
World War II
When the US entered the war in 1941, the OD cotton field jacket was the standard outer garment for all army personnel, except those that had other specialist clothing (Paratroopers wore the parachutist's coat and trousers, tank crews wore the tankers jacket, various types of parkas were worn in cold weather, etc.). As a result, the field jacket could be seen worn in every theater of war and by nearly every type of soldier, making a rather ubiquitous symbol of the World War II American G.I..
Throughout the course of the war, the OD cotton field jacket proved to be an inadequate outer garment. The jacket's thin lining provided poor insulation during cold weather and the light cotton shell provided little protection from wet weather and wind. In addition, the lighter shade of OD 3 faded quickly and resulted in a beige color, thus compromising the effect of camouflage – which troops in the field found out the hard way, and often turned their jackets inside-out because the wool lining was a darker shade of OD and didn't gleam in the sunlight like the poplin shell did.
The OD cotton field jacket was officially replaced with the adoption of the M-1943 uniform ensemble as the standard, which included the much improved M-1943 field jacket. The OD cotton field jacket was redesignated limited standard and issued until supplies were exhausted. Photographic evidence shows that soldiers continued to wear the older jacket all the way through the end of the war, due to supply shortages and squabbling between the Quartermaster Corps, and field commanders who all had their own ideas of what the troops should "look like". The jackets even show up in limited use during the Korean War.
- The Army Dressed Up, 1952, Dr. Stephen J. Kennedy, The Quartermaster Review, January/February 1952, Army Clothing History page, Army Quartermaster Foundation, Inc. Website, accessed 4-9-08.
- Hwang, Tiffany US Army Field Jacket Development in Response to Material Shortages and the Exigencies of World War II in Momentum Vol 1 Issue 1 Article 3 18 April 2012
- A photo of Pvt. Walter E. Prsybyla, 2nd Infantry Division, addressing cards to the folks back home for Christmas 1944: http://www.history.army.mil/photos/Holiday/SC197242.jpg