Boots, Bags, ‘n’ Belts in Holland

REID PALMER & TIM UTESCH | 30 APRIL 2019 

Part of B/401 GIR in the days leading up to Operation Market Garden. Two GI’s standing in the top right have  both haversacks and M36 Suspenders, and several sitting in the front row have boot knives with PFAPs tied on.

During the 2018 Europe trip, we were able to pick up copies of two books that are hard to find in  the States: D-Day Minus September 17, 1944 and Orange is the Color of the Day by Peter Hendrikx and Michel De Trez. The books are 207 and 560 pages respectively, and contain thousands of photos of the 101st Airborne prepping and fighting in Operation Market Garden. 

We scanned and added over 150 new glider-related photos to the Google Drive. The clarity of the  photos allowed us to zoom in and scrutinize what the average trooper wore and carried. Since a  large percentage of our events are post-September 17, we decided to take a look at a few of the most debated items in our impression: 

a. Jump boots vs. Double Buckles
b. M7 Rubberized vs. M6 Lightweight gas mask bags
c. Haversacks vs. M36 Suspenders/Musette Bag

We prioritized counting GI’s that were pictured in photos labeled as “327,” “401,” or generic “glider  infantry” or “glidermen.” Medics from the 326 Airborne Medical Company (AMC), artillerymen from  the Parachute or Glider Field Artillery Battalions (PFAB or GFAB), and glider pilots are also in the  Google Drive, but weren’t counted unless specified as they were often jump-qualified or issued  different equipment. Glider pilots in particular wore an eclectic mix of whatever they wanted. 

JUMP BOOTS VS. DOUBLE BUCKLES 

First off, we took a look at the combat footwear of glider-related GI’s.  

Double BucklesJump BootsLeggingsUnknownTotal
INFANTRY (PRE-LANDING) 36 542
INFANTRY (POST-LANDING) 34 34
OTHER (PFAB, GFAB, AMC, PILOTS) 95 12 5115

In total, 92% of the infantry with their footwear photographed wore Double Buckle Combat boots.  1% wore jump boots, and 6.5% were indistinguishable. Jump boots and leggings were seen in other  outfits such as the 326 AMC or PFAB that would have been jump-qualified but assigned to gliders. 

While it’s confirmed that the 327/401 GIR was authorized hazard pay and issued jump boots after  returning from Normandy, we recommend that 100% of attendees wear Double Buckles for combat events set after August 1944. A specific 326 AMC medic impression is an acceptable exception. 

Jump boots have been previously recommended as shortcut for new recruits as it could pass  as a catch-all: dress boot, late war combat boot, and early war combat boot with leggings.  While this has some merit, we suggest it should remain as an exception, not the suggestion.  [Author’s note: I (Tim) did this when I first started—while it saved me money in the short term,  the hassle of continuously polishing for dress and ravaging my boots in the field was infuriating.] 

M7 RUBBERIZED VS M6 LIGHTWEIGHT GAS MASK BAGS 

Next up, we took a look at the gas mask bags.  

GAS MASK BAGM7 RUBBERIZED ASSAULT M6 LIGHTWEIGHT
INFANTRY (PRE-LANDING) 14 0
INFANTRY (POST-LANDING) 10 2
OTHER (PFAB, GFAB, MEDICS, PILOTS) 1

The M7 rubberized assault gas mask bag is the classic June 6th piece of equipment, but this is one statistic that surprised us. 92% of GI’s pictured with gas mask bags retained the M7 for Holland. The  M6 Lightweight gas mask bag is a great manpurse or personal effects bag, but keep it to your bunk unless we’re doing a Bastogne or 1945 event. 

HAVERSACKS VS. M36 SUSPENDERS AND MUSETTE BAGS 

Next, we looked at the packs that GI’s wore: 

HaversackM36 SuspendersBoth Haversack & M36 SuspendersNoneTotal
ENLISTED 73 10 30+~120
OFFICER 15 15

Overall, we can conclude that only about 15% of enlisted glidermen received or ‘found’ M36  suspenders. Of those who had suspenders only about 40% had a musette bag attached (~6%), and the rest were often found wearing both suspenders and the haversack rigged up as a backpack. 

M36 suspenders most likely would have been prioritized for top NCO’s, specialists, and gunners of  any kind: BAR, Bazooka, and MG. There are one or two examples of improvised suspenders using  GP straps and a medical harness, though these were not wide-spread enough to warrant usage. 

To this conclusion, we recommend a maximum of 1–3 enlisted men wear M36 suspenders at an event, and of those at most two enlisted members with musette bags.  

As the timeline shifted into late September and October, photos of GI’s show increasingly less gear. Foxholes were dug, turned into homes, and guys dropped what equipment they could to  carry the least amount possible. At the end of the day, when assaulting an enemy through foliage, do you want to be wearing all your gear? The average GI would want to be able to move fast and nimbly, without the bayonet or shovel handle impeding movement. SSGT Kinney in Battleground said it best when ordered into action: “Drop your packs and rolls; drop your packs and rolls. Third  platoon, on your feet. We’ve got that patch of woods to clear.” 

A total of 18 glidermen were seen with PFAPs, so they were issued but not always readily visible.  Pre-landing, there seemed to be a trend where the PFAP was tied to the fighting knife on the boot, which leads us to… 

BOOT KNIVES

Often viewed as an over-done ‘reenactorism,’ here are the numbers: 

Fighting KnivesOn the BootElsewhereNo KnivesTotal
INFANTRY (PRE-LANDING) 31 0435
INFANTRY (POST-LANDING) 12 31328
TOTALS 43 31763

Based on what we could find, before Operation Market, ~89% of glider infantrymen carried a fighting knife. 100% of GI’s with observable fighting knives pre-landing had them on their boot, often in combination with their PFAP. In comparison, of the ~73% of the glidermen we observed carrying fighting knives after landing, only 80% after landing had knives on their boot and  20% had it on their belt. Perhaps moving through grass and brush with a boot knife was found  to be more difficult for some? Or had they simply not been photographed before the landing?  We can only assume, but it’s enough to solidify wearing boot knives for the 401. 

FLOTATION DEVICES

Then we looked at floatation devices–we know that M1926 Life Belts the were standard when 1/401 landed on Utah Beach, but were any reissued for Operation Market Garden? 

FLOTATION DEVICES
NAVY M1926 LIFE BELT 11 
B3 or B4 MAE WEST52

Counting enlisted and officers indiscriminately, about 83% of GI’s were given a B3 or B4 Mae West for the Holland jump. The 17% that had M1926 life belts were spread evenly throughout the sample group, while this was the ideal scenario we don’t have evidence to support the entire unit finding them.  

HQ/327 – M7 bag, B4 vest, & M1926 belt in one pic

ADDITIONAL DETAILS 

We decided to count a few more things, just for clarity. First up was Parachute First Aid Packets. 

PARACHUTE FIRST AID PACKETSCountTotal
INFANTRY (PRE-LANDING) 1342
INFANTRY (POST-LANDING) 534
OTHER (PRE-Landing) 873
OTHER (POST-LANDING)421
In this case, “other” means PFAB, GFAB, Medics, and Glider Pilots

Approximately 31% of glider infantry appear to have carried a spare Parachute First Aid Packet before the invasion, which drops to ~15% after the invasion either through usage, loss, or perhaps donation to a unit medic.

Here are a few excerpts from SSGT Robert Bowen (C/401) in Fighting with the Screaming Eagles

We were issued new uniforms and equipment. Instead of twill fatigues and field jackets, we  were given the new ‘43 pattern combat uniforms with baggy pockets, new style entrenching  tools and gas masks, trench knives, helmet nets, Thompsons and combat boots that leaked like sieves. (80) 

Acting as the 3d Battalion of the 327th, we were ordered to Veghel immediately. We packed  hurriedly, discarding everything not essential, like the reserve parachutes we had picked up  as souvenirs and even our packs. Instead we made blanket rolls from our new sleeping bags. I had picked up a musette bag and packed all my personal articles in it. We discarded our gas masks, using the case to carry additional rations. (113) 

SSGT Bowen was able to pick up a musette before the defense of Veghel from Sept. 22–Oct. 6, and while this might the ideal loadout, we don’t have evidence to support the entire unit finding them.

CONCLUSION

If you haven’t taken a look at original photos on the Google Drive, we highly suggest  doing so. They are a fantastic original resource and show you not only what was worn, but how it  was worn. This is just a snapshot, and there is much more to be learned. We highly recommend  everyone to peruse the photos often, do your own counts, or count something new we might  have overlooked. Our impressions are never perfect, and our education is never finished!

*Last updated 12/14/2020 to provide more information concerning the total datasets.

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