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U.S. Army Ponchos, Slickers & Raincoats 1901 to 1919

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1910 Waterproof Clothing

for Mine Companies and Mine Planters

Specification No. 1056, adopted by the Army in 1909 or 1910

A suit of black oilskin clothing called “Waterproof Clothing for Mine Companies and Mine Planters” was adopted by the Army around 1910. The complete suit was composed of a hat, coat and trousers made from oilskin, as well as a pair of half-hip rubber boots. At the time of posting, a copy of the introductory specifications for the 1910 Waterproof Clothing have yet to be located.


Although the wording was slightly different in each edition, both the 1912 and 1914 Uniform Regulations stated which Army personnel were to be furnished with the recently adopted water repellent, oilskin garments:


90. OILSKIN CLOTHING (black) including hats and half-hip rubber boots, may be worn by officers and enlisted men of mine companies, mine planters, cable steamers, Quartermaster Corps, and by troops in Alaska.


Regulations for the Uniform of the United States Army, 1914, page 44


Five years later in 1915, a new specification for Waterproof Clothing for Mine Companies and Mine Planters was adopted. Specification No. 1221, adopted by the Army on February 25, 1915, didn’t shed much light on what the wet weather apparel looked like, but it did note the following:


Squam hat*, jacket and overalls. – To be of black oilskin, extra quality, of standard brand.

Boots. – To be one half-hip rubber boots, of standard brand, regular weight, first quality.


*“Squam Hat” was a fisherman’s nickname for a style of seafarers’ oilskin hat that was more commonly known as a “Sou’Wester”.


Photo No. 26: The U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps was charged with protecting the sea around America’s strategically placed coastal fortifications. Part of that responsibility included planting mines and laying undersea cables. Here, mine planters of the Coast Artillery are wearing Army issued blue denim work clothing. During stormy weather or in rough seas the mine planters would instead wear the black oilskin suits that presumably were devised specifically for them.


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Oilskin in the A.E.F.

In April of 1918, a status report on AEF clothing purchased abroad, listed, among numerous other articles, the number of oilskin suits that the Chief Quartermaster had thus far managed to procure in France:


We have purchased 36,500 suits of oilskin of poor quality and high price. We have not been able to purchase any more oilskins. The French authorities will not permit us to purchase any textile fabrics of any kind.


The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War, Vol. VI, Sanitation, 1926, page 616


Throughout 1917 and well into 1918, oilskin clothing was being shipped overseas to the AEF from America, and had also been purchased in France. This begs the question … to what troops in the AEF were the oilskin garments issued and for what purpose?


Photo No. 27: It’s possible that the soldier in this photo found in a history of the 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry) is wearing a suit of oilskin clothing, as his garb does not match any known pattern of issued fatigue clothing. Also the hat’s brim is far too wide to be that of a denim fatigue hat. The hat’s silhouette more closely resembles that of an oilskin Sou’Wester or the so called “Squam” Hat” that was mentioned in the 1915 Waterproof Clothing specifications. The inset is of a sailors “gutter brimmed” Sou’Wester style oilskin hat.


In a related Stars and Stripes newspaper article titled “During the Argonne”, it was noted that the unnamed provisional commander of an unidentified AEF regiment wore a fisherman’s oilskin hat on the field of battle. Could the hat mentioned have originally been a part of the 1915 pattern Waterproof Clothing for Mine Companies and Mine Planters? …


When the commander of one regiment was killed, the major general in command of that division took command of the regiment, leaving his chief of staff in command of the division. Men who saw him on the field noted with astonishment that he wore an issue uniform, hip boots and a souwester.


Stars and Stripes Newspaper, Vol. 1, No. 38, October 11, 1918, page 08


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It’s unlikely that the oilskin clothing used in the AEF was intended for the average American Doughboy, as each soldier arrived “Over There” already in possession of either a rain poncho, a slicker or a raincoat. But for what purpose did the AEF require oilskin suits? So far, no official source has provided an answer as to why oilskin suits were urgently needed in the AEF. However, based on one diary entry and two period photographs, I’ve come up with three distinctly different possibilities.


Photo No. 28: First … Oilskin suits were worn as they were intended – for protection against the elements. Here, oilskin clad Tommy’s at a British remount station circa 1916, scrub down a draft horse. The AEF also had a number of remount and veterinary facilities, whose personnel may have worn American or French made oilskin suits for the very same purpose.


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Photo No. 29: Second … Oilskin suits were worn as protection against grime. This aero squadron mechanic at the 2nd Aviation Instruction center in Tours, was either issued or otherwise “acquired” what I am certain is a pair of black oilskin trousers. Black oilskin would have been the perfect type of apparel for a mechanic to wear in order to shield the olive drab service dress from becoming soiled with grease and oil stains.


Photo courtesy of the Charles Thomas collection


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U.S. Army Waterproofed Ponchos, Slickers & Raincoats

In service from approximately 1911 to 1919


By 1911, waterproofing technology had improved to the extent that both gum rubber coated cloth and oil impregnated fabrics were no longer considered to be of sufficient quality for use by America’s military.


Instead the Quartermaster Department began using cotton sheeting that had been waterproofed by several applications of an advanced rubberizing compound.


In 1911 the Quartermaster Department issued the 1911 Poncho, the first of several rain garments that were made from various weights of “waterproofed” cotton fabrics. The foot soldier’s new rain poncho was described as follows in a period military publication:


The poncho, for the use of foot troops, is made of waterproof cotton sheeting, to weight no less than 2 pounds, 10 ounces, nor more than 3 pounds. It consists of body, fly and extension. It is 75 inches long, exclusive of extension, and 59 inches wide, exclusive of fly, and is passed over the head by a crosswise opening 13 inches long in center seam.


The poncho and blanket are of suitable size and shape to form a comfortable sleeping bag, the blanket being folded and tied together by means of its tapes, and the poncho buttoned together over the blanket. A double sleeping bag can also be made by means of two ponchos with two blankets between, the latter being tied together along the edges and the foot end.


Manual of Military Hygiene for the Military Services of the United States, 3rd Edition, Colonel Valery Havard, 1917, page 468


1911 Poncho

Specification No. 1144, adopted by the Army on December 6, 1911

(Waterproofed Cotton Sheeting)


The 1911 Poncho replaced the 1908 Poncho, Specification No. 960, which had been adopted by the Army on June 4, 1908


Dimensions: According to the specifications for the 1911 Poncho, excluding the extension along the lower edge, the new poncho measured 75 inches in length and 59 ¼ inches in width. It weighed in somewhere between 2 pounds, 10 ounces and 3 pounds.


Material: It was made from waterproofed, khaki cotton duck cloth that weighed between 7 ½ to 8 ounces per linear yard. A 6 foot length of No 3 gilling line was fitted to the square edge of the poncho.


Hardware: Twenty-one standard Army, No. 70, brown japanned, brass tack buttons of 78 ligne diameter were used throughout the poncho.


Description: The opening in the poncho’s center through which the head passed was 13 inches long. Two tack buttons were placed along the rear edge of the opening, which, when fastened, to the corresponding buttonholes on the forward edge of the opening held closed the opening when the poncho was used as a ground sheet or a tarp.


A falling collar that was made from the same fabric as the poncho surrounded three sides of the center opening. The collar was 3 inches wide at the center and 5 ½ inches wide at each end. A tack button was placed on the right hand point of the collar and the left hand point had a corresponding buttonhole.


Ten equally spaced buttonholes were placed along the lower, straight edge on the underside of the poncho, One additional buttonhole was situated just to the left of the center seam.


Six equally spaced buttonholes were placed along the outside, lower, left hand edge. In addition, six equally spaced tack buttons were placed on the 3 inch wide by 30 inch long extension located on the lower right hand side.


Twelve equally spaced tack buttons and buttonholes ran the length of the right hand edge of the poncho. The left hand side also had twelve equally spaced tack buttons and buttonholes which were covered by a matching 1 ½ inch wide khaki cloth fly. All outer edges of the poncho were reinforced with a 1 ½ inch wide strip made from the same material as that of the poncho.


Contract Label: A standard contract label was either sewn or stamped in ink on the inner, front side of the poncho, typically near the lower, right hand corner. The label or stamp was to show the name of the contractor, the date of the contract, the name of the depot, and it had a space at the bottom for the inspectors’ name.


Size: The 1911 Poncho was available in just one size


Photo No. 31: Overall view of a 1911 Poncho. The inset is of one of the tack buttons placed on the back or underside of the poncho.


Photos courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com


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The tack buttons and buttonholes along the edges of the 1911 Poncho allowed it to be buttoned around the wearer’s body. The poncho could also be belted by tying the gilling cord, which accompanied each poncho, around the waist. Official instruction explaining how to do so were issued in 1912:


95a. PONCHO. – To use the new pattern poncho as a rain protection button the poncho together, commencing at the end provided with buttons, the length of the closed portion depending upon on the height of the wearer, then pass the part so buttoned over the body and insert the head through the opening provided, the upper or unbuttoned part falling to the rear and forming a cape. If necessary the cape thus formed may be secured by buttoning it to one of the rear buttons by means of the buttonhole in the center of the back thereof or by tying the gilling cord furnished with the poncho around the waist. (C. U. R. No. 1, March 25, 1912.)


Uniform Regulations; Change No. 1, March 25, 1912


Photo No. 32: At left is a khaki colored 1911 Poncho draped on a manikin. To its right is an image showing how the poncho looked when it was tightly buttoned around the wearer’s legs. The fact that the soldier modeling the poncho is wearing a 1907 Service Cap and 1907 Canvas Leggings, and that the poncho does not have a collar, leads me to believe that the poncho worn may in fact be the earlier 1908 Poncho.


In respect to wearing a 1913 pattern poncho, whose design was identical to that of the 1911 poncho that preceded it, an Army recruit struggling to cope with unusually poor weather, leaky pyramid tents, and the tenaciously sticky mud at Camp Greenleaf on the grounds of Fort Oglethorpe Georgia in January of 1918 recalled that:


We had now been issued ponchos, but we found that, although they made excellent waterproof coverings for our beds, they were not remarkably effective as garments. A poncho is simply a rectangular sheet of waterproof material, with a hole in the center to put one’s head through. When on, it drapes one’s figure in fetching folds, and is just long enough to run the water in streams into the tops of a pair of canvas leggings and thence into one’s boots. That night the men on guard were literally frozen into their ponchos. The steady fall of sleet covered all the folds with a sheet of ice, so that when a man tried to salute, he found his arms pinioned to his sides. As he plodded along, he could watch the icicles descending around his hat brim.


Private First Class Frederick A. Pootle, Evacuation Hospital No. 8, AEF

Right hand photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com


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1913 Poncho

Specification number possibly 1194, adopted by the Army on July, 23, 1913

(Waterproofed Cotton Sheeting)

Structurally and dimensionally, the 1913 Poncho was identical in every respect to the 1911 pattern poncho which it replaced.


However, the old waterproofed, khaki cotton duck cloth material had been replaced by a new olive drab cotton drill material with a weight of 9 ounces per square yard that had been treated with an improved waterproofing compound.


The primary difference between the 1911 and 1913 Poncho was:

  • That the 1911 pattern poncho was khaki in color and made from a lighter weight cotton duck material.
  • That the 1913 pattern poncho was olive drab in color and made from a slightly heavier weight cotton drill material.

Photo No. 33: A olive drab, 1913 pattern poncho and its much faded 1916 dated contract label. The bottom contract label, from a different 1913 pattern poncho, is an exact match to the upper label with the possible exception of the day and month of the contract date, both of which are illegible on the upper label.


Photos of the poncho and upper label courtesy of Falls Creek Militaria.com

Lower label photo courtesy of Bay State Militaria.com


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Photo No. 34: Most of these infantrymen from either the 6th or 16th Infantry Regiments are wearing the 1913 pattern poncho. All of the men whether draped in the poncho or not, were participants in the 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico.


Photo courtesy of the Dragoon collection


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Photo No. 37: This 1913 pattern poncho bears a 1916 dated, ink stamped, contract label rather than a sewn on contract label. Note the two tack buttons which would secure the collar around the center opening in the closed position, and the extension on the poncho’s upper left hand corner.


Photos courtesy of the Dragoon collection


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Photo No. 38: Left: close up of the 1913 pattern poncho’s center opening, its flap/collar, and the two tack buttons needed to seal the flap. Right: three 1913 pattern ponchos are worn in what looks to be a staged publicity photo of a wounded soldier being escorted off the field of battle.


Left hand photo courtesy of the Dragoon collection


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Photo No. 42: Close up of the contract stamp and the Army’s standard tack button, which was used on both the 1911 and 1913 pattern ponchos, as well as on the 1917 Mounted Slicker and the 1918 Raincoat, Foot.


Photos courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com


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Photo No. 44: By mid 1917 officials in the AEF had determined that the 1913 Poncho was inadequate for use in the trenches. This was largely because it could not be worn when the gasmask was placed high up on the chest in the “alert” position. The poncho was replaced first by the 1917 Mounted Slicker in the summer of 1917. Then the mounted slicker was replaced in early 1918 by the 1918 Raincoat for dismounted troops.


At left is a rare shot of the poncho being worn at the front captured from some Critical Past newsreel footage. Opposite is a pair of artillerymen at a stateside training camp. Both men, wearing 1913 Ponchos, are literally and figuratively horsing around in what looks to be some sort of a horse against mule race.


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Photo No. 45: It’s difficult to be certain if the tent opening coverings are in fact rain ponchos. However, 1913 pattern ponchos do look as if they are being used to seal the open end of the shelter tents in this encampment circa 1916 or 1917.


Photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum


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A.E.F. Raincoats & Slickers


When America entered the War to End All Wars in April of 1917, the United States was woefully unprepared for the undertaking that it was about to embark on. In respect to Army foul weather outer clothing, the Quartermaster Corps entire inventory was comprised of:

  • An Oilskin Hat, Coat and Trousers, of which very little is known that until 1917, had presumably only been issued to certain members of the Quartermaster Corps, Coast Artillery Corps, and troops stationed in Alaska.
  • The 1913 pattern Poncho, which was standard issue for all foot troops in the spring of 1917.
  • The 1913 pattern Oiled Pommel Slicker which was prescribed for all mounted troops in the spring of 1917.
  • Plus whatever stock of obsolete and obsolescent ponchos and slickers that might remain on the shelves of Quartermaster storehouses across the nation.

All of these garments would have been issued, if still serviceable, to new recruits just entering the training camps and to the seasoned regulars that shipped out for France during the months of May and June in 1917.


During the spring of 1917, America’s industry was not yet up to the task of clothing and equipping the one million men that the War Department had initially planned to send to France. In respect to military rain garments, so few were on hand that agents of the Quartermaster Corps scoured the civilian clothing markets for every raincoat they could lay their hands on. Quartermaster Corps records indicate that the average enlisted man in the AEF received a new slicker or raincoat every five months.


The Army’s need for raincoats, and what steps were taken to acquire them in sufficient quantities were discussed briefly in the book America’s Munitions:


Raincoats caused a good deal of trouble as there was not a sufficient manufacturing capacity in this country to meet the requirements. Practically all stocks of commercial raincoats were purchased, on the theory that even a poor cover was better than none. As these garments were made for civilian use, they were not built according to Army specifications, and considerable criticism was made as to their quality.


When the manufacture of raincoats commenced on a large scale, many new concerns went into the business, and some of them, either through lack of experience or through carelessness or intent, made garments that were not properly cemented. This led to investigations and indictments. The total purchase or ponchos, raincoats, and slickers amounted to about 10,000,000 garments.


America’s Munitions 1917-1918, Benedict Crowell, 1919, page 471


In addition to the commercially made raincoats that the Quartermaster Corps had worked furiously to obtain, the 1913 Oiled Pommel Slicker went overseas with the early contingents of AEF. In France, the slickers were soon found to be unfit for service in the trenches. The reason for the failure of the Oiled Pommel Slickers were spelled out in a post war report concerning the functionality and hardiness of the clothing worn by the AEF at the time of their arrival overseas in June of 1917:


Oilskin raincoats in the American Expeditionary Forces proved to be short lived, because the waterproofing was quickly worn off the surface of the coats and they easily became torn. Though it had been claimed that these coats would not stick together, such proved to be the case in the American Expeditionary Forces where many oilskin raincoats, were received in the salvage depots so adherent to one another as to be unfit for use when separated. Then, too, it was found that the waterproofing surface frequently was prone to hardening and cracking, thus rendering the garment unfit for water shedding purposes.


The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War, Vol. VI, Sanitation, 1926, page 635


To replace the unsatisfactory oilcloth slicker, the 1917 Mounted Slicker was devised and adopted by the Quartermaster Corps just three months after the first elements of the AEF had stepped onto French soil.


Photo No. 46: The flapped patch pocket on the right front hip and the lack of a storm fly covering the clasps and slots securing the front of these slickers, identify the garment as the 1917 Mounted Slicker. The stencil on the front of the French M2 Gasmasks that indicate these men belonged to the 17th Company, 2nd Motor Mechanics. Note the tack button eight inches up from the bottom edge of the slicker.


Photo Courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection



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1917 Mounted Slicker

Specification No. 1266, adopted by the Army on August 24, 1917

(Waterproofed Cotton)

Dimensions: The overall length and the overall weight of the 1917 Mounted Slicker were not mentioned in the specifications.


Material: Aside from the thread count, the type of cloth used to fabricate the new mounted slicker was also not named in the specifications. However, it is known that the fabric was cotton duck that was dyed an “olive drab shade” The specifications also stated that the cotton duck’s weight was “to be not more than 11 ounces or less than ten and one-half (10 ½) ounces per square yard.” The cloth from which the new mounted slicker was made was to be waterproofed by the application of no less than ten coats of a compound made from a mixture of various rubbers and chemicals. Once coated, the fabric was thoroughly vulcanized so that the rubberized coating would not stink, soften or harden.


Hardware: The front of the 1917 Mounted Slicker was secured by seven, steel or brass japanned clasps and four slots. Each clasp and slot was reinforced with a piece of matching material on the inside. Eight, 3/8 inch diameter, steel or brass japanned eyelets were used for ventilation, four under each arm. Two steel or brass japanned snap fasteners (one on each sleeve) were placed on the bottom of each cuff, in order to make each sleeve cuff adjustable. Each sleeve utilized one eyelet and two socket snap fasteners. The slicker required four, steel or brass japanned, 24 ligne tack buttons. Two were placed on the collar, one on right front opening, and one on the left back opening. One tack button was placed on the front and rear openings 8 inches from the bottom of the slicker.


Description: The matching cloth “standing rolling collar” was 4 inches wide. A “tab fastener” was located under the left hand side of the collar. One 8 ½ inch wide by 10 inch deep outside patch pocket, made from the same material as the slicker with a 4 inch deep flap was placed on the right hip, just below the waist. A triangular shaped “cantle piece” in the form of a gusset, also made of matching material was sewn inside of the slicker’s rear opening.


Contract Label: A standard contract label was sewn inside the pocket. The label was to show the name of the contractor, the date of the contract, the size, the specification number, the depot, and it had a space at the bottom for the inspectors’ name to be stamped.


Size: The available sizes of the 1917 Mounted Slicker were not listed in the specifications.


Photo No. 47: Front and back sides of a 1917 Mounted Slicker. The front shows three rows of two clasps placed on the right hand side of the front opening and four slots on the opposing side. The seventh clasp is covered by the slicker’s collar. Also visible is the tack button used to seal the lower front opening, two of the ventilation grommets under the right arm and the snap fasteners can just be made out on one of the lower cuffs.


Photos courtesy of the Dragoon collection


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Photo No. 49: At left is a close up of the tack buttons, placed on the underside of the collar, that were used to secure the triangular shaped tab fastener in either the closed or open position. To the right is the coat hook found on the collar’s stand and the mandatory size ticket showing size No. 1.


Left hand photo courtesy of the Dragoon collection

Right hand photo courtesy of the Jason G collection


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Photo No. 50: A close up of the 1917 Mounted Slicker’s rear opening and two examples of the contract label that was sewn inside of the pocket. Also of interest are the two distinctly different colors of waterproofed fabric – an olive shade of khaki and olive drab, on which the contract labels were sewn*, and the buttonhole needed to accommodate the tack button positioned on the under, and opposite side of the rear opening.


*The lower contract label was sewn inside the pocket of the mounted slicker shown in photo number fifty of this post.


Left and upper right hand photos courtesy of the Dragoon collection

Lower right hand photo courtesy of Griffin Militaria.com



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Photo No. 51: The 1917 Mounted Slickers were unlined and featured a long rear opening which prevented the slicker’s skirts from binding when mounted. Two mounted slickers are worn here by dismounted troop of the AEF, both of whom have turned up the slicker’s sleeve cuffs.


Left hand photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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