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

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Photo No. 52: As soon as the 1917 Mounted Slicker arrived overseas, it was issued along with whatever civilian type raincoats Quartermaster Corps buyers had been able to procure to all troops serving in the AEF. This included dismounted troops, as well as the Leathernecks of the United States Marine Corps. Here two USMC officers photographed shortly after the successful capture Belleau Wood have been captured on film wearing the Army’s 1917 Mounted Slicker. Note the Marine Corps iconic Eagle, Globe and Anchor insignia mounted on the steel helmet worn by the officer on the left. At center is a rather rumpled and very olive drab mounted slicker.


Center photo courtesy of Griffin Militaria.com


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Photo No. 53: Three additional views of a 1917 Mounted Slicker which was posted elsewhere on this forum. In this montage, the ventilation grommets under the arm, the cuff snaps, as well as the cantle piece at the rear of the coat are all visible. Although there was no photo, the original post stated that the contract label read as follows:


United States Rubber Co.

Contract 967 September 15, 1917

Boston, MASS

Size 1


Link to the original post: http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/84403-m1907-pattern-1917-wwi-mounted-raincoat-slicker/

Photos courtesy of the Jason G collection


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Photo No. 54: All three of these men are wearing fully fastened 1917 Mounted Slickers. Note that the slicker on the far left has a rounded rather than a triangular shaped tab fastener protruding from beneath the left hand side of the collar.


Photos courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection



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By the end of 1917 AEF Headquarters had decreed that the performance of the 1917 Mounted Slicker at the Western Front was not good enough. The slicker’s ability to repel water for a prolonged period of time was found to be disappointing, as was the garment’s overall durability. In a 1918 report the fundamental shortcomings of the mounted slicker were summed up:


The 1917 raincoats were made of rubberized cotton sheeting. In the American Expeditionary Forces they proved unsatisfactory: that is to say they would readily shed water for relatively short periods when they were in good condition, but they did not meet the severe conditions to which they were put in France where our men had to wear them for hours in hard rains. When the coats became thoroughly wet they retained the moisture for a long time and could not be dried readily. Besides, an examination of a number of them that had been turned into the salvage depots in the American Expeditionary Forces showed that they were too easily torn even after having been worn for only a relatively short period of time.


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


In the second month of 1918 specifications were announced for a new raincoat that would replace the 1917 Mounted Slicker.


Photo No. 55: The left hand photo shows Doughboys wearing the 1917 Mounted Slicker (left) and its replacement, the similar, yet distinctly different, 1918 Raincoat, Foot (right). A better view of the 1918 Raincoat, Foot is shown on the far right.


Photos courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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1918 Raincoat, Foot

(Waterproofed Cotton)

Specification No. 1317, adopted by the Army on February 20, 1918

Dimensions: The overall length of the dismounted raincoat varied, depending on its size, from 44 inches to 46 inches. The overall weight of the 1918 Raincoat, Foot was not mentioned in the specifications.


Material: Aside from the thread count, the two types of cloth used, one for the body and one for the lining, to fabricate the new raincoat were also not mentioned in the specifications. However, both fabrics were of a tightly woven and stronger cotton duck, with the material for the lining being of a lighter weight than the material of the body. Both were dyed an “olive drab shade”. The raincoat’s body and lining were waterproofed by the application of no less than eight coats of a compound made from various rubbers and chemicals. Once coated, the fabrics were thoroughly vulcanized to prevent the rubberized fabrics from stinking, softening or hardening.


Hardware: The front of the 1918 Raincoat, Foot was secured by four japanned “clasps and take ups”. Eight, 3/8 inch diameter, steel or brass japanned eyelets were used for ventilation, four under each arm. A larger number of smaller eyelets which furnished the same amount of ventilation could be substituted. Two “ball and socket” snap fasteners (one on each sleeve) were positioned on the hem of each cuff. In order to make the sleeve cuffs fully adjustable, one ball and two sockets were placed on each cuff. The new raincoat required three, steel or brass japanned, 24 ligne tack buttons. Two were placed on the collar to secure the “throat piece”. One tack button was also placed 8 inches above the coat’s bottom edge on the right hand side of the front opening.


Description: The raincoat featured a “standing rolling collar” that was 4 inches wide and of the same material as the coat. A triangular shaped “throat piece” was stitched under the left hand side of the collar and could be secured, either opened or closed, by the two corresponding tack buttons located one on either side of the collar. The dismounted raincoat also had two flapless, slash pockets with hand openings that measured approximately 7 ½ inches. The front of the raincoat featured a 4 inch wide “storm fly” that was 29 inches in length, which further sealed the front of the coat. The rear of the coat had a 12 inch deep “double back” which covered the eight ¾ inch diameter ventilation holes underneath that were cut through the coats body and lining. Each shoulder also had a “shoulder strap”, which was nothing more than a tapered strip of matching fabric that was both sewn and cemented over the coats shoulder seams to prevent leakage.


Contract Label: An indelible ink stamp was placed underneath the storm fly, between the first and second take-up. Each stamp was to show the name of the contractor, the date of the contract, the size, and it had a space at the bottom for the inspectors’ name to be stamped.


Size: The 1918 Raincoat, Foot was available in three sizes:

  • Small ……. 38 inch chest … 44 inches in length
  • Medium … 42 inch chest … 46 inches in length
  • Large …… 46 inch chest … 46 inches in length

Photo No. 56: The three most visible external details that distinguish the foot raincoat from its predecessor, the mounted slicker can be seen in the side front and back views of this 1918 Raincoat, Foot which:

  • Lacked the flapped patch pocket on the right hip.
  • Had a storm fly that overlapped the raincoat’s sealed front opening. It began at the neck and ended just a few inches below the lowest clasp.
  • It had a deep double back, which provided additional ventilation and extra protection from the elements.

Photos courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com


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Photo No. 58: Another 1918 Raincoat, Foot next to a pair of 79th Division Doughboys during the November 1918 Argonne offensive. Each man is wearing a 1918 pattern raincoat. The curved bottom of the storm flap is visible on the raincoat worn by the Doughboy on the left.


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Photo No. 59: Close ups of the two different styles of tack buttons used on the 1918 Raincoat, Foot and one of its clasps and take ups. The “sunray” or “starburst” pattern button on the far left was the Army’s standard tack button from 1911 to 1919. It was used on the 1911 and 1913 Pattern Ponchos as well as on both the 1917 Mounted Slicker and the 1918 Raincoat, Foot. The smooth tack button at right is occasionally found on 1918 pattern raincoat. Presumably, this style was substituted when “standard” tack buttons were not available.


Left & center photos courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com

Right hand photo courtesy of the Dr Rambo collection

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Photo No. 60: Front and back views of another 1918 Raincoat, Foot. At far left one of the shoulder straps which were necessary to prevent the shoulder seams from leaking is visible. In the middle is an African American Doughboy wearing a pristine example of the 1918 Raincoat, Foot.


Right & left photos courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com

Center photo courtesy of Great War Images.com


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At some point during 1918, the Quartermaster Corps was planning on adopting raincoat made from oilskin. It is not known if the proposed plan stated in the following paragraph was actually carried out or not:


The procurement of waterproof clothing has been handicapped by the difficulty of securing sufficient cotton sheeting. At no time has there been a scarcity of the article for issue. New types of raincoats, both foot and mounted, have been produced to succeed to old type of slicker and poncho. Experiment is now being made with oiled clothing as a substitute for rubberized clothing, it being planned to equip one entire division with this article.


Annual Report of the Quartermaster General to the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1918, page 29


Photo No. 63: I included this image captured from period newsreel footage, not because of its quality, but because the Doughboy in the foreground is wearing his raincoat as if it were a cape in order to protect his haversack and pack carrier from the elements.


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Commercially Made & Customized Raincoats


Photo No. 64: Two of the three men, at center and left, are wearing 1918 dismounted raincoats that have been professionally modified. The right hand raincoat appears to have been shortened and both feature non-regulation waist belts with buttons that have been made from matching cloth. It is also possible that this style of raincoat was commercially made and sold to officers and enlisted men both in the U.S. and overseas in the AEF.


Right hand photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum



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Photo No. 65: On the right, an enlisted man in the Corps of Engineers, and another soldier whose rank is unknown, to his left, both wear different styles of commercially made raincoats. It is not known if these raincoats were privately acquired or if they came from the vast quantity of commercially made civilian raincoats that were purchased by the Quartermaster Corps in late 1917 and early 1918.


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Officers’ Raincoat


In 1917, officers of the U.S. Army were given a certain degree of liberty in regard to their choice of wet weather attire, provided that the garment chosen did not stray too far from the uniform regulations. In 1917, other than the 1913 pattern slickers and ponchos, the Army didn’t really have a specific policy in place regarding the type and style of foul weather garments a commissioned officer was allowed to wear. The 1917 Uniform Regulations stated only the following on that matter:


113. WATERPROOF CAPES OR OVERCOATS. – Officers may wear waterproof capes or overcoats, as nearly as practicable the color of the service uniform, when on duty involving exposure to rainy or other inclement weather. Under similar conditions mounted officers and enlisted men may wear the slicker and dismounted officers and enlisted men the ponchos issued by the Quartermaster’s Department.


Regulations for the Uniform of the United States Army, 1912 & 1914, page 38


Photo No. 66: When the number of commissioned officers serving in the U.S. Army skyrocketed after America declared war in 1917, so too did the availability of commercially made military style raincoats that were designed to be worn by America’s newly minted Army officers.

Officers serving overseas in the AEF were given even more latitude that those who served in the U.S. in regard to the choice of a garment that protected them from inclement weather. This photograph of the railhead officer and assistant railhead officer of the 89th Division shows that the preferred style of raincoat ran the gambit from a high-end British made Trenchcoat (left) all the way down to an unassuming, enlisted men’s 1918 pattern raincoat (right).


Photo courtesy of the National World War I museum


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Photo No. 67: The Army’s 1918 Raincoat, Foot proved to be a popular and much sought after garment among both officers and the enlisted ranks. At the front, AEF officers actually preferred wearing enlisted men’s clothing, which included the 1918 pattern raincoat because it helped to conceal their rank as an officer.


By 1918 American officers had learned the hard way that wearing easily identifiable Trenchcoats and Sam Brown belts or any other trappings associated with an officer identified them as such to German sharpshooters. Failure to discard anything that identified the wearer as an officer often resulted in disaster:


I ran down the hill and was talking to Lehmkuhl when I heard bursts of fire from the town. I turned around and saw Hayes running down the hill. He made a target, with his light trench-coat and stick in his hand – obviously an officer. The bullets were clipping around him. Suddenly when he was most of the way down, he went down. Lehmkuhl and I ran out to him, followed by a man with a stretcher. Hayes had been shot just above the left ear, the bullet passing through his head. We carried him in beside the track and put a bandage on his head. He was unconscious. I held him propped up for two or three hours, still living but never regaining consciousness. Then I had four big fellows take him on a stretcher back to the first-aid station near Marcq. He died on the way back.


Captain Robert P. Patterson, Company G, 306th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division, AEF

Photos courtesy of the National World War I Museum


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Photo No. 68: Two more commercially made raincoats for officers are shown here. On the right is a Burberry’s advertisement from 1916 for a single breasted officer’s raincoat. At right is an AEF chaplain wearing a commercially made double breasted raincoat which featured button loops rather than buttonholes.


Right hand photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Officers’ Trenchcoat

Authorized for use by A.E. F. personnel serving overseas

A Brief History of the Trenchcoat


Inspired by the market that the rubberized “Mackintosh”* raincoat created, and by the shortcomings of that coat’s layered rubber and wool fabric, a gentleman’s clothing firm by the name of Bax & Company developed a new woolen textile in 1851 that had been chemically treated to shed water. The raincoats made from the new material were water repellant, lightweight, somewhat breathable, and they didn’t smell bad or melt. In order to better market its new line of woolen raincoats Bax & Company changed its name to “Aquascutum” … which was a combination of the Latin words for “water” and “shield”. Aquascutum raincoats made without any rubber became immensely popular.


*For reasons unknown the letter “K” had been added at some point to the spelling of the name Macintosh.


In 1879 another gentlemen’s clothier by the name of Thomas Burberry devised a method to waterproof the individual strands of cotton and wool before they were woven into a fabric. This new tightly woven, lightweight, breathable and waterproof fabric was named “Gabardine”. To make Burberry’s waterproof outer wear even more breathable vents were added across the back and under the arms of the Burberry raincoats.


By the time WW I broke out in 1914, outer wear made by both Aquascutum and Burberry had already proven popular with England’s military officers. Their woolen raincoats had been worn in every British conflict from the Crimean War in the 1850s through to the Boer War at the end of the 19th century.


In the trenches of France and Flanders the heavy serge greatcoats worn by the British Tommy’s and the officers who led them into battle were found to be too heavy, too long and too cumbersome. A new type of coat that came to be called a “Trenchcoat” was developed by both clothing firms as an alternative to the officer’s heavy woolen greatcoat.


Both Aquascutum and Burberry were quick to claim credit for the invention of the “Trenchcoat”. To this day it remains unclear which firm actually devised the Trenchcoat first, as both had close ties with the British military.


Nevertheless, both clothiers adapted their civilian raincoat designs with some or all of the following features to meet the needs of trench warfare.

  • Raincoats destined for the trenches were made from heavy duty waterproofed cotton gabardine instead of wool
  • The skirt lengths were shortened so that they would not trail in the mud and they were made wide enough to allow freedom of movement
  • They were typically double breasted and tailored at the waist
  • Shoulder straps were added on which rank insignia could be placed
  • Belts reinforced with stitching with D-rings located along the lower edge for the attachment of equipment were added
  • The pockets were made large and deep in order to accommodate maps and other military necessities
  • Wide lapels, throat straps, storm flaps, and buckled straps around the cuffs were added to further keep out the cold and wet
  • Many coats featured double shoulders or a short back cape from which water would run off. Also a gun flap on the right shoulder under which the barrel of a weapon could be shielded from rain were sometimes present
  • The traditional color of a WW I era Trenchcoat was typically khaki, but in actuality the colors varied between light tan and olive drab
  • The majority of Trenchcoats also featured a removable interior woolen lining

By 1916, the khaki, waterproof Trenchcoat had become synonymous with the officers of practically every Allied nation fighting on the Western Front.


Photo No. 69: Two examples of the WWI Trenchcoat. One worn by an AEF chaplain, and the other once the property of a British lieutenant who served in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Note the wound chevron on the chaplain’s right sleeve and the domed, leather covered buttons on the British made coat.


Left hand photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Photo No. 71: The majority of Trenchcoats were made double breasted like those at center and far right. Some tailors however, cut their Trenchcoats in the single breasted style with a solitary row of five buttons down the front, like the coat on the left.


In respect to insignia, no insignia was prescribed for the Trenchcoat until July of 1918, when the uniform regulations were amended thusly:


40. INSIGNIA ON SLEEVE OF OVERCOAT. Insert the following immediately after the heading: To include fleece lined overcoats, mackinaws, trench coats and all other types of overcoats that may be adopted.


Special Regulations No. 42, Change No. 5, July 17, 1918


Unlike the young officer on the left, few AEF combat officers bothered to add the black or brown knots of rank insignia to the sleeves of the Trenchcoat. In the trenches that adornment would make them an easier target for enemy snipers. As soon as a distinctive shoulder insignia for Armies, Corps and Divisions had been authorized by GHQ in October of 1918, shoulder patches like the 6th Division insignia worn by the left hand officer began to appear on Trenchcoats along with gold Overseas Wound and Service Chevrons, and the occasional knots of rank insignia.


Center photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection

Right hand photo courtesy of Great War Images.com


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Photo No. 72: The sleeves of Trenchcoats were cut with either the “Raglan” style shoulder (left) with its long diagonal seam running from the side of the neck down to the armpit or the more common “Cut In” shoulder (right) whose vertical seam ran from the outer edge of the shoulder down to the armpit.


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Photo No. 73: It was not uncommon for manufacturers to offer a selection of linings to the Trenchcoats they sold. The most common lining was that of wool woven in a plaid pattern. Other linings included fleece, fur and leather. Note that the fur lined Trenchcoat worn by the YMCA officer in the center bears a strong resemblance to the fur lined coat depicted in the 1918 dated Burberry advertisement at right.


Left hand photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Photo No. 74: High end British made Trenchcoats often featured domed leather covered wooden buttons like those on the Trenchcoat worn by the right hand YMCA volunteer. Quality American made Trenchcoats frequently included horn buttons, while less expensive Trenchcoats manufactured on either side of the Atlantic would be furnished with plain buttons made from a composite material, as seen on the coat of the left hand YMCA volunteer. Although none of the buttons shown at right were actually sewn onto a Trenchcoat, they still illustrate the types of buttons commonly found on Trenchcoats of varying quality. From top to bottom: leather covered British button, American horn button and two types of vegetable ivory or composite buttons.


Left hand image courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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