What They Carried. The US Infantryman In World War II.

by Daniel Russ on May 16, 2013


When the Japanese attacked the US military installation at Pearl Harbor, the US wasn’t really ready for war. In fact, we were plainly under equipped, under dressed, out matched in almost everyway by a typical German or Japanese soldier. What the United States of America was ready for on December 7th, 1941, was industrial manufacturing. In fact, it was the amazing and never since repeated feat of moving industry into a massively productive force. But war is profit, and the impecunious years prior made Americans ready to work. And the lack made many Americans eager to join the fight.


Clothing and uniforms were the first problem of the Second World War. The GIs who marched into battle in North Africa were regaled in the uniforms of the doughboys who worked their way through the trench of Western Europe. The War Department had to instaurate the process of outfitting an army. A huge army. Starting with the boots. In World War I, GIs were issue leggings which would attach from the knee to the heel and keep water out of the boot. They did not work. In fact the leather or cloth the various leggings were made of just became inundated with water and mud and blood and stayed with the soldier throughout their tour. So the new boot came with its own leather addition that buckled tightly at the top.


The US GI helmet was the flying saucer shaped steel pot called the M1 1917 Helmet from the World War I. It was more of a danger to many soldiers than a bare head. The chin strap was uncomfortable and without it the helmet would fly off of the soldiers head. The US decided to create a new helmet that covered the head better. The new helmet covered the temple and some of the neck while it allowed the soldier to look around and crane his neck one way or another without the edges of the helmet digging into his neck. There was a resin liner that went into the helmet and it was designed to allow the helmet to fit neatly over various shaped heads without chaffing. This was the new M1 Helmet and it went with GIs over every continent. The US made 12 million of them. This was not just a way to protect your own life. The helmet has a washbasin, a bowl for food, a urinal or toilet when needed.





Regulations had soldiers wear their rank designation. Ranks of enlisted men were worn on the sleeve. Ranks of officers were worn on the collar or shoulders. Officers in the Pacific Island campiagns and in Western Europe learned that officers were targeted first. Oddly, Americans were wont to wear their medal out as much as say the Russians or the Japanese or even the Germans. It just wasn’t culturally right.


Americans were each issued a pair of stamped tin identification tags. They had the name, rank, date of birth and date of induction into the service. In the case of a dead GI, one tag was to be left on the body, and one would go as a record of the death with soldiers assigned to cadaver care.


American clothiers learned that twill and wool wouldn’t work for American soldier sin the tropical damp heat of the Island in the Pacific, not in the dreadful heat of the North African desert. Soon enough, tropical weight cotton was distributed to troops. But troops also had quality backpacks, shovels, and cutlery. 10th Mountain Division troops got double down white camouflage coats, layered well made winter wear, wool coats and high quality skis and poles.


                                               M1 Garand



Almost all troops trained with a bayonet, which was manually affixed to the business end of your rifle barrel. Marines used it more often than Army troops as Marines were primarily deployed to the Pacific invasion. In the impenetrable thicket of the Islands of Southeast Asia, and in the tunnels the Japanese defenders built, a bayonet was sometimes handy. Also in the armamentarium of the United States soldier, there was the M3 fighting knife, and sheath. It was 11 inches long, 6.5 inches of high carbon steel blade, with a wooden handle engraved with jimping for better grip. We made 2,300,00 of them and distributed them to US troops for close quarters combat. The bayonet was the M1 Knife Bayonet, about a pound, with a plastic sheath, and a catch release and it came with a blade that was 10 inches long. There were more knives of note Americans carried into battle There was the Ek Commando knife made for US special operations groups. It was highly quality high carbon steel, a fully integrated tang and a grip made for a bloody or wet hand. John Ek went to his car, pulled off the hub cap, reached in and greased up his hand and then slammed it into the floor at a US materials board meeting and invited anyone there to pull the knife out. No one could and he got his steel. There was the Knuckle Duster, a combination fixed blade knife and brass knuckles, with a pommel striker on the bottom fist.


US officers were given a Colt, M1911 .45 caliber semi automatic handgun. This was so the officer could use both hands to direct battle. The .45 round would kill a man and stop his momentum if the first shot didn’t work. It could fire through a door and kill a man on the other side. It was extremely popular with troops who carried them often unsanctioned.


The US infantryman marched into battle after Pearl Harbor with a bolt action 30-.06 Springfield Armory 1903. It was an accurate, powerful rifle. But it was heavy and it was slow firing, more appropriate for hunting than warfare. So as soon as manufacturers could get the weapons to theater, the US soldier was carrying the venerable 9-pound, 30-.06 semi-automatic 8 round magazine M1 Garand. That bullet could hit a man running at you and knock him backwards and kill him. It was a deadly gun and gave a US infantry company of 225 men tremendous firepower. A smaller .30 caliber M1 Carbine was also issued to officers and some US troops. It was called The Baby, because it was only 5 ponds. It was also less accurate and less powerful. Troops preferred the Garand’s hitting power and accuracy to this diminutive brother. We made 5,500,000 M1 Garands. The Army and Marines distributed Browning Automatic Rifles, a 20 pound 20 round fully automatic assault rifle that fired the powerful Springfield 30-.06 round. Many US troops had the Thompson Submachine Gun. This 30 inch, 10 pound gun fired .45 caliber rounds from a twenty or thirty round clip. It was not very accurate but deadly in close quarters combat. It was made popular by gangsters before the war started. Finally, the typical Platoon also toted into battle a .30 caliber Browning belt fed machine gun that was operated by two people. This fully automatic gas operated gun gave groups of US infantrymen a great ability to put down fire. Like the BAR, it was gas operated but it had a 500 round per minute rate of fire.




For munitions the US infantry armed itself with the M1 mortar, an 81mm mortar that could effectively send shrapnel 100 yards in any direction, or penetrate the roof of a tank. The round itself would fly ¾ of a mile. Later this was replaced with the 4.2 inch mortar, also called the Goon Gun or the Four Deuce. This 107mm round had a destructive kill area of 200 meters and could go almost a mile. The infantry also carried the M1 Rocket Launcher or Bazooka, named after a musical instrument created by a 1930s comic named Bob Burns. It fired a 3.5 inch diameter round about a mile that could penetrate up to 2.5 inches of armor. The US infantryman also carried a hand grenade called the  M2 Pineapple


The pineapple texturing was to give the grenade an easy way to create shrapnel upon exploding. It was armed by pulling a pin that held the spoon down. The spoon, when released, snapped a spring driven striker into a primer that had about 7 second delay.


Finally there was the M1 Flamethrower. This was essentially a pressurized nitrogen tank and nozzle that sprayed jellied gasoline, or napalm about half the length of a football field. The tank contraption itself was about 70 pounds and it was operated by one man. These were cruel but effective weapons when clearing out bunkers in the Japanese Islands.


This certainly did not cover all the weapons the infantryman carried into World War, but it covers the most popular.



Source: Wikipedia



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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis September 27, 2017 at 6:18 am

Although you state that the army soldier was equipped with the 3.5 inch bazooka during WWII, that was unfortunately not the case. The weapon issued during the war was the original 2.36 inch. This was proven to become ineffective during the last year of the war, and the new Super Bazooka, which fired 3.5 inch rockets, was already tested, but not shipped. This type was subsequently used in Korea, after the older ones, used in the opening weeks, proved ineffective against the T34-85 of the North Korean Peoples Army
Also, when I was in the Dutch Army during the 1980’s our Militayr Police units still used the Super Bazooka as their primary anti-tank weapon.

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