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Artifact Friday: M43 Field Jacket

Shortly after the US entered World War Two, a number of problems arose with the standard army uniform, namely in its field jacket. The M1941 jacket, also known as the “Parson’s Jacket” was found to be inadequate by personnel it was issued to. The M41 (styled after civilian windbreakers of the time) was not a warm jacket. It was neither wind nor waterproof and when washed, its wool lining had a tendency to shrink more than its outward cotton shell, leading to a rather disheveled appearance and uncomfortable fit. It also lacked in storage, having only two shallow pockets to allow for hand warming. The Quartermaster Corps quickly realized that a new uniform was needed and soon began designing what would become the M1943 uniform.

The M43 was an improvement over its predecessor in almost every way. To address the M41’s lack of warmth, the new uniform was designed with a layering system consisting of the jacket, a liner, and a detachable hood intended to be worn beneath the helmet. The layering system allowed for the wearer to add or remove clothing according to the temperature. Further, a drawstring was added at the waist, and the cuffs and collar could be closed tight to help keep the wind out. The storage problem was also fixed with the addition of four large, deep pockets on the front of the jacket. The wool lining of the M41 was also done away with, replaced by a cotton poplin lining which prevented shrinking problems. The M43 was also cut larger, allowing for increased freedom of movement.

The M43 proved popular with the troops but supply problems prevented it from being issued en masse. It was initially trialed by troops in Italy and Sicily and didn’t see official adoption until 1944. As such, it is very common to see photographs from late in the war showing both the M41 and M43 in service with US forces.

The design of the M43 would go on to influence military uniforms for decades to come. The Korean War M51 jacket was essentially the same, with snaps and a zipper replacing the M43’s buttons. During the Vietnam war, the design was refined into the iconic M65 field jacket, and as late as the 1980s, hints of the M43 could still be found in US military uniforms, such as the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) with its four-front pockets.

This jacket was worn by James Oden from Hammon, OK. Oden was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1945. He not only served in the 25th Infantry Division but would later become a very successful helicopter pilot.

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