Work Clothes 1939-42

INTRODUCTION

At roughly the same time that Roosevelt and Congress were repeatedly reorganizing the CCC in the late 1930s, the Army was implementing a sweeping uniform revision. This "M1937" uniform suite represented the most dramatic change to Army clothing in the entire interwar period. Many of these changes would find their way into the CCC dress uniform system. However, one area in which the Quartermaster Corps emphatically did NOT innovate in the 1937 revisions was denim fatigues--despite evidence from the CCC that changes were badly needed.

CRITICISM OF THE FATIGUE JUMPER: CCC EXPERIENCE VS. QUARTERMASTER CONSERVATISM

Throughout the 1930s frustration with the denim jumper had continued to build in the Army and the CCC alike.

Almost since the basic pattern was first introduced in 1908, soldiers had complained about the fatigue jumper's awkward pullover design, and asked instead for a coat-style jacket with a full-button front. For an equal period of time (barring a brief moment in 1917 as we have seen) the Quartermaster Corps refused to accommodate them, perhaps because the pullover style was marginally less expensive to manufacture in an era when the QMC counted pennies on each and every contract.

Issuance of the jumper in vast numbers to the CCC amounted to a trial by ordeal for the denim pullover. The verdict was clear: when subjected to relentless field work by CCC enrollees, the jumper failed ignominiously. "In the spring of 1939," write Quartermaster Corps historians Erna Risch and Thomas M. Pitkin, "it was reported that one-half to three-quarters of the denim jumpers used by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps that had been received at the Columbus and Schenectady General Depots had been ripped down from the front placket. This indicated to the OQMG that a coat-style garment would be more suitable for their use."

In my opinion, Risch and Pitkin gild the lily here. Surely jumpers began ripping in CCC hands as soon as they were issued in 1933. Surely by 1937 this was a known problem, and yet, no changes were made to the design during the uniform overhaul. It seems far more likely that Quartermaster conservatism and penury, rather than any lack of knowledge, ensured the survival of the jumper into the next decade.

Be that as it may, in 1940, with a military draft in place and the rearmament funding spigot turned fully open, the Quartermaster Corps did belatedly introduce a new design for denim jackets and pants.

M1940 FATIGUE JACKET AND TROUSER

Original M1940 denim fatigue jacket in mint condition. Source: Ragtop Vintage Clothing via Pinterest.

The M1940 fatigue jacket had a six -button front placket. Zinc buttons stamped "US Army" carried over from the 1930s versions of the M1919 design. The odd side-entry pockets of the M1919 pullover were replaced by two front patch pockets with flaps closed by the standard zinc buttons.

M1940 denim jackets may have made their way to CCC units in the final eighteen months of the program, during 1941 and early 1942. However, for the moment this remains speculative.

Images of the CCC at work from 1941 and 1942 are remarkably scarce. The program had shrunk dramatically in size, and largely retreated within the gates of Army bases. The government photographers who had so assiduously documented the early and middle years of the CCC were, by 1941, photographing defense mobilization rather than the fading old Conservation Corps.

Among the limited images available, I have not yet found one of the M1940 denim jacket on the back of a CCC enrollee. Yet absence of evidence is not proof of absence, and it seems probable at least some were issued to the Conservation Corps in its final year.

US Army Sergeant George Camblair sweeping in M1940 denim fatigues, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, 1942. Source: Jack Delano photograph for Office of War Information.

Replica M1940 denim fatigue trousers by World War II Impressions. Source: World War II Impressions.

Overdue updates were also made in 1940 to the denim fatigue trouser.

The entire trouser pattern was redone to duplicate in denim the cut of the contemporary "M1937" winter wool service uniform trousers. Overnight, the denim fatigue pant turned from a baggy coverall to something resembling a modern fitted civilian jean.

Other stylistic updates included deletion of the archaic back cinch buckle, and replacement of the huge front patch pockets with modern hanging pockets with a near-vertical slash opening. The watch pocket moved outside and above the side pocket and was also redone in a modern hanging style.

As with the M1940 jacket, I have not found a photograph of these trousers on a late CCC enrollee. Yet it seems more probable than not that they would have been issued to the CCC in the last year of the program.