No nation was prepared enough when World War I happened in 1914, but young men and women were ready to rush in and defend their countries. These soldiers were equipped with the gear necessary for survival while taking down the enemies during the battle. They also had to wear uniforms that would not only give them an identification but would also give them the advantage while in the warzone. Let’s have a look at the uniforms of these three nations and how they dressed their army men when the First World War ensued.

Germany

Omaha Daily Bee March 12, 1915, publishes this photo of a German dentist at work in the trenches.
Omaha Daily Bee March 12, 1915, publishes this photo of a German dentist at work in the trenches. The Imperial German soldiers next to them are wearing their Pickelhaube helmets. (Omaha Daily Bee, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Germans were involved in huge battles during WWI, from the battle in Marne to the battle of Amiens. The German Empire was one of the Central Powers, and they fought the Allied Forces on both the eastern and western front. Their 4.9 million soldiers were well-equipped, but their pointy helmets called Pickelhaube were perhaps the most notable features of their uniforms. Before the war, helmet covers would have the regimental number in bright red but were changed to dark green in 1914. They were later on changed to steel helmets in 1916 that were more suitable for warfare in the trenches. Initially, they provided chest armor that weighed 35 pounds for gunners who were more exposed to enemy fire. They were later removed because they were too heavy.

As for their uniforms, the German army wore a simple gray tunic with a simple turn-back cuff in wool— a feature well-liked by the soldiers as they could put military passes and small documents in the fold. They also had a belt buckle made of brass and silver that were later replaced with iron painted in black. As for footwear,  they wore the M1866 boots made of tan leather that was blackened. When the shortage of leather started, the soldiers began wearing Puttees or leg wraps to protect and support their legs.

British

The British Army’s standard battle uniforms were made of thick woolen tunic colored in khaki. The two breast pockets allowed them to carry their personal belongings and their pay books. The rifle patches above the breast pockets prevent wear from the webbing equipment and Enfield rifle. They were the first in Europe to use webbing equipment instead of leather belts and pouches. The webbing equipment was composed of a wide belt, left and right ammunition pouches, bayonet frog, the entrenching tool handle, entrenching tool head in web cover, water bottle carrier, small haversack, and large pack. And for officers of course, a necktie.  One must be a proper gentleman even at war.

Northumberland Fusiliers, Western Front, during World War I.
Northumberland Fusiliers, Western Front, during World War I. (National Library of Scotland, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

Their rank insignias were sewn onto the upper tunic sleeves. As for the cap, they initially wore a stiffened peak cap. Like the Germans, they wore puttees around their ankles and calves. Their standard footwear was called the Ammunition boot, enforced with hobnail soles to increase the boots’ durability and traction.

American

Snapshot of an unidentified U.S. Army soldier wearing his Army uniform,
Snapshot of an unidentified U.S. Army soldier (believed to be a member of Base Hospital No. 65), wearing his Army uniform, posing for a photograph on a walkway in a ceremony where American soldiers were being buried during World War I. (State Archives of North Carolina, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

The United States entered the war in 1917 with the simplified wool service coat uniform to allow faster production. They also opted to use the British steel helmets due to manufacturing issues. Depending on the season, the doughboy uniform was made of cotton or wool. They had olive drab shirts and trousers, puttees like the other nations, shoes enforced with hobnail soles for the warfare in the trenches, a service coat, and a trench coat during the winter season. Their haversacks contained the soldiers’ field pack (extra socks, underwear, rations). The entrenching tools and bayonets were brought through grommets while the rifle and ammunition were attached through the shoulder straps. They also brought wire cutters, first aid kits, and gas masks in a separate bag for easy access.

These outfits changed and improved throughout the war as a result of either shortages, lessons learned, or evolving needs of the army.

Wool is a wonder fiber able to keep the wearer warm whether wet or dry, but it is heavy to wear, soils easily, is highly flammable, subject to shrinkage, and makes a tidy home for bedbugs and lice, during the war all sides would have to frequently delouse their uniforms to kill the insects living and breeding in them. The experiences of that war led to the long march of uniform development we see today in modern uniforms that try to retain the insulating qualities of wool without the liabilities, especially the home for bugs part.

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