Battle Dress

Battle Dress

Battle Dress was the specific title of a military uniform adopted by the British Army in the late 1930s and worn until the 1960s. Several other nations also introduced variants of Battle Dress during the Second World War, including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States of America (the E.T.O. uniform) and after the Second World War, including Belgium, Norway and The Netherlands.

Battle Dress, was the combat uniform worn by British, many Commonwealth and Empire forces and many Free European Forces through the Second World War, mostly but not exclusively in temperate climates. In some armies it continued in use into the 1970s. During the Second World War and thereafter this uniform was also used for formal parades (including mounting the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace) until the re-introduction of separate parade uniforms. The Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) was the combat uniform of United States forces through the late 20th Century.


From the early 1930s, the British War Office began research on a replacement for the Service Dress that had been a combined field and dress uniform since the early 1900s. Initially conducted on a small scale over several years, some of the ideas tested included deerstalker hats and safari jackets. After extensive field trials of other uniforms, [cite book | last = Davis | first = Brian | title=Uniforms and Insignia of the British Army | date=1983 | publisher= Arms & Armour | id = ISBN 085-368-609-2] Battle Dress (P-37 for Pattern 1937) was adopted just prior to the Second World War. The uniform was designed with the needs of mechanized infantry in mind, and was inspired by contemporary wool ‘ski suits’ that were less restrictive to the wearer, used less material, were warm even while wet and were more suited to vehicular movement than Service Dress. [cite book | last = Burns | first = Michael | title=British Combat Dress Since 1945| date=1992 | publisher= Arms & Armour | id = ISBN 085-368-984-9]

Attempting to create a more standardized uniform across much of the British military, it was composed of a fairly streamlined short jacket of wool serge that buttoned (somewhat successfully) to the outside of high-waisted wool serge trousers. The jacket (or blouse) was similar to the American Ike jacket of late WWII. The sleeves of the British jacket had a forward curve built into them so that they were more comfortable to wear prone shouldering a rifle, or seated holding a steering wheel for instance. Although they tended to show multiple wrinkles near the inside of the elbow when the soldier's arms are held straight at the sides. On the pants or trousers, there was a large so-called map pocket on the front near the left knee and a special pocket for a field dressing near the right front pocket. The mixed green and brown fibers of the Brithsh battle dress fabric matched the colors of heath and forests of England and Scotland fairly well without having to be a single muddy olive green color like American uniforms. One problem often developed, the gap between the jacket and pants would open up in extreme movement and buttons popped, so braces (suspenders) were often worn or a separate web belt was added to cover the gap, or in some cases a sweater was worn. A kahki (tan color) cotton shirt was typically worn under the wool jacket, but wearing an open collar jacket (with tie) was restricted to officers, the men usually buttoned the top button of the jacket. Short canvas leggings or gaiters typically covered the gap between the trousers and the short boots, further adding to the streamlined look and kept dirt out of the boots without having to use a taller, more expensive leather boot.

Web gear, that is, the canvas and metal system of backpacks, bags, ammo pouches, straps, belts, canteen and entrenching tool were based on WWI equipment, but modified and standardized for the P-37 system of Battle Dress. Web gear included the chacteristic pair of front vertical ammo pouches popular with the British durring the second world war. It was originally a khaki or tan color, but was often modified in the field with a special colorant to a green or other color.

Battle Dress was issued widely beginning in 1939 in the British Army (as well as the Canadian Army, who produced their own, almost identical, copy of Battle Dress after the outbreak of war), though shortages meant that some units of the British Expeditionary Force went to France in Service Dress.


The so called P40 or Pattern 1940 Battle Dress (also known as "austerity pattern") was introduced in 1942; it deleted the fly front, and the front buttons, as well as the pocket buttons, were now exposed.

Officers were permitted to tailor the collar of their blouses so as to wear a collared shirt and tie, especially if they had the austerity pattern without the openable "rise and fall" collar.

Canadian Battle Dress never had an austerity pattern introduced, though the collar closure did change from a set of hooks and eyes to a flap and button in about 1943. The Canadian version was also a much greener shade of khaki than the standard British version. [cite book | last = Dorish | first = Michael | title=Dressed to Kill | date=2001 | publisher= Service Publications] It was greenish with some brown, rather than brownish with some green.

The United States produced Battle Dress uniforms for use by the Commonwealth, these uniforms were known as "War Aid" Battle Dress [cite book | last = Gordon | first = David | title=Uniforms of the WWII Tommy | date=2005 | publisher= Pictorial Histories Publishing Company | id = ISBN 157-510-122-X] . The US also produced a version called the Ike jacket or Eisenhower jacket which subsequently replaced the OG Army service uniform for troops stationed outside the Continental United States for the duration of the war. Troops of the First Marine Division returning from Guadalcanal were posted to Australia where they were issued Australian battledress that the Marines called the Vandegrift Jacket.

Battle Dress trousers with additional pockets sewn to them were known as Parachutist's Trousers and were issued to men in parachute and glider units.

A version of Battle Dress intended for working clothing was produced from denim with several manufacturer's variants.

Battle Dress in shades of postman blue and navy blue were also produced for the Royal Air Force (and Commonwealth flying services) and Royal Navy/Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (and Commonwealth naval services). The Civil Defence Corps were issued dark blue battledress with the same colour issed to post war prisoners in the United Kingdom.

German U-Boat crews were also commonly issued with British Army battledress (with German insignia added) [cite book | last = Williamson | first = Gordon | title=U Boat Crews 1914-45 | date=1995 | publisher= Osprey Publishing | id = ISBN 185-532-545-4] . Large stockpiles had been captured by the Germans after the fall of France in 1940.

Germany also produced a new uniform in 1944 to replace its existing uniforms, it largely resembled the Battle dress.

Post War

After the Second World War, individual Commonwealth nations developed their Battle Dress uniform into both a parade and a field uniform.

*British Pattern 1949: Several changes to Battle Dress were adopted by the British Army after the Second World War, with broad lapels added to the Battle Dress Blouse, giving it an open-collar design similar to Canadian 1949 Pattern. Enlisted men, as well as officers, now wore it with a collared shirt and tie. The cargo pocket on the trousers was moved completely to the side. Buttons on the pockets remained exposed, though a fly front was restored to 1949 Pattern BD. [cite book | last = Jewell | first = Brian | title=British Battledress 1937-61 | date=1981 | publisher= Osprey Publishing]

*Canadian Pattern 1949: Canada only produced one more version of Battle Dress after the war; Pattern 1949 had broad lapels added to the Battle Dress Blouse, giving it an open-collar design. The First Field Dressing was also removed from the trousers after the war. Battle Dress continued to be worn as a field uniform during the Korean War and up to the introduction of the Combat Uniform. It was retained for dress wear up until Unification of the Armed Forces, and into the 1970s by some Reserve units. Cadets at the Royal Military College of Canada continued to wear a Navy-blue variant of the Battle Dress Blouse until May of 2006.


Battle Dress inspired the military combat uniforms of other nations such as the United States, which copied the Battle Dress Blouse directly with the M1944 "Ike" Jacket (also known as the E.T.O. (European Theatre of Operations) Jacket, though a similar pattern was produced in Australia for US personnel in the Far East), Germany (whose copy of Battle Dress was called the "Felduniform 44") and France (Modèle 1945, 1946 and 1949 patterns).

Waist-length denim jackets (known popularly as "jean jackets" in the United States) were inspired by the Battle Dress; another example of military clothing inspiring popular fashion.


See also

* Service Dress (British Army)
* Battledress
* Battle Dress Uniform
* Military uniform

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Look at other dictionaries:

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