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WW2 British Tankers Gear in Normandy?


ajmac
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What would the Tankers have been wearing in the fighting in Normandy? Can anyone post some photos of the Tank suits in use at that time, I have seen the thicker ones used later in 1944 and also a camoflaged type that I didn't know existed!

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What would the Tankers have been wearing in the fighting in Normandy? Can anyone post some photos of the Tank suits in use at that time, I have seen the thicker ones used later in 1944 and also a camoflaged type that I didn't know existed!

 

They are of a thick material with the khaki serge on the inside. For winter wear. Camo ones used principally post war, and I know RTR blokes using them in the 60's.

Get yourself a copy of the film, 'They were Not Divided' for gear and equipment.

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There is a bit of confusion here..... The clothing in use in Normandy would be either battledress, two piece denims or the one piece denim tank suit. The denims varied from a dark green to almost grey.

 

The tan tank oversuit, sometimes known as a pixie suit, was not issued to troops until September 1944 and was a winter oversuit, the denim being the summer issue.

 

There are also tan overalls around that can be bought cheaply but though wartime dated I'm not sure they were standard issue as such.

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The suits for smaller people aren't to0o difficult.

 

But if your 180 CM or taller it gets difficult.

I have 4 tanksuits;

3 WW2, 1 post war.

Of those 1 is a small camouflaged one dated 1944.

The other WW2 ones are 1944 dated, 1 small another for a tall person.

They are ideal for in a open vehicle like Jeep or Dodge.

 

Unfortunately for you Tony...not for sale.

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As said, tanksuits are common enough but usually size 3 or 4..... Mine is a 6 and fits perfectly! I was given mine, a 1945, by a friend who served in 2 RTR. He was issued it new in the mid 1960s......

 

The big, heavy tan "pixie" tank suit was still in production right up to the 1960's........and lasted in service into the early 1970's.......the WD label is secretely located just inside the right sleeve cuff !!!! Also a garment favoured by WD motorcyclists........

 

The cammo version was little seen during WW2, not appearing until 44-45....and it would seem that production didn't last post-war, the majority of latter production continuing in tan.....

 

I well remember adverts in Exchange & Mart into the early 1980's offering these items in new condition at a wonderful price !!!!:embarrassed:

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Hello all,

Adrian has pointed out the summer weight denim version was in use in Normandy, Many photos exist showing them being worn by armoured units in the final training before the invasion.As pointed out, the winter weight, serge lined version, was not issued until the autumn of 1944. Some less lofty units such as armoured car crews, had to wait until the end of the year for their winter suits.

Winter dress in 43rd Recce Regiment for instance consisted of serge battledress, greatcoats and leather jerkin over the greatcoat! Not the easiest rig to wear inside a Humber or Daimler AC even allowing for 40s racing snake physiques, but it was a very cold winter that year!

I've never seen any evidence that the camo suits were used in NW Europe but if someone has a dated photo.....

 

Regards

 

Paul

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Hello all,

Adrian has pointed out the summer weight denim version was in use in Normandy, Many photos exist showing them being worn by armoured units in the final training before the invasion.As pointed out, the winter weight, serge lined version, was not issued until the autumn of 1944. Some less lofty units such as armoured car crews, had to wait until the end of the year for their winter suits.

Winter dress in 43rd Recce Regiment for instance consisted of serge battledress, greatcoats and leather jerkin over the greatcoat! Not the easiest rig to wear inside a Humber or Daimler AC even allowing for 40s racing snake physiques, but it was a very cold winter that year!

I've never seen any evidence that the camo suits were used in NW Europe but if someone has a dated photo.....

 

Regards

 

Paul

 

Indeed, I know/knew a few 43rd recce's and they would have loved the tanksuits before winters end.

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  • 8 months later...

Re the use of the Pixie suit in Normandy. In British Army Uniforms and Insignia of WWII, Brian L Davis confidently asserts...

 

Commonly known as the ‘Tank Suit’ and sometimes referred to as a ‘Pixie Suit’, the Oversuit for tank crews was introduced in July 1943. The design of this new form of protective clothing had evolved from numerous attempts the Army had made in its effort to produce a functional garment that was easy to wear within the close confines of an armoured fighting vehicle and at the same time was warm, waterproof and comfortable. It was intended, along with the ‘Tank Suits, Jungle’ and the denim tank suits, which were at a later date, to replace all earlier forms of protective clothing such as oilskin clothing (pg 209)

 

Later, on pg 210, on the subject of the Denim Tank suit he further asserts...

 

‘The Tank Suit, Denim’ was introduced into the Army from 23 September 1944 (ACI 1278 of 1944). It replaced the former pattern of denim overalls and was designed to be worn over the drawers and shirt in summer and over Battle-Dress in winter or during cold weather conditions.

 

Of-course the problem with both these statements is that the denim tank suit is very visible in Normandy era photo record whilst the Pixie is never seen. This has led some to speculate that Davis somehow, and inadvertently, transposed the dates for these two garments.

 

There's a few things that bug me about this though. The following picture shows Major Currie of the South Albertas and everytime I' ve seen this picture published it most always says it was taken in Normandy in 1944. I've not been able to find the copyright owner for this picture so have not been able to verify how took the picture and when.

 

currie1.jpg

 

Secondly, Bill Bellamy’s WWII memoir, “Troop Leader: A Tank Commanders Story”. This book details Bellamy’s experiences with 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars who, in 1944, were the Armoured Recce unit for 7th Armoured Division. Bellamy’s wartime account is based on the daily diary he kept, in spite of regulations to the contrary, and so can be trusted to be fairly accurate in terms of recall, having been written as, or immediately after, the events in question occured. On pg 98 – 101, Bellamy describes the death of his friend and fellow Troop Leader, Mike Young on August 18th, 1944. On pg 100-101 Bellamy has this to say...

 

As I drew near to the two knocked out Cromwells, I saw Mike’s body lying by the side of the road, together with the body of one of his crew. It was a lesson to me, as he was wearing one of the new tank suits with which we had been issued, They were made out of a semi-waterproof material, but were a yellowish creamy colour and there was no way that the wearer could have taken cover without being easily visible. It was something which I had not thought of before, and I resolved not to wear mine in the future

 

Is this the Pixie suit Bellamy's talking about? I think it might be as I can think of no other waterproof garment that would have been 'new' in 1944 or even that colour. As most of you will know the colours of various wartime era Pixie's can range from creamy to tan to khaki, (I've got a Pixie hood which is a dark green ala the Denim tank suit...I think it might be post-war though).

 

However, in the ‘Faces of War’ collection in the Canadian National Archive I found several other pictures of Major Currie, one dated November 12th 1944 and the other dated November 25th 1944. In both pictures he is quite clearly wearing the Pixie suit and it may be that these, with the one above, are all part of the same series of pictures. But if Davis did transpose the dates for the two suits then the gap between the suit being approved for production and one making its way to a front line commander is a mere 50 days!

 

Finally, in the Osprey book on 'Canadian Forces in WWII'. Plate E1 shows a Ron Volstad drawing of a Captain in Major Currie's old mob, the South Alberta's, wearing a Pixie suit. The notes to accompany this drawing are quite illuminating so I've quoted it in it's entirety here...

 

Canadian amoured units were issued with the British 1943 Tank Oversuit, or 'Pixie Suit'. Made of heavy cotton fabric of a light khaki colour lined with khaki wool shirting material, with two neck-to-ankle zippers, it had no less than 13 pockets. 'They had a heck of a lot of pockets...but they were too heavy', and thus too warm for tank crews in th summer of 1944, so that 'not everyone had them [on]', recalled Capt. Barford of the South Alberta Regiment. However, 'the tank commander generally had one [on] because he sat in the turret with the draft down the back of his neck'. Captain Jack Summers, of the same regiment, liked the suit in cool weather, as, it seems, did most Canadian tank crews. (Graves, Donald E., 'South Albertas: A Canadian Regiment at War', Toronto: Robin Bass Studio, 1998; and in interview data kindly provided by Mr Graves).

 

If the Davis is correct and the Pixie suit was approved by ACI in 1943 is it possible that (like the MkIII Turtle shell) that some leading elements of the invasiion force got the Pixie long before anyone else had a need for it in winter? Anyone got any ideas, opinions, wild guesses?

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Some very good observations ! It is worth noting that Davis, although a very good authority on uniform, is, like all of us, prone to the occasional error.....and in my own experience official published data can sometimes prove inaccurate.....

 

It is possible that the tan "pixie" suit was produced and trialed amongst select units prior to universal introduction.....this process is fairly common with most UK military clothing (eg - the MK3 helmet) so must be considered.....

 

Many units in Normandy displayed odd items of new kit that didn't make a wider appearance until later in the war.....and I should imagine that some items appeared in service prior to this (eg - Italy circa 43 - 44)....

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The denim tank suit had a long life, odd examples still being seen in service during the 1970s..........

 

It was also produced in a tropical version ("jungle" tank suit)....essentially the same style, but made from a lightweight khaki-green poplin........some NOS examples were around a few years ago........and it is worth mentioning that some wartime Indian made examples also exist.....

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The idea that the winter version would be worn in summer or was even intended as such seems a little unlikely as anyone who has worn one would probably agree with. They are warm bits of kit! Lots of photos exist of the denim tank suit being worn pre and during the invasion. I can't say I've seen the oversuit in any photos dated before the autumn of 44. 43rd Recce received theirs in December, in the wartime papers of a 43rd veteran I have he states that A sqn were issued them on 7th December. Prior to that most men wore battledress with a greatcoat and sometimes a leather jerkin over that.

 

I also have many photos showing denim overalls being worn over serge battledress in 43rd Recce. I am fairly sure that even the denim tank suits were a relatively late issue to 43rd Recce. It may well be that as infantry div recce units they may have lower in the pecking order than cavalry units and armoured divisions, but this certainly seems to have been the case at least for the 43rd.

 

Does anyone have any dated photos showing these worn before the autumn of 44?

 

Cheers

 

Paul

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Does anyone have any dated photos showing these worn before the autumn of 44?

 

Other than the Major Currie one above (which may indeed be mis-attributed) none that I know off so far. However, there's a fairly large document at the National Archives on the development of the Oversuit and I'm hoping to get up there sometime soon to study it. I requested an estimate for copy from TNA but they quoted me (cough) £650 (cough). I'd rather pop un for the day and take my digital camera! More of a curiousity item for me for as you say who'd wear one in summer, that said though they could we unzipped and re-zipped together to make a sort of sleeping bag and I know one veteran of the Italian campaign who said once unzipped they made fantastic replacements for groundsheets.

Edited by Old Git
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If the heavy pixie suit did appear on limited issue during 1943 then I suspect that field usage probably occurred during the Italian winter of 1943-44 and the UK.........

 

I am all for personal memoirs of clothing worn, but the years can blur accuracy of dates.......even I struggle at times to pinpoint exact dates from when I served almost 30 years ago !

 

The best reference is always attributable photos that can be accurately placed and dated......and with WW2 photos running into probably millions, there will always be the odd vital image waiting to be found from some obscure archive........

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  • 3 weeks later...

Here's a photocopy of ACI 1278 from September 1944 approving the Tank Suit, Denim for production. The real question though is what is the difference between the 'Tank Suit, Denim' and 'Overalls, Denim' which it was intended to replace?

 

aci1278.jpg

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  • 5 months later...

I've now managed to wend my way to the National Archive and look over some of those files that I had spotted when trawling their website. I had found three MRC files dated across 1941 - 43. These were primarily concerned with the development of the 1942 Tank Overall (the one that everyone says was only ever used in Training and never in action). Interestingly enough the MRC committee's brief was to 'report' on the flame-proofing of material for tank clothing. At some point they seem to have exceeded this brief and, rather tortureously, ended up making some 60,000 units of what we now know of as the 1942 Tank Overall. The files are full of letters, memoranda and minutes of meetings. And taken as a whole it becomes clear that they not only lost their way but that they were beginning to disappear up their own academic backsides. The impetus for the 1942 suit would apepar to be the number of burns victims amongst Tank Crews in action in the Western desert. It was later discovered that most burns were to the hands, face, chest and legs below the knees (troops in tanks in KD shirts and shorts with the KD shirt open to the waist) and that any kind of clothing, as long as it was done-up, went along way to preventing these kinds of burns. None of this was investigated by our boys on the MRC they spent their time poo-pooing the MacNeal flame-proofing process that the RAF was using on their flight suits (after a couple of months the clothes disintegrated, especially in hot climates). And coming up with their own PVC coated clothing which would be both flame retardent and pertrol retardent. After six months are so there appears a letter exclaiming that it's intolerable that this process is still ongoing when there are men dying in the Western desert. It's not until another six months later that the MRC have a suit ready and then it becomes very obvious that whilst it might well be flame and petrol proof it is not at all air permeable and therefore completely useless to the men in the Western Desert. In fact the MRC committee have given so little thought to Air Permeability that they have not even bothered to add the standard two air-eyelets under the arms.

 

Eventually, the powers-to-be get exasperated and the WO forms it's own committee. The MRC are completely by-passed in this and only find out about it after the event when they get a letter from the head of the Shirley Institute (British Cotton Industry Research Association) telling them how he had been summoned to the WO (on 4th August 1942) for an urgent meeting only to be shown the new suit being worn by a very hot, sweaty and uncomfortable Major who was wearing it over his regular uniform. The next thing that appears is a letter telling about another meeting, some 8 days after the 4th August meeting, and explaining of the new committee with the starting brief to produced three new tank suits to cover, temperate, hot weather and cold weather, i.e. the Denim Tanksuit, the Tank Overalls (aka Pixie or Zoot suit) and the Jungle tank suit. If you're familiar with these three suits you will know that they all have identical pencil pockets on the left breast pocket indicating, to me at least, that all three were desgined by the same committee.

 

The head of the MRC committee was summoned to the WO (August 12th 1942) to provide information to the new committee and it becomes clear then that this new committee will now be making the decisions on new uniforms for tank crews but, he also added, that the trouble was that they seemed determined to get it all done in about three weeks! So the design for the Denim Tanksuit, the Pixie Suit and the Jungle suit, all began with this committee meeting on August 12th 1942 and they came prepared with a list of what they wanted from the DAFV who were requesting three overalls,

 

"1.) for use in tropical climates. 2.) for use in temperate climates. 3.) for protection against cold and wet".

 

The trail somewhat goes cold here because I haven't yet found the records of this new committee (I'm still searching) but as they seemed in a heck of a hurry to get this done it would seem to imply that they would have had all three suits ready by at least 1943 (it took the MRC over a year to get the 1942 overalls into production and obviously they were considered to be positively glacial by the then powers-to-be).

 

WRT the 1942 Tank suit; they discovered that if they heated the suit to 170 degrees that it would restore its air permeability without any degradation to the strength of the fabric (something that was of huge concern with the McNeal process). So several suits were earmarked to be tested for this and plans were put in place to see if they could get this done to the entire stock (and any new issues) and to also add the air eyelets under the arms. However, attempts to get the productions items back from the depot were met with a stone wall and the chap who had been called to the 4th August meeting reports (on August 26th) that they're being terribly nice about saying no to him when he tried to get the suits back and alarmingly they told him they were too busy packing the suits for emergency dispatch to the Middle East to be able to comply with his request to send them back to be modified for use in the Middle East. Can anyone say 'British Army efficiency'!

 

All very interesting stuff, in a very gossipy way, but only really gives us hints to the eventual development of the three new Tank Suits from 1943 onwards. As I said earlier I continue to search through the National Archive and hopefully I shall eventually find the new committee's records and files and be able to report back on the development of the new suits. I shall of course keep a keen eye open for mention of the Camouflaged version!

 

Interestingly enough I also reviewed some 1952/53 files on trials of possible replacements for the Pixie suit (which they referred to as "L.30 Tank Overall, Cotton Oxford Cloth, Angola lined"). The favoured suit was based on something called fiberthin and when compared to the Pixie suit for soaking tests (hosed down the poor sod wearing it) it was entirely soaked through in something like 3 minutes 12 seconds whilst the good old Pixie suit resisted total soaking for 7 minutes and 26 secs. Outside of this there was nothing of major difference between the two trial suits and the Pixie suit with the exception that the Fiberthin suit was about 2 llbs lighter than the Pixie suit. Obviously there was a heck of a lot more to the tests than just this but that's as much as I picked up as I sped through it seeking references to the design committee for the older suits.

Edited by Old Git
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An amazing and detailed summary - thank you ! I recently visited the National Archives as part of my research for the forthcoming combat clothing book.......and as you say, some amazing finds within the files, but an awful lot of crap to trawl through too such as pointless receipts and memos, etc.......the most frustrating thing I found was when a file or paper refers to an appendix or attachment......but when you look you find the document missing.....:-(

 

I guess at best we will only ever achieve a glimpse of what's there, much being missing or buried in other obscure files......but a taster is always better than guesswork or no info at all.......

 

Thanks again "Old Git".....your summary is warming, detailed and very much appreciated....:D

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I think I may have tracked down the relevant files, in the National Archives, on the development of the post-1943 Tank Suits. However, these particular files do not appear to be open to the public as yet and as they are merely concerned with the design of clothing etc. it must be assumed that this is an oversight as opposed to any continued need for secrecy. At any rate I have filed a Freedom of Information request with the National Archives and the automated response assures me that I shall have a reply within 20 working days. Of-course that might just mean that in 20 working days I'll get an email from some Herbert telling me that they are now looking into it and that they'll get back to me in 'due course' (a favoured piece of diplomatic English much in use by our Govt depts). Still it's much better service than the snippy and imperious Imperial War Museum who infomed me that they were rather busy (presumably trying to fish the remains of their Rich Tea biscuits from the bottom of the their cuppas) and that I should re-submit my request in one years time!!!

 

I've also been on to the Library at Bovington to see what info they hold on the development of the various tank suits during WWII and sadly the reply was absolutely nowt. Beyond a few surviving examples and the usual reference books that the rest of us have they do not have any info at all but one gets the sense that they'd be most grateful for any info that can be provided.

 

I am also trying to get in touch with Dick Taylor (he of the Warpaint series) who has also written a book on WWII Tank Crew uniforms (The Men Inside the Metal) which has apparently been much delayed in publication due to the cost-wrangles over the copyright of various pictures. At this stage I'm unsure if Dick's book is a pulling together of information from various secondary sources or an in-depth trawl through primary sources in the Nat. Archives and Imperial War Museum. However, his publisher has offered to put me in direct contact with Dick so hopefully I should know more on that score by next week.

Edited by Old Git
spolling
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