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Book of the Week — Your Weapon!


Your Weapon!
U.S. Army. Corps of Engineers. Pacific Division., 1943
UG449 U65 1943

Camouflage was not widely used in early European wars where soldiers lined up and fought at close range. When tactics changed, camouflage became useful.

During World War I, with the emergence of machines guns, trench and aerial warfare, armies worked on developing low-visibility uniforms.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formed a camouflage unit made up of camofleurs — people who, as civilians, were artists and designers. The unit began working on camouflage in 1940. In July, 1942, General Douglas MacArthur called for the production of 15,000 jungle camouflage uniforms for use in the Pacific Theater. The pattern was designed by Norvell Gillespie, a horticulturalist and garden editor for Better Homes and Gardens. The pattern was a spot design of greens and browns, and was reversible to a tan/brown variation that could be used in fall and early spring. Five colors in all completed the dappled pattern, nicknamed “frogskin.”

Camouflage uniforms saw limited use by the U.S. Army in World War II. However, they were used by the U.S. Marine Corps in the island campaigns of the Pacific Theater. The U.S. Marine Corps used both camouflage uniforms and gear.

Fighting in the Solomon Island Operations, specifically on Bourgainville, headquarters for the Japanese Northern Solomons Defense Force, in November 1944, the Marines wore the reversible beach/jungle, green-and-brown “frog” patterns. The uniforms were well-suited for the dense jungle and foliage of that particular island.

Bourgainville was an amphibious operation as part of a ten-month campaign by the Allies to neutralize Rabaul, a large base on the eastern end of New Britain Island. This was part of the overall Pacific strategy to attack Japan both over the New Guinea-Philippine route (led by General MacArthur) and through the Central Pacific islands (led by Admiral Chester Nimitz). By the fall of 1943, three Marine divisions were in the Pacific — the 3rd (led by Maj. Gen. Allen H. Turnage) at Bourgainville, the final step up the Solomons to acquire an airfield that would bring the Allies within land-based fighter range of Rabaul. The newly formed 3rd Marines consisted of 14,000 troops. The main American landing was to the north of Bourgainville’s Empress Augusta Bay. The site of the landing, midway up Bourgainville’s west coast and 210 miles from Rabaul, was the most uninviting on the 125-mile-long island. Inland, the Marines faced dense, impenetrable jungle. Turnage later wrote, “Never had men in the Marine Corps had to fight and maintain themselves over such difficult terrain as was encountered on Bougainville.” Another officer wrote that the Bourgainville “jungle [was] worse than we had found on Guadalcanal.” The Japanese troops, more than 25,000 strong, clustered mostly at the south end of Bourgainville.

The Marines lost 423 killed and 1,418 wounded on Bourgainville between landing on November 1 and December 25. For this price an air base was bought. Surviving veterans of Bourgainville, along with others, fought again to recapture Guam the following July, 1944, and many of these again at Iwo Jima in February/March, 1945.

The Americal (23rd) Division, under the command of Maj. Gen. John R. Hodge, including a National Guards unit, replaced most of the 3rd Marine Division. The fighting continued through March 28, 1944.

NEVER forget that CAMOUFLAGE is a weapon!” — Undercover Joe

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