101st Airborne (Early) Impression
Arguably one of the most popular impressions in WWII re-enacting is the US Airborne. This one represents the 2nd BN, 101st Airborne prior to Operation Market Garden. There are several parts of this impression that are not 100% accurate, and those issues will be pointed out in their appropriate sections below. This section will detail the impression from head to toe. Each item will be identified and its source mentioned. A bit of history will be interjected where appropriate.
Steel pot helmet: The airborne forces wore essentially the same helmet as the rest of the military. Some important differences are not immediately evident, but do exist. The correct helmet for a paratrooper to wear is the M-1 or M-2 Parachutist Helmet. Differences in the liner and shell are as follow:
Liner: Both of these variants have the same webbing in common that distiguishes them from "Straight Leg" infantry helmets. The liner has additional "A" straps that attach to a leather chin cup (not pictured) that secures the helmet during the jump much like most modern sports helmets. You can see this additional webbing hanging down on each side near the ear. The leather chin cup was often removed by the paratrooper after landing. The standard chin strap is secured by strapping it across the rear of the shell.
Shell: The M-1 and M-2 Helmets featured a fixed "D" bale chin strap ring. These are rare in original form as the "D" rings broke easily if the helmet was sat on. The helmet you see was purchased from Top Pots, an outstanding remanufacturer of WWII helmets of every variety. A complete M-2 Helmet with graphics for rank and unit will run between $200 and $250. You can visit their site here:
Shoes/Boots: Paratroopers were issued brown Jump Boots. These are still made by a couple of manufacturers to near WWII specs. The boots you see above are from Corcoran, the original manufacturer from WWII, and current favorite supplier of airborne troops today. When first pulled from the box, these boots are about as soft as plate steel. A good method of breaking them in fast is to put them on, soak your feet, in the boots, in very warm water for about 20 minutes, and then wear them around for a few hours, or better, most of the day. When they dry a bit, put them on again, and wear them around the next day. They'll still be stiff, but well on their way to comfort. Once broken in, you can walk all day with no problem. If you pull them out of the box on the day of a skirmish, plan on tending to some pretty nasty blisters that night.
Price for these boots is $90 to $140 depending on where you order them from. I bought these so long ago that I forgot the vendor, but it was online and they were around $90. Search for "brown jump boot" in Google and you'll find several vendors that carry them.
M1942 Jump Suit:
Paratroopers wore the M1942 "Jump Suit" from the start of the war, until just before Operation Market Garden in the fall of 1944, when the army standardized its uniform to the M1943. This uniform was meant to be worn over the standard service uniform. As you can imagine, this would make the whole thing quite warm. Variations included differences in leg ties between the 82d and 101st, the addition of extra pockets by riggers or the soldiers themselves, and the reinforcing material added by riggers to many of the uniforms prior to Operation Overlord.
The uniform depicted here was sourced from "At the Front", a very nice re-enactment supplier. At the Front offers standard and reinforced uniforms in all sizes and sells the appropriate extra pockets, and patches to complete the impression to your liking. A reinforced M1942 uniform (no pocket or patch) will cost $299.99. They run out often, so if you want one and see that it is in stock, order it. You can visit at the front here:
At the Front
Pants: The pants you see here are reinforced and have the 101st type of leg ties.
Jacket: The M1942 reinforced jacket was modified with an upper arm pocket. As you can see, my helmet has a "follow me" stripe on the back indicating an officer rank (I happen to be a Captain in the Army National Guard and ordered that type of helmet). Though I haven't seen any photos of officers with modified jump suits, I took this liberty for the convenience it serves. So it's probably not correct, but out of all the paratroop officers, one may have had this done to their uniform, so who can say with 100% certainty.
Undershirt: The standard undershirt was a brown/green tank top. Some wore white T-shirts which I am wearing here. In addition, this particular day was quite cold and I am wearing a modern army sweater which happens to be identical to the WWII version, save for the type of buttons.
Web Gear: What you see in the pictures is the following:
M1921 Cartridge Belt
First Aid Pouch
M1920 Canteen Cover and Canteen
Leather M1911A1 Holster with airsoft Tokyo Marui 1911A1 Government Issue
M3 Trench Knife with M6 Leather Sheath
Problems with this setup? Well, I'm carrying a Thompson. I should just have a regular pistol belt, no the cartridge belt. But I'm holding out for a airsoft M1 Garand, so in the mean time, this discrepancy will have to do. Also, the knife should be tied to my lower leg, but not having the proper webbing at the time, it's carried on the belt. Also, the 101st added felt pads to the shoulder straps of their web gear. After participating in an all day skirmish without these pads, I understood the reason, with a loaded Mussette bag, the straps begin to really sting. They've since been ordered and will definately appear on the impression from here on out.
The web gear was purchased from At The Front as a set (including T-Handle Shovel which is not pictured) for $234.
The knife was bought from "What Price Glory" with the correct M6 sheath for $80.
The leather holster was bought long ago and I don't have the source. The airsoft 1911A1 was found on Ebay for $35.