Why the red coat?
It has been said in some circles that the British Army used red coats for their uniforms as a way to hide blood should a soldier get shot. This could be important to the moral of a unit. It would be hard to see who was wounded and who was not. Such consideration is foolish and patently untrue. While the red may hide the blood, the gaping holes in the fabric would probably be a giveaway. Also, they wore white pants, which are not good for hiding the blood that would accompany most wounds. So the question is why red?
In the days before synthetic dyes made almost any color cheap and easy to produce, some colors were more difficult and expensive to dye into clothing than others. Red and purple were by far the most difficult. Which is why they were used to project a sense of power. Purple has long been associated with kings and red with the Catholic church, the two groups that could afford the most expensive dyes.
So cladding their army in coats of red was meant to project power onto the battlefield. A sense of status to the soldiers themselves. Yet it was very expensive so the British put a little twist on it. The red dye for the enlisted men’s uniforms came from madder, a plant that is actually in the coffee family whose roots will provide a reddish color. Still costly, but affordable to the army. The officers however needed a red that was a little brighter and would stand out from the enlisted men. Their uniforms were dyed with cochineal, which is an insect. Yep, their uniforms were dyed with dead bug shells.
When you think of WWI German troops you probably imagine them wearing helmets like those above. (C’com we all spend time thinking about WWI German soldiers, don’t pretend you don’t.) That style helmet is known as a pickelhaube. Which literally translates to “pickaxe bonnet”. It was a staple of the Prussian military and made its way in the German military and many of their civil services.
Originally designed in 1842 by King Frederick William IV of Prussia, it was based on a style that the Russian army had recently adopted That was based on the old French Napoleonic cuirassier helmet. The spike at the top was originally used to hold a plume of horsehair as these were primarily used in cavalry units.
At the start of WWI in 1914, the Germans manufactured their helmets out of leather. As the war went on the stocks of leather dwindled and versions of the helmet started being made out of everything from thin sheets of metal to pressurized felt. Even paper. None of which offered great protection. By 1915, materials aside, the biggest problem with the pickelhaube was the actual spike itself. A new model was developed with a detachable spike. When on the front lines the spike would be removed.
In 1916 the Germans started issuing a new model steel helmet that provided a lot more protection for the head from shell fragments. Yes, steel proved better protection than felt and paper. Who knew? With the fall for the German Empire in 1918, the fancy version of the helmet was demoted to ceremonial uses. Many countries and organizations have some form of pickelhaube in use today.
In 1949, with war looming on the horizon, the Republic of Korea Marine Corps was founded. Its initial strength was only 380 men. They were patterned heavily on the US Marine Corps and were armed using surplus weapons from WWII. When we say surplus, we mean JAPANESE surplus. That is the kind of life they started with as they started a long fight against the communists. These operations would lead directly into the Korean War where they fought alongside the United Nations forces (United States, United Kingdom, etc.) After the long and bloody war was fought to a stalemate the ROK Marines were not done.
In the 1960s when the United States found itself embroiled into a similar conflict in Vietnam, South Korea was asked to provide support. They answered with three divisions and were deployed in the southern part of the country alongside the US Marines. In return for their involvement, the US reimbursed the South Korean government almost a billion dollars.
Today with an estimated strength of about 29,000 men the ROK Marines not only carry out operations against their northern cousins (when needed) but they are an integral part of the ongoing War on Terror.
The uniform above is from the Korean War era and it is easy to see the American influence in the design.
Want to know about them? Click Here. Of course, the page is in Korean, so brush up quick!
Women in Uniform
The uniform above is the female version of the standard Navy dress uniform from the time of the Korean Conflict. Women have always had roles in the military. Over time those roles have shifted and changed as the traditional roles of women in society have changed. Women served in World War II but after the war, they were mostly shut out from serving and returned back to civilian life. To President Truman, that was not acceptable.
On June 12, 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was enacted that allowed women to serve as permanent and regular members of the US military. Previous to this they could only serve during wartime. Even then under very limited circumstances. It was not completely a brand new day however as they were excluded from aircraft and ships which may engage in combat.
In 1949, the Army established a regulation that mothers with dependent children could not serve. Immediately any female with a child under 18 years old was discharged. This was rolled back in the 70’s with federal regulation.
On the cusp of the Korean War, women were able to serve in the conflict and many did. Over 120,000, in fact, served in various roles. Mainly in so-called “pink collar” positions, administrators and such. They also served as nurses in various units including the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, that’s right. If not for the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act who would Hawkeye have had to harass on M*A*S*H?
Most importantly this act symbolizes the road that women have had to travel to be treated as equals during wartime. The process continues today and there are always bumps in these long and winding roads. When it comes to war through the old adage of “any warm body will do” may soon become the watchword.
The Cost of 1812
The War of 1812 was an interesting war. The United States was not quite ready to fight but declared war anyway. The British were busy against Napoleon in Europe, so fought the first half as an afterthought. The Natives involved pretty much knew that no matter who won they would be the losers.
When the war started in June 1812 the land forces of the United States numbered approximately 7,000 men that would face off against 5,200 British soldiers in the New World. By the end of the war, the US would field over 35,000 men including close to half a million militiamen. The British would put over 48,000 men in the field, another ten thousand Provincial regulars and four thousand militia. As far as Natives, the American allies provided at least 125 Choctaw Indians and scores from other tribes, the British could count on over ten thousand warriors.
In almost two and half years of fighting the Americans invaded Canada, the British invaded the United States. Both sides won and lost at sea but neither gained much ground. With the “final” defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the British found themselves in a position to put their full weight into the war. Not long after both sides had enough fighting and a treaty was agreed on.
Almost 15,000 US soldiers died from combat and disease. The British lost about 7,000. In the end, no borders changed, no grievances were resolved and things went back to pretty much the way it was before the war.
Oh and the natives? They continued to fight the Americans and without the support of the British, did not fare well. The last hope for the Natives pretty much ended with the end of the War of 1812. Now they were all that stood between the people of the United States and their Manifest Destiny.
Another Side of General Washington
Hanging in the visitor center at Colonial Williamsburg is this 1799 portrait of General Washington that was pained by Charles Willson Peale. This painting is breathtaking in person and truly presents the General as a figure larger than life.
One of the most amazing things about Washington was how down to earth he was. Even during the Revolution, his legend was well on the way to mythic proportion. There were times when his words alone spurred his men to fight. His promises were enough to keep the army together. Even when there was no food, no pay, and no prospect of victory.
The time though that he proved the most worthy of being a myth and legend was the time when he showed his officers how human he was.
The British were defeated at Yorktown, but the war would continue for several more years and the Continental Army had to stay in the field. Many officers and soldiers had not been paid for six years and dissatisfaction was mounting. In January 1783 a group of officers asked Congress to consider the back wages it owed the army. Congress refused. Tensions between the army and Congress worsened to the point that calls came to march on the Congress and collect the payments by force.
In Newburgh, NY, the officers gathered to plan the coup. Faced with the disgruntled offers and a recalcitrant Congress, George Washington called his officers to a meeting. He explained that Congress was doing what they could, he promised to do everything possible to have the issues resolved. Washington was loved and admired by his men but not even he could divert them from the course they were on, mutiny seemed inevitable.
Sensing he was losing the room, Washington started reading a letter from a Congressman that supported the officers. A few words in Washington had to pause and put on a pair of reading glasses to continue. Apologizing for the delay Washington said, “I have already grown gray in the service of my country. I am now going blind.” The officers saw the personal sacrifice of their commander. This one simple remark reached into the hearts and minds of the assembled men and placed their struggle into perspective. Instead of preparing for a military coup, the men asked Washington to do all he could and the war continued.
A gesture, as simple as putting a pair of glasses, saved the Revolution from becoming a dictatorship. If not for that one personal, and embarrassing moment for Washington, who knows how the story would have ended.
The Sound of Drums
Since the beginning of warfare leaders needed to be able to communicate with their troops from a distance. To get their commands heared through the din of battle. during the roar of battle. In many places in the world, the drum has always been one of the most favored methods of battlefield communication.
Drums would be used to men where to gather, and when to attack. When to leave the battlefield and when to curfew had fallen on the camp. From a distance, units could communicate with other to coordinate. Drums would also help the soldiers keep their pace when marching.
Since our military heritage is drawn mainly from European tradition, it is interesting to note that prior to the Crusades, drums were not used in European armies. In fact, when facing off against the forces of Islam, who made heavy use of large kettledrums to command the troops, they found that their horses reacted poorly to the noise to which they had never heard. Early battles were heavily affected by the enemies drums until they grew accustomed.
Returning armies worked the drums into their operations. By the time that the European powers came to the American continent, they found themselves up against indigenous people that had been using drums for communication for thousands of years.
Drums, bugles and other musical instruments found their way into the US military. They only started to fade from use during the Civil War when the telegraph began taking its place in the command and control realm. Eventually, the radio would provide the most direct communication method and the drums fell silent as a battlefield tool.
A Doughboy In The Trenches
The term doughboy was used for members of the American Expeditionary Force that fought in France during WWI. The name itself though was used long before that. During the Napoleonic wars, a doughboy referred to a fried flour dumpling that was popular among the British in Spain. Eventually, this small cake would evolve into the modern doughnut.
The term doughboy in reference to soldiers, however, started a little after that. During the Mexican – American War (1846-48) the term was used for American infantry and while no one knows for sure where the term came from there are a number of possibilities.
One theory has to do with the environment that the infantry marched through in Mexico. It was dry and very dusty. As they marched mile after mile they became covered head to toe in a fine layer of dust. To some, it looked like they were covered with flour. The cavalry, with no love lost for the infantry, took to calling them doughboys as a derogatory term. Sounds about right and would fit in with other appellations for American soldiers such as dog face, grunt, joe, etc.
In the years between the Mexican War and WWI, the name was not used very much though, only becoming popular again when the Americans showed up in France. This time though it may have come from another source. It seems that along with hundreds of thousands of infantry, the Americans also sent the Salvation Army volunteers to support the troops. One of their best-known services for the men was the making of doughnuts. Millions of them that were delivered to the American troops serving on the front-lines. It would not be a huge jump in logic to see French and British troops chiding the Yankees and amount of fried dough they were subject to. Doughboy would not be that much of a leap. (It could also have been used to mock the perceived weakness of the raw and unblooded American troops.)
Whichever theory you want to subscribe to the fact is the term doughboy is one that will always bring to mind the American soldiers in the muddy and dark trenches in France, much like those young men in the picture above.
You Audie Know This Guy!
Quick question. When asked to name a WWII hero, what names come to mind? If Audie Murphy is not one of the first names you think of, you need to learn more about this man.
Born June 20, 1925, In Texas, he lied about his age to join the military during WWII. He tried to get into the Navy and the Marines before finding a home in the Army. In 1945, at the ripe old age of 19, he won the Medal of Honor after single handily holding off an entire German company. For over an hour! BY HIMSELF! What did you do today?
But wait, that is not all. After holding them off he helped to lead the counter-attack even though he was out of ammunition and wounded.
During the war, he served with distinction in Tunisia, Sicily, Naples, Anzio, Rome, France, the Ardennes and on into Germany. During that time he won every single award for valor that the US Army had. Then added several from France and Belgium for good measure.
After the war, Audie became an actor, best known for playing himself in the movie To Hell and Back and numerous westerns. For the rest of his life, he fought against what would be known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and worked hard for the cause of getting this disorder into the spotlight. Even our greatest heroes did not go untouched by their experiences. In 1971 he finally met a foe he could not defeat and died in a plane crash.
The picture above shows one of his caps and just a few of the multitude of ribbons that this man earned. There is no greater example of the American Warrior than this man and I behoove you to find out more of the details of his life and actions.
Soldiers of the War of 1812
In a recent comedy bit on one of the late night talk shows, the host was asking random people questions about American History. One of the questions was “When was the War of 1812 fought?” That was apparently a stumper for most of the respondents. It would be easy to laugh and make fun of those people, I mean the answer is right there in the question, but it really isn’t their fault. The War of 1812 gets glossed over in history class and seldom is talked about like the other major conflicts. Which is kind of weird considering it was one of the few wars fought between the United States and another nation here on this continent.
It is sometimes called a continuation of the American Revolution, Round 2 if you like, but that is a little dramatic. The British had no desire at that point to “reclaim” their former colonies. In fact, during the bulk of the conflict, they were more worried about beating Napoleon. The US really wanted Canada. It had conquered it in 1775 but could not hold it. Now it was thought that it would be an easy grab from the distracted British.
By the end of the war, the United States Army had ballooned from about 7,000 before, to more than 35,000. To supplement the regular troops over 458,000 militia were called up. Of those about 15,000 died during the war.
The photo above is of a uniform worn by a regular soldier. One interesting little tidbit regarding it. Blue was the official color of the uniform coat. When the ranks increased at the start of the war, the blue cloth was in short supply. For uniforms issued it that range, it was not uncommon for the colors to include black, brown, drab, or even gray. Yep, for a short period of time, the US Army wore gray coats. Not unlike another North American army would wear fifty years later…