To Wear Khaki, or Not To Wear Khaki
Green Web Equipment in WWII
By Sean Foster
Now that you have decided to start re-enacting the WWII GI, you need some web gear. But what color? Some
people will tell you that everything, absolutely, MUST be khaki. But, this is not entirely true. Khaki was the earlier color,
but you need to break it down into the time, theater, and item of equipment.
When did the production of khaki webbing stop, and green webbing begin? The answer to this question will help put
everything in perspective. The US Army did NOT decide on August 10, 1945, to switch over from khaki to green webbing
to make it easy for collectors in years to come. Get that myth out of your head. Actually, the US Army was already using
some darker green colored items even before WWII, if you stop and take a look at the canvas used on vehicles. And the re-inforcing
material used on the M1942 suit was clearly green when new. So even the Quartermaster Corps was not obsessed with everything
being "khaki". But with regard to web equipment, some items can be found dated as early as 1942 made of OD green material.
I have seen several items dated 1943 which are green, or partly green (items made of a mix of khaki and green material are
commonly called "transitional" and are under-appreciated in the hobby and among collectors). By the time 1944 rolled around,
a great many items were being made from green webbing, as the khaki was being phased out. However, some khaki material remained
and I have seen items dated 1945 made of khaki, and I have even seen a M1928 pack in khaki dated 1946!
What about the different shades of khaki and OD green? This is a question bound to trip some people up. There were
always some subtle variations in shade due to dye lots, as different manufacturers and other factors (like dyeing temperature
and quality of the water used in dyeing) were inevitable when an entire nation began making these items. Early or pre-WWII
webbing was often of a more plain tannish khaki, and in 1940-1942 the emergence of a khaki with a slight greenish hue was
introduced (I have heard this called the pea-green khaki). In some cases, it is rumored this greenish hue was brought about
by the addition of a chemical additive in the dye which was to help make the webbing more mold and mildew-resistant, though
I do not have data to substantiate this. When OD green was introduced, it was of a medium-to-dark green, called OD#3.
Sometime (probably in 1944) the first appearance of the dark OD green came about, OD#7, but this is not seen on a large scale
until after the war. OD#7 was also had more of a dark earthy tone of green than OD#3 which was more greenish with little trace
of brown hues. One should also be aware that the wartime OD green faded to a shade not always easy to distingush from dirty
When to wear green or khaki? Now that we understand that OD green webbing DID exist to some degree, we need to decide
when it is appropriate. In the next section we will break it down into some of the individual items made in khaki and green.
It is important to note that certain elite troops, because of their role, were often issued with newer and more modern equipment
first. Also, depending on when a unit was last in the States for being equipped before going overseas has something to do
with this issue as well. Are you going for a impression for North Africa? Then, you probably need all khaki web
gear. Trying for April 1945 in Germany? You will need a bit of OD green webbing. Once in combat, troops that survived
became aware of how obvious their coloration made them to the enemy. If a GI was wise enough to realize that turning his M1941
field jacket inside out made him darker and less conspicuous, then he would probably have accepted green webbing if he could
get ahold of some.
How about specific items? We now need to look at some individual items of equipment to decide if it is correct to
wear it in green or khaki:
The assault vest? This one needs to be addressed for all you D-Day fans. Contrary to popular belief and contrary
to the truth as presented in popular Hollywood movies, MOST OF THESE WERE OD GREEN. Not many were
made in khaki. These were almost all manufactured in 1944, and by then green was the standard color desired by the US Army
Quartermaster Corps. Khaki ones did exist, but not on the scale we see them today. It is also worth mentioning that records
indicate that the 2nd Ranger Battalion was issued these before D-Day, but all of them were OD GREEN. And, all of these
were limited to officers and senior NCO's.
The cartridge belt? The standard issue M1923 cartridge belt was one of the highly-produced items of the war. And
as such, they came in many different shades of color, and even in 'transitional' patchwork belts. The Quartermaster had a
good supply of these in khaki even until the end of the war, but some green ones were issued. There was more of a chance of
a green one being issued to a more elite unit, or one that left the States for Europe after September 1944. I think that for
any impressions of the Market-Garden time period and later, it is safe to have 10-15% of the members of a unit with OD green
belts. However, they should be the exception and not the rule. M1936 "pistol" belts should follow the same rule, with 10%
maximum of these in a unit. The BAR belt should be khaki in almost all cases.
The pack? If you're an infantryman, you have the M1928 pack. I have yet to see one of these packs made in OD green,
though I am sure some do exist. Virtually everyone with one of these packs should have a khaki one. However, if you use a
pack tail, many of them were made green in 1944. For those of you using a M1936 Musette bag, most of these also were khaki,
though some OD green ones were made and released for use. I think having 10% in a unit of these, after 9/1944, is reasonable.
The shovel cover? If you have a M1910 T-Handle shovel, you should have a khaki shovel cover for it. However, the
M1943 shovel was introduced in time for them to reach elite troops for the D-Day invasion. Almost all M1943 shovel covers
are OD GREEN. This is true even in 1943, the first year of production. Solid khaki covers are exceptionally rare, as
most khaki ones have at least OD trim around the edges. For those of you with one of these shovels, 90% or more of these should
have OD green covers.
The canteen cover? Canteen covers were mass-produced, and most of the ones in use were khaki. But, again, it is
not unusual to see a green one here and there, like the green cartridge belts. Also, since the canteen covers got wet
more frequently, they sometimes faded a little faster. Some covers that look khaki are actually faded green.
How about gas mask bags? If you are talking about a amphibious waterproof gas mask bag as used on D-Day, almost
all of these were made with OD green web straps. A few were made in khaki, but these were the exceptions. I'd say the
majority were clearly made with straps of OD green, just try to find an original with khaki straps and that helps put it in
perspective. The "lightweight" gas mask bag was made in both khaki and green, and also in transitional colors. I have seen
a lot of these that are partially or completely green, though solid khaki ones are not uncommon. But there should be a good
amount of green on these among members of a unit.
First aid bandage pouches? This was one of the most common items of field gear both then and now. The abundance
of these today in khaki is a testimony to their plentiful supply in WWII. I would recommend this item be khaki for any WWII
impression, at any time.
Helmet chin straps? With a good supply of reproduction khaki chin straps, we are without excuse these
days to have a khaki one. Green ones did begin to appear late in the war, but again not to a large degree.
Grenade/ Ammo bags? Most of these that are found tend to be 1943-1944 dated and are transitional - with both khaki
and green parts. Commonly found ones have a khaki body with OD green trim. Of course, solid khaki and solid green ones were
made and used. But this clearly does not have to be 100% khaki to be correct.
Other pouches, etc? We have all seen Carbine ammo pouches in khaki and green, and it is my opinion that a having
a few green ones is correct. But, most Carbine slings tended to be khaki until after the war. The small pouch for the 'grenade
launching sight' for the M1 has been OD green in every example I have ever seen (but personally I would not bother with that
item anyway, there is a reason every one you find is unissued). Compass pouches tended to be primarily OD green, as were the
jungle first aid kit pouches. The web top of an M8 scabbard was most often OD green.
I realize that this list will not be agreed to by everyone, and that is OK. These are just some conclusions I have arrived
at based on my own study, but the study is ongoing and new discoveries help uncover more truth. But the key point is that
you understand that not everything was made in khaki and only khaki, and some items were more often OD green than khaki. So
next time you're at a swap meet and someone throws out a box of green webbing, perhaps you can make a dash to grab some up
- just like many of the actual soldiers did in order to help blend in better to the surroundings.