Camouflage

Camouflage in the military sense is the use of shapes, colours and other visual properties to disguise soldiers and equipment.

Military formations throughout history developed colourful and boldly designed uniforms, intended to intimidate enemy soldiers, foster identification among unit members, and aid in recruiting. There was no need for clothing that disguised the wearer as infantry and cavalry combat was conducted hand-to-hand until the invention of firearms. Rifle Regiments in the British Army began to dress in dark green as a form of camouflage, and soldiers in rifle units fought as skirmishers, not making use of linear formations as their comrades in standard infantry units continued to do in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

As the 20th Century opened, the British Army had adopted khaki uniforms for foreign (field) service, and by the time the First World War ended the major militaries of the world all adopted drab uniforms designed for practicality and as an aid in concealment. Britain (and Canada), Russia and the US were in khaki uniforms by 1914. Italy's army adopted a grey-green uniform universally in 1909 and German uniforms were changed to field-grey (a shade of grey-green) cloth in 1910. The French wore red trousers until 1915, when a drab "horizon blue" was made standard; the Belgians went into khaki the same year.

The use of specially patterned camouflage cloth in uniforms began after the First World War, though crude types of camouflage had been applied to helmets during the war itself, and snipers had made extensive use of vegetation and cloth scrim to conceal themselves while plying their trade. Both Italy and Germany pioneered the use of standardized camouflage patterns in the use of uniforms. German use of camouflage expanded in the Second World War from shelter quarters to caps, helmet covers, and a wide variety of uniform jackets and trousers as well as specialized equipment.
Canada

During the Second World War, Canada, like Britain, had few purpose-designed items of personal camouflage, though many types of "improvised camouflage" were used in the field.

Second World War

Three items of kit common to all soldiers were

  • Gas Cape and Accessories
  • Camouflaged Ground Sheet
  • Camouflaged Face Veil

Both the Gas Cape and Ground Sheet were issued in both camouflaged and non-camouflaged versions. Accessories for the Gas Cape included the Gas Wallet. The "camouflage" was generally a two-tone pattern of green and brown.

Items of equipment also began to be issued in camouflage:

  • Helmet Camouflage Net
  • Camouflaged Leather Jerkin

The issued helmet net was in green/brown and allowed naturally foliage or scrim to be attached.

As the war went on, the Denison Smock began to be issued to parachutists, being made from a distinctive patterned cloth. This camouflage was later used to make other garments and items of equipment as well:

  • Denison Smock
  • Windproof Camouflaged Trousers and Oversmock
  • Camouflaged Tank Suit
  • Camouflaged Sleeping Bag

Postwar

After the Second World War, a variety of camouflage uniforms and items of equipment were adopted over the years.1

  • US Helmet Mosquito Net
  • US ERDL Helmet Camouflaged Cover
  • Parachute Smock
  • US Woodland Helmet Camouflaged Cover
  • Garrison Dress
  • British Desert DPM
  • US Ranger Blanket
  • US PASGT Body Armour
  • US Gortex Socks
  • US PASGT Helmet Cover
  • CADPAT TR (Temperate Region) Individual Camouflage Screen
  • CADPAT Winter Individual Camouflage Screen
  • CADPAT TR (Temperate Region)

Vehicle Camouflage

The article on Vehicle Markings contains some information on camouflage paint schemes. The use of natural foliage to camouflage vehicles became common during the Second World War. The use of netting to break up the outline of vehicles became common also, both in fine-mesh and wide-mesh versions.

Canadian mechanized forces on exercise. The Cougar and Grizzly vehicles demonstrated a pitfall of using natural foliage. While the foliage is appropriate to the terrain in the middle distance of the photo, once the vehicles have moved from cover into much browner terrain, it has the unintended effect of actually drawing the eye. Natural foliage must also be replaced frequently, as wilted leaves from cut branches change colour and no longer blend in to natural surroundings. Photo courtesy Trooper Langille, RCD Museum and Archives.


Notes

  1. List of camouflage items provided by Ed Storey.

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