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Original U.S. WWII 101st Airborne Division Melton Wool Overcoat and Overseas Cap - Size 38R

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. This is a lovely, slightly worn Melton Wool Overcoat which was worn by a member of the legendary 101st Airborne Division during WWII. The coat features all original WWII brass buttons and insignia. The upper right sleeve bears a lovely 101st Screaming Eagle patch with rocker. Below the airborne patch is a staff sergeant chevron with a matching one on the right sleeve. The left sleeve also has 2 overseas stripes for 1 year of service overseas with a single service stripe below it.

The included overseas cap is a size 6 ¾ and features a lovely red roundel signifying Airborne Artillery Glider. The cap is in lovely condition with minimal wear and age toning to it.

Both examples would display wonderfully in your airborne collections!

Collar to shoulder: 10”
Shoulder to sleeve: 25.5”
Shoulder to shoulder: 17”
Chest width: 20”
Waist width: 19”
Hip width: 27”
Front length: 51"

The WWII melton wool overcoat originated in 1927 when the enlisted man's winter wool uniform went through major design changes. Dating back to WWI, the melton overcoat was a late 19th-century, double breasted, ulster-style design with a standing and falling collar. The new overcoat, approved on 3 March 1927, was notably different in that it was redesigned with more up to date features. The new look included a notched lapel, and convertible, roll collar. These updated features would remain with the overcoat until it was discontinued. Specification PQD 164 was a variant of the WWII overcoat brought about by the urgent need, early in the war, to conserve critical strategic military commodities. The enormous consumptive demand placed on wool and brass by the massive, 6 3/4 pound, full length, overcoat was further compounded by its mandatory issue status. These characteristics made it a priority target for conservation efforts.

At the outset of the war concerns arose among conservation officials over the problem of meeting production requirements for wool uniforms. Wool conservation quickly became an urgent priority necessitated by the needs of new recruits, preparation for a planned massive future manpower build up, and to counter the growing threat that Axis forces posed to shipping lanes from both England and Australia. The enlisted man's wool uniform, produced with 32 ounce melton, 18 ounce serge, and 10 1/2 ounce shirting flannel, combined for more than 80% of the Army's wool requirement. Early discussions brought about the proposal to reduce the weight of the woolen uniform. This idea, however, was opposed by the Quartermaster Corps because US winter uniforms were already lighter in weight than those of other countries. By late March 1942 a compromise solution was agreed upon by conservation officials and the Quartermaster Corps; the amount of reprocessed wool would be increased in the overcoat. There was reluctance even to take this measure because the overcoat was already constructed with 35% reprocessed wool. Nevertheless, a 15% further increase in reprocessed wool content was agreed upon, bringing the total reprocessed wool content up to 50%. The use of reprocessed wool involved gathering cuttings, scraps, or other unused cloth, and recycling this material into the production of new cloth. The process had the effect of causing the new material to lose some of its insulating properties. Shortly thereafter, on 2 April 1942, specification 164 was drawn up for an overcoat that would make use of the newly revised wool mixture. Production contracts wouldn't be issued until July when the new material became available.

Copper, brass, and bronze were other essential materials that quickly fell under the strain of the expanding Army and defense programs that began in 1940. Aside from the primary need in ordnance manufacture, copper metals were also consumed by a wide variety of military clothing and equipment. This included web gear, tentage, buckles, and uniform buttons. As a result, unifroms utilizing copper fell under the conservation effort of the War Production Board. Projected shortages in copper required that substitutes be developed and utilized as long as the alternative didn't compromise an item's function. In response, two separate efforts designed to conserve brass were applied to the wool overcoat: First, was a successful Quartermaster effort to salvage and refurbish WWI era overcoat buttons. Second, was the development of an entirely new button composed of olive drab plastic and steel shank that was intended to completely replace the current gilt brass type. Thusly, beginning in March 1942 both refurbished blackened brass WWI buttons and the new plastic type were utilized in production. The early use of these buttons were incorporated into the final contract runs of specification 8-51B that occurred in March and May 1942. By the time the overcoat specification was redrawn on April 2, 1942, only a small number of gilt and blackened brass buttons remained far enough in the pipeline to be utilized in production. When production resumed in July under the new specification, the few remaining metallic buttons on hand were used up as the new plastic type became predominant. Collectors should note that the melton wool overcoat was manufactured under specifications 8-51B and 164 utilizing all three types of buttons; blackened brass, gilt, and plastic.

With the emphasis on the development of suitable field clothing throughout the war, by 1943 the melton overcoat was mostly relegated to dress, parade, and furlough wear. As events unfolded in the ETO during the winter of 1944-45, the Melton overcoat was unexpectedly called into front line service.

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