Thursday, April 28, 2016

US 10th Mountain Division Soldier with His Sleeping Bag

View of a sunburned U.S. Tenth Mountain Division soldier posing for a photograph in a snow trench with his sleeping bag in front of him. It is placed on top of pine boughs. Taken near Camp Hale, Colorado, 1943 or 1944.

Military sleeping bags are a relatively recent development. The comfort of the ordinary soldier in the field was not a priority for armies until the 20th century. Even in World War II, blankets or a simple mummy bag was the usual sleeping gear, even in very cold weather. Specialized mountain troops had the first sleeping bags designed in modern terms.

Prior to World War II American soldiers were issued blanket rolls. This consisted of several wool blankets and a ground sheet to roll it up in. The Blanket, Wool, OD, M-1934 was the basic "Army Blanket" and each soldier had at least one issued. In cold climates as many as five blankets were issued to each man. These were combined with the Roll, Bedding, M-1935 or a Shelter Half which could also be used as a ground cloth or, with another soldier, make a tent. The blankets and items such as socks and underwear all were folded into the roll, following a carefully defined procedure drilled into the soldiers in Basic Training. For sleeping, it was unrolled and made into the best arrangement for the conditions.

By the outset of World War II, sleeping bags of varied design had been in use for many years by mountaineers and sportsmen generally. The strengths and weakneses of the designs were well known. It was assumed by the Quartermaster engineers that a sleeping bag would replace blankets for mountain troops. The mountain soldier would ordinarily have to carry their sleeping bag and it was therefore essential to make it as light as possible and small enough in bulk to fit into the Mountain Rucksack. It must, at the same time, be durable enough to stand rather rough treatment and warm enough for sleeping in fairly severe cold. It must be so designed that the soldier could get out of it quickly in an emergency. As in the case of the sleeping bags for Arctic use, the design problem was complicated by the fact that there was a shortage of down, the material most favored as a filler.

The "mummy" type of sleeping bag, shaped to fit the body, had been gaining favor among mountaineers for several years, as against the more usual rectangular bag. The mummy bag was considered more efficient, used less material and was less bulky. A sleeping bag of the mummy type, consisting of inner and outer shells and an attached head canopy, was designed for the ski troops in 1941. This rather complicated design was thoroughly revised and then further refined in the next year, partly with a view to simplifying the whole sleeping bag program by providing units that could be used by all troops operating in cold climates.

The mountain sleeping bag developed in 1942 was designed to be issued to mountain troops as an item complete within itself. Combined with an additional outer case, it became a new Arctic sleeping bag.

The mountain bag consisted of a single case filled with a down and feather mixture, with a pear-shaped face opening and a full mummy shape. A slide fastener with a quick release device permitted the bag to be opened almost instantly down the front to about half its length. The casing was made of water repellent balloon cloth. There were new and unusual features in the design. The stitching which bound the casing to the filler did not go all the way through, like quilt stitching. Instead, it fastened the casing, by alternating inner and outer lines of stitches, to a diaphram of cheesecloth which separated outer and inner layers of the filler. This technique avoided lines of cold penetration through the stitiching, which had been criticized in earlier models. The closing seam was reinforced against cold by the addition of a tubular secion of filler placed tight against it.

A waterproof carrying case was issued with the sleeping bag. The sleeping bag was placed in the case when not in use. The case could also be used as an added foot covering in extreme cold. There was an insulated, inflatable sleeping pad (air mattress), for additional warmth and to protect the sleeping bag from wetness when camping on ice or snow. Finally, there was an outer water repellent case for additional warmth when a tent was not used. [ Source: QMC Historical Studies No. 5, Feb. 1944 ]

The mountain sleeping bag (and Arctic version) had tie straps attached to the foot of the bag. These straps could be pulled through matching holes in the foot of the cover to get the bag and cover aligned. The two parts could be rolled up together and the ties used to secure the roll. "US" was stenciled on the outside of the cover so that it would show when rolled.

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