Research Your Impression

The most valuable source of information in reenacting comes from original images, First-hand accounts and period footage. It is only through studying these sources that we can get an understanding in what the GI wore, and how we wore it throughout the different stages of the Second World War.

It is important to always study original sources because they are accurate and reliable, whereas some of our favourite Hollywood movies are far from it.

For example, many people feel that every GI was desperate to obtain a Luger pistol or Nazi flag, and was burdened with souvenirs taken after combat. In reality, this was very uncommon. The regular GI grunt simply wouldn't have room for such items, they would not discard valuable blankets, food, ammunition to replace it with a prize trophy.

This is the reason that researching your impression is vital to getting it just right in reenacting. The best way to do your research is to study various photographs from the time period that your impression is based upon, don't look at one photograph such as the example on the right and presume that every GI carried several German weapons as a trophy to impress his buddies.

This is why studying multiple sources is a must!

 

Before going to an event, I like to find out the exact time that we will portray at the event. Having the time allows you to start researching and gathering your information on what a GI would be equipped with at time, making your impression accurate and more realistic. After collecting several photographs I will make a list of what equipment I own that is in different photographs multiple times, giving me an idea of what equipment appeared to be more commonly seen during this part of the war.

For example, at the time I'm writing this article, my next event is Peak Rail (First weekend in August) where we are portraying a late war impression, April 1945. So I will look online and in any books that I own to find period images from this late stage of the war. From looking at the photographs I can get a good understanding on which gear I need to take and how I should wear it to the event.

There are plenty of places where you can find original photographs, such as a simple Google image search, Facebook, Instagram, various Historical websites and the American National 
Archives. There's also countless books out there with thousands of good images and sources to gather your research from.

It is best if you can find original sources from the unit, you're portraying (for me this would be E. Coy, 2nd Bat. 16th Inf. Regt., 1st Division), but this can be very difficult to find several photos of your unit from across all stages in the war. If I can't find enough images from my unit, I will look for other images of infantry units to get a rough idea of how our own unit would look and what they would be equipped with. This will not work if you're looking at images of any other sort of unit that is not infantry (armoured, airborne, Engineers, etc).

By collecting various images from different infantry units from the same time in the war, I can get a rough guide to the general appearance of GI's in my unit, which will help my impression to improve. My first example of research will be for a late war 
impression (December 1944-May 1945).

Click on a photo to expand it and study the 
appearance of the GI's.


Half of these images are taken from the archives of the 45th Infatry Division and the rest are from a few different Historical websites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From looking at these photographs we can learn what the GI typically war in the later war period. The most common items we can see across the photographs is the M43 combat jackets as well as the M43 Double buckle boots. This shows just how common the M43 jackets and boots were during the later stages in the war as more and more units were being issued with the newer equipment. However, when referring back to the earlier photograph of the GI holding his captured German weaponry, we can see that he is still wearing leggings as well as an M43 Jacket. Which does tell us that leggings and early war equipment was still being used by GI's even at this late stage in the war. However, we can see from the other images that the double buckle boots were far more common, and these should outnumber the guys wearing leggings.

It is also quite clear that almost every GI in the photographs looks different to the others, there is not much in the way of a uniformed appearance. This was due to troops discarding or breaking different pieces of equipment and GI's getting new replacement gear that their buddies didn't need. From this we can see that we don't have to worry too much about looking identical to everyone else in our group and that having a mix of different gear can really help to improve a late war impression because each member of the group will have small differences to 
each other.

One other thing worth noting from the late war photographs is that in the photos where the men are not marching/ advancing they appear to be carrying a lot less equipment. Essentially, 'less is more' when it comes to a late war impression. You rarely see late photos of GI's carrying full packs, bags and equipment because they simply did not need everything they had with them at all times. GI's mostly just kept the essentials on them because things like bedrolls and tents were brought up to the line by truck rather than having the troops carry every bit of
gear they owned with them at all times.

It is far too easy to load yourself up with everything you own and end up carrying too much. When doing a late war impression, we can see that this is not needed at all, and that carrying a little less than you usually would will drastically improve the late war appearance.  

 

My next example of research is for a mid-war, 
Normandy campaign impression (Summer of 
1944).

Click on the images to expand them.

Books are incredibly good for a D-Day 
impression as there are so many of them out 
there!

 

 

 

 

When doing a D-Day impression it is usually easier to find good images and sources to help you with your research because it is very widely documented through many books and websites on the Internet.
But there are also some things to watch out for, I have included the last image of the Second wave of assault troops from the 16th Regiment landing at Omaha on D-Day to highlight that when you're doing a Normandy impression, Don't use images of the actual landings for information. The reason behind this is that the troops landing on the beaches on D-Day were fully loaded with all their equipment and extra gear to carry onto the beach. After the landings, the GI's carried much less with them during the fighting across Normandy, discarding much of it immediately after the landings. You would not see GI's assaulting French towns and villages loaded up in full kit, but just taking extra ammo and very basic gear.

 

Whilst images like this are excellent for doing an impression for the actual landings, they are not very useful for a Normandy impression in general.

From looking at the top 3 images, we can see that at the time of the Normandy landings, the standard uniform for the American soldier was the M41 Jacket, with the leggings and roughout boots, rather than M43's or double buckle boots (which were not widely seen until late September).

We can also see that the two images on the left show how little the GI's carried with them in Normandy. We can see the GI talking to the French children has his raincoat folded over his cartridge belt for easy access and because he is not carrying a Haversack or any extra baggage. This is also seen in the photo of GI's flushing out snipers down a lane lines with hedgerows, 
the GI on the left in the shirt has his jacket folded over his belt, and no haversack. Whilst the man on the right has no haversack or cartridge belt, just his M1 rifle and uniform.
Troops would usually only carry their haversacks when advancing forwards, but would be left behind when making an assault on known enemy positions.

This refers back to the notion that 'less is more', there is a fantastic article on the 90th IDG website covering this topic in great detail.
You can find that article HERE.

 

From looking through a couple of examples in this article, you can begin to understand why you should always put some research into any impression you're planning on doing. It is 
very important in order to get it right, so that you don't turn up to a D-Day event wearing your brand new buckle boots because as you can see, it would be completely wrong.

Try and gather at least 10 images from the same time period of your impression and the same type of unit you want to portray, then study the images and find what pieces of uniform 
and equipment are seen in more than one image to give you a good idea what sort of items were more common than others.

Through doing this, you can guarantee that your impression will be spot on!




Article written by Ben Hilton.

Copyright © 2019 1st Infantry Division Living History Group. All Rights Reserved.No part of this website may be reproduced without our express consent