M-42 Paratrooper Jackets, a trend setter from Drop Zones to showrooms
Voluntarily jumping out of a perfectly good airplane and tasked with landing behind enemy lines with the mission of causing as much havoc as possible might seem like a tall order to accomplish, but not for American Paratroopers. Infamously Paratroopers were a breed like no other and were all volunteers and didn’t mind being all alone with the enemy.
Paratroopers were WWII’s wild bunch. The entire concept of airborne infantry was completely new and had not been used extensively until WWII. The first country to experiment with paratroopers was the Soviet Union, crudely the Soviets would have their paratroopers hang off of the wings of the airplane and then let go when told to. This goes back to the whole wild aspect of parachuting.
The American paratroopers had a very different origin. There was at first a test platoon of soldiers, all volunteers, who experimented and fine-tuned American paratrooper procedures and practices in 1942. The test platoon in turn would become the very core and cadre of the 501st Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. America’s airborne units would go on to be the most elite and highly trained organizations of the war and would participate in every battle that the United States fought in Europe. If these paratroopers were so special and elite, do you think that they would have worn the same uniforms and used the same equipment that everybody else was using? The answer is no, quite the opposite.
Paratroopers, because of their missions and operating procedures, required all sorts of specialized equipment and uniforms. Paratroopers were issued special boots with better heel support for parachute landings, they were issued special helmets for parachute landings and the most prized possession that any paratrooper was issued, was their special M42 Paratrooper uniform.
The M42 Jacket and trousers featured an abundance of cargo pockets and we designed by Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) William P. Yarborough. LTC Yarborough designed the uniforms with slanted bellowed pockets and flaps secured by snaps. The slanted pockets were the key design feature and allowed easier access to the chest pockets under field equipment. LTC Yarborough also included a “secret” switchblade knife pocket by the collar. Paratroopers were issued automatic knives to cut themselve from their parachutes in case of emergency. Slanted pockets on field jackets reemerged in the Vietnam War and then in the Army’s newest Army Combat Uniform (ACU).
The M42 was issued in 1942 and was no longer issued in 1944 because of the Army’s adopted of the M-1943 Uniform and thus the standardization of Army uniforms for all Soldiers, including Paratroopers.
The Paratrooper uniform even during the war was a fashionable item to wear.
The M42 Paratrooper Jacket has taken on an entire life of its own and will continue to be featured by designers in fashion lines to come. It was a jacket that made American Paratroopers unique and proud, and for each of its owners, civilian or military, the jacket’s style radiates the same uniqueness and pride as the Paratroopers that once wore them.