Woolen uniforms of the First World War, warm but puffy

No nation was sufficiently prepared when World War I broke out in 1914, but the young men and women were ready to rush in and defend their country. These soldiers were equipped with the necessary equipment to survive while taking down enemies during battle. They also had to wear uniforms that would not only give them identification but also give them the edge in the war zone. Let’s take a look at the uniforms of these three nations and how they dressed their army men in the First World War.


The Omaha Daily Bee for March 12, 1915 publishes this photo of a German dentist at work in the trenches. The Imperial German soldiers next to them are wearing their Pickelhaube helmets. (Omaha Daily Bee, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Germans were involved in huge battles during World War I, from the Battle of the Marne to the Battle of Amiens. The German Empire was one of the Central Powers, and they fought Allied forces on the Eastern and Western Fronts. Their 4.9 million soldiers were well equipped, but their pointed helmets called Pickelhaube were perhaps the most notable features of their uniforms. Before the war, helmet covers bore the regimental number in bright red, but were changed to dark green in 1914. They were later replaced by steel helmets in 1916, which were more suitable for trench warfare. Initially, they provided chest armor that weighed 35 pounds for gunners who were more exposed to enemy fire. They were later removed as they were too heavy.

As for their uniforms, the German army wore a simple gray tunic with a simple rolled-up woolen cuff – a feature appreciated by soldiers as they could put military passes and small documents in the fold. They also had a brass and silver belt buckle which was later replaced with black painted iron. As for the shoes, they wore the Boots M1866 in tan leather that has been blackened. When the leather shortage began, soldiers began to wear puttees or bandages to protect and support their legs.


Standard British Army combat uniforms were made of a thick, khaki-coloured woolen tunic. The two chest pockets allowed them to carry their personal effects and their payslips. Rifle patches above chest pockets prevent wear from sling gear and Enfield rifle. They were the first in Europe to use webbing gear instead of leather belts and pouches. Strap equipment consisted of wide belt, left and right ammo pouches, bayonet frog, entrenchment tool handle, entrenchment tool head in cover canvas, a water bottle holder, a small backpack and a large bag. And for the officers of course, a tie. You have to be a real gentleman even in war.

Northumberland Fusiliers, Western Front, during the First World War.
Northumberland Fusiliers, Western Front, during the First World War. (National Library of Scotland, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

Their rank insignia were sewn on the upper sleeves of the tunic. As for the cap, they initially wore a cap with a reinforced peak. Like the Germans, they wore slippers around their ankles and calves. Their standard footwear was called the Ammunition boot, reinforced with studded soles to increase the boots durability and traction.


Snapshot of an unidentified US Army soldier wearing his army uniform,
Snapshot of an unidentified US Army soldier (believed to be a member of Base Hospital No. 65), dressed in his military uniform, posing for a photo on a catwalk during a ceremony where US soldiers were buried during the First World War. (State Archives of North Carolina, No Restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

The United States entered the war in 1917 with the simplified woolen service coat uniform to allow for faster production. They also chose to use the British steel helmets due to manufacturing issues. Depending on the season, the Doughboy’s uniform was cotton or wool. They had olive green shirts and trousers, slippers like the other nations, shoes with studded soles for the war in the trenches, a service coat and a trench coat during the winter season. Their knapsacks contained the soldiers’ field bag (extra socks, underwear, rations). Entrenching tools and bayonets were brought through eyelets while the rifle and ammunition were attached through shoulder straps. They also brought wire cutters, first aid kits and gas masks in a separate bag for easy access.

These outfits changed and improved throughout the war due to shortages, lessons learned, or changing army needs.

Wool is a wonderful fiber capable of keeping the wearer warm whether wet or dry, but it is heavy to wear, gets dirty easily, is highly flammable, prone to shrinkage, and makes a tidy home for bed bugs. bed and lice, in war all sides would. must frequently delousing their uniforms to kill the insects that live and breed there. The experiences of this war led to the long march of uniform development that we see today in modern uniforms which attempt to retain the insulating qualities of wool without the responsibilities, especially the house for the insect part.

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