United Kingdom

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The United Kingdom

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It is believed that some of the very first camouflage suits were developed in the 19th century for use by Scottish gamekeepers hunting deer in the Scottish highlands. This earliest camouflage "uniform," called a Ghillie suit (from the Gaelic word gille for servant) utilized loose strips of multi-colored cloth, twine or burlap attached to a canvas greatcoat or loose hooded jacket & trousers, and was designed to appear as foliage. It was the Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Regiment of the British Army, that first designed functional Ghillie suits for military use, worn by sharpshooters during the Boer War (1899-1902). [1] This same regiment revived the uniforms during the First World War, issuing them as specialized outfits for snipers. Such hand-made uniforms were also known as "Yowie suits" (particularly by Australians). In 1917, the Symien sniper suit was introduced, following traditional Ghillie designs, and worn by British troops from other regiments in reconnaissance and sniper roles. Despite their historic origins, Ghillie suits are still used today, and their construction is a skill that continues to be emphasized in many military sniper & scout/reconnaissance schools around the world.

Britain also experimented with handpainted camouflage designs on canvas tents during the First World War, incorporating brushstrokes or streaks in brown on a khaki background. This is likely the first use of the brushstroke technique that would be revived during the Second World War mark the beginning of an entire family of camouflage patterns that continue to influence design today. Personal capes and uniforms (primarily intended for snipers and observers) were also fabricated during the war, hand-painted using blotch, spot and stripe patterns on various canvas designs. These were probably influenced by French designs.

Although British airborne personnel would continue to wear brushstroke camouflage Denison smocks well into the 1970s, the standard uniform of the British soldier remained khaki or olive green until 1966. It was at this point that Britain introduced another camouflage design, Disruptive Pattern Material or DPM, that would not only remain in service with British troops well into the present era, but would become one of the most widely-copied camouflage designs in the world. Although the basic combat uniform and the DPM pattern itself would undergo several changes and appear in many guises (including desert versions), it is one of the longest-lived single camouflage designs ever to remain in service with a single nation.

British Camouflage Patterns

  • A panel from a hand-painted sniper's suit employed by the British Army during WW1 is seen below, consisting of paint-spatters and smudges on a khaki-green fabric background. Additionally, two more photos of individual, hand-painted suits employed by British and/or Canadian forces during the war are also illustrated.

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  • One of the earliest mass-produced British camouflage items was an oversized smock designed to provide the wearer some protection during a gas attack. Introduced around 1930 and known officially as the "Cape, Anti-Gas, No.1, Camouflaged," the knee length smock was printed with large brown blotches on a khaki or olive green background. The original fabric is lightweight cotton, but this was treated with linseed oil to make it water-repellent and as a result the treated capes have a fairly dark coloration. Many surviving examples have lost this original dark coloring resulting from boiling out the linseed oil, thus producing a "new" coloration of pinkish blotches on a sandy background. A common misconception about the surviving examples is that they were worn as desert camouflage by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and Special Air Service (SAS) in North Africa. This is a commonly encountered rumor that appears to have started with one or more militaria dealers looking to cash in on the appeal of items associated with these elite units.

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  • A version of the standard issue British Army Mk VIII Groundsheet (Raincape), which came into service in 1930 as well, was also produced with a camouflage pattern applied to it. The two-tone camouflage pattern of dark olive green on a khaki background is very similar to that of the earlier issued gas cape.

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  • The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) was an organization charged with conducting irregular warfare, sabotage and espionage behind enemy lines during the Second World War. Operatives would frequently parachute into enemy-held territory and link up with local resistance movements, providing additional direction, instruction, equipment and materials for conducting clandestine warfare. A specialized camouflaged coverall, known as the SOE Jumpsuit was designed specifically for issue to these personnel, painted with large blotches of green & reddish-brown on a khaki base. As the fabric was hand-painted using different dye batches, considerable variation existed as to colors and style of printing. These suits were worn until the end of the war, although few survived as most were destroyed or discarded after the initial parachute drop.

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  • The Denison Camouflage Parachutist Smock (or simply Denison smock) was developed by the British Army in late 1941 to provide airborne troops with a camouflaged jacket that would aid their deployments behind enemy lines. The smock bears the name of a Major Denison (reputedly attached to a military camouflage unit under the command of stage designer Olive Messel), who was largely responsible for the smock’s design as well as the development of the camouflage pattern itself. The original smocks were made of medium weight windproof khaki-coloured cotton drill cloth and painted with non-colourfast dyes in broad green and brown coloured stripes or "brushstrokes." The camouflage design on these original smocks was not roller-printed, but actually hand-painted using large, mop-like brushes, thus accounting for broad variation among early smocks, owing to fluctuations in dye batches and individual methods of creating the pattern. Initially worn by members of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the Denison smock became standard issue to all European Allied airborne and airlanding personnel, and was also commonly worn by Commandos, Royal Marines and the Special Air Service as well. 1st pattern Denison smocks generally incorporated pea green and dark brown stripes, whilst the later 2nd pattern smocks varied from a sand to a light yellowish-olive combination, with overlapping brushstrokes of reddish brown and dark olive green.

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  • Introduced in 1942, the British "Windproof" pattern is in fact a variation of the brushstroke design printed on the early Denison smocks. Designed primarily for use in Northern Europe and produced using roller-printing machines, the pattern generally featured broad brushstrokes of dark brown & olive green on a pinkish-tan base. This design was issued as a lightweight two-piece Infantry oversuit and issued primarily to Infantry scouts & snipers during the Second World War. Later, a heavier weight one-piece uniform designed for armored crews was produced, although there is some debate over whether these were actually utilized during the war. The lightweight uniform became popular with British Special Forces (particularly the SAS Regiment) after the war and continued in service with them into the 1970s. Surplus stocks were also given to the French government, which issued the suits to units fighting in the First Indochina War. The examples below illustrate the wide variability of color encountered with the pattern.

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  • All-white winter camouflage was introduced during the Second World War for issue in snowy conditions. These uniforms were not insulated but made from lightweight fabric and designed to be worn over the normal woolen combat clothing. (no photograph)
  • From 1946 until the mid-1950s, Britain continued to produce the Denison smock using roller-printed versions of the original brushstroke camouflage design. These smocks were of similar construction to the wartime originals, although in practice the colorations did vary somewhat.

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  • Beginning in 1959 the Denison smock was redesigned and the brushstroke pattern reconfigured. The 1959 pattern smock camouflage (and those produded thereafter) has a distinctively different look to it than the earlier Denisons, with a lighter and more prominent background, incorporating only two additional colours (usually brown and green) to create the basic brushstroke overprint. (WW2 era Denisons were darker and often appeared to incorporate more than two colours due to the blending and mixing of dyes that occurred during the application process.) These smocks were produced into the 1970s, and despite the standardization in manufacturing and printing technique, they still show much variation in colour and hue depending on when they were produced. The 1959 pattern Denison smock was worn primarily by members of the Parachute Regiment in theatres such as the Suez and Ulster (Northern Ireland), although there is evidence to suggest it was also issued in limited quantities to the Royal Marines (RM). Illustrated below are examples of the early (1959-60) and late (1967-70) pattern camouflage.

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  • In 1966 the British Ministry of Defense issued the Pattern 1960 DPM (P60), the first in a long line of Disruptive Pattern Material uniforms to be issued by the British Armed Forces. The cut of the standard uniform was based on the Pattern 60 olive green combat uniform, but made in the DPM material. Additional versions were produced in the style of the M1942 Windproof uniform, and worn by British Special Forces. It is difficult to classify British DPM designs because so many different versions have been produced, yet only the type of uniform has ever received an official classification. Adding to the confusion, uniform classifications (P60, P68, P84) quite often conflict with the year in which the uniform was first issued. Subsequent uniform types may have initially been produced using the same printing of fabric of the previous model (P68, P84), while in most cases several production variants were also fielded in a single uniform classification. Illustrated below are two variations of the earliest known productions of DPM fabric, which would have appeared on the P60 Combat Uniform. Both designs also appeared on the 1968 Pattern Combat Uniform.

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  • Replacing the Pattern 1960 Combat Uniform was the Pattern 1968 (P68). The uniform had a number of modifications based on the experience with the Pattern 60 as well as additional items such as a detachable hood, peaked field cap and lined cold weather cap. The P68 uniform was worn by British troops during the Falklands War (1982). Early versions of the DPM Parachutist's Smock (1977 or 78) were also manufactured in this time period, using the same camouflage print. Several color variations of DPM have been documented on this uniform, including the two patterns illustrated above. Those illustrated below are the more common variants.

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  • Circa 1985, a newer version of the standard Combat Uniform began to replace the P68. Called the Pattern 1984 (P84), the new uniform reflected lessons learned during the Falklands War. The P84 uniform would remain standard issue to British military personnel for the next ten years. Illustrated below is the most commonly encountered pattern variant, as well as a rare version with the grass green replaced by a more olive color.

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  • The Pattern 1994 Combat Uniform was introduced in 1994 and remained in service for less than two years. Only smock and trousers were produced, and the colorations of these uniforms generally remain distinct from the previous or later versions.

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  • First introduced in the 1970s and continuing to be issued as a distinctive type of combat uniform was the Tropical DPM uniform. Known officially as "No. 9 Dress," the tropical uniform was the MOD's attempt to address the needs of the British soldier operating in very warm tropical climates such as Belize, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Both shirt and trousers were differently designed from the standard combat uniform and made of lighter weight fabric. Additionally, in most instances the DPM pattern printed on the fabric was of a different coloration to that of the standard temperate combat uniform of that time period. Over the twenty-five years that the Tropical uniform was issued, several variations of DPM were printed for this uniform. As with other DPM variations, they are almost impossible to classify unless the uniform itself can be dated by such features as the buttons, style of tag, and type of fabric used. Illustrated below are several different styles of tropical DPM worn over the years (from earliest to latest).

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  • Originally issued in the 1970s, the Windproof uniform (consisting of smock and trousers) were initially designed for issue to British Special Forces. The ultimately became popular with other services and conventional soldiers as well, and could be found scattered throughout various units during the 1980s and 1990s. Although the DPM pattern itself did not vary much from that found printed on the standard cotton modal fabric of the period, the windproof fabric was lighter weight and more comfortable when damp.

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  • In 1992 a new type of Tropical Combat uniform was produced using breathable "airtex" type fabric (nicknamed "teabag"). Although the styling of the uniform remained consistent to previous tropical issue clothing, the old style buttons were replaced by those used on the temperate clothing. The uniforms reputedly did not wear well, and were replaced by the Soldier 95 series clothing.

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  • The Soldier 95 Uniform was introduced in 1995 and marked a complete revisitation of the combat uniform concept. Casting aside the old concept of having a Temperate and a Tropical combat uniform, the British government decided to issue a single uniform ensemble to all services, capable of functioning in any environment. The basic ensemble consists of a ventile smock, combat shirt (like the old Tropical shirt) and lightweight combat trousers. Additional articles of clothing for layering in cold climates and field equipment were also produced in the DPM camouflage for the Soldier 95 system.

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  • The OPFOR (Opposing Forces) unit of the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) wear a variation of DPM with a blue/purple colorway to distinguish them from regular forces.

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  • Lessons learned by British troops in Afghanistan led to the Multi Terrain Pattern - being introduced in the British Army from 2010. The pattern is a hybrid of the Crye Multicam and the traditional DPM. The pattern has been copyrighted by the British MoD.

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British Desert Camouflage Patterns

The concept of having a specific camouflage pattern for British military deployment to arid or desert regions was first seriously considered in the 1980s. The Americans had introduced this type of camouflage in 1981 and were fielding uniforms in the pattern to units in the Sinai and elsewhere by the late 1980s. British designers initially took the standard temperate DPM pattern and applied a colorway using brown and tan to create a four-color desert DPM pattern. As there was no immediate use for the design, British made uniforms were sold to Iraq during the latter part of the 1980s and the design was subsequently licensed for manufacture by a number of Asian companies which produced military uniforms for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf States. It subsequently became apparent to the British MOD that, were they called upon to deploy to any of the nations in the Middle East, British soldiers might easily be mistaken for those of another country. Hence, a new British desert pattern was needed. Although a three-color version of the desert DPM pattern was tested, it was deemed too similar to the original four-color version. In the end, a two-color scheme incoporating brown disruptive shapes over a sandy field was adopted. Several variations of the pattern have emerged over the years, as well as a number of different uniform types.

  • The first desert pattern produced by the UK was a four-color desert colorway of the standard temperate DPM pattern. British troops never deployed using this pattern, although British MOD-tagged uniforms were found among Iraqis during the First Gulf War.

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  • As the British MOD scrambled to outfit military personnel deploying to Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War, many units were inadequately equipped. Nevertheless, many British troops did receive the "1st series desert DPM" combat uniform, patterned after the standard tropical issue combat uniform of the period. The camouflage pattern was printed using a dense concentration of medium brown shapes over a sandy field. Some Windproof clothing was also produced in the early pattern, although the colorations tended to be a little brighter.

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  • A modified rendering of the desert pattern (2nd series desert DPM) was introduced into the supply system towards the end of 1991. Some British personnel deployed to the Gulf region during this time period have been documented wearing both the 1st and 2nd style desert camouflage. The primary difference in the 2nd pattern is the sparse concentration of brown disruptive shapes when compared to the earlier design. This is therefore often called "sparse desert" pattern. This design did not stay in production for long, and by 1994 it had been replaced with a new printing of the original desert DPM.

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  • As part of the Pattern 1994 series of combat apparel, the British MOD introduced a Desert DPM version of the uniform. As with the Temperate design, the uniform did not remain in service for more than two years and was replaced by the Soldier 95 series. The camouflage pattern is essentially the same as the 1st series, although in different shades.

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  • The Soldier 95 clothing system was also produced in desert DPM pattern of a similar type to the 1st series. The components of the uniform were essentially the same as those of the standard Temperate ensemble, although at least two types of shirts are known to exist (Airtex or "teabag" weight, and a lightweight twill).

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  • The Soldier 2000 series of clothing is also produced in desert DPM. Varying mostly in terms of uniform construction, the camouflage pattern is relatively consistent to previous models although colors vary slightly depending on what type of fabric is used.

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Experimental British Camouflage Patterns

  • A series of trials designed to replace the S95 series of combat clothing, load bearing and legacy items was conducted between January 2007 and December 2008 and known as the Personal Equipment and Common Operations Clothing (PECOC) program. Twenty different camouflage designs were tested as part of the trial process, among them a unique DPM variant for combat clothing consisting of dark brown and pinkish-brown disruptive shapes on a khaki or sand-colored background.

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  • As part of the Personal Equipment and Common Operational Clothing (PECOC) program, the British Ministry of Defense also developed a hybrid-DPM pattern (incorporating two colors from a revised desert DPM design and two colors from a revised temperate DPM design) to be printed on all personal load-bearing equipment for use in all operational theaters.

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Photographs of British Camouflage Uniforms and Military Personnel

  • An original WW2 era camouflage SOE Jumpsuit

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Notes

  1. Dakota Vannes and Ty Steinke: Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper (Osprey Publishing, UK, 2004)