Australian Army Uniforms 1939-1945

Note; this is a simple, short introduction to the many uniforms used by Australian Troops in WWII. It is intended as a guide before further research. It is listed in a broad, chronological style which is intended to show the changing role of the soldier and the theatres he fought in.

Australia entered the 2nd World War in support of the British Governments actions. In a similar fashion to Britain, Australia had been reducing spending on its military forces during the 1930’s. Consequently there was little change in appearance or equipment from the ‘Digger’ that had fought in the Great War to the ‘Young  Diggers’ at the start of WWII.

This soldier is wearing a uniform almost identical to that of troops in WWI. The main difference is the introduction of service dress trousers rather than breeches.  The tunic is cut similar to the Great War issue but without a false belt and buckle – the belt remains but sewn to the tunic entirely. The webbing is 08 Pattern.
  • Hat, Fur, Felt (slouch hat with wool band)
  • Helmet, steel Mk II
  • Early war Service Jacket
  • Service dress trousers
  • Anklets, three button
  • 08 pattern webbing including large pack, small pack, mess tin
  • SMLE rifle
  • Boots, brown, toecapless
  • Respirator Mk V
Troops began landing in Britain – originally in Scotland – forming the first divisions of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) outside Australia. Anklets were of the 3 button type.

Here we see a soldier trying to cope with the Scottish climate and wearing the single breasted Greatcoat, the cuffs are turned back, the collar stands rather than being cut flat and stepped. Curved ‘AUSTRALIA’ titles can be seen on the epaulettes.

By 1941 Australian troops were being committed to actions in North Africa. Initially sent to fight in the wool service dress in their actions not only in Bardia but Greece and Crete they soon began to receive Khaki Drill (KD). In perhaps one of the most well known actions the 9th Division held Tobruk against superior German and Italian forces.  Here the KD uniforms were supplemented by leather jerkins (Italian  troops considered these bullet proof when they confronted the resilient Australian forces). 37 pattern webbing began to replace 08. Australian troops received Canadian and British manufactured webbing  - Australian manufactured 37 patt  would not be issued until later in the war.

Hat, Fur, Felt (slouch hat – by now there was a mixture of wool bands and cotton pagri with 7 folds)
Helmet, steel MkII
Shirt, Khaki Drab, (KD) pull over type
37 patt webbing
Shorts, KD
Trousers, KD
Hose Tops
Anklets 3 button, puttees, short or 37 patt gaiters

Australia faced the threat of invasion from Japan in a mirror of the danger posed by Germany to Britain. The country organized a Home Guard force in response called the ‘Volunteer Defence Force’ equipped with outdated material just as the British Home Guard but they did manage their own badge.

Troops sent to stop the Japanese as they attacked through New Guinea initially wore KD uniforms which were ill suited for the dense jungle, showing up easily when soldiers moved. The first attempts at jungle uniform were simply to dye KD green leading to wildly varying shades. So desperate for suitable uniforms, equipment was dyed green in transit and issued still wet when ships docked.

Above, a mixture of representations of uniforms used by Australians involved in New Guinea and the Pacific theatre. Note the mixture of American equipment which became common in the latter stages, the early KD, KD redyed green and JG Uniforms.

1943 onwards
Lessons were learnt quickly and uniforms and equipment suitable for jungle campaigns began to be issued. Shorts, trousers and shirts were all provided in jungle green cotton. Boots, susceptible to rotting in the humidity of the jungle were redesigned. American equipment was also worn – M38 gaitors and Herring Bone Twill trousers were found to be very well suited to the terrain providing protection from thorns and leeches and giving extra carrying capacity in the large cargo pockets.

Items specific to Australian soldiers
Although issued Canadian 37 pattern pouches as well as British and Australian made webbing Australia produced a modified Bren pouch which was much wider than the original 37 pattern. A modified water bottle carrier which attached to the belt was also produced as well as a bayonet frog.
The steel helmet produced by Australia was similar to the Mk II but without a rim.

Above, examples of insignia – collar insignia on the left, hat badges on the right above curved Australia titles. Woven titles were issued for wear on KD shirts.
Divisional patches were of geometric shapes in coloured felt on a grey backing.
Patches of 2/32nd, 2/14th and 2/19th
Further reading –
‘The Australian Army in WWII’ Osprey Elite series 153 ISBN 978-1-84603-123-6
‘The Australian Army at War 1899-1975’ Osprey Men-at-arms series 123 ISBN 0 85045 418 2
‘Saddle Up:  Australian Load Carrying Equipment of British, American and Local Origin’ ISBN 0646353225, 9780646353227

Buying your kit.
Here is an area for some caution, particularly if you are new to collecting militaria or Australian equipment.
We do not endorse any particular company and recommend discussing any purchases with fellow members first before possibly making an expensive mistake.
Original tunics, trousers, greatcoats and hats are still available but can fetch a premium. These are normally sourced from E Bay, Aus Bay or Militaria dealers. Reproductions are available from companies such as Lawrence Ordnance
Spearhead Militaria
Akubra still make slouch hats to the correct pattern.
Colin (Blue) Wright

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