Lee Marvin as Maj. John Reisman, taciturn and independent U.S. Army officer
England, Spring 1944
Film: The Dirty Dozen
Release Date: June 15, 1967
Director: Robert Aldrich
Tomorrow is the 71st anniversary of the Normandy landings. On June 6, 1944 – now known as D-Day, 156,000 troops from 13 Allied nations conducted the largest seaborne invasion in history, beginning the invasion of German-occupied western Europe that led to the liberation of France, and – eventually – an Allied victory to win the war within a year. Although the Allies failed to achieve their goals on the first day, the tremendous fighting spirit of the soldiers in the face of unbelievable odds led to the foothold needed by the Allies that would catapult them to victory.
Many excellent films have focused on the Normandy landings, including The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. The Dirty Dozen used a different approach, sending a renegade OSS officer behind the lines with twelve ex-soldier convicts to create chaos for the Nazis and distract them from the upcoming landings. The film, which WWII veteran Lee Marvin had originally dismissed as “just a dummy moneymaker”, has gone on to become a classic piece of badass cinema that even received recognition in Sleepless in Seattle during a scene where Tom Hanks and Victor Garber hilariously ad-lib about what movie could make a man cry:
Jim Brown was throwing these hand grenades down these airshafts. And Richard Jaeckel and Lee Marvin – (begins mock crying) were sitting on top of this armored personnel carrier, dressed up like Nazis… and Trini Lopez… he busted his neck while they were parachuting down behind the Nazi lines…
(Did You Know? Trini Lopez was written out of the final scene because Lopez had left the production early… supposedly following advice from Frank Sinatra.)
Despite his personal opinions about The Dirty Dozen as a war film, it established Lee Marvin as an embodiment of the cinematic man’s man – a sensible but tough rule-breaker. The original choice for the Major Reisman role was actually John Wayne, who turned it down because the script originally included an adultery subplot between Reisman and an Englishwoman who was married to a soldier fighting on the continent. By the time the subplot was written out, Wayne had moved on to The Green Berets and Marvin was brought in for one of the most iconic roles of his career.
What’d He Wear?
M-1941 Field Jacket
Major Reisman’s staple garment when in the field with the dozen is an M-1941 field jacket in olive drab. As its unofficial designation suggests, the field jacket was first phased in during the start of the war to replace the wool four-pocket service coat both as a response to a wool shortage and a need for more combat-friendly outerwear. By 1943, the longer M-1943 field jacket was developed to replace it, due to the thin lining and cotton shell providing poor insulation in cold and wet weather. However, it had been standardized and adopted in June 1940 for all non-specialist U.S. Army personnel for wear with the winter OD wool uniform, the summer khaki uniform, and field fatigues; thus, the M-1941 was ubiquitous by the time the M-1943 was developed to replace it, and it remained a “limited standard” service jacket when the M-1943 was unavailable, even up through the Korean conflict in the early 1950s. It remains a symbol of the American G.I., and it makes sense that a tough officer like Reisman would sport whichever outerwear he preferred.
NB: The Army Quartermaster Corps typically tried to keep only one field jacket in service at a time, so the “M1-941” designation was used after its development to differentiate it from the earlier and similar M-1938 “Parson’s Jacket” and the M-1943 field jacket that replaced it. Each field jacket was typically designated simply “Olive Drab (OD) Cotton Field Jacket”.
The waist-length M-1941 entered service as a more wind and water resistant alternative to the service coat, based partly on a civilian windbreaker design. The tightly-woven cotton poplin outer shell was colored a lighter shade of olive drab (olive drab 3 or OD3), and the wool flannel lining was also olive drab. The same lightweight structure and loose fit that would later be criticized in wet and cold weather was beneficial for soldiers in warmer climates as well as allowing a greater freedom of movement.
The front of the M-1941 had a double closure with a Talon zipper set in cotton tape or five brown buttons. Reisman typically wears only the third and fifth buttons closed as his particular jacket is missing the fourth button. The collar is notched with buttons for attaching a hood. Each shoulder has an epaulette loop that buttons at the neck.
At the top of the left sleeve, Reisman wears the command patch worn by all European Theater of Operations headquarters personnel (HQ ETOUSA). The patch was issued from February 25, 1944 through February 28, 1946 after the consolidation of the Headquarters and Communications Zone of the ETO. According to VetsHome.com: “The twin thunderbolts represent ground and air forces breaking the chain enslaving Europe during World War II. The thunderbolts form the letter “V,” the “Victory” symbol, common to both the British and United States forces. The Army Service Forces insignia, blue five-pointed star upon white, refers to the supply function of the organization.”
The M1941 field jacket’s sleeves had adjustable tab cuffs, although Reisman’s jacket appears to be missing the tabs and only the single button remains.
Reisman’s field jacket has two large slanted front pockets, another indication that this is the M1941 and not the earlier M1938, which had buttoned flaps on the front pockets.
The M-1941 is also differentiated from the M-1938 by the 3-button adjustable tabs on each side of the waist under the belted back. Maneuverability was also enhanced by two large vertical pleats behind the shoulders.
Major Reisman always wears his brown wool flannel U.S. M37 uniform shirt with his field jacket. The M37 was a field shirt with a structured convertible collar that could be worn with or without a necktie. It has seven brown plastic buttons down the front placket and closes on each mitred cuff with two vertical buttons.
The two large patch pockets are closed with button-down flaps; both the flaps and pockets themselves have mitred corners. Like many military shirts, the M37 has an epaulette on each shoulder that is stitched to the outer end of the shirt and buttons to the neck at the pointed inner end.
Major Reisman wears his rank insignia, a golden oak leaf, on the right shirt collar. On the left collar, he wears the golden crossed rifles indicating that he is an infantry officer.
Occasionally, Reisman wears his “dark olive drab” (basically brown) Army-issued necktie. I’ve heard various material suggested for the tie including worsted wool and mohair, but Reisman’s tie appears to be one of the gabardine versions. The WWII officers’ tie is 46 inches long with a 3.5-inch base and 2.25-inch tail.
Reisman’s undershirt is a large-fitting crew neck t-shirt similar to the blue short-sleeve sweatshirt worn by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. The sleeves extend down to his elbows. Construction appears to be a cotton and wool blend in a shade of olive drab resembling taupe.
Only when wearing his undershirt can Reisman’s identity discs, a standard set of notched aluminum “dog tags” on a silver corded chain, be seen.
Reisman also wears dark olive drab (again, pretty much brown) uniform trousers constructed of 18 oz. wool serge that are a shade darker than his shirt and tie. His trousers are based on the pattern standardized for personnel in 1938 with belt loops, slanted side pockets on each side, a watch pocket, and rear pockets with pointed flaps. The button fly is also standard with a gas flap added behind it in 1942.
Major Reisman wears a khaki (or “OD9”) M1937 cotton web belt. This 1.25-inch wide belt was worn by both officers and enlisted men, although officers like Reisman had solid gold-colored brass buckles and tips as opposed to the blackened open-face claw buckles on enlisted belts; belts would be standardized after the Korean war so that both officers and enlisted wore the brass buckles. Officers’ belts used a simple mechanism where the belt tip was pulled through the buckle with an inner clamp, a knurled bar, pulling it closed when it was tightened to fit around the waist.
The bottoms of Reisman’s trousers are tucked into his classic double-buckle M-1943 Combat Service boots. The M-1943 boots have been called “the first true modern combat boots”. They were authorized in November 1943 as standard russet brown tanned leather service shoes that extended up the leg with a leather high-top cuff, a practical replacement for leggings worn with service shoes. This cuff was closed with two brass buckles, and was typically smooth although some cuffs were made with reversed leather to expose the more durable rough side that would better absorb waterproofing oils. The sole and heel of the boots (and service shoes) was one solid piece of synthetic or reclaimed rubber.
Reisman’s independent streak also comes across with his choice of headgear. While he properly wears the overseas garrison cap with mixed black-and-gold braided trim for officers when wearing his dress uniform, he opts for a plain “dark olive drab” brown enlisted man’s cap when in his field uniform. Both the officers’ and enlisted overseas cap are constructed of wool serge, but the enlisted cap has no piping.
Despite the implications of his cap, he still properly wears his gold oak leaf Major insignia on the left side.
Reisman wears his pistol on a khaki (probably “OD9”) cotton M-1936 pistol belt with two rows of grommets, a modification of the original M-1912 belt developed when the U.S. Army adopted the 1911 pistol. The M-1936 was updated with a more secure brass hook-and-closure and remained in use after World War II, although the material was changed from cotton to nylon during the Vietnam War. The pistol belt was originally intended for officers, tanker crews, or other non-riflemen. Although his belt could carry additional objects like a canteen, Major Reisman only clips his pistol holster and magazine pouch to it.
The brown leather holster (designated “Holster, .45 Automatic, M-1916”) for his M1911A1 pistol attaches with a hook fastener to the right side while a large snap fastener on the left side mates with a snap on the khaki canvas double magazine pouch (“Pocket, Magazine, Web, M-1923”) that slips over the pistol belt with a rear webbed loop.
Reisman also wears a standard military watch strapped to his left wrist on a khaki strap, possibly a steel Hamilton or an Elgin.
Reisman’s Alternate Jacket
During the “graduation” party, Reisman wears a khaki “winter combat” tanker jacket rather than his usual field jacket, although he indeed sports his HQ ETOUSA patch on the left shoulder. The tanker jacket has a cotton twill shell and comfortable brown kersey wool lining. The front closes with a full length right-opening Talon zipper. The collar, tube cuffs, and waistband are made from an elastic wool knit that gained a positive reputation for keeping wind out.
Although developed for tanker crews, the jacket became popular for its comfort and weather resilience, and non-tank crewmen like infantrymen, artillerymen, and paratroopers resorted to alternative means to get their hands on them. A vocal advocate of skirting convention like Reisman would have no trouble getting his hands on – and openly wearing – a tanker jacket.
(All military uniform posts are written strictly for educational purposes. The accomplishments of military Veterans should be respected and not copied.)
What to Imbibe
An appropriate choice for a tough officer stationed in England, Major Reisman keeps a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label blended Scotch whisky in his barracks, which he mixes with water and drinks with Captain Kinder.
Major Reisman’s mish-mash of various uniform garments are a good representation of his individualistic tendencies as an officer.
- Olive drab (OD3) cotton poplin M-1941 field jacket with notch collar, 5-button/Talon zipper front, slanted front pockets, 1-button tab cuffs, 3-button adjustable waistband tabs, under-shoulder pleats, belted rear, and olive drab wool flannel lining
- HQ ETOUSA “twin thunderbolts” patch stitched to left shoulder
- Brown wool flannel M37 uniform shirt with convertible collar, front placket, two button-down flapped chest patch pockets, 2-button cuffs, and 1-button epaulettes
- Golden oak leaf Major insignia pinned to right collar
- Golden crossed rifles infantry insignia pinned to left collar
- Brown gabardine military necktie
- Dark brown wool serge flat front uniform trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, coin pocket, and pointed-flap rear pockets
- Khaki (OD9) M-1937 cotton web trouser belt with brass knurled-bar buckle
- Khaki (OD9) M-1938 cotton web pistol belt with brass hook-and-closure, carrying:
- Brown leather holster (“Holster, .45 Automatic, M-1916”) for an M1911A1 pistol, worn on right side
- Khaki canvas double magazine pouch (“Pocket, Magazine, Web, M-1923”) for two M1911 magazines, worn on left side
- Russet brown leather M-1943 Combat Service Boots with double brass buckles and one-piece rubber sole/heel
- Dark brown enlisted garrison cap
- Golden oak leaf Major insignia pinned to left side
- Olive drab short-sleeve crew neck sweatshirt
- Aluminum notched “dog tags” on silver corded chain
We never see Major Reisman’s socks or underwear, but we can safely assume he’d be wearing standard U.S. Army issued underoos.
Reisman outfits his team with the M3 “Grease Gun”, an open bolt, blow-back operated submachine gun that was introduced late in the war to conceptually replace the more expensive Thompson M1A1 submachine gun.
Adopted by the U.S. Army on December 12, 1942, the “United States Submachine Gun, Cal. .45, M3” quickly gained its “Grease Gun” nickname due to its similar look to a mechanic’s grease gun. Chambered in the same .45 ACP cartridge as the Thompson, the M3 was lighter (8.15 lbs. vs. the M1A1’s 10.6 lbs.), cheaper ($20 vs. $100 per), and supposedly more accurate. However, production of the M3 and its improved successor – the M3A1 – was often delayed, and the weapon saw relatively little combat use during World War II. It began replacing the Thompson at the front lines in late 1944, and remained in U.S. service until it was mostly withdrawn in 1957. Some armored divisions found use for the “Grease Gun” as late as the mid-1970s and even the 1991 Gulf War, however.
Like Reisman’s tanker jacket, the M3 and M3A1 were mostly the domain of tanker crews with many finding their way to front line troops before they were actually issued to them.
About 700,000 M3 and M3A1 “Grease Guns” were produced, mostly by General Motors’ Guide Lamp Division in Anderson, Indiana. It had been designed there by GM’s chief gun designer George Hyde, the German-born machinist that had also developed the FP-45 Liberator, a $2 pistol that was dropped into occupied territories for intended usage by resistance fighters. The “Grease Gun” was Hyde’s most-fielded weapon. It was a simple firearm, with the two stamped halves of the .06-inch sheet steel welded together to form the receiver. The bolt, containing the fixed firing pin, was drilled to support the two parallel guide rods where the twin recoil springs were mounted, allowing for greater durability and less maintenance necessary.
The M3s used in The Dirty Dozen by Reisman, his MPs, and most of the dozen themselves, are the older M3 model rather than the later M3A1. As IMFDB states: “The guns clearly have external charging handles on the right side while the M3A1 as divots in the bolt so the bolt can be pinched and pulled back [by the operator’s finger]. They also have a much higher rate of fire than the M3A1 model.”
Reisman and many of his men also keep two of the M3’s 30-round magazines “jungle-taped” together for a more convenient reload process. Once one magazine has been extinguished, all the operator would need to do is eject it and turn it 180°, reinserting it with the fresh magazine taped to the old one. The jungle style originated during World War II as box magazine-feeding weapons like the M1 Carbine and Thompson grew more common, and it was even a plot point in Die Hard 2 as the terrorists differentiated between blank-firing and live-firing magazines based on the color of the tape.
Unfortunately, an error is visible in some shooting scenes of The Dirty Dozen as characters fire their M3s with the dust cover closed; this would be impossible as the dust cover was also the weapon’s safety mechanism and would have to be open for it to fire.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
I can’t think of a better way to fight a war.