Tagged: Military Uniform

Battle of Britain: Ian McShane’s RAF Uniforms

Ian McShane as Flight Sergeant Andy Moore in Battle of Britain (1969)

Ian McShane as Flight Sergeant Andy Moore in Battle of Britain (1969)

Vitals

Ian McShane as Flight Sergeant Andy Moore, Royal Air Force pilot

England, Summer 1940

Film: Battle of Britain
Release Date: September 15, 1969
Director: Guy Hamilton
Wardrobe Credit: Bert Henrikson

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Today commemorates the anniversary of a decisive aerial battle in the skies over England that marked one of the first substantial Allied victories in World War II. Luftwaffe attacks on British ports and fleets had launched the Battle of Britain in June 1940, followed by sporadic and deadly raids that culminated with a German attempt to essentially eradicate any British defenses to clear the way for Operation Sea Lion, Hitler’s intended invasion of England.  On September 15, two waves of German attacks on London were successfully repelled by the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, primarily the No. 11 Group RAF, a decisive defense that prompted then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill to famously declare: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

29 years later to the day, Battle of Britain was released in the grand tradition of star-studded war epics, boasting a talented cast that included Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, and a relative newcomer named Ian McShane. Continue reading

Midway: Charlton Heston’s Naval Aviation Khaki

Charlton Heston as Captain Matthew Garth in Midway

Charlton Heston as CAPT Matthew Garth in Midway (1976)

Vitals

Charlton Heston as CAPT Matthew Garth, U.S. Naval Aviator

Pearl Harbor to Midway Island, Spring 1942

Film: Midway
Release Date: June 18, 1976
Director: Jack Smight

Background

Many familiar with World War II history are familiar with the significance of Monday’s date as, on June 6, 1944, the Allies landed at Normandy in northern France as part of the “D-Day” invasion that laid the groundwork for the eventual Allied victory. Two years earlier, the Americans had been engaged in yet another decisive battle that would turn the tide of the second World War.

The Battle of Midway had commenced 80 years ago today on June 4, 1942, following intelligence gathered by the U.S. Navy that allowed it to prepare for a counterattack against the Imperial Japanese Navy. Three days of battle followed, with American forces destroying all four Japanese fleet carriers that had engaged and—in both a tactical and symbolic victory—had also been part of the six-carrier force that attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier.

Though the Americans also suffered the loss of a carrier, a destroyer, and approximately 150 aircraft, casualties were considerably higher on the Japanese side (including nearly double the amount of aircraft lost), marking an early turning point of the Pacific War in favor of the Allies and which historian John Keegan has called “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”

In addition to an 18-minute color documentary directed during the battle by John Ford, the Battle of Midway has been the subject of two major movies, mostly recently in 2019. A star-studded retelling of the battle and its lead-up was produced by The Mirisch Company in 1976, starring—among many others—Henry Fonda as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet. Having served in the Navy in real life during World War II, Fonda had actually partly narrated Ford’s 1942 documentary and also appeared as an unnamed admiral inspired by Nimitz in the 1965 epic In Harm’s Way.

The cast was rounded out by both established international stars from Robert Mitchum to Toshiro Mifune and relative newcomers like Dabney Coleman, Erik Estrada, and a non-mustached Tom Selleck. Being made just over 30 years after World War II ended meant a number of actual veterans among its cast; in addition to Fonda, Glenn Ford, Charlton Heston, Hal Holbrook, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Webber had all served.

Though most of its characters are real-life figures, Midway centers around a fictionalized hero in the form of naval aviator CAPT Matthew Garth (Heston), for whom the battle presents the culmination of his increasing personal and professional troubles. Continue reading

Tom Hanks in Greyhound

Tom Hanks as Commander Ernest Krause in Greyhound

Tom Hanks as CDR Ernest Krause in Greyhound (2020)

Vitals

Tom Hanks as CDR Ernest Krause, USN, commanding officer of USS Keeling

North Atlantic Ocean, February 1942

Film: Greyhound
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Director: Aaron Schneider
Costume Designer: Julie Weiss
Military Costume Consultant: Steve McColgan

Background

…the goods will be delivered by this nation, whose Navy believes in the tradition of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, October 27, 1941

Greyhound begins just over three months after the United States entered World War II and nearly five months after FDR’s address for Navy and Total Defense Day, in which he reinforced with the above words the protection that the U.S. Navy would offer merchant ships carrying supplies to support the Allied war effort. The eponymous “Greyhound” is the codename for USS Keeling, one of the American destroyers assigned to protect a 37-ship convoy on its way to Liverpool.

We join up with the multi-national convoy HX-25 as it enters its first of two days traveling through the “Black Pit”, the area of the North Atlantic considered most vulnerable as it was beyond the range of air cover. Leading the convoy’s military escort from the bridge of USS Keeling is straight-laced Commander Ernest Krause, played by Tom Hanks. Continue reading

William Holden in Stalag 17

In recognition of POW/MIA Day, observed on the third Friday of September, let’s delve into one of the first major movies to shine a light on the POW experience.

William Holden as Staff Sergeant J.J. Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953)

William Holden as Staff Sergeant J.J. Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953)

Vitals

William Holden as J.J. Sefton, USAAF Staff Sergeant and prisoner of war

“Somewhere on the Danube”, December 1944

Film: Stalag 17
Release Date: May 29, 1953
Director: Billy Wilder
Wardrobe Credit: J. Allen Slone

Background

I don’t know about you, but it always makes me sore when I see those war pictures… all about flying leathernecks and submarine patrols and frogmen and guerrillas in the Philippines. What gets me is there never was a movie about POWs… about prisoners of war.

… and so Clarence Harvey Cook (Gil Stratton) begins his narration, setting the scene for the week leading up to Christmas 1944 when he and his fellow downed colleagues discovered a potential informant—er, a “dirty stinkin’ stoolie”—in their barracks.

After two airmen are shot trying to escape, suspicion eventually falls on J.J. Sefton, the cigarette-dealing but cigar-chomping staff sergeant whose cynicism has already rendered him unpopular with most of the Americans aside from Cookie, who serves as Sefton’s unofficial batman and describes him as “one of the most unforgettable ch-characters you’ve ever met.” Continue reading

Apocalypse Now: Robert Duvall as Colonel Kilgore

Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Vitals

Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, U.S. Army Air Cavalry commander and surf fanatic

Vietnam, Summer 1969

Film: Apocalypse Now
Release Date: August 15, 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Supervisor: Charles E. James
Costumers: Luster Bayless, Norman A. Burza, Dennis Fill, and George L. Little

Background

Happy 90th birthday, Robert Duvall! Today’s post looks at one of the most recognizable roles from the actor’s prolific career, his Academy Award-nominated performance as the gung-ho surf enthusiast Colonel Kilgore in Coppola’s war epic Apocalypse Now.

Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s you-probably-had-to-read-it-in-high-school novella Heart of DarknessApocalypse Now needs little introduction, nor does Kilgore’s famous monologue celebrating the aromas of incendiary devices after commanding his 9th Cavalry squadron to attack a VC-held village to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”.

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Battle of Britain: Robert Shaw as Squadron Leader Skipper

Robert Shaw as RAF Squadron Leader "Skipper" in Battle of Britain (1969)

Robert Shaw as RAF Squadron Leader “Skipper” in Battle of Britain (1969)

Vitals

Robert Shaw as “Skipper”, RAF Squadron Leader

England, Summer to Fall 1940

Film: Battle of Britain
Release Date: September 15, 1969
Director: Guy Hamilton
Wardrobe Credit: Bert Henrikson

Background

Although the battle was waged for more than three months in 1940 over British airspace, September 15 has been established as Battle of Britain Day in recognition of the No. 11 Group RAF repelling two waves of German attacks on London. The Germans had instigated their air and sea blockade earlier that summer, followed by Luftwaffe air raids that started with ports and shipping centers, eventually moving further inland to airfields, factories, and ultimately civilian areas. Hitler had intended to gain air superiority over England prior to an invasion dubbed Operation Sea Lion, but a strong national defense from the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy successfully routed the Luftwaffe and prevented this full-scale invasion of the United Kingdom.

This British victory was considered an early turning point in favor of the Allies during World War II that inspired Winston Churchill to famously declare: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

On the 29th anniversary of this famous British defense against Germany in the skies over London, the United Artists war epic Battle of Britain with a star-studded cast including Sir Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer, and Robert Shaw. The latter portrays a talented and brash Squadron Leader, said to be inspired by South African fighter ace Sailor Malan, commander of No. 74 Squadron RAF during the actual Battle of Britain.

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White Christmas: Captain Wallace on Christmas Eve 1944

Bing Crosby is joined by an exuberant Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954)

Bing Crosby is joined by an exuberant Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954)

Vitals

Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, U.S. Army captain and popular entertainer

European Theater, Christmas Eve 1944

Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head

Background

Merry Christmas Eve! The prologue of perennial holiday cinema classic White Christmas begins exactly 75 years ago today, Christmas Eve 1944, as the title card tells us…

Private First Class Phil Davis is proudly assisting Captain Bob Wallace, evidently a known entertainer on par with Al Jolson, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, or—um—Bing Crosby, as they host a “yuletide clambake” for the men of the fictitious 151st Division, providing the type of entertainment that Davis boasts would cost $6.60 or even $8.80 stateside. Continue reading

Steve McQueen’s Navy Uniforms in The Sand Pebbles

Steve McQueen as Jake Holman, Machinist's Mate, 1st Class, U.S. Navy, in The Sand Pebbles (1966)

Steve McQueen as Jake Holman, Machinist’s Mate, 1st Class, U.S. Navy, in The Sand Pebbles (1966)

Vitals

Steve McQueen as Jake Holman, maverick U.S. Navy Machinist’s Mate, 1st Class (MM1)

Yangtze River, China, Summer 1926 through Spring 1927

Film: The Sand Pebbles
Release Date: December 20, 1966
Director: Robert Wise
Costume Design: Wingate Jones, John Napolitano, Bobbie Read, and James W. Tyson

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

The Navy League of the United States organized the first Navy Day on October 27, 1922, to commemorate the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt who—before becoming the 26th President of the United States—had long championed the U.S. Navy and had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Set four years after the establishment of Navy Day, The Sand Pebbles begins in 1926 China, “a country of factions trying to unite to become a nation… through revolution…” according to the opening text. Continue reading

Gary Cooper’s Aviator Uniform in Wings (1927)

Gary Cooper as Cadet White in Wings (1927)

Gary Cooper as Cadet White in Wings (1927)

Vitals

Gary Cooper as Cadet White, U.S. Army Aviation Section, Signal Corps aviator

Camp Kelly (San Antonio, Texas), Spring 1917

Film: Wings
Release Date: August 12, 1927
Director: William A. Wellman
Costume Design: Travis Banton & Edith Head (uncredited)

Background

Ninety years ago today, Wings won the first Academy Award for Best Picture—more accurately, the award read “Academy Award for Outstanding Picture.” Though silent movies were still the norm at the time of Wings’ release in August 1927, The Jazz Singer introduced recorded sound to film upon its release two months later, and Wings remains the only true silent film (unless you include The Artist) to take home the Best Picture prize.

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Allied Uniforms of The Great Escape

Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, Nigel Stock, and Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape (1963)

Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, Nigel Stock, and Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape (1963)

Today marks the 75th anniversary of “the great escape”, the mass breakout of allied airmen from the Luftwaffe-operated Stalag Luft III in Sagan-Silesia—now Zagan—in Poland on March 24, 1944. Of the 76 men who escaped, only three made it to freedom and 50 of the group were murdered by the Nazis in retaliation.

Film: The Great Escape
Release Date: July 4, 1963
Director: John Sturges
Wardrobe Credit: Bert Henrikson

Paul Brickhill, one of the Allied officers who had worked on the various tunnels used for the escape, wrote the definitive account of prison camp life, the famous March 1944 breakout, and the subsequent fallout in The Great Escape, published in 1950.

Thirteen years later, a star-studded cast reenacted the incident in The Great Escape, a now-classic war movie that dramatized this real-life story of heroism, humor, and tragedy.

Today’s post—coinciding both with the 75th anniversary of the escape and the 89th birthday of the film’s star Steve McQueen—examines the uniforms of the Allied airmen, sorted by each major character’s surname. Continue reading