In the Summer of 2019, I traveled to France for a 10-day immersion reenactment, representing F Company, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division for the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Mortain.
After the breakout from the bocage country in July 1944, American troops began racing south and east. In a desperate gamble to divide and destroy the growing foothold, Germany launched a massive counterattack directed at the high ground surrounding the small town of Mortain. The 30th Infantry Division took the brunt of this attack and heroically held their ground, allowing American reinforcements to begin surrounding the German attack force and leading to the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, making the Allies’ liberation of France all but certain. I’ve described my experiences a little in Smiley’s War, but I’d like to talk about what I wore and carried on the trip here.
As you can see below, my basic combat gear was an M41 Field Jacket, a set of wools, an undershirt, leggings, Service Shoes, M1 Helmet, a bandoleer, and a gas mask bag containing socks, toiletries, food, and ammo. In our unit‘s vehicles, I typically had a spare set of clothes (e.g. HBTs, garrison cap), extra food (we were ordered to bring 2/3 of the food for the trip, I brought half a duffle bag of reproduction K rations.
I’ll be honest, I packed too much heading over. Soldiers in World War II traveled light for good reason. Marching around the French countryside while carrying everything I needed to survive on my back, I fantasized about ditching my mess kit, some of my toiletries, and some of the souvenirs I picked up on the way.
There’s a good reason that a lot of soldiers ditched their haversacks. In the above picture, I was wearing my haversack as a backpack (by not attaching it to my web gear) to make it easier to ditch if we came into contact with enemy forces. It would have been a lot easier to carry a spare bag of ammo/weapon accessories and a hobo roll with 3-4 blankets, a single shelter half, a change of clothes, and 24 hours of rations. As it was, I was carrying two spare bags, a hobo roll, and the haversack (over 80 pounds of gear).
As the trip went on, I began leaving my haversack behind, attached my shovel to my belt, attached my raincoat to my cartridge belt, and tried to carry only a single spare bag for toiletries and ammo. Reenacting the United States, I typically hated humping the shovel in battle re-enactments, but in France, I quickly learned that it was an essential. Not only for improving my position, but for covering up any traces of my occasional toilet breaks as well.
Though it’s not always feasible, I also realized the importance of carrying a spare change of clothes (and 3+ pairs of socks). During the day, I dealt with rain, sweat, and wet ground. As the sun set, this moisture exasperated the chilly air and made sleeping almost impossible without a change of at least my socks and undershirt.
I’ll be writing up my experiences a bit more over the next few months, but for now, here’s a few of my favorite pictures from the trip.