During the early stages of the Vietnam War the US Army did not have in its inventory any standard issue camouflage uniforms for its troops serving in Vietnam, what’s more an Army uniform investigation board convened in 1965 decided that camouflage wasn’t necessary for ground troops. Stating that friendly troop recognition was far more an over riding factor than camouflaging against enemy observations.
However this is not to say that the US Army didn’t have any camouflage at all. In fact the US Army has been testing and developing effective camouflage patterns for its combat troops since the 1940’s.
During WW2 the US Marines famously wore reversible dapple camouflage garments during its pacific campaign against the Japanese. The US Army mostly engaged with the European theatre also tried the new camouflage pattern, but because German forces notably the SS wore similar camouflage as standard, the Army quickly abandoned the idea because of the inherent danger of miss-identifying friendly troops on the battlefield.
The ERDL pattern as we know it, was first developed in 1948 by the department of US Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratory, [hence the name 'ERDL'].
The basic ERDL pattern comprised of four basic colours, Yellow Green army shade 354, Dark Green army shade 355, Brown army shade 356 and Black army shade 357. Using a similar Yellow Green dye the selected cloth was vat dyed or screen printed to provide the background colour to which the four colours would be overprinted using rollers or using a screen-printing process. However dye technology in the early fifties precluded any general field uses because of the lack of dye stability and effectiveness when viewed using infrared light enhancing surveillance equipment. By 1962 these issues had been largely over come and field trials had begun at Fort Benning with very successful results when worn at ranges of 25-350 metres. The USARV whilst recommending the retention of olive green uniforms, requested 300 camouflaged uniform sets to under go further evaluation in Vietnam and Natick laboratories promptly airmailed 300 sets by late December 1965.
Throughout 1966 field trials were conducted in Vietnam with Natick Laboratories continuing research on four camouflage types being considered for Vietnam. After exhaustive testing the Army’s 1948 ERDL pattern was finally chosen and mass production began early 1967. Using a light cotton poplin material as the base, ERDL was produced in two distinctive variations, Brown dominant for use in the Highlands of Vietnam and green (lime) dominant for the lowland jungle areas, both variations were produced with full infrared control treatments, effectively combating the NVA snipers growing deployment of night vision and thermal imaging equipment.
At first supplies to Vietnam were understandably slow and in short supply so only select units such as pathfinder and other reconnaissance units were given authorization to procure and wear the new camouflaged tropical combat uniform. It was also during 1968 that a change to Rip-Stop material in the making of the garments came about for all tropical combat uniforms whether camouflaged or plain olive green to try and increase the materials ability to resist tears and rips in the dense jungle undergrowth. By 1969 enough ERDL tropical combat uniforms were available to outfit front line infantry units and by the 1970’s all troops including USMC and USAF personnel would be issued with ERDL tropical combat uniforms as standard practice.
These brown and lime green variants of ERDL camouflage by the mid 1970’s combined into a transitional pattern and eventually became what is now called today ‘Woodland’ pattern used by the US Army from the late 1970’s right into the nineties.
Article by SFC Simon Garner.