The US Army are responsible for producing the infamous M-1948 (M48) and M-1951 (M51) fishtail parka’s. The no expense spared parkas were made using the finest materials in order to combat the severe Korean winters. It is no wonder that the British Mod movement adopted these war coats to protect their clothing when riding out.
Parkas were the most appropriate combat clothing in Korea’s frigid winters. Soldiers wore parkas as windproof outer shells when cold weather became too severe for field jacket and liner combinations. Several World War II era parka models were used, but their closed-front designs restricted wear and convenience. The Parka, Field, Cotton, Olive Drab, was long skirted and had a large front pouch pocket with two side openings. This cotton field parka was worn over the Parka, Field, Pile. The pile field parka was a bulky, hair-lined garment that was not windproof and rarely worn by itself as an outer coat. The Parka, Ski, Reversible, Fur Trimmed, was an olive drab outer shell with an inner layer of white for snow camouflage.
After World War II, the Army developed a combat ensemble that provided the flexibility of a coat and better layering under extremely cold conditions. The Parka-Shell, Cotton, Olive Drab, M1948, and Parka-Liner, Pile, M1948, were adopted in 1949 and produced under specification that was approved on 25 July 1950. The parka-shell was made of wind-resistant cotton sateen in Olive Drab shade 7 and featured a snap-and-slide fastener closure, slit front pockets, and a patch pocket on the upper left sleeve for pencils and cigarettes. The hooded parka liner was composed of wool-pile cloth in Olive Drab shade 30A.
The Parka-Shell, M1951 and its companion Parka-Liner, M1951 were adopted 27 June 1951. The parka-shell’s integral cloth hood could attach over the separate fur-trimmed M1951 parka hood or under the helmet. The parka-shell was made of a water-repellent cotton-nylon blend in Olive Green shade 107. The slide-fastening opening, pocket arrangements, and draw-cord design incorporated improved features. The parka-liner, made of 16-ounce mohair frieze, had no hood. The combination was scheduled for every soldier in Troop Categories A, B and C during six months of annual utilization in Korea, but its sporadic appearance very late in the war prevented this.
The M1948 and M1951 parka-shells and parka-liners were not normally interchangeable. There was some latitude, however, because the next larger or the next smaller liner could be fitted with other parka-shell models. Many parka combinations were used, as demonstrated by the fact that the Eighth Army distributed more than 331,000 for its final 1952-53 winter campaign. As of July 1953, available Eighth Army inventory still totalled less than a quarter of the 367,401 M1951 parka-shells and 360,912 M1951 parka-liners required for complete winter distribution. Fishtail Parka - Clothing Requirements and Supply
U.S. Army clothing and individual military equipment were used to protect and sustain soldiers in the performance of their military duties. This task was complicated by the wide range of climatic, combat, and geographic extremes encountered in Korea. Clothing difficulties were further magnified by battlefield fluctuations and inadequate supply stocks, especially in the first 12 months of the conflict.
Korea is rugged and mountainous, and movement across its ranges and narrow river valleys caused hard wear on clothing and load-bearing equipment. The peninsula’s oceanic extension from 34 to 43 degrees north latitude places it within the cold-wet clothing environment. Drastic temperature changes are caused by seasonal reversals in prevailing winds, and the climate is dominated by frigid but relatively dry winters and hot, moist summers.
The northern Asian-continental winter climate of Korea is intensified by arctic winds driven across Siberia. These winds could strip heat from the body despite multiple layers of cold-climate clothing. Battle situations often forced troops to move or remain stationary (sometimes even pinned down) while fully exposed to subzero weather, causing much frostbite and many other cold-related injuries.
Army clothing also had to meet the demands of the hot summers. At this time, there is either heavy rainfall or oppressive heat accompanied by high humidity. The monsoon spring and autumn transitional periods are marked by highly variable winds and storms. During the spring, dust tempests arrive from the desserts of Mongolia and northern China. From summer through early autumn, an average of five typhoons lash the peninsula with torrential rains.
The sudden communist invasion and the later Chinese intervention caught the United States off guard militarily. The closest depots to Korea were in Japan, but material levels were very limited and winter field garments were scarce worldwide. The Army did not stock sizable amounts of special clothing for extreme cold because military preparations and procurement planning were based primarily on temperate zone operations. The Korean crisis created severe difficulties in textile acquisition and production, resulting in higher costs and delayed deliveries.
Wool shortages quickly developed, and 18 ounce serge jumped from a low of $3.74 a yard in May 1950 to a high of $8.67 by February 1951. Cotton supply problems were partially alleviated by authorizing variations in weave or finish, and by substituting other fabrics for uniform twill, oxford, and sateen. Newer synthetic fibres, such as lightweight rayon twill used in lining caps, coats, and jackets, were also scarce. The lack of rayon acetate delayed contracts for parkas and newer field jackets, while nylon shortages curtailed production of raincoats, ponchos, and parkas.