January 25, 2021
By Sean McCarthy
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I think we can all agree that having 2020 in the rearview mirror is something to be happy about. Despite the past year, I can't say the year was completely bad though, we here at RIAC certainly can't either. Our December Premier Auction broke a world record—which is always an amazing thing to see, especially when it happens twice in one year!
However, we are never truly settled here at RIAC and have an amazing year scheduled for 2021. With the first S&C Gun Auction of 2021 taking place February 3-6, the first Premier Auction of the year on May 14-16, and plenty of Arms & Accessories Day Auctions featured on our live bidding site, RIAC Live, this exciting year certainly has enough to keep everyone busy. Explore the auctions lined up for this year and start making your arrangements to come visit!
Enough about us... Until this point, I've mostly written about early examples of camouflage designed by Germany and used during their campaigns in World War II, but today we are going to bring it back home to the United States: the M1942 Reversible Spot Camo Pattern, more commonly known as Frog Skin.
Before American entry into World War II, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) undoubtedly saw the writing on the wall. As the decades after World War I came to a close, a new threat dawned with the rise of Nazi Germany, growing Japanese adventurism, and massive economic upheaval globally. Increased tensions worldwide hurried the development of new military technologies and the USACE took this opportunity to begin research and development on a camouflage pattern to be used by U.S. troops in the event of military action.
By the end of the 1930's, our then nemesis—Germany—had been fielding camouflage patterns for the better part of the decade, to great battlefield effect. As mentioned in the article on the Blurred Edge pattern, Germany enlisted the knowledge of not just scientists, but experts on color and shading as well. Their tapping of art expert Johann Georg Otto Schick led to the development of several patterns that received accolades when used.
Not to be outdone, the United States requested assistance of horticulturist Norvell Gillespie in designing America's new pattern. Gillespie used his aesthetic expertise (honed during his time spent as the gardening editor for "Better Homes and Gardens") to develop a pattern that used colors and shades found in the natural world. The result was a pattern resembling the skin of a frog, hence its nickname.
The similarities between the first American pattern and Germany's camouflages does not end there; when implemented, Frog Skin was printed on reversible fabric displaying two different color pallets on either side. One side displayed a 5-color pattern consisting of green and brown shades, the other displaying a 3-color pattern consisting of shade of brown. As with German camouflage, this proved useful to the brass in charge of supply lines: troops only needed one Herringbone Twill (HBT) uniform for any potential conditions.
The design borrowed heavily from 20th century painter Abbott Thayer's theories on "concealing coloration." At the time, the general consensus was the color is more critical to the success of camouflaging an animal or object than the design of any shapes used. Thayer, in what was considered to be a fringe theory at the time, believed better breakup of an outline can be achieved through the use of "counter shading," or tricking the viewer's eye by layering dark and light colors.
The patterns on the snake's scales help conceal it amongst dead leaves, even if the coloring isn't 100% spot on. It perfectly embodies his theories regarding countershading. Thayer, described as "fanatical" in his insistence of his theory, saw many detractors, including Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt believed Thayer's theory was "literally nonsensical." Unfortunately for Teddy, U.S. troops would be wearing a pattern that was a textbook example of Thayer's theory.
December 7th, 1941, made front page news in America when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The time had come for the U.S. to enter the fray of World War II. In 1942, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of South Pacific Forces, put an order to the government for 150,000 camouflage uniforms for use in the dense jungles of the South Pacific Theater. Frog Skin, which had existed for 2 years at this point, would be worn by Marine Raiders during the Solomon Islands campaign in 1942.
Initial rollout saw Frog Skin printed on one piece jumpsuits which were constructed without a flap on the rear, much to the dismay of troops suffering from a variety of jungle-born gastrointestinal maladies. This, mixed with other negative reviews, led to the release of a standard two piece fatigue printed in Frog Skin. Troops liked the reversible nature of the Frog Skin garments, considering that fighting could change from sand (like that of Iwo Jima) and thick jungle (like that at Guadalcanal) quickly.
While Frog Skin became synonymous with Marine Corps Raider activities in the Pacific, it also saw use in Europe later on, albeit to much less fanfare. Some infantry and armored infantry units were equipped with Frog Skin uniforms during the invasion of Normandy.
While a smart idea in theory, the similarities between Frog Skin and any number of Waffen SS patterns led to confusion in American ranks, and reportedly led to blue-on-blue fire incidents. The use of Frog Skin in the European theatre soon was halted and flat green uniforms became the standard.
Frog Skin remained in the public consciousness after World War II, and the pattern became popular with American hunters. Released in many ways by many companies, often under the moniker "Duck Hunter."
“Duck Hunter” was so popular that military advisors sent into Vietnam often wore their own, privately bought versions of the camouflage before the U.S. military had even produced and standardized enough patterns suitable for jungle combat to supply to their own troops.
Unlike the early advisors in Vietnam, other groups funded by the United States government were issued Frog Skin camouflage directly. For example, Brigade 2506, the Cuban exiles utilized by the CIA in the 1960s, were issued Frog Skin uniforms during the Bay of Pigs operation. Presumably, these uniforms were leftovers from World War II that had been collecting dust in military warehouses.
Much like other military surplus items of the 20th century, these designs are now very popular among civilians. Frog Skin is a camo pattern often printed on clothing items that will more likely see the side of a lake during hunting season than a battlefield.
With that said, you too can own an original piece of Frog Skin camouflage! Our upcoming Sporting and Collector Auction has a Marine Frog Skin jumpsuit, with a sniper veil just waiting for your bids. This is not a commonly seen piece of kit, and is definitely something a serious collector would want to get their hands on. It’s me, I’m that collector.
That about wraps it up for this edition of Camouflage 101. Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read about the oft-forgotten militaria niche: camouflage. Keep your eyes on the Rock Island Auction Company website to stay in the know about our upcoming auctions.
Until next time.
Note: As always, if there are any questions regarding consignment, registration, or future auctions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company. The first Sporting & Collector Auction of 2021 is February 3-6 with the Preview Hall opening for exhibition on the 2nd. All COVID-19 precautions and CDC guidelines will be adhered to. We look forward to seeing you!
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