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Canadian DPM Para Smock Origins

August 7 2004 at 12:04 PM
Mark Campbell 


Response to Canadian DPM Jump Smock

Hi Fellows,

I have done considerable research into the subject of "Canadian DPM" over the years, and have written a number of fellow collectors concerning both the Canadian DPM Para-Smock and the DPM combat uniform. Below is a message that I sent to a friend a couple of years ago, which may shed some light on the subject of the Para Smock. The original text begins below:"

"My information regarding the Canadian “Experimental” Combat Uniform is actually derived from several sources. The first is an annex to the book “Eat Your Weakest Man”, written by Warrant-Officer (retired) Rui Amaral about his own time with the Airborne Regiment in Somalia. He has an entire annex devoted to development of the 1975 Pattern DPM Parachutist’s Smock, which fills a long-missing “niche” in the history of Canadian camouflage uniforms. This is the same Para Smock that has been flooding eBay for the past year as a result of existing stocks being sold as government surplus when CADPAT was adopted. In any case, the actual Officer charged with designing and producing the Canadian P1975 Para Smock wrote about it in the annex to Amaral’s book. He makes specific mention of the Canadian-manufactured DPM combat uniform while discussing development of the Para Smock, so here are the facts straight from “the horse’s mouth”.

In 1974, Lt Col G.R. Hirter was posted into the Canadian Airborne Regiment as the Deputy Commanding Officer. The Regiment had been “smockless” since its creation in 1968, despite efforts to have the Canadian Procurement System develop and issue an official Parachutist’s smock. The previous 1950’s-era OD Nylon smock had ceased production with the 1958 demise of the Airborne Regiment’s predecessor formation, the Mobile Striking Force (MSF). Stocks of the OD Smock had disappeared by the time the Airborne Regiment “stood up” in 1968, and efforts in the first 6 years of the Regiment’s existence to obtain a smock through official channels had proven fruitless.

The lack of a distinctive Para Smock for the Airborne Regiment had significant morale implications. The Commanding Officer of the Regiment (Col G. Lessard) therefore directed LCol Hirter to arrange production of a smock as a “private purchase” item in time for the unit’s Change of Command parade in the summer of 1975. He had less than year to make this happen, from design through to delivery. The Regiment would “foot the bill” for the initial procurement of 1000 smocks, with the costs recovered through their sale to unit members through the Regimental Kit Shop (along with the usual Airborne T-shirts, jump boots, PT gear, etc). The troops had unanimously agreed that they would each pay up to $50 for a smock. Based on that, LCol Hirter approached Peerless Garments of Winnipeg Manitoba - a major Canadian Army clothing contractor. This is where the story gets interesting, and directly connects to manufacture of the “Experimental” DPM Combat Uniform.

All Canadian Army field clothing at the time (1974) was olive green. As a result, there was no “mil-spec” heavy-weight disruptive camouflage pattern material available through government suppliers. Peerless Garments graciously agreed to do a “private purchase” run of Para smocks based on the pattern of the 1950’s OD Nylon smock that LCol Hirter provided as a sample. However, to create a disruptive pattern it would have to be printed on clear stock material, not an over-print of existing OD material. Just when things were looking bleak, one of the Peerless Garments Sales Supervisors mentioned that the company had just signed a new contract to produce a disruptive pattern combat shirt and pants for the Tanzanian Armed Forces. The contract was so new that it was not yet general knowledge among the Peerless Garments management team. Celanese Chemicals of Montreal Quebec, had been sub-contracted to produce the camouflage material that Peerless would use to produce the Tanzanian combat uniforms. The pattern that the Tanzanian Government had selected was the standard British DPM but in slightly different colour tones - the "Tan" base-colour was an "orange-brown" and the Green was a bright, "rich" tone.

The Airborne Regiment approved the "Tanzanian DPM” pattern for the new smocks, and LCol Hirter arranged for Celanese Chemicals to produce additional material (printed on a heavier “windproof” material) at the end of the Tanzanian contract. Peerless Garments agreed to produce the smocks as a “favour” to the Airborne Regiment for $40 per smock, and the order was placed. Word soon got out about the Airborne Regiment’s unofficial smock contract, creating a huge uproar (and considerable embarrassment) within the Canadian Army Clothing Procurement office. The Chief of Defence Staff heard that the Airborne Regiment’s Soldiers were prepared to pay for their smocks out of their own pockets, and immediately directed the Clothing Procurement office to assume responsibility for the contract using public funds. In a matter of days, an “end-run” by the Regiment through the Commander of the Canadian Forces had overcome 6 years of stone-walling by low-level clothing bureaucrats. The Peerless Garments order was quickly expanded, and the original pattern cobbled together by LCol Hirter was adopted unchanged as the official Canadian Forces “Smock, Parachutist, Disruptive Pattern”. One final note worthy of mention is the fact that the Airborne Regiment soon discovered Peerless Garments (a family-run business in 1975) had given them a tremendous deal on their initial private-purchase arrangement. The company would have barely broken even, and probably would have lost money on the order. However when the Canadian Government officially took over the contract, Peerless Garments was paid a higher price per smock to ensure a reasonable profit. Better yet, the order was increased to 1200 smocks plus a scheduled follow-on maintenance procurement of hundreds more each year. As a result of their cooperation and generosity, Peerless received continual Canadian Army Clothing contracts, many of which continue to this day. One final point about the Canadian DPM Para Smock – you will note that on the recent-production smocks, the standard British DPM colours have been reversed. The Tan base-colour and the Green have been swapped to produce a pattern which is much more brown overall. Check it out. I cannot say when this occurred, nor can I say when Para smocks began to be produced with the light Tan base-colour and a lighter green, as opposed to the darker "Orange-Brown" base-colour and "Rich Green" of the original Tanzanian pattern. I have seen examples of recent-production smocks in both colour schemes. OK – enough about the Canadian Para Smock – just a bit of verified historical background for those who happen to own one.

Shifting my focus towards the “Experimental” Canadian DPM combat uniform, a number of things become clear. First and foremost is the fact that this particular uniform was manufactured by Peerless Garments (DPM material by Celanese Chemicals) specifically for the Tanzanian Army contract. It was not merely an “Experimental” uniform as many folks mistakenly believe. In addition to LCol Hirter’s verification of this fact, I have personally seen close-up photos of the Tanzanian Army on parade wearing the exact same uniform. This leads me to the inescapable conclusion that they are the same uniform. A large number of these very distinctive uniforms were sold in surplus stores across Canada during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. My educated guess is that the surplus “experimental” DPM uniforms were nothing more than excess production from Peerless Garments' Tanzanian contract, subsequently sold off by the company. I have personally owned and or examined at least 10 of these uniforms over the years, and can verify that they all contained the same white collar-tag with black felt-pen size marking. None contained the standard DND size and manufacturer’s tag (white cloth with black printing) that is stitched inside the lower right front of a Canadian Combat Shirt, nor the large “Instructions” tag stitched inside the lower right back. Same with the pants – they had a small white tag with a hand-drawn size number, as opposed to the DND size and manufacturer’s tag normally stitched inside the waistband. The configuration, stitching, features, and unique 50/50 NYCO material of the Tanzanian DPM uniform was identical in every regard to the standard Canadian olive green combat uniform. Indeed, the only discernable differences between the Tanzanian and standard-issue Canadian combat uniforms are the tags and the colouration. This makes eminent sense, since the Tanzanian uniform was manufactured to standard specifications by the primary Canadian Army combat uniform contractor. To summarize, the Tanzanian contract uniforms, those once available in Canadian surplus stores, and the example pictured on my personal web-site, are undoubtedly all one and the same."

The original text ends here. I have a similar article detailing my personal research into the bagding of the Pattern 75 Canadian DPM Para Smock over the course of its existence if anyone here is interested.

Likewise, if you are interested in seeing the clothing in question then I will direct you to the "North American" album of my personal web-site. You can view the 2 main colour variants of the DPM Para Smock, along with their typical period badging. Here is the link: http://www.geocities.com/canuck_infantry/North_America.html

Enjoy!

Mark



 
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