Keeping Hands Warm Since 1949

The other day I stepped outside and instinctively reached in my coat pocket for that familiar feel of my gloves ….

And came up missing one!  Oh, the fear of driving for an hour and a half into D.C. in sub-freezing weather!

Not to fear, my Boy Scout and military training came through, as I always carry a backup.  Actually a civilian “dressy” pair that I wear on the client sites.  But those are for show and not for keeping warm.

I really wanted my old stalwart pair of Army issue gloves.  Officially M1949 Gloves, shell, cattlehide …

With inserts, wool, cold weather.

I’d carried that pair of gloves around since way back in the Army days – probably 15 years if not more. (And I bet many readers out there also have a pair of these laying about.)  Countless scratches in the leather.  I’d re-attached the backstrap on the right side twice.  The left index finger had electric tape covering up a hole acquired when meeting concertina wire someplace in Afghanistan!  I’m telling you these were veteran gloves!  And they will be missed.

So I started searching for replacements that evening.  Not hard to find.  Every surplus store in the world has those gloves.  So within a few minutes I had replacements on the way.

But that got me thinking about the “history” of the gloves.  No not mine, but the type overall.  Never really thought of it.  The tag on my surviving glove has the nomenclature “M-1949”.  No A1 after it.  That means the Army got it right the first time, and didn’t mess around with further versions.

The story of the glove goes back to World War II.  In 1944 the Army issued “Recon Gloves” to front line troops.  The basic form followed the military outerwear custom of the time – a black leather glove shell with canvas backstrap, cinched through a pressed steel buckle.  The soldier had the option of using a wool glove insert.  The insert protected the wearer against the rubs of the leather and provided an extra layer in cold weather.  A seen in the US Quartermaster photo below, these gloves resembled the later M1949, except for the out-turned seams.

I can imagine those seams were a point of concern, if not many failures.  Sort of makes sense when not arming the entire free world and production could proceed at a more measured pace, the Army would opt for internal seams.

I don’t know the origin of the designation “D-3A” which shows up on documentation dating back to the Korean War.  But there are other similar designation for other elements of the cold weather system (pilot’s gloves are B-3A, go figure).

The Army’s 1968 version of FM-31-70 – Basic Cold Weather Manual – described the use of the gloves in stoic fashion:

Standard black leather gloves are worn in mild weather or when work must be done that requires more freedom of finger movement than can be acquired with heavier handwear.  In colder weather the same gloves are worn with wool inserts.  Gloves may be worn with either the cold-wet or cold-dry uniforms when the weather is not cold enough to require the use of mittens.

And that’s how tens of thousands of soldiers wore them. The basic design stood up well over time apparently, with no major revision made despite changes many other elements of the uniform.

Personally I found them comfortable and practical.  (What do you expect me to say after wearing the same pair for 15 plus years?)  There was enough protection to keep hands and fingers warm in all but the absolute coldest of weather.  Yet not so much padding as to interfere with weapons handling.  Wool inserts, even when wet, kept hands warm.  Many times I wore them wet and noticed within an hour or so body heat had dried them out.

Early in my career I received an “experimental issue” of the then new GORTEX based extreme cold weather gear.  I speak highly of that parka (which I still own, thank you!) and of some other components.  But the gloves were too bulky.  They made good mini-pillows, but were too thick for tactical use.  As a vehicle crewman, I received the wonderful, form-fitting NOMEX gloves.  While fireproof, I found them little good against the Korean winters.  During my time in 2ID, it seemed our standard “winter” field outfit was GORTEX over CVC suit and the black leather gloves over the NOMEX.

Towards the end of my time, the Army finally started replacing the M1949 with a GORTEX shell matched to a poly-pro insert.  I gave my set of those fancy new gloves back to CIF when I left the Army, and refused issue of another set when going to Afghanistan as a contractor.  Probably more an issue of personal taste, but all I wanted was my good old leather M1949s!

– Craig.

7 thoughts on “Keeping Hands Warm Since 1949”

  1. I never really paid attention to the gloves from our foul-weather gear issue in the Navy … probably the same type, though. I don’t recall ever getting the wool inserts, though.

    Might have to hunt up a pair for cold-weather use. How are they for high-temp applications? I’ve got normal operating temps of ~650 F to deal with, occasionally surging to ~1500 F.

    1. The Navy had a leather outer shell with a flimsy lining that was attached to the outer. Having had to Army style stuff before the Navy, I missed the M1949 thingie. Far, far better, just not “dressy” enough for the prissy Navy.

  2. Every time I open a box, duffel bag or trunk, another pair of those green inserts falls out. I don’t know how many of them, and their follow-on brown inserts, I’ve acquired over the years.

  3. My father was a long-time military gent, serving with the Seabees in WWII, the National Guard during the Korean War, and then later many years as a reservist. He died fifteen years ago and I’m still hanging onto his last issued pair of m1949’s. I’ve worn them for 20 years, and they are getting a bit long in the tooth. I have re-blacked them, and they need it again. The rips are getting ahead of me, I think I may retire them soon in favor of a new pair, but I’m loathe to part with them. I may have to give them a little viking funeral ceremony this spring and say goodbye again to my father.
    I’m glad you got your original back.

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