During WWII the German Army maintained several interesting ideas concerning Light Infantry and Mountain Troops that were a natural evolution of the WWI ‘storm’ or shock troop tactic, which itself in many ways an outgrowth of the small unit thinking, many of which were rooted in European hunting traditions- one of which being the hooded archer’s shirt. The kampfjägers (German for ‘fast movers’) were one such unit that worked to effectively hunt communist guerrillas at the small unit level in the Balkans. Well documented in Elford’s The Devil’s Guard, the Jäger or Hunter approach to Light Infantry rendered the best aspects of Insurgents themselves- surprise, to the role of the Infantrymen on the ground. Such a paradigm benefits partisans far more than the contemporary bulky, noisy hybrid Light/Mechanized Infantryman of today. The success of such a decentralized model is one that seems to be re-recognized and thus forgotten once no longer needed, if the lessons and small unit developments of pre- and the post- WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan are closely examined. Disappearing once more are the Long Range Surveillance Units in the drawdown just as their forefathers of the Long Range Patrol (Corps level LRP and Division level LRRP) did post-Vietnam. Such units which focus on individual skill and small unit cohesion are less-than-palatable to big Army thinking which relies on macro-level maneuver and likes to work within a high-tech panopticon. It’s understandable if the focus is well supported Combined Arms…but we haven’t been in much of a Combined Arms fight in a while (and I seriously question the over-reliance on high-tech stuff, especially considering the negating qualities of EMP…but that’s another topic), and guerrillas never will be (except on the receiving end). Thus, the Hunter approach is far and away more favorable to unsupported Infantry, be it nation-state or Partisan.
Going back to the German model, the specialized hooded field uniform was a strong example of the common-sense approach to warfare. One of the characteristics of their combat uniforms was a hooded shirt- both for wind protection and for concealment. Following the aforementioned traditional European hunters outfits, the combat shirts were worn with the hood up to break up the outline of the head and shoulders in an effort to obscure the human silhouette.
The Soviet Army continued this tradition with their field uniforms for the VDV (Airborne) and Spetsnaz which by doctrine would be expected to work unsupported for varying periods of time, both for an LGOP approach inherent to Airborne Infantry tradition and for stay-behind sabotage operations. As an interesting aside, sabotage and terrorizing an enemy’s rear were the primary focus of the Spetsnaz forerunners, with the bulk of the early training being centered around mine laying and partisan Sapper operations. These early Special Troops units were awarded the title Guards, which designated this role. Nonetheless, the German Jäger approach and lessons were not lost on the Soviet Special Infantry. And no surprise, their field uniforms included a hood…as it often still does.
We know of these shirts most commonly as anoraks, which is traditional in northern climates as an outer shell worn over several other insulating layers. For that reason, they’ve rarely garnered much attention in the warmer climate of the southern US- nonetheless, they make an excellent addition to a guerrilla’s outfit as a standalone item. There’s one reason amid all this history that this rudimentary uniform design has remained- the hood works really, really well at breaking up the head and shoulders outline in the woods. In short, the human eye can quickly pick out head and shoulders silhouettes, thus any masking of the natural outline does very well to obscure the wearer. Until the present, the only way to get one of these was to either make it yourself, pick up some Soviet surplus tops or repro German field shirts, both of which can be dicey at best, or wear the heavy nylon (like the old thick winter BDU) US surplus anorak- provided you can find them.
0241 Tactical recognized this neat piece of kit and are custom making them in a bunch of patterns. I found out about these by way of my buddy Hawkeye over at UW Gear who highly recommended them to me. After playing with it for a while in the woods I can say this is nearly the ideal patrol shirt- it’s light, lighter than the ACU top (a MUST with the NC summer coming on), generous shoulder pockets, a very large chest pocket (which is really handy while wearing a light chest rig) and an oversized hood that makes very sure the head and shoulders outline is broken up.
Compared to my old Woodland anorak, the pullover presents a few unique advantages. First, it has the ability to breathe with mesh panels sewn in under the armpits. Anyone who’s built and worn a ghillie made from old BDU or DCU tops knows that having a good run of mesh underneath the arms is a must to keep cool. In addition, allowing your body to breathe during long movements is critical to field hygiene (heat rash, especially once infected under your armpits will make your life an absolute living hell- trust me, I know). The cut is extremely generous, bordering on too big if you order in your normal t-shirt size. That’s a good thing- in the summer it’s loose and cool, in the winter easy to layer under. My old Woodland shirt is huge as well, but not cut universally as large as this top. The hood is also larger, being able to obscure the head outline but also creates shadow on the face.
The only thing I would like to offer as an improvement is adding a drawstring in the middle to keep the top close to the body in the midsection, but it’s a feature I could live without. While it’s nice to keep the fabric close to the body under your kit, it’s not exactly critical.
Moving onto the elephant in the room…how about a camo test? Woodland is pretty age-old stuff, often criticized for its large splotches and inclusion of black which easily creates an outline. While that’s scientifically true, many of us hold an affinity for Woodland camo…wearing it in lieu of ACUs in the field or bs-ing around Area J on an informal road march made you feel like a rebel (those of you who know….you know exactly what I’m talking about…) but these days a huge camo market created by the God-awful ACU has rendered some really good patterns. ATACS-FG is one of them…it kinda reminds me of the camo jackets the rebels wore on Return of the Jedi. Either way, I’m not much of a pattern guru (when I play in the woods I wear multicam and/or Woodland…I was issued it and have lots of both) so this ATACS stuff is really new ground to me.
But as you can see from the close shot, the small splotches, although much lighter in tone, don’t have as much of a sharp contrast of lines. Up close it may do well to be just a tad bit darker, but that’s what a trip to Hobby Lobby is for- pick up some fabric dye and go to town. The light doesn’t quite do the pattern justice up close though…it’s a tad bit darker than it appears in the photo.
From an intermediate distance the real differences between Woodland and ATACS becomes a little more clear. ATACS really picks up its environment and I think it does a good job as a pattern.
The overly dark Woodland pattern really begins to become apparent here- as does the light-colored reverse fabric with the sleeves rolled up (A habit I have…I roll sleeves up on everything, I hate cuffs around my hands while I’m anywhere, but especially in the field) which is another advantage to 0241’s design.
From afar, with multiple layers of shadow in between the tops and the camera, ATACS really shows its superiority. Woodland is a bit overly dark in the woods, with the silhouette easily picked out compared to the 0241 top next to it. ATACS picks up shadow well, but not overly dark and ‘melts’ into the background, even with the contrast of the brown dirt of the forest floor.
The old Woodland pattern isn’t bad, but it’s definitely showing its shortcomings compared to the newer pattern. I’ve quickly become a fan of this newer pattern…and it seems to look pretty good with that Multicam AK rig I have from Hawkeye.
Overall, the build quality and design is top notch- this is an American made piece of kit that exudes quality. If your local patrolling philosophy is at all rural, taking into account the substantial history of this design and theory of use should definitely place it on your to-get list. At $85, it’s not cheap, but it is a big step beyond the basic military surplus uniform items that militia and Survivalist-types like to wear while also not looking like a tactical-toolbag. True to its European origin, it’s simple, functional and effective. I really wish I had had this top on my last trip to Afghanistan, but fortunately I have it now, with plans on picking up a couple more.