Army Quartermaster Museum - Fort Lee, Virginia


Shoes and the Army
Robert P. Patterson*
(*Excerpts from a statement issued June 4, 1945)

Under Secretary of War
The Quartermaster Review
July-August 1945 

Warfare is rough on shoes. Army shoes must stand up under hard marching, mud, snow, and the severities of the weather.  Warfare requires a lot of shoes, and it requires stout shoes.

Recognizing this, the Army holds its requirements to the minimum. It has no stockpile of shoes, and its working reserves today are the lowest in many months'. Conservation is stressed. Soldiers are taught how to prolong the life of shoes. Mobile repair shops move up behind the fighting fronts.  Facilities for completely rebuilding shoes have been set up both in this country and overseas.  This program of conservation is unmatched by any organization-private or public-anywhere in the world. 

The Army Requirements
As the Army grew to its present strength of 8,300,000 men, the requirements for shoe leather grew, too. As more men went overseas, living and fighting under the harsh conditions of combat areas, Army requirements rose again. As we began redeployment for the one-front war, more than 5,000,000 men were overseas.

But supplying these men is not the only military responsibility. Since November 1944, the Army has provided the Navy 100,000 pairs of Army-style shoes a month for Naval forces. The Army also has been outfitting French soldiers fighting alongside our own troops in Germany. Filipino soldiers aiding in cleaning the Japs out of the Philippines also are supplied Army shoes.

Last year 5 per cent of the Army's issue of shoes went to meet military responsibilities other than those of our own troops. This year the figure will rise to about 10 per cent.

The Army does not supply new shoes to German or Japanese prisoners of war or to Italian service units (former prisoners). Prisoners receive shoes that are too worn for our own soldiers. Italian service units receive rebuilt shoes. 

Measuring the Requirements
The calculation of the shoe requirements for an army of seven to eight millions stationed throughout the world under widely varying conditions of service and climate is a highly complex task.  Shoes of the right types and the right sizes must be available to soldiers wherever they may be situated and whenever the need arises. Yet, at the same time, stocks must be kept as low as possible.

There are two principal types of Army shoes: The standard GI service shoe, worn universally in training camps in this country and also issued overseas; and the combat boot, made with a higher top, and issued only for overseas use.  The higher top replaces the legging.  Together, these models account for almost 80 per cent of all Army shoes.

There are other models, too. Altogether the Army has thirty different types of footwear to meet varying requirements.  More than twenty types require leather in substantial quantities. The reason for the many types is obvious. A soldier stalking a Jap in a tropical jungle would be a sorry spectacle if shod in the same footwear he would have worn in the snow and cold of the Aleutians. Other models range from paratroopers boots to hip boots, and from shoe pacs to women’s shoes for Army nurses at base hospitals.

In general, the soldier receives an initial issue of two pairs of shoes. Each pair is resoled twice, as a rule, before it is replaced with a new or a rebuilt pair.

The rate at which shoes have to be replaced with new or rebuilt shoes varies widely under diverse climatic conditions. In the United States, for example, an enlisted man wears out, on the average, two pairs of shoes a year.  In the tropics of the Southwest Pacific, however, two pairs of shoes last, on the average, only five months.

The replacement rate is not constant.  It varies with the terrain, the weather and the type of warfare, and many other factors.  It must be estimated before troops even land on new territory. It must be revised constantly to reflect actual requirements. A year ago in the European Theatre of Operations each soldier required, on the average, two new pairs a year. By the spring of 1945, this requirement had doubled.

The requirements for various types of shoes change with the character of military operations.  As the main operations of the Pacific move northward toward the Japanese home islands, our men are working out of the jungles and into a more temperate climate. In this shift, the combat boot will replace the jungle boot. Since the upper of the jungle boot is of nylon and the upper of the combat boot is of leather, the shift increases Army use of leather.

The distribution system for supplying soldiers at fighting fronts is like a pipeline.  It must be kept filled if supplies fed in at one end are to be delivered steadily and on schedule at the other.  To keep the pipeline filled, shoes must be bought well in advance of the day that GI Joe, just back from the front, walks into a supply installation and draws a pair of new combat boots to replace the torn, wet, shapeless pair he has had on for days, maybe even weeks.

Keeping this pipeline filled is a definite factor in setting monthly requirements. And it must be kept filled with enough widely varying sizes of shoe- from size 3 to size 15 ˝; from quadruple A to sextuple E width-so that every man will have the correct fit. An elaborate schedule has been worked out making it possible to tell at once the quantities of each different size of shoe that must be included in any order. This schedule makes certain that the Army will have the right number of each length and width, so that a Quartermaster supply point will not find itself all out of the most common size-9D-and at the same time loaded up with odd sizes like 7AAA or 13B.

Working stocks must include some cushion against unexpected needs and inevitable peak demands.

Conservation of Leather by the Army
The Army 's conservation program as it applies to leather footwear divides into two major fields: Conservation through the development of better types of footwear and substitute materials, and conservation through maintenance, repair, and rebuilding operations.

To the fullest extent possible, the Army has developed substitutes for leather to help ease the shortage. Some of these have proved as good as leather, and some are better.  An example is the sole made of reclaimed rubber and used on service shoes and combat boots. This substitute wears far longer than leather. It is saving 30,000,000 pounds of sole leather a year.

The substitution of a canvas-lined cuff for the double leather cuff that was on the original, experimental combat boot is another conservation measure.

Shoe repair facilities were included among the twenty-three original repair shops (now grown to more than 400 shops) established by the Quartermaster Corps and staffed by civilian personnel in October 1941 in the posts, camps, and stations to meet the needs of National Defense trainees. In addition a number of other shops were training soldiers to operate mobile repair units in combat areas.

After two trips to the shop for resoling, the Army shoe becomes unserviceable, although the upper is generally still in good condition.  As a result, in June 1942 the Quartermaster Corps inaugurated a shoe-rebuilding program through leasing one plant and contracting for the services of another.  Later similar facilities were provided overseas.

Overseas operations largely resemble those within the continental United States. Base shops have been established to handle major repair and to take care of the overflow from the mobile shops in the field; these are operated by civilian personnel, recruited and trained from the native population.  On the other hand, field work is accomplished mainly by the mobile shoe repair shops, which move with the troops and are manned by military personnel.

In Rome, two American corporals with the aid of ten civilian Italian cobblers are repairing more than 4,000 pairs of shoes a month for Army personnel. In the Marianas, trailers of a Quartermaster Mobile Repair Company are returning to service every month more than 10,000 pairs of shoes for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Seabees at an estimated saving of 30,000 square feet of leather.

The foregoing figures do not include upwards of 4,000,000 pairs of repaired, salvaged, and unserviceable shoes which are not suitable for further military use and have been made available to various agencies for distribution to needy civilians in friendly and liberated countries.

Still other tens of thousands of pairs, unsuitable for military use, were shipped through the American Red Cross to Allied prisoners of war held by the enemy.  Axis prisoners of war held by this country are also supplied from this type of shoe. 

Requirements After VE-day
The end of the German war brings no immediate change in the Army’s requirements for leather. At the best, there is no prospect of a reduction before the end of 1945.

Total requirements are governed primarily by the number of men in service and the climate and terrain on which these men serve.  The scheduled reduction in the size of the Army from 8,300,000 to 6,968,000 will take many months, since most of the men to be released are now in Europe or the far Pacific. Meanwhile the Army must continue to supply them shoes

In addition, a larger number of shoes are required for the pipeline to the Pacific. Distances to our bases across the Pacific are almost twice those across the Atlantic. Longer lines of supply require larger stocks in transit on shipboard and in depots overseas.

The wear and tear on shoes in the Pacific theatres of war has been among the hardest of any theatre of combat.  Further, because the combat boot is a relatively new item, few men in the Pacific have yet been outfitted with combat boots.  As the demand from Europe falls off, badly needed stocks can be shipped to the Pacific.

With the end of fighting against Germany, shoe requirements for our troops in Europe have been placed on approximately the same basis as for troops in the United States.  This cuts European requirements about in half and will enable the Army to build its working reserve of service shoes by October to the minimum safe level of 90 days' supply.

However, the demand for the combat boot for soldiers already in the Pacific and for equipping others being sent to the Pacific from Europe and the United States remains high. It is estimated that by October, stocks of combat boots in depots in this country will still be 29 days below the safe working level of 90 days' supply. The combat boot is the principal shoe used overseas, and procurement of combat boots is about three times as great as procurement of service shoes.

Return to:  Quartermaster Traditions & History   Quartermaster WWII History Page  Clothing History Page

Hit Counter since 27 May 2001

Graphic of the Quartermaster Branch Insignia
QM Web

Quartermaster Museum - Fort Lee, Virginia
Museum | History >
Mortuary Affairs - Riggers - Cooks - POL & Water - Field Services - Clothing - Heraldry
Army Quartermaster Corps Web