Frog skin camo, officially the M1942 Frog Skin pattern, is an iconic camouflage pattern most commonly associated with WWII’s Pacific Theater. Often referred to as Duck Hunter camo, frogskin camo was the U.S. military’s first real attempt at a mottle disruptive coloration camouflage pattern. Here’s some history of it.
(Above: Marines from The Pacific television mini-series aboard ship.)
USMC Frog Skin Camo
Today, the United States Marine Corps wears a unique pattern of camouflage that is distinct from that of the other branches of the U.S. military, notably the United States Army. For more than two decades, U.S. Marines – don’t call them soldiers – have worn the MARine Pattern, also known as MARPAT.
It is a digital camouflage pattern that was introduced in 2002 with the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform (MCCUU), which replaced the Camouflage Utility Uniform (CUU). Considered vastly superior in a number of ways to past (and, according to the Marines, even current) camo patterns, it is the result of more than 60 years of trial and error.
And though it is noted for being “digital,” it should not be confused with the U.S. Army’s now-retired Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) – one that was practically universally hated.
Moreover, the MARPAT is one that is unique to the Marines, a point that is notable as past camouflage was tied to the Army. In fact, it was only in 1940 that the Army Corps of Engineers began to experiment with true camouflage.
Enter the Frog Skin Pattern
For much of military history, concealing a soldier on the battlefield was a secondary consideration, as noted by the once-colorful uniforms that were worn both on the parade ground and the battlefield. However, as firearms technology advanced, uniforms evolved to make a soldier less conspicuous.
Arguably the first camouflage came in the form of the green uniforms worn by British riflemen, and later khaki – a pattern the British first adopted in India.
The First World War saw advancements in firearms, while uniforms further evolved. The USMC went into combat in dark green wool uniforms that while too warn in the summer were well still suited to the wooded terrain of the Western Front. The Marines’ uniform made them harder, but not impossible to spot, especially where the tree canopy was heavy.
Fast forward to 1940 and the advent of World War II. This was when the U.S. Army developed the first true pattern of camouflage.
Designed by Norvell Gillespie, a horticulturist and garden editor of Better Homes and Gardens, he looked to nature as a guide. He sought to develop a form of camouflage that could blend in with the surroundings by noting how the leaves of trees and plants offered more than just a solid field of green. Forests are actually an assortment of colors, and Gillespie attempted to recreate it by using rounded shapes that mimicked nature.
The pattern featured five colors in total and was nicknamed “frogskin” for its spotty pattern, which resembled the amphibian animals. More importantly, Gillespie further designed the camouflage to have two faces, one that was green for spring and summer, while the other was brown for fall and early winter.
It would prove to be the first successful attempt by the U.S. military to produce a disruptive coloration camouflage – even though it could be argued that Gillespie’s attempt was more like an impressionist painting than a truly realistic take, but the technology of the early 1940s had its limitations. For one thing, the camouflage of the era still lacked any depth, yet, frogskin should be seen as simply the beginning of U.S. military camouflage to evolve over the next 80+ years.
Frog Skin Goes to War
In July 1942, General Douglas MacArthur called for the production of 15,000 jungle camouflage uniforms for use in the Pacific Theater. The U.S. Army initially opted to produce a single-piece jumpsuit that featured the five-color jungle pattern on one side while the reverse offered three light tan and brown colors that were meant for wear on the beaches of the Pacific.
Much like the aforementioned UCP, Frogskin was far from a perfect solution.
How soldiers were expected to quickly change was never really answered, but feedback from its early use was also negative. The green pattern was determined to be too bright to blend in with the jungles, while the reverse wasn’t much more effective on the beaches.
Moreover, the jumpsuit proved to be entirely ill-suited to the hot jungle conditions of the Pacific. That could have been the end of the story, but the Marines didn’t follow the Army’s lead.
Frog Skin and Marines
In the early campaigns in the Pacific, the USMC actually wore its olive drab P41 Herringbone Twill (HBT) uniform, but soon after also saw the need for camouflage in the dense jungles after experiences learned in Guadalcanal and other campaigns. The service produced the Frogskin as a two-piece utility suit – for the M1942 Reversible Spot Pattern and P42 Camo utility uniform that was based on the HBT cotton fabric.
The Marine Raiders were the first to be issued the Frogskin uniform in late 1942 while its first large-scale combat usage was during the Soloman Island Operations, specifically on Bougainville in November 1943. Both the utility suit and the camo pattern proved to be extremely well-suited for the dense jungle and foliage on the tropical island.
Yet, Frogskin was seen to be far less effective several weeks later during the invasion of Tarawa, as the sandy atoll had little vegetation other than palm trees. Its terrain created very little opportunity for the camouflage to be effective. It was determined that the olive-drab P41 Herringbone Twill was better suited as a battledress camouflage pattern for most environments.
Frog Skin in Europe
Though Frogskin is largely associated with the USMC today, it was briefly adopted by the U.S. Army. Elements of the Army’s Queen of Battle employed it in both the European and Pacific theaters of the Second World War.
It saw brief use in the Normandy campaign in the early summer of 1944 in northern France – worn by some units of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division as well as the 41st Infantry Regiment.
However, it was removed from service due at least in part to the fact that there were fears it too closely resembled the Platanenmuster (Plane tree pattern) camouflage in use with Nazi Germany’s Waffen SS units. That pattern, which had been developed before the war, also featured spring and autumn variations.
Frogskin to Duck Hunter
The end of the Second World War could have been the end of the story for the first pattern of camouflage widely used by the U.S. military, but it found use in peacetime.
In the case of “swords to plowshares,” production of the frogskin uniform was halted in 1944, and stocks were sold as surplus, where the pattern found its way to the civilians, who saw it as ideal for duck hunting. That led to the development of the Duck Hunter camouflage, which has remained popular to this day.
While not a perfect camouflage for use in combat, it proved perfect for duck season!
However, the U.S. Special Forces did employ Frogskin in a limited capacity during the Vietnam War due to a lack of camouflage options, while Army and USMC advisors and others also used it before Tigerstripe uniforms could be produced.
The pattern was also imitated by many foreign armies after the war, and a variant was worn by units of the French Foreign Legion during the First Indochina War. A similar pattern known as “Panther” was later adopted by the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guard during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
Whether for hunters on the stalk or troops on the battlefield, the frogskin camouflage pattern began with a garden editor’s attempt to mimic nature!
Other than the obvious hunting clothing options out there (civilian jacket choices, collared shirts and tees, and related products), we are seeing some “retro-tactical” apparel and battle rattle. Practical? Maybe not. But we like it nonetheless.
Learn More About Frogskin
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