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"Greatcoats in Summer 1866/1870" Topic

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Halfmanhalfsquidman19 Sep 2019 8:27 a.m. PST

In July 1866 and the summer of 1870 the Austrian, Italian and French Armies both marched to war wearing Greatcoats.

Geoffery Wawro describes multiple Austrian soldiers dying of heatstroke as they charged uphill toward Prussian positions at Nachod and French soldiers dying of heatstroke as they marched from the railheads to the frontier in 1870. He even describes two French soldiers falling out of the march, sitting under the shade of a tree and shooting themselves in the head.

My question is why did these armies insist on wearing heavy wollen coats when the weather was totally inappropriate to do so? Why not wear them across the chest like the Prussians? It would have been warm yes, but not as bad as wearing the thing. Wawro also has an account of Austrian troops wearing just the coat and no tunic underneath. This also seems silly to me. Why do that when they could wear a cooler Kittel instead.

Does anyone know a reason for these strange uniform choices?

dbf167619 Sep 2019 8:55 a.m. PST

The Austrians, at least, did not wear jackets under the greatcoat.

Pan Marek19 Sep 2019 10:00 a.m. PST

I believe the origins lie in trying to keep the fancier tunics clean.

Perris070719 Sep 2019 10:56 a.m. PST

Slaves to fashion? Especially the French. They wore the great coat in Italy in 1859 as well. If you look good you will fight good?

Wargamorium19 Sep 2019 11:59 a.m. PST

As far as I know the French did not wear tunics under their overcoats when on campaign. While warm by day it gets very cold at night when you have to sleep outdoors.

The Austrians wore the linen kittel in 1859 in place of the woolen tunic or overcoat so they would have been cooler. They wore their greatcoats in 1866 though.

I think the Piedmontese wore greatcoats as well.

Personal logo Artilleryman Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2019 1:48 p.m. PST

Also, the coats were not as thick as more modern versions. Have a look at items in museums and you note that many were one layer of thin wool and unlined.

williamb20 Sep 2019 4:56 a.m. PST

I forget where I read it, but the French did not wear tunics under the greatcoat when on campaign. The Foreign Legion in the desert also wore the greatcoat.

Pan Marek20 Sep 2019 7:20 a.m. PST

Interesting. But can anyone definitively answer WHY these armies wore greatcoats year round?

Bargain Bin DM Supporting Member of TMP20 Sep 2019 9:07 a.m. PST

..I think you answered your own question earlier Pan Marek. The wearing of a greatcoat was, at least in the Austrian army, done for reasons of economy. The Hapsburgs were perpetually strapped for cash.It was a cost saving measure. I don't think Austrian leadership was terribly concerned with the welfare of the rank and file, and it cost the lives of a few soldiers to save some money, so be it!

cplcampisi20 Sep 2019 8:28 p.m. PST

If memory serves me right, the French started the trend after their experiences in North Africa. As Wargamorium pointed out, in the deserts it could be quite cold at night.

The greatcoat was worn as campaign wear without the tunic underneath. Except in cold weather, when the tunic would be worn underneath. The French were still doing this in WW1 (and WW2). On rare occasions in WW1 I know they were ordered to wear their tunics into combat instead.

As others have noted the greatcoat wasn't really thicker than the tunic, it was just another layer of wool. While the greatcoat may have contributed a bit more to heatstroke, none of the uniforms were particularly cool, and even cotton uniforms can be bad.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2019 10:48 a.m. PST

Also remember that heat exhaustion and heat stroke are a factor in any summer campaign, especially when linked with dehydration.

I've seen it enough over the years in re-enacting.

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