New Zealand Army Combat Boots – 1945 -1980


Up to the Second World War, New Zealand Army boots generally had leather-soled ankle boots whose design had only undergone minor changes since 1912. Military boot development was catapulted during the Second World War with new designs and materials providing boots suitable for all terrains and climates found on Battlefields worldwide. As the post-war New Zealand Army was reorganised and reequipped to provide a division to fight in the Middle East, the decolonisation conflicts that swept Southeast Asia drew New Zealand into an unfamiliar type of warfare. New Zealand was not experienced or equipped to fight in harsh tropical environments but adapted quickly and became experienced practitioners of Jungle warfare. Initially equipped with British and Australian stocks of tropical equipment, it soon became apparent that New Zealand troops needed modern equipment. By 1959, the New Zealand Army undertook various research and development initiatives to improve its equipment in conjunction with scientific institutions and industry. This article provides an overview of the New Zealand Army’s post-war boot development, transitioning from a boot originating in the 19th century to a modern mid-20th century Combat boot.

Flush with wartime stocks of boots, the post-war New Zealand Army had no immediate need to upgrade its boots. However, by the mid-1950s, the limitations of the current range of leather-soled boots were becoming evident, especially in the jungles of Malaya, and the search for alternatives began for an improved boot design. To achieve this, the Quarter masters branch of the army called on the New Zealand Leather and Shoe Research Association for assistance in developing a boot with increased waterproof properties that could withstand prolonged wear without undue fatigue.[1]

Jungle greens and Jungle boots as worn by New Zealand Forces in Malaya from 1955. NZ National Library Ref: EP/1956/0031-F

In conjunction with footwear manufacturers and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the New Zealand Leather and Shoe Association developed four types of boots, which were trialled by the 2nd Battalion, New Zealand Regiment, in 1958. The latest type of ankle boot with a Directly Moulded Sole (DMS) from the United Kingdom was also tested alongside the four New Zealand samples.[2] From this initial user trial, feedback shaped an interim specification for two types with identical uppers but different soles, one of rubber and the other of leather. Thirty pairs of each type were made, and a further series of trials began with the 1st Battalion at Burnham Camp in early May 1960. Thirty trial subjects were chosen to wear each boot type for three days to see how easily they could be broken in. After that, they tested the boots for wear and comfort until February 1961.[3]

1956 Ankle Boots. Lee Hawkes Collection
Sole of 1956 Ankle boots. Lee Hawkes Collection

The result of the trial was the adoption of the Ankle Boot Rubber Sole (Ankle Boot RS). An ankle boot similar in design to the current boot, the Ankle Boot RS was several ounces lighter than those currently in use, also included was rotproof terylene stitching and nylon laces. The nylon laces were so popular with the troops that all the boots returned after user trials came back without laces. The new design had a “Commando” style rubber sole. The Commando style rubber sole was developed in the 1930s by English rubber maker Itshide, who switched from producing toys and brushes to producing this new kind of rubber sole for use on army boots during WWII. The benefit of the Commando sole was the grip provided by the shape of the jagged cleats on the sole, which proved ideal for providing stability on the roughest terrain. The New Zealand version of the Commando sole had slightly shallower cleats with an angled edge to prevent mud or small stones from wedging between them and was marketed as the “Kiwi Army Boot”. Production of the New Zealand Ankle Boot RS began in August 1961; however, with large quantities of the previous type of boot still in the supply system, it would take until 1964 to waste out the old stock.[4]

As with the previous boot design, the Ankle Boot RS required wearing a gaiter to prevent mud and derbies from entering the boot. The type of gaiter then in use was the 37-pattern web gaiter. Concurrent with the boot trial, thirty pairs of Australian Army gaiters were also tested. The long dark green Australian gaiter was introduced into Australian service in 1945 and had a light metal stiffener up one side to prevent wrinkling and a strap passing under the boot’s instep. Finding favour with the troops, these were also planned to be adopted for the New Zealand Army. However, problems in adopting the Australian gaiter would drive the development of the next iteration of New Zealand’s Army Boot.[5]

A pair of Australian Army canvas gaiters painted black. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C993356

Although the Australian gaiter could have probably been purchased off the shelf directly from Australian manufacturers, such items should have been manufactured in New Zealand. However, it was found that due to the exorbitant costs encountered in producing the Australian pattern gaiter in New Zealand, this project was abandoned, and the gaiter requirement was re-evaluated. Although no specific General Staff requirement was stated, it was decided to develop a calf-length boot to replace the Ankle Boot RS and 37-pattern gaiters with a calf-length combat boot.

New Zealand 37-pattern Gaiter. Lee Hawkes collection

Based on the new Ankle Boot Rubber Sole (Ankle Boot RS), two high boots, type A and B, were manufactured by experienced New Zealand footwear manufacturers Sargood, Son and Ewen.[6] The type A and B boots included hooks instead of eyelets and a strap and buckle arrangement similar to the American M-1943 Combat Boot.  

United States Army M-43 composition sole combat service boot, or “double buckle boot”. https://www.usww2uniforms.com/BQD_114.html

As a result of the initial user trials in New Zealand and Malaysia using the Type A and B boot, the design of the boot was refined into the Type C boot. In May 1964, ten examples of the Type C Boot were manufactured, incorporating improvements suggested by the user trials:

  • The sole and foot portion to be exactly the same as the Ankle Boot RS.
  • The height from ground level to the top of the boot was to be 101/2 inches.
  • There were to be six eyelets on the lower portion of each side of the closure and six boot hooks on the higher portion of each side (similar to the green jungle boot issued in Malaya).
  • The boot tongue was to be of a thinner variety and should not be longer than the height of the boot.
  • There were to be no straps or buckles.
  • The measurement around the top of the boot was to be no greater than 121/2 inches from edge to edge.[7]

Successful feedback on the Type C boot saw a small number purchased and introduced into service in June 1966 to enable further trials to be carried out to determine if the new pattern boots were suitable for combat in tropical conditions. Further trials by New Zealand Forces in South Vietnam and selected units in New Zealand commenced in November 1967

With the New Zealand contingent in South Vietnam serving alongside the Australians, the length of the New Zealand contingent’s supply chain and its low requirements made it necessary to modify the clothing replenishment system and link into the Australian lines of supply, resulting in New Zealand troops in Vietnam receiving Australian tropical clothing and boots.[8] This was a modification of the system used in Malaysia since 1955, when New Zealand troops in Malaysia drew their tropical clothing requirements, including jungle boots, from British sources.

Concurrent with New Zealand’s combat boot development was an Australian programme to develop a modern combat boot. Initially utilising jungle boots left over from the Second World War, the Australians soon developed and trialled a new DMS boot design with leather uppers and a moulded sole. After some initial user trials, an initial order of 10,000 pairs of the new Australian DMS Combat boot was placed in July 1956 for delivery to Australian troops in Vietnam by December 1965.[9]

Australian Black leather general purpose (GP) boots. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1195209

By 1968, New Zealand troops in South Vietnam were officially utilising the trial New Zealand combat boot and the Australian DMS Combat boot. Unofficially many New Zealand troops also wore the America Jungle boot. A survey conducted at the start of the November 1967 trial showed that 108 New Zealand soldiers preferred the Australian boot and only 42 the New Zealand boot. A further survey conducted in March 1968 revealed that 121 New Zealand soldiers preferred the Australian boot. The most significant reasons given for the preference were that the Australian boot was:

  • Lighter and more robust than the NZ item.
  • Had a directly moulded sole.
  • It was made of better-quality leather.
  • Had a vastly superior appearance.
  • It had a very good and snug fit when broken in.
Private Wayne Lindsay, Whiskey One Company, inspects an RSA Christmas parcel from New Zealand circa 1968. Note that Private Lindsay is wearing the American Pattern Jungle boots, and there are Australian DMS Combat boots and New Zealand Combat boots under his bed. Image courtesy Noel Bell via https://vietnamwar.govt.nz/photo/private-wayne-lindsay-rsa-christmas-parcel

Feedback also included the increasingly evident requirement for a Jungle boot similar to the United States pattern to be provided to New Zealand Forces in tropical environments.[10]

After the November 1967 operational and training trials of the New Zealand combat boot, it was found that the recommendations of the various trial teams were not in agreement, and a Footwear Study Group was appointed to review the trial information.[11] In July 1969, the Footwear Study Group concluded that the New Zealand Combat boot, with certain modifications, was superior to the ankle Boot RS in meeting New Zealand training conditions. However, it was agreed that the New Zealand Combat Boot did not meet the tropical operational requirements, and further research was required to find a boot to meet New Zealand’s tropical requirements. US, Canadian, and UK policies supported this, concluding that one boot could not satisfy both a temperate and tropical requirement. It was noted that the Australians restricted their DMS combat boot to South Vietnam, with troops in other theatres outside Australia continuing to wear ordinary boots and gaiters; however, the US tropical combat boot was procured for issue in South Vietnam to the Australian SAS only. Overall, the New Zealand findings were that the main advantage of the New Zealand Combat Boot was that it could replace two items (Ankle boot RS and gaiter); it provided superior ankle and instep support and improved appearance, and it should be accepted as a replacement for the Ankle Boot RS. A tropical patrol boot was also recommended to be developed to meet the specific environmental conditions found in Southeast Asia.[12]

There was little doubt that the Australian DMS combat boot was more popular with New Zealand troops. It was accepted that the DMS production technique proved a superior product, but at the time, New Zealand’s footwear industry did not yet have the required technology to manufacture DMS boots, but there was no doubt that the New Zealand Combat boot would incorporate a DMS sole at a future date as New Zealand industry caught up. However, adopting the New Zealand Combat boot would be based on fiscal reasoning. Based on the 1969 production run of 2893 pairs for New Zealand Vietnam Force maintenance, the cost of a pair of New Zealand combat boots was $10.50 (2022 NZ $200.20), compared to $19.23 (2022 NZ $366.64) for the Australian DMS boots. With the Ankle Boot RS priced at $8.18 (2022 NZ $156.61) and Garters at $1 (2022 NZ $19.15), it was considered that a superior boot was replacing two items (Ankle boot RS and gaiter) with only a slight increase of the cost. [13]

On 3 December 1969, the New Zealand Combat Boot was renamed as the Boot GS (High) and formally introduced into service to progressively replace the Ankle boot RS and gaiter as existing stocks of those items wasted out and all period contracts for their manufacture terminated.[14]

With a stock of 19,120 Ankle Boots RS and 21,612 Web Anklets held in Ordnance Depots and Clothing Stores, the priority of issue for the introduction of the Boot GS (High)was to:

  • NZ Forces in Southeast Asia
  • Regular Force Recruits
  • Regular Force maintenance in New Zealand
  • The Territorial Force

The Boot GS (High) nomenclature had been changed to Boot Mans General Purpose (Boot Mans GP) by February 1971. With 12,126 pairs of Ankle Boot RS remaining in stock, it was anticipated that with issues to National Service intakes and the Territorial Force, stocks would be exhausted by the end of 1971.[15]

During the New Zealand Combat Boot trial, it was identified that cooks of the Royal New Zealand Army Service Corps (RNZASC) required a boot with a flat sole for safety on wet surfaces. Fortunately, the Government Footwear Inspector had developed Cooks Galley Boots at Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) instigation in the mid-1960s. First adopted by the RNZN and then the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), consideration to issuing RNZASC Cooks Galley boots were first made in 1968.[16] With a non-skid pattern rubber sole and a continuous leather front to stop spilt boiling fat and other liquids from entering the boot, RNZASC user trials were conducted from 1970 with initial issues to all RNZASC cooks from 1972.[17]

By February 1974, New Zealand’s Forces in South Vietnam had been withdrawn, and the tripartite Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom (ANZUK) Force based in Singapore had been dissolved. The 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1RNZIR) and its supporting units remained in Singapore as the New Zealand army components of the New Zealand Force Southeast Asia (NZFORSEA). Logistic arrangements in place since 1955, which allowed New Zealand to rely on the British for tropical clothing and equipment, had progressively been wound down from the late 1960s as New Zealand developed and grew its line of tropical clothing. Although the development of a tropical patrol boot had been recommended to be developed to meet the specific conditions found in Southeast Asia, the transition of New Zealand Army units in Singapore to a peacetime garrison and peacetime funding restrictions saw the requirement for a New Zealand jungle boot placed on the back burner. The Boot Man GP was found to be sufficient for most training in the tropics. Although many individuals purchased surplus American, British or Malaysian jungle boots and some small-scale unit trials did occur, the development of a New Zealand jungle boot ceased.

In 1980 the New Zealand footwear manufacturer John Bull won the contract for the supply of combat boots to the New Zealand Military. Already a manufacturer with a high reputation and experienced in producing military footwear, John Bull’s manufacturing processes were enhanced through a significant equipment and modernisation program. The John Bull-manufactured Boot Man GP was a DMS boot that retained the same style of leather uppers as the previous boot. New Zealand also supplemented stocks of the John Bull Boot GP with the Australian pattern DMS Combat Boot manufactured in New Zealand by King Leo. Both patterns of Boot GP were progressively introduced into service from 1980, with stocks of the previous Boot GP wasted out by 1985.

The New Zealand Army finished the Second World War with pretty much the same boot that had been issued to soldiers in 1912. However, the lessons of the Second World War and developments in boot technology had not gone unnoticed. With the assistance of the New Zealand Leather and Shoe Association, footwear manufacturers and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, a New Zealand Combat boot was developed. Due to the limitations of the technology available to New Zealand’s footwear industry, New Zealand’s efforts would always be five to ten years behind those of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, a viable and cost-effective boot that met most of the training and operational requirements of the New Zealand army throughout the 1970s and 80s resulted from New Zealand’s limited resources. Although this article only provides an overview of New Zealand’s combat boot development, it provides a starting point for further research into this overlooked aspect of New Zealand’s military history.

Boot Man GP (DMS)
New Zealand-made Australian pattern Boot GP

Notes

[1] “General News – Army Boots,” Press, Volume XCVIII, Issue 28883, 1 May 1959.

[2] Although the United Kingdom accepted and introduced it into service in 1961, the UK DMS boot was rejected by New Zealand because, at this stage, it could not be made in New Zealand. “Many Changes in Gear for Modern N.Z. Soldier,” Press, Volume XCVIII, Issue 28958, 28 July 1959.

[3] “New Army Boots Now in Production,” Press, Volume C, Issue 29594, 17 August 1961.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Army 213/19/69 Footwear for the NZ Army Dated 7 August 1969. “Boots and Shoes – Development of Combat Boots,” Archives New Zealand No R17187902  (1963-1969).

[6] 213/19/55/Q(D) Purchase of High Boots for user trials 26 May 1964. Ibid.

[7] 213/19/69 7 May 1964. Ibid.

[8] “New Combat Clothes Being Tested,” Press, Volume CIV, Issue 30802, 14 July 1965.

[9] “Boots Trouble Aust. Troops,” Press, Volume CIV, Issue 30801, 13 July 1965.

[10] HQ NZ V Force 212/19/69 Footwear Trials 9 April 1968. “Boots and Shoes – Development of Combat Boots.”

[11] Army 213/19/69/SD Footwear Study Group 23 October 1968. Ibid.

[12] Army 213/19/69 Footwear for the NZ Army 14 July 1969.Ibid.

[13] Army 213/19/69 Footwear for the NZ Army 7 August 1969. Ibid.

[14] Army 213/19/69DQ(M) dated 3 December 1969. Ibid.

[15] HQ Home Command HC 8/6/1/ORD 1 Introduction of Boots Mans GP 26 April 1971. Ibid.

[16] Army 213/19/69 Footwear for the NZ Army 7 August 1969. Ibid.

[17] HQ Home Command HC 8/6/1/ST Boots Galley Cooks 11 May 1972. Ibid.

One thought on “New Zealand Army Combat Boots – 1945 -1980

  1. Pingback: Military History Whiteboard | "To the Warrior His Arms"

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.