The History and Demise of the Denison Smock

Apart from the maroon beret the identifying symbol for Airborne Forces for many years was the Denison Smock.  Its replacement with the standard Disruptive Pattern (DPM) Smock in the late 1970s still causes consternation with many veterans I talk with.  Its demise, however, actually began many years before it was finally withdrawn.  At the Airborne Assault Museum we have been trying to trace the origins, variants and replacement of this iconic item of uniform.

The smock was introduced after direct copies of the German “Step in Smock”, which had short legs attached as part of the main body, were initially used.  The newer “Denison” version dispensed with the legs and instead utilised a “tail” which was attached at the back and fastened underneath the crotch to the front of the garment.  This tail was intended to "keep out the drafts" in colder, windy conditions and make it easier to put on a parachute harness. 

The smock was cut to generous proportions as it had to fit over the wearers normal battledress. It consisted of a body of camouflage material in a pattern designed by Major Denison. This was of a sand base with a mid green and brown disruptor in a brush stroke pattern.  An economy version, introduced in 1944, dispensed with the knitted cuffs and introduced a greener base colour more suitable for operations in Europe.

Post war there was a major change to the design in 1959, with a more fitted design and full zip, knitted cuffs and with a khaki base colour and a vertical pattern of green and brown stripes.  Numerous variations of this pattern existed, including a sand coloured desert version, and a final variant was introduced in 1972 with a lighter khaki base colour and defined stripes.  This final version was also labelled “Smock Camouflage” in a change from the earlier labels which read “Smock Denison”. Some historians believe that Smock 'Denison' was a typo. That in fact the label should have read 'Smock Denim'. 

From what we can gather in the archive the earliest reference to its replacement is made in by the Executive Committee of the Army Council on 30th June 1961 stating that the Denison Smock “Should not be retained”.  It is noted that the Parachute Regiment were contacted about this and 16 Para Brigade acknowledged the decision with the publication of a “Rules on the Wearing of Combat Dress” on 5th June 1962.

Following this, in April 1968, the Quarter Master General issued guidelines on the introduction of DPM clothing and the replacement of the Denison Smock.  It is noted in the archive in a letter between the Deputy Quarter Master General (DQMG) that this decision had been “specifically cleared and agreed with Land/Air Warfare 1 your sponsors”.

There is no evidence of any concern, within the Archive, from the Regiment until April 1971 (almost 10 years after the original decision!) when the Parachute Regiment contacts the DQMG for clarification.  The DQMG lays out the preceding 10 years of decision (and inferred Parachute Regiment acknowledgement) with the final paragraph reading:

“So I am afraid the whole subject is a well documented fait accompli, and unless you can get your Colonel Commandant to generate enough heat to get the Army to reverse the decision, I would like to be invited to the wake wearing my ’44 Pattern Smock!”

This “fait accompli” did not go unanswered with a response that in 1965/1966 the Parachute Regiment had, in fact, rejected a move to a DPM uniform, instead keeping the Denison Smock and Olive Green trousers to use in both European and Tropical Environments.  However, the development of a new Tropical DPM Uniform was already underway with a planned introduction in 1973, and with it the Parachute Regiments last chance to retain the Denison on cost saving grounds.

As with all such projects, however, the development of a suitable DPM uniform dragged on throughout the 1970s and well past the originally planned 1973 issue date.  As such existing stocks of Denison Smocks ran low and the new ’72 Pattern was ordered as an interim measure.  As noted above the name in the label had already ominously changed to “Smock Camouflage”.  The introduction of DPM trousers, however, to replace the plain Olive Green trousers also resulted in instances of the Smock in one camouflage pattern being worn with trousers in another which caused a great deal of correspondence to the MoD and QMG to secure more Olive Green trousers!

There is no exact date of withdrawal of the Smock noted in the Archive, but by it seems to have begun officially in 1977 and by 1980 all seem to have been replaced with the new DPM version.  It would be interesting if readers could let us have their thoughts on the Smock and which unit had the last Denison’s on issue and when they were finally withdrawn.


Jon Baker

Airborne Assault Curator

Originally published in Pegasus Journal Yearbook, 2010


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