By Harold Rartzburg
It is uncommon to see a WWII display of U.S. GI equipment that includes a dust mask or respirator. Admittedly, you don’t see them much in combat photos of the time either, but they were there, especially in the early 1941 days of the Tennessee/Louisiana Maneuvers and desert training for the North African War Zone, and finally, in the North African desert itself.
Ernie Pyle, the famous WWII writer, says the following in his book, Here is Your War, “Everybody who landed in North Africa with the Army was issued a special desert kit. The main item in our kit was a dust kit. It was a frightful-looking contraption. It consisted of a big black rubber schnozzle that covered the nose and half the face. To this were attached two circular devices, about saucer sized, which looked like wheels and hung over each jaw. Apparently, the theory was to scare the dust away..
Ernie’s mask was a common US industrial mask, made by the Mine Safety Appliance Co. (MSA), though other types were also used as the Army scrambled at the beginning of the war to equip its troops with the equipment they would need. It was the mechanization of the Army in the 1930that created the need for a driver’s dust mask. Prior to 1941, drivers often used a bandana across the face like the cowboys of old.
In April 1941, the M1 Mask was standardized by the military, but gearing up to produce the vast quantities needed took time. That is probably why the MSA mask and probably many other civilian masks were used in the North African campaign.
The issue M1 respirator is a simple design, consisting of felt material attached to the molded rubber face piece. The felt material works as the actual filter for large particles of dust and sand. The harness is a simple four-point, adjustable system. It was not easy to adjust while it was on your head, so the vehicle drivers and mounted troops adjusted them before they were needed.
So, if you are thinking of showing off your WWII collection of military vehicle driver’s equipment along with your WWII truck or jeep, you might want to add a dust respirator. The M1 mask is still readily available on Ebay and frequently at shows, sometimes new in the box.
And, you might consider storing it in your vehicle. You just never know when you may run into a very dusty parade someday. Don’t forget to adjust those four straps before you put it away. A pair of dust goggles might be a handy item to go with it!