The History of the M-51 Fishtail Parka
CLICK HERE TO SHOP OUR M51 PARKA NOW
The History of the M-51 Fishtail Parka
M-1948 vs M-1951 Fishtail Parka
The standard issue cold weather parka in the late 1940s was the N3-B or “snorkel parka”, but the frigid and wet climate of Korean peninsula necessitated a warmer/drier coat for American troops in the Korean War. The Army designers went back to the drawing board and developed the M-1951 (Military 1951) Cold Weather Parka as a result.
M-1948 Fishtail Parka
The very first mod fishtail parka was an M-1948 prototype which was a clear crossover from the M-1943 parka to the parka that finally went into production and is the well known M-1948 fishtail parka. Only two of these initial prototype M48 parkas are known to exist. Following this initial prototype came the EX-48-1 and the EX-48-2 models. The EX-48-1's with fibreglass liners are the prototype more widely known for being the M-48 Fishtail Parka prototype. The EX-48-1 prototype parka hood was trimmed with wolverine fur, the outer shell was the thinner poplin material as used for the later mass produced 2nd Gen M-1951 fishtail parka's. The most famous elements of the EX-48-1 model are the detachable "fibreglass" based lining plus the distinctive pencil / cigarette pocket on the left sleeve (much like the MA1 flying jacket sleeve pocket).
These parkas were a two-piece design with a parka shell that included a hood plus a button-in parka liner. The "Overcoat, parka type, with pile liner" was an upgrade of a WW II parka and is sometimes called the M1947.
In the Korean War, the Army and Marines were initially supplied with the "Overcoat, parka type, with pile liner," the OD7 garment from World War II that was slightly improved in 1950. The same item exists in an Air Force model and USMC model, very similar to the Army parka but with USAF or USMC labels and stock numbers. The more advanced M-1948 Parka, a replacement for the "Overcoat, parka type, with pile liner," was available to some Army units, but most still wore the older models. The M-1951 Parka (adopted 27 June 1951) went into production but did not reach Korea in large numbers before the end of combat in 1953.
M-1951 Fishtail Parka
The M-1951 Parka was a three component garment, the cotton/nylon OG-107 shell, the button-in mohair frieze liner, and the fur-lined hood.
The early production, first generation M-1951 parka sets were made of heavier material overall with an alpaca liner, similar to the M1948 parka they replaced. The heavy construction was expensive to manufacture and proved, in field use, to be hard to manage, especially when wet. A second generation was made out of lighter fabrics, but still quite warm. Sizes were generous since the M-1951 Parka was intended to be worn over the winter uniform.
The M-1951 Parka has an integrated cloth hood (sewn in), adequate for wear under a helmet but too light for severe conditions. The fur-lined Hood, Parka, M-1951 buttons on to the integral hood as a liner to increase protection. When the M-1965 Parka was introduced, it had no sewn-in hood, but had buttons that would accept the Hood, Parka, M-1951. The same hood design continued in use, but after wolf fur was phased out, it became the Hood, Winter, W/Synthetic Fur Ruff (OG-107).
A snow camouflage over-white set was issued for use with the M-1951 Parka. Until supplies caught up, the WW II issue overwhites were used by some units in Korea.
The M-1951 Parka, as well as the M-1948, are commonly called the "fishtail" parka due to a split lower back and its bottom drawstrings that can pull the parka close to the legs. Epaulets and the attached hood help differentiate the M-1951 in photos.
The M-1951 parka was ultimately superseded by the M-1965 (or M65) parka, MIL-P-43496 May 16 1967 "Parka, Extreme Cold Weather."
Culture of the M51 Fishtail Parka
Mainstream love for the fishtail, however, came about not in Korea or the United States, but in the UK. In the late 1950s and early 60s the Mod subculture had taken London by storm. A large portion of British teens suddenly loved Vespas, slim cut suits, modern jazz music, and fishtail parkas.
The fishtail parka started as a cheap piece of military surplus that could keep dust off of a Mod’s suit while he was on a scooter, but the fishtail soon became an essential part of the look itself.
As Mods danced their nights away on amphetamines, love for the parka itself began to grow beyond the subculture and into the mainstream. Like the M-65 after the Vietnam War, the fishtail soon became just another piece of casual clothing.
Today you can see many influences of the M51 fishtail parka in the fashion industry. We carry the ORIGINAL and AUTHENTIC M-1951 Fishtail Parkas and Liners!