Tiger Stripes camouflage in Vietnam War

In the annals of military history, certain symbols and patterns become indelibly associated with particular conflicts. One such iconic pattern that emerged during the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) era is the legendary Tiger Stripes camouflage. With its distinct design and historical significance, Tiger Stripes camo holds a special place in the hearts of those who experienced the intensity of the Vietnam War. In this blog, we will explore the origins, features, and enduring legacy of Tiger Stripes camo in the Republic of Vietnam.

I. Origin

The origins of Tiger Stripes camo can be traced back to the French Indochina War, which took place prior to the Vietnam War. French paratroopers operating in the dense jungles of Southeast Asia experimented with different camouflage patterns to blend in with their surroundings. One such pattern, featuring irregular stripes in shades of green and brown, proved effective in breaking up the human silhouette and providing better concealment in the jungle environment.

It is unclear who developed the first tigerstripe pattern, consisting of sixty-four (64) stripes. The French used a similar pattern (Lizard) in their war in Vietnam.

A Vietnamese Airborne Officer wearing Lizzard Camo Jacket

II. Variations

Many different styles of tiger pattern emerged between 1964 and 1975 and have been exhaustively documented by author Richard D. Johnson in his excellent book Tiger Patterns. Presented here are a handful of samples from original garments that were produced during this time period.

1. Vietnamese Marines Corp

The very first tiger stripe design was a locally-made copy of the French lizard pattern produced for the Vietnamese Marine Corps (Thủy Quân Lục Chiến). The pattern incorporates bold black stripes over lesser brownish-drab stripes & light green trace elements, with an olive green base color. Production of this design ended in 1967, although units continued to wear the pattern until 1970.

The first Tiger Stripes Camo for ARVN Marines
AP Saigon Correspondent Malcolm Brown accompanies South Vietnamese Marines on a mission to relieve the besieged government garrison at Ap Tan Long in 1962. (AP Photo/Le Minh)

2. Sea Wave

This is a variation of Tiger Stripes Camo was made from 1968 by South Vietnam. It was fitted to the ARVN Marines.

Sea Wave Camo for VNMC
An officer wearing Sea Wave Camo
Our reproduction Sea Wave Camo

3. John Wayne

Emerged in 1962 and continued in production until 1975. The pattern features bold black stripes over a background comprising dark green & dull brown with tan trace elements.

John Wayne pattern
3 South Vietnam Special Forces soldiers

4. Tadpole

The tiger pattern illustrated below has been named Tadpole Sparse pattern in Johnson’s book. It was introduced circa 1964 and saw production until the end of the war. The pattern features bold black (or dark blue) stripes over a background comprising dark green & brown with pea green trace elements.

Tadpole Camo pattern
An US Advisor training a CIDG solider

5. Advisor’s Type

Another distinctive tiger pattern to emerge towards the middle of the war (circa 1968) has been named Advisor’s Type. This pattern saw service primarily with CIDG units, ARVN Rangers & Special Forces, and featured bold black stripes over a background comprising bold black stripes over a background comprising dark green & dull brown with dull tan trace elements. Two versions are illustrated below.

Advisor’s type pattern
An ARVN Marines soldier wearing Advisor’s type

6. Late War

With “lightweight” referring to the ultralight quality of the fabric. As the nickname implies, the designs with this distinction appear to post date most of the other designs. Introduced in 1969, the design features bold black stripes over a background comprising bright green & light brown with dull pea green trace elements, although in fact there are a multitude of color variations once you factor in fading, the effects of laundering, and the variety of dyes employed.

Late War pattern
An US Advisor wearing Late War Tiger Stripes camo

7. Zig-Zag

The tiger design seen here may have developed out of the original drawings of the JWD tiger stripe. The earliest documentation of its use is 1964, seeing service almost exclusively with CIDG & other regional militia forces, as well as upon custom garments for US and ARVN military personnel.

Zig-Zag pattern
A South Vietnam Special Forces wearing Zig-Zag Tiger Stripes uniform

8. Splotched

Introduced mid-war (1969), the “splotched” tiger pattern seen here, featuring splotchy black stripes over a background comprising dull green & dull greenish-grey with pale greyish-white trace elements, apparently saw service only with CIDG units.

Splotched pattern
A CIDG soldier

III. Feel about Tiger Stripes camouflage

The Tiger Stripes camo stands as an enduring symbol of the Republic of Vietnam era. The pattern holds a nostalgic appeal for veterans, historians, and collectors alike. Its bold design and historical significance continue to captivate enthusiasts, serving as a reminder of the sacrifices and challenges faced by the soldiers who fought in the jungles of Vietnam.

With its practicality, cultural influences, and enduring legacy, Tiger Stripes camo remains an indelible part of military history, forever intertwined with the struggle for freedom and the indomitable spirit of those who fought on the side of the Republic of Vietnam.

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