Why Does The Army Wear Berets

- Oct 25, 2018 -

Berets are originally a civilian head dress originating from France, origins unknown but a soft headdress would have been around from the middle ages. 

They were first worn in a military sense by the French mountain troops, the Chasseurs Alpins, in the late 1800s. Following the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, the choice of tall Shako-style helmets was increasingly impractical and were begun to be phased out. 

No more so than for the newly formed mountain infantry who needed headwear that whilst identifiable was also unlikely to dislodge, would not get caught on trees etc, was lightweight, flexible to store/carry and warm. Hence the adoption of their wide, floppy beret that they wear today. 

In terms of the British Army, the first use of the beret was by tank crews in World War One. Inside a tank it was not necessary or practical to wear a tin hat so an alternate was looked for, both for appearance but also to help keep sweat at bay, allows headphones to be worn over them etc. 

According to the Royal Tank Regiment history .... 

"In May 1918, General Elles and Colonel Fuller were discussing the future of the Tank Corps and its uniform and General Elles tried on a beret of the 70th Chasseurs Alpins who were billeted nearby. A black beret was selected as it would not show oil stains." 

The beret was formally adopted by the RTR in 1924 but us conservative Brits opted to avoid the traditional continental design of floppiness and wide brim which may have avoided the ex military man's criticism above in terms of protecting from the elements! 

Following the Spanish Civil War the choice of berets for tank crews became a more common practice, in WW2 German panzer crews also worn black berets. 

Subsequently, during WW2, the beret was adopted in the British Army by "new" units such as the SAS, Paras and Commandos but was not widely adopted in other units until the post war period and has now spread to nearly every army in the world. 

The scenes in Band of Brothers you refer to are most likely the tank crews in Episode 4 (crass English stereotypying but that is another story) and Episode 5 when they are Paras. Although the Paras would have combat dropped in to Arnhem wearing their standard parachute helmet at the time, if you are retreating across rivers etc probably more sensible to wear a lighter form of headgear! 

In 2001 the US Army adopted the black beret as standard issue. 

Obviously standard practice for the British Army is not to wear berets in combat situations, Mk 6 helmets are the current issue. 

There have been decisions, notably in Iraq, where berets were worn on patrols to portray a more approachable image to the population.
Dolphin76 · 9 years ago


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