The History of the Beret in the Military



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A beret is a soft round cap, usually of wool felt, with a flat crown, which is worn by both men and women.

Berets are worn by many military and police units, and in some countries are particularly associated with elite units, who often wear berets in more unusual colors (such as the maroon of Commonwealth parachute troops, the green of the Royal Marines, French Commandos ("Bιrets verts"), and American Special Forces, the beige or tan of Commonwealth special forces units (SAS, CSOR) and U.S. Army Rangers, or the wide black of French Chasseurs alpins, the first military unit to have worn berets).

Wearing the beret

The beret when properly worn fits snugly around the head, and the soft crown can be shaped in a variety of ways – it is commonly pushed to one side. Berets were originally worn by Northern Basque peasants (from the border area of Southern France, and Northern Spain) and were knitted from wool. Today berets are normally made from wool felt.

Uniform berets feature a headband or sweatband attached to the wool, made either from leather or silk, sometimes with a drawstring allowing the wearer to tighten the hat. The drawstrings are, according to custom, either tied and cut off/tucked in or else left to dangle. The beret is often adorned with a cap badge, either in cloth or metal. Some berets have a piece of buckram or other stiffener in the position where the badge is intended to be worn. Berets are also often lined with silk, imitation silk, or other material, though in some militaries the liner is removed in order to shape (called "forming") the beret.

The headband is in most cases apparent, but it can also be folded in (Basque style beret).

Berets in the military

Berets have been a component of the uniforms of many militaries throughout the world since the mid-20th century. A light blue beret is the international symbol of the United Nations Peacekeeping forces. Military berets are usually pulled to the right, but the militaries of some European countries (including France) have influenced the pull to the left.

The use of berets as a military headdress dates back to the creation of the French Chasseurs alpins in the early 1880s. These mountain troops were issued with a new style of uniform which included several features which were very practical and advanced by the standards of the time, notably the large and floppy blue beret which they still retain (see below). This was so unfamiliar a fashion outside France that it had to be described in an English encyclopedia in 1911 as "a sort of tam o'shanter hat".

Berets have features that make them very attractive to the military: They are cheap and easy to make in large numbers, they can be manufactured in a wide range of colors to enhance branch or regimental esprit de corps, they can be rolled up and stuffed into a pocket without damage and they can be worn with headphones (this is one of the reasons why tank crews came to adopt the beret). However, they are not so useful in field conditions for an infantryman, as they do not offer the protection for the face against sun and rain that a peaked or wide brimmed hat does.

The beret was found particularly useful as a uniform for armored vehicle crewmen, and the British Tank Corps (later Royal Tank Corps) adopted the headdress as early as 1918. German AFV crews in the late 1930s also adopted a beret with the addition of a padded crash helmet inside. The color black became popular as a tank crew headdress since it did not show oil stains picked up inside the interior of a vehicle. Black berets continue to be worn by armored regiments throughout the Commonwealth.

Berets have become the default military headdress of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, just as the tricorne, shako, kepi and peaked cap were in various early eras. The beret is now worn by the majority of military personnel across the world. The three major hold-outs were the United States, Russia, and China (PRC) - all have now followed the example of the other armies in adopting berets.

United States

The United States Army Special Forces are generally known as "green berets" for the color of their headgear. Other United States Army units can also be distinguished by the color of their headgear, as follows:

Berets were originally worn only by elite units of the U.S. Army. Hence, there was controversy when in 2001 the United States Army adopted the black beret, previously reserved for the Rangers, as standard headgear for all army units. The Rangers are now distinguished by tan berets.

The wearing of berets in the United States Air Force is somewhat less common, but several career fields are authorized to wear berets of differing colors, as specified in the following list:

Black berets are also authorized as an optional-wear-item for women E1-E9 in the United States Navy.

Berets in civilian organizations

Aside from armed forces, berets are associated with a variety of other different organizations.

  • Berets are worn by some scout groups, notably in Hong Kong and Britain, where green berets are worn. The Hong Kong Air Scouts wear blue berets. Canadian Scouts eliminated their navy blue beret in the late 1990s, but it is slowly making a comeback among the older members in various forms, such as red for Rover Scouts in British Columbia.
  • In Britain, berets are worn by the Sea Cadet Corps (SCC), Army Cadet Force (ACF), Air Training Corps (ATC) and Combined Cadet Force (CCF). These are in the appropriate service color, with ACF and CCF Army Section units wearing the beret of the regiment or corps to which they are affiliated.
  • Berets are worn by the Royal Canadian Army Cadets. They wear the same color as their affiliated regular force unit, unless there is no affiliated unit, in which case a black beret is worn.
  • Navy blue berets have been the standard headdress of the Royal Canadian Legion as well as other veterans' groups in Canada.
  • The Guardian Angels have adopted a red beret as a recognizable item of clothing
  • Some security companies in Hong Kong such as Securicor wear berets.
  • Members of the youth committee of the Mexican Red Cross used to wear a red beret, and black berets were worn by parachutists of the same institution. These were phased out in 2006, when a new uniform was issued.
  • Members of the Civil Air Patrol who attend National Blue Beret (NBB) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin during the EAA AirVenture Airshow can earn blue berets along with the Saint Alban's Cross, and the title of Blue Beret. Members of the Indiana Wing who achieve the classification of Ground Team Member level 2 (GTM2) are also awarded blue berets. CAP members who attend Hawk Mountain Ranger School and achieve the Advanced Ranger level are awarded black berets.

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