Black beret

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Field Marshal Montgomery wearing his black beret

The black beret is a type of headgear commonly worn by armoured forces around the world including the British Army's Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (RCAC), and the Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC). Notable non-armoured units to wear the black beret include the Russian Naval Infantry (and formerly Soviet) and Russian OMON units, the United States Air Force (USAF) Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) members, and the Royal Canadian Navy ("navy blue"). It was also worn by the United Kingdom's Royal Observer Corps (ROC) with their Royal Air Force (RAF) uniform, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

Perhaps the most famous Commonwealth wearer of the black beret was Field Marshal Montgomery who wore a Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) beret complete with cap badge, presented to him by the regiment, to which he added his own general's (later field marshal's) rank insignia.

Original usage

The black beret has its origins with the French 70th Chasseurs Alpins who influenced the British Royal Tank Corps beginning in 1918. General Sir Hugh Jamieson Elles, together with Colonel Fuller came up with the idea of a black beret for the Royal Tank Corps. Black was selected as the colour because it was least likely to show oil stains, something which tank crewmen of that time (and now) could appreciate. It was approved for wear with the Royal Tank Corps by HM King George V on 5 March 1924.

The Black Beret remained the exclusive distinctive headdress of the Royal Tank Corps in 1940.[1]

When uniforms were issued to the Royal Observer Corps there was a surplus of Royal Armoured Corps black berets that were given to the unit.

United States military usage

In the United States military, the beret was unofficially worn by a variety of special operations units during and following World War II. In the spring of 1951, the 10th and 11th Ranger Companies wore black berets during their training at Camp Carson, Colorado, before their deployment to Japan.

Black berets in the U.S. Air Force

In 1979, the black beret was authorized for wear by enlisted personnel in the Tactical Air Control Party. In 1984, two airmen from Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina submitted the current flash and badge design. It was approved for all TACP airmen in 1985. Tactical Air Control Party specialists (AFSC 1C4X1) are currently the only United States Air Force specialty allowed to wear the coveted black beret as part of their daily duty uniform wear.[2]

Black berets in the U.S. Army

A soldier from 1st Bn, 23rd Inf Reg, 2nd ID wearing the black beret (2001)

In 1973, permission was granted to local commanders to encourage distinctive, morale-enhancing uniform items and the black beret was adopted by armor and armored cavalry units in the United States.

A black beret was authorized for wear by female soldiers in 1975.[3]

On January 30, 1975, it was officially assigned as part of the newly created battalions of United States Army Rangers who had worn it unofficially during the Vietnam War.

In 1979, the army chief of staff ruled that the black beret was restricted to just ranger and airborne units (the latter receiving their distinctive maroon berets on November 28, 1980). However, since June 14, 2001, the black beret is worn by all United States Army troops unless the soldier is approved to wear a different distinctive beret. The Rangers now wear tan berets in reverence to the buckskins worn by Rogers' Rangers during the French and Indian War.

The black beret is worn as part of the Army Service Uniform (ASU), the U.S. Army's dress uniform. It also became the official garrison headgear to be worn with the Battle Dress Uniform (BDUs) in 2001, and from 2005 the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). The change was implemented by General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff at the time, who stated that it was about promoting "...our values as an institution."[4] From the beginning, the beret was unpopular with soldiers, because the headgear required two hands to put it on, could not be carried in the pocket when not worn (as the patrol cap could), and provided no shade from the sun when worn.

Despite years of negative feedback, the beret remained part of the ACU until 2011, when incoming Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler made it his first order of business to address the wishes "thousands of soldiers" who wanted the army to end the wear of the beret with the ACU, and the army subsequently did just that.[5][6][7] The black beret remained the headgear for the ASU, but was replaced as the default headgear with the ACU patrol cap.[8]

Black berets in the U.S. Navy

Male black beret

During the Vietnam War the U.S. Navy personnel assigned to patrol boats wore the South Vietnamese navy black beret with badge. Unit tradition had the back ribbon cut into two pennants after first contact with the enemy with the ends of the pennant notched in a "V" to signify he had made an enemy "kill".[9]

Female black beret

Until October 2016, a black beret was authorized to be worn,[10][11] albeit solely by female U.S. Navy sailors of all ranks.[12] Female commissioned officers wore the U.S. Navy officer crest on the beret above the left eyebrow, female petty officers and seamen wore the combination cover's device, and female chief petty officers wore their rate insignia instead. The female black beret's usage was discontinued along with the officer's tiara by the navy in 2016 as part of a naval effort to reduce the number of uniform items, make them appear more unisex, and also due to a lack of widespread use.[13]

Usage around the world

In the Turkish Land Forces, the black berets are worn by Armor personnel.

In the Polish Armed Forces, the black berets are worn by armored units of Polish Army, and by Polish Navy.

In the German Army, an oversized black beret was introduced during the Third Reich for panzer crews, to be worn over the crash helmet; however this was dropped in favour of a black garrison cap during World War II. Today the black beret (of conventional size) is worn by the Armoured Corps and the Armoured Reconnaissance Corps.

The black beret is worn by all soldiers in the Luxembourg Army.

In the Danish Army, the black beret was originally used by all combat regiments, but now it is worn by Jutland Dragoons, Guard Hussars, Royal Life Guard, Army Combat and Fire Support Center, Garnisonskommandant Vordingborg and 1st Danish Artillery Battalion[14]

In the Portuguese Army, the black beret is worn by the cavalry branch, including the armoured troops and the military police. The black beret is also worn by several Portuguese civil forces, like the Bomb disposal unit of the Public Security Police, the Prison Guard Corps and the Civil Defense.

In the Chilean Army,the black beret is worn by the paras and the special forces.

In the Sri Lankan Army, the Armoured Corps, Mechanized Infantry and the Special Forces wear black berets.

In the Sri Lankan Navy, the black beret is worn by the Members of the elite Special Boat Squadron.

In the Spanish Army, the black beret is worn by the Mechanized Brigades and the Parachutist Brigade BRIPAC.

In the Spanish Air Force, the black beret is worn by the Paras: EZAPAC, Escuadrilla de Apoyo al Despliegue Aero (EADA) and SEADA as well as by Military Police Units. Members of EZAPAC also wear a Green Beret with their battle dress, to denote their Special Forces specialization. Traditionally black berets were used to denote para units, the custom originating in the Spanish Air Force, although its now used also by other, non-para units in the Army and the Air Force.

In the Belgian Army, the black beret is worn by armoured and engineer troops.

In the Dutch Army, the black beret is worn by cavalry battalions.

In the pre-2003 Iraqi Army, the black beret was the most commonly worn headgear and continues to be worn by both army and police personnel of the new Iraqi Army.

In the Israel Defense Forces, soldiers serving in the Armor Corps wear black berets.

In the Malaysian Army, the members of the Royal Armor Corps wear the black berets.

In the Philippine Army, the members of the 1st Scout Ranger Regiment, Presidential Security Group and Tank Officers from the Philippine Army Light Armor Division

In the Philippine Air Force, members of the Special Operations Wing wears black berets.

In the Philippine National Police, members of the Special Action Force wears black berets.

In the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, members of the Traffic Enforcers wears black berets.

In the Singapore Armed Forces, members of the Armour formation wear black berets.

In the South African Army, members of the South African Armoured Corps including tank and armoured car units wear black berets.

The Norwegian Army Panserbataljonen (armoured) and other cavalry units wear black berets.

In the Indian Army, all Cavalry and Armoured Corps & National Security Guards wear black berets.

In the Pakistan Army, the Armoured Corps wears black berets as well as special forces.

In the Bangladesh Army, all units of the Armoured, Cavalry and Lancer Corps wear black berets.

In the Swedish Army, all armour and mechanized units wear black berets.

In the Irish Army the majority of the members of the Permanent Defence Forces, specifically the infantry, wear black berets except for certain combat support units such as MPs, Cavalry etc.

In the Czech Army the Military police unit-MP's.

The Irish Republican Army and its splinter groups wore black berets (with balaclavas) at events such as funerals of their members. A Black Beret was often placed on the coffin of the deceased.

Members of Serbian Military Police wear black berets.

The Finnish Panssarijääkäri (panzerjaegers) and members of the Armored Brigade also wear black berets.

Tactical Air Control Party members of the United States Air Force wear black berets with a flash and badge design.

The Brazilian armour and mechanized troops also wear the black beret, as well as the special forces unit of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro, Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE).

The Argentine Navy's Batallón de Infantería de Marina 5 (5th Marine Battalion), of Falklands War Mount Tumbledown fame (1982), wears a black beret. This was introduced by (then) Commander Manuel Tomé around 1977, and the beret was awarded on completion of a Cold Weather and Mountain Warfare Course. Today, all units of the Southern Marine Force of the Argentine Marine Corps wear black berets with unit badges.

In the Brazilian auxiliary military forces of the Polícia Militar (Military Police), specially in Minas Gerais state, officers sometimes wears black berets as official parts of patrol gear.

In the Canadian Armed Forces, black berets are worn by Royal Canadian Armoured Corps soldiers and by all sailors (except military police and special operations sailors).

In the Croatian Army black berets are worn by Military police units and by 1st Guard Brigade (Croatia).

In the Greek Army, black berets are worn by the Panzer (Armored Vehicles) branch, tracing back to the tradition of the original cavalry units.

In the Italian Army most units wear a black beret. Exceptions are: Paratroopers, Alpini, Army Aviation Corps (AVES) and Bersaglieri.

In the Indonesian Army, black beret is worn by the members of Cavalry Corps (except cavalry battalions under Kostrad strategic reserve command which wearing dark green beret universal to all of its soldiers).

In the Indonesian Navy, members of the Submarine Corps wear black berets.

In the Austrian Bundesheer all armoured units (Armoured Battalions, Mechanized Infantry Battalions, Artillery Battalions and Mechanized Headquarter Battalions), wear the black beret.

In the Venezuelan Army, black berets are of general use except for Paratroopers, Special Forces, Counter-insurgency troops and soldiers stationed inside the Ministry of Defence and Army headquarters.

In the Republic of Korea Army, black berets are worn by Republic of Korea Army Special Warfare Command special operations forces.

In the Swiss Army, black berets are worn by Tank Branch, Pioneers, Rescue Troops, Communication and Command Troops, high command, Tank Grenadiers, Chaplains, armed forces legal service and other troops.

Near black berets

The naval colour is officially "very dark blue". The Dutch Navy and Marines wear dark navy blue berets; a silver anchor for the Navy and a gold or dark brown (field duty) anchor on a red background for the Marines. The Portuguese Marines and San Marco Regiment, the Marines of the Italian Navy also wear a dark blue beret. The Royal Norwegian Air Force also use a dark blue beret. Finnish Marine Infantry wear a dark blue beret with the Navy insignia.(Finnish Coastal Jaegers - marine commandos - part of the same Nylands Brigade, wear the green beret).

As a revolutionary symbol

Che Guevara wearing his iconic black beret

One of the most famous photographs of Che Guevara taken by Alberto Korda was of him wearing a black beret with a gold star. Fidel Castro also wore a black beret during the revolution against the Batista government of Cuba.[15] In the 1960s several activist groups adopted the beret.

Other Usages

  • Since August 2017, the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree members are now wearing black berets as part of their new uniform.[18]


  1. ^,
  2. ^ "U.S. Military Beret History (Page 2)". 2001-10-17.
  3. ^ p.223 Stanton, Shelby U.S. Army Uniforms of the Cold War 1948–1973 1994 Stackpole Books
  4. ^ "Defense Leaders Uphold Army's Black Beret Decision (Corrected Copy)". Retrieved June 16, 2018.
  5. ^ "Army dumps beret as official ACU headgear". Archived from the original on 2014-02-20.
  6. ^ Pierce-Lunderman, Cursha (June 23, 2011). "Bye-Bye, Beret: Switch to Patrol Cap Brings Mixed Feelings". U.S. Army. Retrieved March 2, 2017.
  7. ^ Shaughnessy, Larry (June 14, 2011). "Army Backtracks on Black Berets After More than a Decade of Debate". CNN. Retrieved March 2, 2017.
  8. ^ Lopez, C. Todd (June 15, 2011). "ACU Changes Make Velcro Optional, Patrol Cap Default headgear". U.S. Army. Retrieved March 2, 2017.
  9. ^ Cutler, Thomas J. (2000) Brown Water, Black Berets. Naval Institute Press, p. 172.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "NAVADMIN 208/15". September 2015. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  14. ^ "Nye myndigheder, nye baretmærker og farver". Forsvaret (in Danish).
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-21. Retrieved 2009-01-16.
  16. ^ p.119 Ogbar, Jeffrey Ogbanna Green Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity 2004 JHU Press
  17. ^
  18. ^ Color Corps Drill Manual (PDF). Knights of Columbus. 2018. p. 10.

See also

Military berets by color:

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