The Army Beret A Historical Presentationby LTC James Corum USAR PhD Military History
Purpose of this Briefing• To support the Chief of Staff, US Army, and the decision to make the beret the standard hat of the US Army.• To provide a historical overview of how and why the beret has become such a popular part of the military uniform in the 20th Century.
The Origin of the Beret’s Popularity – The French Army• In 1918 the French Army was victorious on the battlefield. The French Army was tactically innovative and performed superbly in the 1918 final offensives.• In the period after World War I, the French Army was generally regarded as the world’s best.• However, a period of malaise set in. There were few funds for training and operations. Living conditions for professional soldiers were poor. Morale was down.
The Beret Adopted To Boost Morale• Given the lack of funds and morale problems of the French Army in the interwar period outstanding officers, such as Army Commander in Chief Maurice Gamelin, helped raise morale by updating and improving the uniform. One of the major changes adopted by the interwar French Army was the adoption of the beret as a primary uniform hat.
Interwar French Army- US Army Today: How Similar?• There are several important similarities between the interwar French Army and the US Army of today. One of the striking similarities is the emphasis on force protection as a top priority. The French had a low casualty tolerance as part of their doctrine – just like the US Army today. The French doctrine led L’Armée Française to concentrate on strong fortifications
Force Protection Doctrine Worked!! Few soldiers in the Maginot Linewere killed or wounded in the campaign of 1940. Almost all of the troops were in good condition when they surrendered to the Germans who outflanked and surrounded them. The beret was the headgear of choice in the Maginot Line. (Photo- Maginot Line circa 1938)
French Generals Spring 1940: France’s leading warriors in the 1940campaign also wore the beret. Although facing difficult odds against theGermans (1:1 ratio in ground troops and only a 1:1.3 advantage in tanksand 2:1 advantage in artillery) -Some of these generals managed to hold the line for hours before their divisions completely collapsed.
Prime Minister and statesman Eduard Daladier shows solidarity with the troops by wearing a beret while visitingthe front in 1939. Marquise de Crussel, the official mistress of the Prime Minister – who had enormous influence in the government- reportedly favored the beret.
Norway 1940- France’s first major campaign of World War IIThe importance of a snappy uniform and hat to troop moralecan’t be overestimated. One can scarcely imagine that these soldiers have just suffered a humiliating defeat and have abandoned virtually all of their equipment to the Germans. Photo: French retreat from Namsos May 1940
June 1940: This surrendering French soldier is wearing his beret in the “high and tight” manner of the US Army. Hisdurable beret kept his head warm in the cold winters during his 5 years of forced labor in Germany.
After 1940 the Beret served as the uniform of theVichy Fascist regime. Vichy Air Force circa 1942
The beret was also the uniform hat of the fearsomeVichy Milice Internal Security forces. These Milice are arresting people suspected of disloyalty to the regime- 1943
The Post World War II French Army• After World War II the French Army changed much of their uniform – but retained the pre- WWII beret.• The beret saw service in Indochina and Algeria.
Indochina 1945-54 The Beret was the primary headgear ofthe French forces. The Viet Mihn were highly impressed bythe martial appearance of the French Army. Photo: French on parade in Hanoi circa 1950
Indochina- Dien Bien Phu Nov 1953. Many of the Frenchtroops wore their berets during the momentous siege of Dien Bien Phu. If this soldier survived the battle, he probably wore his beret into captivity.
Algeria 1954-62 Again the Beret was standard wear-- even in the field.
Algeria 1962: French forces proudly wear berets on the way to embarkation as they withdraw from Algeria . Even in defeat, the French Army maintained a first-rate martial appearance.
The Beret in Other Armies• After the beret became standard wear in France, other armies adopted the hat.• In the Spanish Civil War, both sides wore the beret into battle.
Troops of the Spanish Republic. The Republican forces lost most of the big battles. However, during the Summer and Fall of 1936 beret-wearing soldiers successfully liquidated over 10,000 enemies of the state.* (nuns, priests, businessmen, landowners)
Spanish Nationalist troops give the Fascist salute after avictory in April 1938- Whole divisions wore the beret into battle. The Spanish Nationalist Army is one of the more successful armies that wore the beret.
The Beret’s Enduring Popularity• Through the 1960s the beret became the standard hat in many nations around the globe– including some famous fighting forces.
South Vietnamese Regional Force soldier- Mid 1960s
The Beret in the Third World Forces• By the 1960s, the beret became the headgear of choice in many newly independent third world armies who tried to adapt the proud traditions of the French Army to their own forces.
Soldier of the Congo Republic in beret-Stanleyville, Congo, Summer 1960- finishing off wounded civilians
The Beret – A proud symbol for 70 years• The French Army has had a great effect upon many armies in doctrine and uniform.• The US Army has been heavily influenced by the French Army ever since the French were our primary teachers in war in 1917-1918.• The beret has served French well through three republics (Third, Fourth and Fifth) and one fascist dictatorship (Vichy). It is an enduring symbol.• For the French Army in the Disaster of 1940, the Debacle in Indochina and the Defeat in Algeria- The beret was there!