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 Canadian Army's Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (RCAC), and the Australian Army's Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) among others. 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) members, and the Royal Canadian Navy ("navy blue"). Black berets are also worn over hoods by members of ETA.
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.
The black beret has its origins with the British Royal Tank Corps going back to 1918. General Sir Hugh Jamieson Elles, together with Colonel Fuller came up with the idea of a black beret for the Royal Tank Corps after being influenced by the 70th Chasseurs Alpines, who wore a black beret at the time. 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.
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.
During the Vietnam war the US 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".
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 women soldiers in 1975.
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 November 28, 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 (ASUs), the U.S. Army's dress uniform. It also became the official garrison headgear to be worn with the Army Combat Uniform (ACUs) in 2001. The change was implemented by Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff at the time, who stated that it was about promoting "...our values as an institution." 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 ventilation from the sun when worn.
Despite years of negative feedback, the beret remained part of the ACUs until 2011, when incoming Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond 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 ACUs, and the Army subsequently did just that. The black beret remained the headgear for the ASUs, but was replaced as the default headgear with the ACU patrol cap.
Usage around the world
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 Army Reconnaissance Corps.
In the Danish Army, the black beret was originally used by all combat regiments, but now it is worn by the two royal regiments and the armored regiment, the Royal Guards (Den Kongelige Livgarde), the Hussars (Gardehusarregimentet), and the Dragoons (Jyske Dragon Regiment).
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 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 where 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 Malaysian Army, the members of the Royal Armor Corps wear the 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.
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.
Members of Serbian Military Police wear black berets.
The Finnish Panssarijääkäri (panzerjaegers) and members of the Armored Brigade also wear black berets.
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 Greek Army, black berets are worn by the Armoured branch.
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 Special Operation Command forces.
In the Turkish Army, black berets are worn by Tank branch.
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 also wear a "very 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, part of the same Nylands Brigade, wear the green beret).
As a revolutionary symbol
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. In the 1960s several activist groups adopted the beret.
- The Black Panther Party, of the United States formed in 1966, wore black berets.
- A similar Black Power organisation in Bermuda was named the Black Beret Cadre.
- Chicano activists wore the black beret in the 1960s (in homage to Che Guevara) as a symbol of militancy and organized the Black Berets por La Justicia throughout California and the Southwestern United States.
- Irish National Liberation Army members wore a black beret.
- Provisional Irish Republican Army members wore a black beret.
- ETA wore black berets over hoods in public appearances.
- THRUSH troops on The Man from UNCLE wore black berets.
- p.172 Cutler, Thomas J. Brown Water, Black Berets 2000 Naval Institute Press
- p.223 Stanton, Shelby U.S. Army Uniforms of the Cold War 1948-1973 1994 Stackpole Books
- "Army dumps beret as official ACU headgear".
- "ACU Uniform Changes".
- p.119 Ogbar, Jeffrey Ogbanna Green Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity 2004 JHU Press
Military berets by color: