The green beret was the official headdress of the British Commandos of the Second World War. It is still worn by members of the Royal Marines after passing the Commando Course and men from other units attached to the Marines who have passed the All Arms Commando Course.
There are certain other military organizations which also wear the green beret because they have regimental or unit histories that have a connection with the British Commandos of the Second World War. These include the Australian, French and Dutch commandos and the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets). It is the norm in the armed forces of the Commonwealth Nations, where most regiments wear hats or cap badges which reflect regimental battle honours and traditions.
Initially those who joined the British Commandos kept their parent regimental headdress and cap badges. In 1941 No. 1 Commando had no fewer than 79 different cap badges and many different forms of headdress. "Thus a motley collection of caps, Tam o' Shanters, bonnets, forage caps, caps 'fore and aft', berets, peaked KD caps, etc., appeared on the Commando parades," says Captain Oakley, "the forest being a veritable RSM’s nightmare!"
No. 2 Commando and No. 9 Commando faced with the same problem had adopted the Tam o' Shanter, but, as a traditional Scottish headdress, this was not considered suitable for what was a British unit. After some discussion it was agreed that if No 1 Commando was to adopt a uniformed headdress then the beret, which had been worn by the Tank Regiment since the first world war (and had recently been adopted by the Parachute Regiment), would meet the requirements: it had no British regional affinity, it was difficult to wear improperly, and it could be easily stowed away without damage (when for example tin hats were in use).
Having decided on the headdress, the next question to be resolved was the colour. The shoulder insignia of No. 1 Commando had been designed by the Richmond Herald at the College of Arms. It incorporated three colours in its design of a green salamander going through fire: red, yellow and green. Green was chosen as the most suitable. A Scottish firm of tam-o-shanter makers in Irvine (Ayrshire) was chosen to design and manufacture the beret.
Once the design was agreed, Brigadier Robert Laycock was approached by No. 1 Commando to seek his permission to wear it. He had been pondering on what the commandos should use for their headdress, and welcomed the green beret as a chance to introduce it as standard for all commando formations, with No. 1 Commando being the first to don them.
The proposal that the commandos should start wearing green beret as their official headdress was submitted to the Chief of Combined Operations and forwarded by Lord Mountbatten to the Under-Secretary of State for War. Approval was granted and in October 1942 the first green berets were issued to the Royal Marines.
Over the past few years the Commando Veterans Association (CVA) have worked closely with Original WWII commandos, their families and comrades, to create a definitive account of their actions and ranks. The CVA today is a thriving community spanning the globe of past and present British Commandos.
Australian Commandos berets are known as being "Sherwood Green" in colour. The green beret is only awarded to a soldier upon becoming qualified as a Commando in either of the below Regiments.
- 1st Commando Regiment
- 2nd Commando Regiment. Formerly 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, a special forces unit of the Australian Army
The Belgian 2nd Commando Battalion inherited the green beret along with other traditions from the 4th Troop of No.10 Commando. While members of the Belgian 3rd Parachute Battalion have gone through the same training as 2nd Commando, including the commando course, they wear maroon berets instead of green ones.
The Commandos Marine are an élite special operations unit of the French navy. Formed during the Second World War in Britain, they use the same green berets as the British commandos. They are called bérets verts (green berets).
The Special Forces of the Netherlands consist mainly of the KCT (Korps Commando Troepen). Their motto is 'Nunc aut Nunquam' which is Latin for 'Now or Never'. The roots of the KCT go back to World War II. Under the name No. 2 (Dutch) Troop, the first Dutch commandos were trained in Achnacarry, Scotland, as part of No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando. The unit was formed on March 22, 1942, the birthday of the present KCT.
Members of the Netherlands Marine Corps also receive upon completion of the Commando Course a green beret, but with the gold anchor on a red back ground.
Royal Marine Commandos
In the United Kingdom all Royal Marines who have passed the Commando Course wear the green beret. Personnel from the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force volunteering for service with 3 Commando Brigade undertake the All Arms Commando Course, completion of which allows the individual to wear the headdress. Commando-qualified Royal Marines always wear the green beret, with the Globe and Laurel cap badge, but commando-qualified personnel from other services wear the beret, with their own cap badge, when serving with commando units unless otherwise authorised.
United States Army Special Forces
In the U.S. armed forces, the green beret may be worn only by soldiers awarded the Special Forces Tab, signifying they have been qualified as Special Forces (SF) soldiers. The Special Forces beret is officially designated "beret, man's, wool, rifle green, army shade 297."
U.S. Special Forces adopted the Green Beret unofficially in 1954 after searching for a piece of headgear that would set them apart as an elite fighting force. Members of the 77th SFG began searching through their collections of berets and settled on the Rifle Green color of the British Commandos. Captain Frank Dallas had the new beret designed and produced in small numbers for the members of the Special Forces.
Their new headdress was first worn at a retirement parade at Fort Bragg on 12 June 1955 for Lieutenant General Joseph P. Cleland, the now-former commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Onlookers thought that the commandos were a foreign delegation from NATO.
In 1956 General Paul D. Adams, the post commander at Fort Bragg, banned its wear, even though it was worn surreptitiously when deployed overseas. This was reversed on 25 September 1961 by Department of the Army Message 578636, which designated the green beret as the exclusive headdress of the Army Special Forces.
When visiting the Special Forces at Fort Bragg on 12 October 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked Brigadier General William P. Yarborough to make sure that the men under his command wore green berets for the visit. Later that day, Kennedy sent a memorandum which included the line: "I am sure that the green beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead." By America's entry into the Vietnam War, the green beret had become a symbol of excellence throughout the US Army. On April 11, 1962 in a White House memorandum to the United States Army, President Kennedy reiterated his view: "The green beret is a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom." To no avail, both Yarborough and Edson Raff had previously petitioned the Pentagon to allow wearing of the green beret. The President, however, did not fail them.
In addition to being the headdress of the United States Army Special Forces, "Green Berets" is also a well known nickname of the organization.
- RM staff.
- There is a dependency in the sources. The Royal Marines Museum write "tam-oshanter makers in Irvine (Ayrshire)" while Oakley writes "Luckily there was a factory close by at Ardrossan specialising in the manufacture of Scottish bonnets, etc." (RM staff, Oakley)
- 4 RAR Associations of Australia: The beret: http://www.4rarassociationsaustralia.com/beret-history.html
- http://www.mil.be/armycomp/units/index.asp?LAN=fr&FILE=&ID=547&MENU=31&PAGE=1 (French)
- "DEFENCE SUPPLY CHAIN MANUAL JSP 336 (3rd Edition), VOLUME 12 PART 3 PAMPHLET 15 SECTION 5, HEADDRESS". "Green RM beret.
(1) Royal Marines Commandos All ranks serving with 3 Cdo Bde who have passed the RM Commando Course may wear the green beret. When on parade with RM, green berets are only to be worn if RM are wearing them on that parade themselves.
(2) All ranks posted out of 3 Cdo Bde cease to wear the RM green beret, except for those qualified other ranks serving in RA, RE and RLC Cdo units."
- "The Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger" by Leroy Thompson and "Knives of War: An International Guide to Military Knives from World War I to the Present by Gordon Hughes, Barry Jenkins, and Robert A. Buerlein
- JSP 336 3rd EDITION, VOLUME 12, PART 3 - CLOTHING, PAMPHLET NO 15 - BADGES, EMBELLISHMENTS AND HEADDRESS, ANNEX B
- "History: Special Forces Green Beret". Special Forces Search Engine. Retrieved 8 March 2007.
- P.32, "Inside the Green Berets" by Charles Simpson III
- Oakley, Captain Derek. "The Origin of the Green Beret". St Nazaire Society website. Retrieved October 2011.
- RM staff. "A Short History of the Royal Marines: The Crest, Colours, Beret, Nicknames and Prayers of the Royal Marines". Royal Marines Museum. Retrieved October 2011.