Sam Browne belt

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John J. Pershing wearing a Sam Browne belt

The Sam Browne belt is a wide belt, usually leather, supported by a narrower strap passing diagonally over the right shoulder.[1] It is most often a part of a military or police uniform.[2]


Sam Browne missing his left arm and beltless in a full dress uniform with sash
Polish chief of staff Gen. Mieczysław Cieniuch wearing a Sam Browne belt as part of the winter officer's uniform

Sam Browne VC was a British army officer serving in India in the 19th century.[3] In those days officers always carried a sword into battle. It hung from a small metal clip on the waistbelt, called a 'frog'. However, the scabbard tended to slide around a lot when they charged the enemy, meaning that it had to be steadied with the left hand before being drawn.[4]

During the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in India, Captain Sam Browne was serving with the 2nd Punjab Irregular Cavalry. On 31 August 1858, Captain Browne was involved in the fighting near Seerporah.[5] As he charged a cannon being reloaded, he was attacked by one of its crew. Browne received two sword cuts, one on the left knee and one which severed his left arm at the shoulder.[6] He survived the injuries but, without a left hand, he found that he was now unable to control or draw his sword.[7]

Browne came up with the idea of wearing a second belt which went over his right shoulder and held the scabbard in just the spot he wanted. This would hook into a heavy leather belt with D-rings for attaching accessories. It also securely carried a pistol in a flap-holster on his right hip and included a binocular case with a neck-strap. Other cavalry officers in the Indian Army began wearing a similar rig and soon it became part of the standard uniform. During the Boer War, the rig was copied by Imperial and Commonwealth troops and eventually became standard issue.[8]

Infantry officers wore a variant that used two suspender-like straps instead of the cross-belt. It was supposedly invented in 1878 by Lieutenant Sir Basil Templer Graham-Montgomery, 5th Baronet of the 60th Rifles while serving in India.


Due to its former use as equipment for carrying a sword, it is traditionally only worn by those to whom a sword would historically have been issued, namely officers and Warrant Officers (senior NCOs). Throughout most of its modern history, however, its main function has been to carry a pistol, and it was found to be particularly useful with the heavy pistols typically used during the first part of the 20th century.[citation needed]

Lieutenant-General Hugo Österman, a Finnish general wearing the Sam Browne belt during World War II


In the Finnish Army (as well as in Finnish Air Force) the Sam Browne belt, officially known as a "command belt" or "officer belt", has been used by officers and senior NCOs as well as officer cadets when wearing service, dress or parade uniforms. Currently it is mainly used by high-ranking officers during parades and other ceremonies, as it's only worn with dress uniform M58 and service uniform M83; while most Army and Air Force personnel, excluding cadets studying in the National Defence College as well as soldiers on ceremonial duties, use the camouflage uniform M05 as their service uniform, and the use of the "command belt" with any camouflage uniform except M62 (already phased out of service) is strictly forbidden.

Axis powers[edit]

Mussolini and Hitler wearing the belt

The Sam Browne belt featured prominently in many uniforms used by the Nazi Party in Germany, again in imitation of earlier European uniforms. It was popular with Adolf Hitler[3] and other leading Nazi officials.[9][10][11]

United Kingdom and the Commonwealth[edit]

In the 20th century it was a mainstay in the British Army officers' corps, being adopted service-wide in 1900 during the Second Boer War after limited use in India, and later becoming popular with military forces throughout the Commonwealth.[12]

After World War II the Sam Browne belt saw a decline in use in the Commonwealth. It was dropped from the standard officer's uniform in 1943.[13] However, officers, and Warrant Officer Class 1 (but not WO2) of the British Army and Royal Marines still wear it in service (No.2) dress and in non-ceremonial versions of No.1 dress.[14]

It was phased out by the Canadian military beginning with the unification of the armed services in 1968.[15]

In Australia all officers are entitled to wear the belt in ceremonial dress; Warrant Officers bearing the rank of WO1 (but not WO2) are also entitled to wear the belt.[16] Within the corps of the Australian Army there is some variation, with members of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps and Australian Army Aviation Corps wearing black Sam Browne belts.[17]

Rifle belt[edit]

A different arrangement from the traditional Sam Browne belt consists of a similar wide belt with two vertical supporting straps, one over each shoulder. The design put the burden of the gear, with its heavy ammo pouches on the belt and straps, on both shoulders.

It was worn by the officers of British and Commonwealth Rifle Regiments, who had to carry a rifle as their service arm rather than a pistol. It was also worn by big game hunters in Africa and India in the late-19th and mid-20th centuries. It is often seen worn in movies or TV shows as part of the costume of explorers or big game hunters.

Its invention is falsely attributed to Sam Browne. It was actually invented by Lieutenant Basil Templer Graham-Montgomery of the 60th Rifles while he was on service in India. Although a case of simultaneous development, Graham-Montgomery was seen as a plagiarist.[citation needed]

United States[edit]

During World War I, the Sam Browne Belt was approved by General Pershing, commander of the AEF, for wear by American officers as a rank distinction. However, the Army as a whole did not immediately approve its use.[1][18] MPs were positioned at stateside docks who confiscated them from returning officers.[19] The United States Army mandated the Sam Browne belt for overseas soldiers in 1918 under the name "Liberty belt"[20] and for all service members in 1921, this time under the internationally accepted name "Sam Browne belt".[21][22] It was a standard part of the uniform between World War I and World War II. It was limited in use in 1940 when the Army abandoned sabers[23] and replaced with a cloth waistbelt that was sewn to the officer's jacket.[19]

During World War I the Marine Corps adopted a brown leather Sam Browne Belt. It was later changed to black, the official color of Navy and Marine Corps leather gear. It is worn as part of the dress Blue A & B, Blue-white dress, and service A uniform by sword-bearing commissioned and warrant officers.

After the First World War, Sam Browne belts "become almost universal among American police".[24] The utility belts worn today by American police usually lack the cross-strap and the attachments for them. The belt fastens in the same way, with the bar of the buckle engaging a pair of hooks and the end of the belt retained by a post and keeper loop. They are also frequently fully lined, as opposed to the old style half-linings, to support equipment the length of the belt.[24]

Use in police forces worldwide[edit]

The Sam Browne belt is largely obsolete in police and security use due to risk of strangulation by potential opponents. It has sometimes been referred to as a Suicide Belt by personnel.[25] It had enjoyed some popularity with civilian police agencies worldwide and was probably most widely worn in this context during the 1940s and 1950s. This use has gradually faded out due to field safety concerns. It is part of the ceremonial dress uniform of many agencies, most notably the Red Serge worn by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.[26]

In Australia, a white Sam Browne belt and strap is worn by the Victoria Police Mounted Unit, the New South Wales Police Force VIP Cyclists, Protocol Inspector and Protocol Sergeant (during ceremonies only), NSW Police Academy Senior Protocol Officer (Senior Sergeant) and Parade Sergeant wear a black coloured leather basketweave Sam Browne belt and strap with silver coloured fittings as a badge of office. The same Sam Browne belt is also worn by the Australian Federal Police Ceremonial Mounted Cadre and AFP Drill Instructors.[citation needed]

In Italy a black Sam Browne belt with red trim is still worn by Carabinieri Warrant Officers (always when in service) and Officers (only at times); a white Sam Browne belt is also worn by Italian Police enlisted personnel.[citation needed]

In Ireland, a black Sam Browne belt is worn by Garda Síochána officers of the rank of Inspector and above when the tunic is worn.[citation needed]

In the United States, New Jersey State Police troopers wear a black Sam Browne belt in their distinctive uniform, which most other U.S. agencies generally reserve for dress uniforms.[citation needed]

In North Korea, high-ranking traffic controllers are seen spotting the Sam Browne belt over their uniforms. It is an important piece of their uniform, which makes them distinctive. It is still in service today.


The Sam Browne belt has been proposed as a solution to occupational safety and health concerns about injury due to the weight of equipment on police officers' belts.[27] However, others have expressed concern that the vertical design of the belt could enable criminals to gain physical control of law enforcement officers in an altercation.[28][29]

Civilian use[edit]

Big Boss Man (Wrestler) wearing a Sam Browne belt

During the interwar period, the belt became fashionable among some American[30] and European[31] women. Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady of the United States at the time, openly spoke out against the practice.[32] The belts also became a symbol of civilian authority by "everybody from bus drivers to volunteer schoolboy traffic cops".[33] The belt's use by junior safety patrol members became iconic.[34][35]

Since the 1970s, the use of Sam Browne Belts has increased in popularity within the Queer BDSM Leather subculture.[36]

Reflective Sam Browne belts are a popular safety device among cyclists for increasing their visibility, and a bright orange version is often worn by school crossing guards in junior safety patrols.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "'Sam Browne' Belts Are Barred Here". New York Times. 18 October 1917. Retrieved 28 January 2013. These belts have been worn by a number of British army officers and consist of a broad waist belt of leather, connected with a narrower leather strap that goes over the shoulder. The 'Sam Browne' belts serve no useful purpose but set off the uniform of an officer. 
  2. ^ "Sam Browne belt". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Samuel Thurston Williamson (9 November 1941). "Sam Browne. His Belt: There Was A British Officer Named Sam Browne And He Invented The Belt Which Today Even Adolf Hitler Wears". New York Times: SM8. Retrieved 28 January 2013. General Sam Browne must look down in wonder at the host of uniform-wearers who sport his belt today. ... 
  4. ^ William Foster-Harris (1 April 2007). The Look of the Old West: A Fully Illustrated Guide. Skyhorse Publishing Inc. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-1-60239-024-9. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Who was sam browne? (1922, Jan 05). The Youth's Companion (1827-1929), 96, 11-11.
  6. ^ "Sam browne belts originally devised for one-armed men". The Atlanta Constitution. 23 July 1921. 
  7. ^ Craig, Berry. "A Famous Military Fashion and the Man Behind It". O&P Business News : Linking the Orthotic and Prosthetic Profession. 20 (8): 62–63. 
  8. ^ Lee Lofland (8 August 2007). Howdunit Book of Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers. Writer's Digest Books. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-58297-455-2. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  9. ^ Roger A. Beaumont (2000). The Nazis' March to Chaos: The Hitler Era Through the Lenses of Chaos-Complexity Theory. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-275-96708-6. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  10. ^ Ronald C. Newton (1992). The "Nazi Menace" in Argentina, 1931-1947. Stanford University Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-8047-1929-2. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  11. ^ David Miller (30 December 2007). Fighting Men of World War II: Uniforms, Equipment and Weapons. Stackpole Books. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-8117-0277-5. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  12. ^ Charles John Ffoulkes; Edward Campbell Hopkinson (1967). Sword, Lance & Bayonet: A Record of the Arms of the British Army & Navy. CUP Archive. p. 94. GGKEY:AQU0Q8J935F. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  13. ^ "Sam Browne' Is Casualty. British Drop Belt Equipment From Officers' Uniform". New York Times. September 3, 1943. Retrieved 2014-01-03. 
  14. ^ Paragraph 20, Dress Regulations for the Mercian Regiment, January 2009
  15. ^ Lieutenant C.M. Stevens, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada
  16. ^ "The Same Browne belt-Australian Army". Australian Army. Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  17. ^ Jobson, Chris (2009). Looking Forward, Looking Back: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Army. Wavell Heights, Queensland: Big Sky Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-9803251-6-4. 
  18. ^ "Officers Quick to Don Sam Browne Belts. Pershing's Order Abrogating Old Regulation Is Welcomed at Camp Edwards". New York Times. July 15, 1921. Retrieved 2014-01-03. 
  19. ^ a b Jerold E. Brown (2001). Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Army. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 410. ISBN 978-0-313-29322-1. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  20. ^ ""Sam Browne" Belt Adopted by U.S. Army And Named "Liberty"". The Washington Post. 4 Jan 1918. 
  21. ^ "Sam Browne Belt Made Regulation Equipment in Army". The Washington Post. 7 July 1921. 
  22. ^ "All U.S. Officers Ordered To Wear Sam Browne Belts". Chicago Daily Tribune. 7 July 1921. 
  23. ^ "Army Abandons Sabers And Limits Sam Brownes". New York Times. November 13, 1940. Retrieved 2014-01-03. The Sam Browne belt, too, seems to be on the decline. In the last war it was worn by officers of British, French and American armies. The British restricted its use ... 
  24. ^ a b Massad Ayoob (28 February 2011). The Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery. Gun Digest Books. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-4402-2654-0. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  25. ^ Howser, Huell (Host, Writer) (October 2009). Visiting...With Huell Howser [LAPD Motors] (DVD). Los Angeles, CA: Huell Howser Productions. 
  26. ^ David Ross (24 March 1988). The Royal Canadian Mounted Police 1873-1987. Osprey Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-85045-834-3. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  27. ^ Soldo, Sandra (February 2004). "Overloaded: How the New South Wales police accoutrement belt plagues its wearers". Police Journal Online. 85 (1). 
  28. ^ US patent 2564564 
  29. ^ US patent 3352467 
  30. ^ "Women Like Sam Browne Belts". New York Times. 21 October 1917. 
  31. ^ "Sam Browne Belt Worn in France by Women Hikers". Chicago Daily Tribune. 4 October 1936. 
  32. ^ Kathleen McLaughlin (27 July 1941). "'No Sam Browne Belts,' Says Mrs. Roosevelt". New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2013. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt confesses to only one foreboding about American women now mobilizing for defense activities. She is fearful of the spread of a Sam Browne belt complex and the flimflam it symbolizes. ... 
  33. ^ "Nature Ramblings: Admirals Wearing Spurs". The Science News-Letter. Society for Science & the Public. 27 (729). 30 March 1935. 
  34. ^ Bill Lohmann Times-Dispatch, Staff Writer. "Aaa Safety Patrols * 1920-1995 75 Years of Safety Now as then, Kids in the Sam Browne Belts Stand between their Schoolmates and Danger." Richmond Times - Dispatch, Sep 20, 1995.
  35. ^ "Helping to Keep Schools Safe." Times - News, Aug 14, 2009.
  36. ^ Geczy, Adam; Karaminas, Vicki (2013). Queer Style. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-1-8478-8736-8. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  37. ^ Pier Battistelli (22 November 2011). Italian Army Elite Units & Special Forces 1940-43. Osprey Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-84908-895-4. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 

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