Garrison and Service Caps

By Ed Kennedy


I’ve found a great deal of confusion about the proper names and nomenclatures for US Army headgear, so I thought I would research the background on the proper names to share with the men in our unit.

At the end of the 1930s and beginning of the 1940s, the Army was using headgear essentially used in WWI. The helmet, a derivative of the British Pattern 1915 helmet adopted by the U.S. in WWI with minor modifications, was still the standard although the liner had been redesigned in 1931. In 1941 the Army adopted the M-1 helmet worn until replaced with the Kevlar in 1982.

The other headgear consisted of a leather brimmed dress hat, a pressed felt campaign hat, and a flat cloth cap.


Campaign Hat

The campaign hat was issued to all soldiers for both field and garrison wear. In 1912, the campaign hat was re-designed with a “pinched top” with a point and four indentations (“Montana Peak”). Soldiers of all branches were issued this hat until 1933. In WWI, the hat was found to be extremely bulky when deployed overseas. While there are numerous photos of soldiers wearing them as they debarked in France in 1917, they were largely replaced by 1918 with the flat cloth cap, copied from similar British and French Army designs. The Campaign hat remained in Army regulations and issue until the beginning of WWII when their size and cost was found to be impractical for deploying troops. It was dropped from Army issue by early 1942. During the 1950s, Army drill sergeants again adopted the Campaign hat as their standard headgear. It is the hat they wear today. It has the nickname of “Smokey the Bear” hat. That name is a post-WWII name however and would not have likely been called that by soldiers of the time.


Brimmed Hat – Service

First issued in the 1890s, the leather brimmed hat was designed to be worn strictly for formal and semi-formal occasions around the garrison or post. It changed in design by 1902 (“Bell Crown Cap”) and again in 1912 with the crown increasing gradually in size. In 1921, the hat assumed the general proportions still found in the current Army dress blues uniform hat. The official name of the hat found in AR 600-35 is “Service Cap”. The hat had various unofficial names over the years but has remained the “service cap” since its inception in the 1890s. It is commonly nicknamed the “dress cap” or, sometimes, the “bus driver’s cap”.


Flat Cloth Cap – “Garrison Cap”

During WWI an “overseas cap” had been issued to men serving in France, but this items of headgear became obsolete after the war. Now in Change No. 2, the same type of cap, redesignated a “field cap” or ‘garrison cap’, was prescribed for all personnel of tank and mechanized cavalry units (AR 600-35, Par.9[b], 22 August 1933). It was described as being of “standard design over-seas cap [referring back to the WWI design] with curtain, with a piping around the edge of the curtain the color of the arm for officers, and with no piping for enlisted men.” It was to be worn by officers and men of the armored and mechanized cavalry units without insignia.” P. 75, Vol 4, The Horse Soldier, by Randy Steffan. This cap replaced the Campaign hat for armored and mechanized troops for obvious reasons.


Change 2 to AR 600-40, Para 42, dated 25 August 1942 specifically cites the flat cloth cap as the “garrison cap” and drops the designation of “field cap”. The cap was to be issued to all soldiers. They were made in cotton khaki for wear with the summer khaki uniform and O.D. wool for wear with the wool service uniform. Branch piping was added for all soldiers, not just officers. Hence, the designation of the flat cloth cap was originally the “overseas cap” during WWI. However, in 1933, the name changed to “field” or “garrison” cap. In the 1942 regulations the cap is called the “garrison cap” (the designation “field cap” name being dropped). My FM 21-15 (1966), Care and Use of Individual Clothing and Equipment, issued to me in Basic Training in 1971, still cites the two caps as: Cap, garrison, army green and Cap, service, army green. The “garrison cap”, therefore, has been the flat cap since 1942. It also has several unofficial names, some of which are unprintable in polite company. The only soldiers who wear the Garrison Cap today are soldiers in Basic Training. Once soldiers graduate, they can wear the black beret issued to all soldiers now (formerly only Rangers). It has been erroneously referred to as the “Overseas Cap” which was originally its name during WWI but changed as noted above.