In service from November 1917 until such time as regulation U.S. Army Overseas Caps became available in early 1918
By late autumn of 1917, GHQ had officially proclaimed that the Campaign Hat would no longer be worn in the trenches.
With General Pershing’s approval, the American soldier’s preferred head covering was struck from the list of the articles of equipment authorized for the AEF.
From that day forward replacement Campaign Hats were no longer shipped overseas to France. The reasoning behind that decision was partially because the Campaign Hat could on occassion be seen by the enemy when worn in the trenches:
It was found that the brim of the campaign hat interfered with sighting through the trench periscopes and that the high crown, in the case of tall men, could be seen above the parapets. The new cap was so low that it permits the men to move with the same freedom as when they are hatless.
Other reasons for the withdrawal of the Campaign Hat were that:
- The hat quickly lost its shape due to a combination of the poor French weather and the rough conditions of the trenches.
- There was no sensible method of restoring the tall fur felt hat’s rumpled ‘Montana Peak’ or of straightening its broad and often sagging brim in the front line trenches.
- The hat was easily crushed when placed in storage and when it was carried.
- The hat could not be folded or conveniently carried when the steel helmet was worn.
- There was no practical place to store thousands of oversized hats in the front line trenches where the steel helmet was frequently worn.
As soon as the unpopular, but practical decision eliminating the Campaign Hat had been reached, a new form of headgear to wear in its place had to be devised. Information as to how the Campaign Hat’s replacement was decided upon or in what form the new martial headgear would appear, is at present unknown.
However, according to the following, the predecessor to the AEF’s Overseas Cap was a provisional garment, which in this particular instance was called a “Field Service Cap” – a distinctly British name. The so called ‘Field Service Caps’ were issued in November of 1917 to the troops of the 1st Division’s 7th Field Artillery Regiment:
During the few weeks that the regiment had been in France the old Stetson service hats had become frightfully bedraggled and as no new ones were available the garment presented a rather disreputable appearance. It was on that march that the field service or “overseas” cap was first issued to the regiment and its appearance was greeted with shouts of amusement.
History of the 7th Field Artillery, 1929, no author, page 20, 21
A similar tale was told, only this time about a French made garment that was referred to as the “French Trench Cap”. It too was issued to replace the Campaign Hat:
The final blow came late in the autumn of 1917 when, by General Order from G.H.Q., the distinctive and typically American “Campaign Hat” was ordered to be turned in, and in its place was issued the little French trench cap.
The History of the A.E. F., 1920, Shipley Thomas, page 45
Later on January 28, 1918, members of the 26th Infantry Division were seen in the Neufchateau training area sporting the so called “trench caps”:
On the last Sunday in January the members of the division, together with French troops and peasants, were treated to an impressive spectacle. The 101st Infantry was lined up, the men all wearing new trench caps which had been secured by Colonel Logan, and General Edwards presented a stand of colors.
History of the Yankee Division, 1919, Harry A. Benwell, page 44
Later, General Orders No. 37, dated March 7, 1918, announced that campaign hats as well as a number of other clothing articles would no longer be sold to enlisted men at overseas post exchanges:
General Orders General Headquarters, A.E.F.
No. 38 France, March 7, 1918.
- 1. Par. 11 G.O. 38, H.A.E.F., September 17, 1918, is hereby amended so as to withdraw from sale to enlisted men the following articles:
Boots, field or trench pattern, Cloth O.D. wool, Gloves, lined horsehide, Hats, service, Overshoes, winter, arctic, Puttees, leather, Shirts, O.D. wool, Shoes, field, Slickers, Socks, woolen, Ornaments, collar, Underwear, woolen
With no accompanying explanation as to what the appearance of the above mentioned ‘Field Service’ or ‘Trench Caps’ actually looked like, and with the design of what the War Department eventually labeled the “Overseas Cap” still on a millinery designer’s drawing board … and some two months away from approval and production, the aforementioned Field Service and Trench Caps were likely olive drab, khaki or mustard colored cloth caps or copies thereof of the caps that were currently in use by the Allied armies of Great Britain, France, and Belgium.
Whether it was a regulation U.S. made overseas cap or a foreign made trench cap, many Doughboys were less than impressed with the newer and smaller head coverings ability to not protect their face from the elements. This fact led to a number of derisive nicknames being bestowed on the small caps; two of which were the ‘Rain in the Face Cap’ and the ‘Go to Hell Cap’.
Men of the 55th Artillery regiment left us this opinion of the new AEF headgear shortly after the small caps were issued in May or June of 1918:
Equipment and training of the troops went steadily on, except as there were delays due to temporary lack of material. Overseas caps were issued, and were uncomfortable to wear; one’s ears burned and peeled on sunny days, while the first shower led one to appreciate the popular nickname of the new head-dress, “rain-in-the-face.”
Quote from an unknown 55th Coast Artillery Corps Regimental history
One Doughboy recalled when his company was issued overseas caps. He also mentioned that for reasons unknown, they were allowed to hang on to their campaign hats:
In the afternoon we were issued overseas caps, but we still kept our hats. The caps we are issued are also known as “go to Hell caps” as they do not keep the rain & sun out of our faces. It is made so it can easily be carried in a blouse or breeches pocket when it is necessary to wear the steel helmet.
Unknown Doughboy, AEF
Photo No. 27: The Allied Army ‘Trench Caps’ that were likely worn by the early members of the AEF late in 1917 and early in 1918 include, counter clockwise from top, the Belgian Modele 1915 Bonnet Portefeulle, the French Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police, the British 1916 Field Service Cap, a commercially made variation of the French Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police with a concave or dipped turban, which was what the French called the turned up sides of their caps, and the French Model 1918 Bonnet de Police.