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A.E. F. ‘Trench’ & Overseas Caps

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This post probably falls under the category of “way too much information” in respect to what most folks want or care to know about the overseas cap as worn by the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.

However, I’ve endeavored to make this post as complete as possible for future WW I Nerds like me.

To those of you, who haven’t quite reached nerd status, and have far less interest in this particular topic, please allow me to apologize in advance for this post’s absurd length!


Nevertheless, this is the first (and the longest) of a three part series devoted to the WW I Overseas Cap:

  • Part I: U.S. Army Overseas Caps & Insignia
  • Part 2: USMC & U.S. Navy Overseas Caps & Insignia
  • Part 3: Women’s Services & Charitable Volunteers Overseas Caps & Insignia

There’s absolutely no way that I could have compiled a post of this magnitude without a great deal of assistance from a number of very helpful individuals.


So it’s a hearty thanks and hat’s, err, I mean …cap’s off to all of my accomplices: Brennan Gauthier, the proprietor of Portraits of War.wordpress.com website, and from forum members Jagjetta, Trenchrat, Dr Rambow, Bheskett, CWNorma, CThomas, Doyler, Beast, SMcGeorge, Rvandehoef, CW4AFB, Chap 15, Daniel Griffin, Trenchbuff and numerous others who kindly assisted me with advice, information, and especially photographs.

Please feel free to add additional photos and information, as well as any comments you may have in regard to this post’s content and its accuracy or lack thereof.


World War I Nerd …



A.E. F. ‘Trench’ & Overseas Caps 1917 to 1919

Photo No. 01: The Overseas Cap was arguably, the one piece of cloth headgear that came to represent the American soldier who served overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during World War I (WW I). One of which is depicted in this illustration created for the Saturday Evening Post by Joseph Christian or ‘J.C.’ Leyendecker. This German born immigrant was the preeminent American illustrator of his generation. Between 1896 and 1950, he painted some 400 magazine covers, created countless advertising illustrations, and designed dozens of patriotic posters during both World Wars, All of which were painted in his very distinctive style.


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Photo No. 02: When America went to war in the spring of 1917, the distinctive cloth head covering that would be worn by all ranks of the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and other personnel that served overseas with the AEF between 1917 and 1919, did not yet exist.

Once devised, the apt title of “Overseas Cap” was selected because the War Department had only authorized that much maligned cap for overseas service with the AEF. As such, it was not worn by U.S. Army personnel slated for home service.


In this image of enlisted men of the 183rd Aero Squadron, taken sometime late in the war, no less than six different styles of the overseas cap appear!

Photo courtesy of the Charles Thomas collection


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Photo No. 03: The different caps from the above photo are: a Winter Field Cap with the brim turned up – a British Royal Flying Corps Cap – a French Modele 1918 Bonnet de Police – a French contract U.S. style cap – a British contract U.S. style cap – and a regulation U.S. made Overseas Cap.

Photos courtesy of the Charles Thomas collection


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Photo No. 04: From November of 1917 until mid 1919, a wide variety of improvised overseas caps, foreign trench caps and regulation overseas caps were worn by the troops of the AEF. Three of the five ‘regulation’ U.S. manufactured Overseas Caps are shown here. From left to right they are the First Pattern Overseas Cap, the Third Pattern Overseas Cap, and an un-piped Officer’s Pattern Overseas Cap.

Left hand photo courtesy of the Trenchrat collection

Center photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum


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Photo No. 05: During the course of the war, the need for overseas caps was such that the AEF contracted European clothing firms to manufacturer U.S. style overseas caps. In addition, private tailor shops and commercial military clothing outfitters custom made and mass-marketed similar style caps for the American Doughboys.


From left to right the most common types of regulation style overseas caps manufactured in Europe for the AEF were the French contract overseas cap, the British contract overseas cap, and the more fashionable tailor made or private purchase overseas caps.

Right & left hand photos courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection

Center photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum


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Photo No. 06: In addition to the regulation U.S. Army issued and the foreign contract and tailor made caps, copies of the trench caps worn by America’s European Allies made from olive drab wool were also widely worn by all ranks of the AEF. From left to right, the most common foreign pattern overseas caps employed by the AEF were the French Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police, the French Modele 1918 Bonnet de Police, and the British 1913 Field Service Cap.


Right hand photo courtesy of Dr Rambo

Left hand photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Photo No. 07: Within the above mentioned framework of regulation, contract, tailor made and foreign pattern caps, a bewildering variety of other non-regulation style overseas caps have also surfaced.


From left to right, a most singular captain’s overseas cap that appears to have ear-flaps which are anchored by snaps to the cap’s crown. This cap has also been decorated with what looks to be an enlisted man’s buff colored Quartermaster Corps hat cord! Next is an oddly shaped variation of the British Field Service Cap worn by a member of the Construction Engineers. This is followed by a two toned overseas cap fashioned after the French Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police as worn by a member of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Left hand photo courtesy of the John Adam Graf collection

Center photo courtesy of the Charles T. Thomas collection


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Photo No. 08: These unusual shaped overseas caps are from left to right comprised of a design that resembles an olive drab sleeping or stocking cap, a strange hybrid of both the French and U.S. pattern overseas caps, and a cap whose design is completely unknown.

Photos courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Photo No. 09: Regardless of the cap’s style, the Doughboys developed methods in which to wear them that allowed a soldier to express his own individuality. Caps of every description were worn ‘by the book’ or level on the head, or under more informal circumstances, tilted at a rakish angle to either side, just as these three AEF aviation mechanics have done.

Photos courtesy of the Charles Thomas collection


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Photo No. 10: A casual observer scanning a random company of Doughboys as they clattered by at route march, would surely notice a cap or two that stubbornly defied the laws of physics, much like the two depicted at upper right and lower left.


If not perched at a ridiculously impossible angle, in billets, barracks and camps, there always seemed to be at least one would-be comedian irreverently wearing the cap sideways! At upper left, as well as in the background photo, two such comics have donned their caps ala-Napoleon Bonaparte!


A glance at any chow line in the AEF would surely reveal a cap that was impudently pushed forward or casually pulled to the rear of the wearer’s head. That’s exactly how the lower right corner Doughboy had decided his cap looked best.


The various modes in which the overseas caps were worn after they had been issued to the men of the 36th Infantry Division at Camp Mills in August of 1918, was mentioned in a history of that organization:


Rivaling the Sam Browne belt in its importance was the new overseas cap which was to take the place of the campaign hat. Officers and men shared in the task of adjusting this new contrivance to their persons. A remarkable variety of ideas were developed as to just how the cap should be placed on the head, many attempting to wear it after the fashion of a “stocking cap” while others gave an excellent impression of Napoleon. These new articles of apparel however, were not allowed to be worn in New York, where the men and officers went as often as time and money allowed. The privilege of seeing New York was not given to all however. Some of the units arriving at the camp August 14, were equipped and sent aboard the transports at Hoboken the same day, not being allowed to spend a night in the camp, so great was the necessity for loading the ships preparatory to departure … Not all the troops were equipped with the new overseas cap, some of them being compelled to await their arrival at the training area in France before they received this part of their equipment.

The Story of the 36th, Captain Benjamin H. Chastaine, 1920, page 31


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Photo No. 11: Over time, the Yanks and Doughboys of the AEF discovered that instead of ‘shirts and skins’, it was often ‘caps versus no caps’ during an inter-regimental game of baseball (left).

The overseas cap’s ‘shawl’ as the side flaps were called, was designed so that it could be pulled down over the ears to provide additional warmth (center).


The soft comfortable overseas cap was also worn: to keep both rain and sun off of the head … well sort of, while performing the million and one chores that the Army required of the men to whom it was issued. One of which, and perhaps the most disliked task of all, was that of burying their dead comrades. African Americans of an unknown Pioneer Infantry Regiment go about that grisly duty whilst wearing the AEF’s ubiquitous overseas cap (right).


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Photo No. 12: The overseas cap was also often worn to pad the cranium from the weight of the ‘Tin Bonnet’ or to cushion the blow from an errant shell fragment or clods of earth as they fell back to the ground.


In addition, the spongy and pliable overseas cap could be pressed into service as an impromptu container in which to carry fresh eggs ‘borrowed’ from an unsuspecting French farmhouse – used as a pot holder on the rare occasion when a fire could be lit to brew a pot of scalding hot coffee – it could even be employed as an improvised washcloth and as a makeshift sweat rag – and when necessary, whenever medical supplies were unavailable, the overseas cap could stand in as an emergency compress to help stanch the flow of blood.


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Photo No. 14: When ‘Trench’ and Overseas Caps were first issued in the autumn of 1917, the brimless head covering was loathed, mocked and worn with little enthusiasm. In a July 1918, letter written to his wife, an artillery officer serving with the 30th Infantry Division explained just one of the shortcomings of the Army’s new cap:


My face is burned to a crisp from the sun here. These little old caps give absolutely no protection to your face and the sun just burns it up. I guess mine is burned now about as badly as it can be so I am looking for better days with it.


Captain Robert M. Hanes, Battery A, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, AEF

But by the spring and summer of 1919, when the bulk of the Doughboys overseas service had come to an end, their esteem for the much criticized overseas cap had risen dramatically.


The reason for this change of heart was because, unlike any other piece of U.S. Army issued headgear, the overseas cap identified the wearer as a returning veteran who had honorably served his country overseas during the War to End All Wars.


The returning men and boys were as proud of their diminutive cap as they were of the gold service chevrons and ribbons of valor stitched onto their sleeves and pinned onto their chests. This fact was attested to by one of the many AEF unit histories printed after the war:


The smart garrison cap*, so popular in the early days of the present war, was rarely seen at Camp Doniphan. The Kansas and Missourians wore broad-brimmed Stetsons, of which they were proud. It is a Western hat, worn on the frontier for years and still not uncommon in the Southwest. At the Port of Debarkation in France, the members of Company A reluctantly turned in their Stetsons, and accepted the dinky overseas cap with misgiving. In time, however, they developed a quiet pride in the diminutive headgear, which became the badge of the A.E.F.


The Story of Company A, Third Kansas Infantry in World War I, Dean Tricklett, Kansas City Historical Quarterly May 1945, page 361

*‘Garrison cap’ was the name often used by the soldiers in training or by those who served stateside, for the 1911 Service Cap because that cap was typically worn for garrison duty, while the 1911 Service or Campaign Hat was reserved for field duty.


Here, each returning Doughboy wears the “dinky overseas cap” while stretching his ‘sea legs’ on the streets of Newport News, Virginia after a tedious, but much welcomed return voyage to the U.S.A.


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A State of Flux

U.S. Army Headgear in 1917

In respect to the American soldier’s uniform, the final six months of 1917 was a time of rapid change in the AEF. From head to toe, virtually every garment that covered the American Doughboy’s body was being scrutinized to determine whether or not if it would be scrapped, modified, upgraded or replaced.


During that period, the Army’s beloved russet leather marching shoe proved to be inadequate, the olive drab woolen service dress was deemed to be too lightweight, the long regulation overcoat was found to be too cumbersome, the infantryman’s rain poncho was abolished, and so on …


During this apparel purge, the Army’s headgear did not go unnoticed. The upheaval caused by what was initially considered to be tres chic military garb overseas in 1917, led to the adoption of two foreign influenced pieces of headgear by the AEF, and the beginning of the end for the classic American campaign hat.


Photo No. 15: These U.S. Army ‘Lids’, sketched by Cyrus Leroy Baldridge, who served as a volunteer ambulance driver with the French Army in 1916, and later as a private in the AEF, depict three very different pieces of regulation headgear issued during WW I.


They also happen to be the lids that are most often associated with the American soldier who fought in the Great War. Two of which spawned the need for the third.


Clockwise from left is the 1918 Overseas Cap, the 1917 Steel Helmet, and the 1911 Service Hat. Note that the chinstrap fastening the ‘tin hat’ to the soldier’s head has been split where it passes beneath the chin. This was done to make removal of the helmet faster in the event of a gas attack. It also allowed the concussion of an exploding shell to blow the helmet off of the head without causing any serious neck injuries. Hard won experience had proven that the kinetic energy created by a powerful shell was such that it could snap the helmet backward or sideways with enough force to severely twist or even break the wearer’s neck.


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Photo No. 16: In 1917, the U. S. Army categorized its regulation headgear as either a “Cap” or a “Hat”. Late in 1917, a ‘Helmet’ made from hardened steel would be added to the Army’s lid lexicon.


In 1917, the Army defined a “Cap” as having no brim. It could however, have or not have a visor. From left to right are the three types of Army enlisted men’s caps that were donned most frequently between 1917 and 1919. They are the 1911 Enlisted Men’s Service Cap, with a visor, the 1908 Winter Field Cap, also with a visor, and the 1918 Overseas Cap without a visor, in this particular instance the overseas cap shown is of British manufacture.


Right & center photos courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Photo No. 17: Conversely, according to the tables and organization of Army millinery, a “Hat” was neither visorless nor did it have a visor. Instead, it featured a brim which encircled the entire crown.


The two Army hats that were worn most often between 1917 and 1919 were the 1911 Service Hat (left) and the 1908 Working Hat (center). The Service Hat was popularly known as the ‘Campaign Hat’ because it was worn in the field and when on campaign. The Working Hat was also frequently referred to as a ‘Fatigue Hat’ as it was prescribed only for wear with either the Army’s olive drab cotton duck or blue denim working or ‘fatigue’ uniform. At right is a higher quality version of the 1911 Service Hat as worn by officers and some of the more affluent enlisted men and NCOs.

Left & center photos courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection

Right hand photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum


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Photo No. 18: The three primary steel helmets utilized by the AEF during its tenure in the Great War were from left to right, the French Modele 1915 Casque de Adrian, the British 1916 Mark I Steel Helmet, and the U.S. 1917 Steel Helmet.


Center photo courtesy of Brennan Gauthier, PortraitsofWar.wordpress.com

Right hand photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Photo No. 19: The ‘Yanks’ and ‘Sammies’, which is was what the Europeans first called the Americans who’d arrived in France during the summer of 1917, and the Doughboys that followed them until the summer of 1918, for the most part, all came ashore wearing the broad brimmed ‘Chapeau du Cow-boy’ as the French peasants called the 1911 Service Hat. Here members of the 3rd Division debark at Brest in April of 1918, wearing the 1911 Service Hat.



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Photo No. 20: In France, the Campaign Hat became an instantly recognizable icon. The sight of which unambiguously identified the wearer as an American soldier. The background photo depicts early members of the AEF upon their arrival in London. The inset is of an artilleryman from the 26th Infantry Division wearing the soldier’s cherished Campaign Hat.


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Photo No. 21: As soon as it was discovered that the Campaign Hat, along with other articles of pre WW I military garb, such as the 1911 Poncho and the ankle length 1913 Overcoat were unsuited for trench warfare, a board of infantry officers was appointed to devise appropriate replacements.


In respect to the poncho, it would be swapped for the recently adopted dismounted ‘slicker’, which was Army speak for a raincoat. It was also decided that the regulation wool overcoat would be fine so long as its length was shortened by ten or so inches, thus transforming it into what was initially called a ‘trench overcoat’.


As for the Campaign Hat, when under fire it was to be exchanged for the British designed, and basin shaped ‘Shrapnel Helmet’, which was more appropriate for wear in a combat environment. On the left, troops of the 1st Division wear the soon to be replaced Campaign Hat, rain poncho, and long overcoat in ‘Washington Center’ – the nickname bestowed on the system of trenches in which that division trained.


Whilst Doughboys were being tutored on the finer points of trench warfare in practice trenches, it became painfully obvious to AEF General Headquarters (GHQ) that the Campaign Hat (right) was impossible to store or carry and both difficult and awkward to wear at the front.

Left hand photo courtesy of the New Romantic collection

Right hand photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection


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Photo No. 22: The helmet or ‘Steel Stetson’ (inset) as some ‘bright spark’ in the AEF nicknamed the American produced heavy metal headgear replaced the Campaign Hat when under fire in the trenches.


The background image is of an unidentified AEF medical unit wearing American made steel helmets. Note that the captain in the rear rank has donned a helmet that has been camouflage painted in a ‘swirl’ pattern.


The 1911 Service Hat was worn exclusively by the men and boys of the first AEF combat divisions to arrive overseas – the 1st, 26th, 42nd, 32nd, 41st, Infantry Divisions, as well as elements of the 2nd Infantry Division, which was not yet fully formed, from the time of their arrival in France until roughly the end of 1917.


‘Tin Hats’ were issued to some AEF organizations as early as December 1917. Others organizations, like the National Guardsmen of the ‘Rainbow’ or 42nd Infantry Division didn’t receive steel helmets of their own until February of 1918.


According to this passage from a history of the 1st Division, steel helmets, possibly of French manufacture, were issued to the regulars and rookies of that division in December of 1917,* as they were being instructed by French alpine troops in the Gondrecourt training area:


The campaign hat was permanently abandoned at this time, and the steel helmet, which had first been worn in the Sommerviller Sector, was issued for wear at all combat exercises. The overseas cap was supplied for use at other times. The steel helmet and overseas cap were made in France and later issued to all troops upon their arrival.


History of the First Division During the World War 1917 – 1919, 1922, page 40


*In this instance I suspect that the author was mistaken about the origin of the helmets. The helmets worn earlier by the 1st Division in the Sommerviller Sector were likely of French manufacture. The helmets issued in December however, were probably fabricated in Great Britain. American made steel helmets would not arrive overseas until the spring of 1918.


Background photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection

Inset courtesy of the National World War I Museum


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Photo No. 23: After the Campaign hat was banned in the trenches, troops posted to the rear of the Zone of Advance, where there was no need for a steel helmet continued to wear the Campaign Hat.


Throughout the war, and well into 1919, when the demobilization of the AEF was winding down, somewhat battered Campaign Hats could still be seen on the heads of port stevedores, Quartermaster clerks, construction engineers, Signal Corps personnel, Motor Transport Service mechanics, and hospital orderlies as they went about their duties in the base and intermediate zones far behind the front line trenches.


Here four of these five men from the 20th Engineer Regiment (Forestry) are wearing Campaign Hats whilst cutting fence posts near Tours. The fifth engineer in the photo is wearing a Winter Field Cap.


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Overseas Cap Issue

After its adoption, the overseas cap became part of what the men referred to as the “Full Equipment” and the U.S. Amy called the “Overseas Equipment”. The overseas equipment was comprised of the articles that were only authorized for soldiers destined to serve overseas in the Theater of Operations with the AEF.


Throughout the period of America’s involvement in the Great War, some articles of the overseas equipment were issued overseas. Some were issued at the stateside training camps. Some were issued at the Ports of Embarkation (POE), and depending on both the availability and need, at various times, certain articles were issued in the training camps, in the POEs, and overseas.


The most common articles of overseas equipment were the: the overseas cap, hobnailed field shoes, spiral puttees, gasmask, shaving kit, extra socks, extra blankets, a tin of foot powder, and the steel helmet. One soldier bound for the AEF made a record of his what he called the “overseas equipment”:


Our overseas equipment consisted of four pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes, two o.d. shirts, two blankets, one cap, o.d. pants and blouse, puttees, two suits of underwear, canteen and cover, cup, mess kit, knife, fork, spoon, denim suit, gloves, collar ornaments, overcoat, slicker, condiment can, bacon can, and etc. Altogether it is plenty for one person to carry. Maybe this isn’t all but it’s all that I can think of just now. They say we will have more to pack around when we get to France but I don’t see what it can be, for it looks as though we have about all we need.


Private Fred Pickering, Company E, 313th Engineer Regiment, 88th Infantry Division, AEF

In regard to the overseas cap, for the most part, the cap was issued as follows.


Because the Quartermaster Corps had no overseas caps to issue, American Doughboys training overseas at the front with either the French or British Army were initially issued trench caps borrowed from the Allied Armies until the end of 1917.


Photo No. 24: A patriotic send off is given to these fully trained American soldiers as they depart the training camp en route to the nearest POE. All are all still wearing the campaign hat.

Photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum


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From January of 1918 until sometime in July of 1918, all American made overseas caps were shipped directly to the AEF.


Therefore, the majority of American troops that shipped out for Europe during that seven month period would not draw an overseas cap until after they had arrived in Europe.


War Department Special Regulations No. 41, dated July 17, 1918, noted that:


73. CAPS. – Add subparagraph (g) as follows:

(g) Overseas cap. – As soon as a sufficient supply is available, overseas caps will be issued in the United States to all enlisted men ordered to duty overseas upon their arrival at the embarkation camps. They will turn in their other headgear at such camps for reclamation.

Officers will be provided with overseas caps upon the arrival at the port of embarkation. They are not authorized to wear them in the United States before that time.


War Department Special Regulations No. 41, July 17, 1918, page 02

Photo No. 25: A group of Doughboys from the 16th Engineer Regiment (Railway) somewhere in the mid-Atlantic Ocean are still in possession of their campaign hats. They have also donned ‘Sinkers’ or ‘Drowning Jackets’, as some soldiers called the cork filled life saving vest that each man was given as he boarded a transport ship.

Photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum


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