Jump to content

A.E.F First Army Shoulder Sleeve Insignia 1918 to 1919

Recommended Posts


First Army

Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

1918 to 1919


This post is not intended to be the last word on the topic of First World War era First Army insignia. It is instead, the beginning. It is hoped, that present and future members of this forum will provide both the middle and the end.


The following information and catalog of First Army insignia that I’ve cobbled together, is far from complete. I am certain that it lacks many of the known examples of First Army shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI). I am equally certain that this post is also missing an unknown number of First Army shoulder patch variations that have not yet been discovered.


To ensure that the content of this post reaches its maximum potential, please post any relevant First Army images … be they period photographs - loose shoulder patches – shoulder patches sewn onto military garments – or any other WW I era article, such as a sign, vehicle, piece of field equipment, etc., bearing the First Army’s iconic block letter “A” emblem.


The assembly of so many First Army SSI in one place was accomplished by a number of like-minded individuals. Therefore, any reader who finds this post informative, helpful or interesting needs to extend a virtual handshake to the following forum members, all of whom generously contributed images, information, or both – Jagjetta – GoMorgan – Military Engineer - McCooper - Rusty Canteen, Militariaone, Bill and Kurt Keller, as well as Dave & Steve Johnson.


I should also add that there’s no way for me to possibly know if every First Army shoulder patch depicted in this topic is authentic. Without having seen the majority of them in person, I am comfortable with nearly all of the images I’ve used. There are, however, a very few that I just can’t make my mind up on. Readers of this post will have to decide for themselves if they are good, or not. I also sincerely hope that no post WW I First Army patches appear in this post. Despite my best efforts, it’s also equally impossible for me to guarantee that each of the patches shown below dates to the First World War era. If I’ve gone astray anywhere, please let me know. Thanks to all for looking.


World War I Nerd …


Photo No. 01: Two of the many permutations in which the First Army insignia can be found. At left, the First Army logo has been combined with those of the Motor Transport Corps & the HQ Detachment of the First Army. Opposite is the rather unlikely combination of a First Army insignia with the “Bloody Hand” variation of the 93rd Infantry Regiment’s SSI.


Left hand photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com

Right hand photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Public Library




Link to post
Share on other sites

History & Design


On October 26, 1918, First Army General Orders No. 28 introduced a shoulder patch to the troops of the First Army who would soon be wearing it. In addition to declaring exactly where the new “distinctive insignia” was to be worn, the missive issued by HQ, First Army also stated:

The following distinctive insignia has been adopted for all Army Troops, First Army, to be worn on the left shoulder with top of the insignia at the shoulder seam of coat. A block “A” of black cloth as follows*.


*See Photo No. 02


General Orders No. 28, Headquarters, First Army, paragraph II, October 26, 1918


The diagram that accompanied the general order showed that the insignia composed of the letter “A” was to be 3 inches wide by 4 inches tall and that each line of the letter was to be ½ inch thick. The open space in-between the lower edge of the top crossbar and the upper edge of the central crossbar was to be 1 ¼ inches tall by 2 inches wide.


Some three weeks after General Orders No.28 made the rounds, on November 15, 1918, First Army Commander, Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett, requested that the aforementioned First Army insignia be made official. In his communiqué to the Adjutant General, G.H.Q., A.E.F., Liggett wrote:

  1. It is requested that the distinctive insignia for Army Troops, First Army, and for the First, Third and Fifth Corps, as published in General Order No. 33, these Headquarters, be formally approved by and be made of record at G.H.Q., American E.F.

First Army letter to Adjutant General, AEF, November 15, 1918


The First Army’s insignia was indeed made official when telegraph No. M-836, dispatched from GHQ, AEF, arrived at First Army HQ. The content of said telegram fully sanctioned, and made record of the recently proposed First Army insignia on November 16, 1918.


The letter “A” was selected as the insignia of the First Army because it represented both the first letter in the English alphabet and because it was the first letter in the word “Army”. It was also no coincidence that the First Army was the first of three Armies that were raised in the AEF.


Photo No. 02: The First Army sketch within General Orders No. 28 is displayed alongside a physical example of the First Army shoulder patch whose shape closely conforms to that of the newly adopted design.




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 03: Three examples of the officially prescribed “block “A” style First Army shoulder patch in their most basic form.


Right photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com

Center photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 04: Although the original description of the First Army SSI called for it to be in the form of a “block “A”, in reality, that was not always so. Here three First Army Doughboys sport shoulder patches whose shape deviates either slightly or dramatically from that of the adopted design. From left to right, the shoulder patches are: steeply sloped on the sides and too tall in height – steeply sloped and made up of very thick lines – and much taller than the recommended height.


Left hand photo courtesy of Images of War.com

Center photo courtesy of Bill & Kurt Keller

Right photo courtesy of the John Adams-Graf collection




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 05: Other non-regulation shaped “A’s” comprised of (from left to right) a block “A” with clipped corners – a block “A” with rounded corners – and a quasi-block “A” with mildly sloping sides. There is one other “A” shape to be found that is not pictured here. It is of an “A” whose top is pitched much like a house’s roof (see Photo No. 59).


Left photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com

Center photo courtesy of the JBPC

Center & right photos courtesy of the Ron McMahon collection




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 07: In addition to the “A” appearing in the wrong shape or being too tall, on occasion it also showed up in the wrong color, i.e. red. Thus far, every example of a First Army insignia with a red “A” has represented either the Artillery (left), Air Service (center) or an Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment (right). At the time of writing, the only other branch found to utilize a red “A” has been a Pigeon Section of the Signal Corps )see Photo No. ). It should also be noted that the First Army “A”, on occasion, was cut from dark blue cloth (see Photo No. 65). The substitution of blue for black was likely the result of black cloth being unattainable at the time of the insignia’s manufacture. At present, there is no evidence to suggest that a blue “A” was used to represent any specific organization within the First Army.


Left photo courtesy of Bay State Militaria.com

Center photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 08: When it was announced that the Armies, Corps and Divisions of the AEF had adopted distinctive cloth insignia that was worn on the shoulder, print media outlets scrambled to reproduce the various emblems for domestic consumption. Here examples of how the First Army insignia was presented in the February 28, 1919 edition of The Stars and Stripes (left) and in the May, 4, 1919 issue of the New York Tribune newspaper (center & right) are displayed.




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 09: Almost immediately after its adoption, subordinate units within the First Army began customizing the First Army emblem. This was accomplished by placing a secondary unit or branch of service insignia between the legs of the “A” or by superimposing a subordinate insignia on top of or below the “A”. To date no record of when, or what organization started this practice, or how widespread it was, has surfaced.


It was likely the addition of such things as the crossed axes on the pioneer infantryman’s insignia (right) – the initials “R.A.R.” on the coast artilleryman’s insignia (center) – and the aero squadron insignia on the aviator’s shoulder patch that drew the ire of senior officers within the First Army. Presumably, it was the riot of unauthorized embellishment which spread like wildfire throughout the First Army that generated new orders governing what would be worn on the First Army insignia, and curtailing what could not.


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




Link to post
Share on other sites

Maintaining Order


On December 14, 1918, a new memo was circulated among the organizations that made up the First Army. Based on the content of the bulletin, it would appear that Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett was attempting to restore some semblance of order caused by the proliferation of self-appointed shoulder insignia that materialized shortly after GHQ, AEF made it known that a distinctive cloth insignia was needed for every Army, Corps and Division.


The four page memo was comprised of one page of text followed by three pages which bore fourteen different First Army branch or department insignia illustrations. Each of those drawings displayed a block letter “A” bearing a secondary insignia composed of geometric shapes or a branch of service emblem. All of the secondary emblems were made in a specific color or colors, and situated between the legs of the First Army’s “A” logo. The fourteen new First Army insignia would, henceforth, supersede all previous First Army insignia designs whether they were authorized or not. In short, the insignia designs within the memo became the official insignia of the First Army. Pertinent bullet points of Memorandum No. 45, as the document was titled, explicitly stated that:


  • The practice of wearing unauthorized insignia or adornment will cease forthwith.
  • Distinctive insignia for the several organizations of Army troops is authorized as indicated on the attached sheets, and troops specified in paragraph 2, will be provided with this insignia without delay.
  • The letter “A” will have the dimensions as previously prescribed in Section II, General Orders No. 28, these Headquarters. The secondary insignia will be composed of red and white cloth of the relative general dimensions indicated except in the case of the Signal Troops who will wear the present orange insignia.
  • Scrupulous care and supervision will be taken by commanders to ensure uniformity.


In other words, After December 14, 1918, individual units in the First Army could no longer design, manufacture, embellish or wear an insignia of their own choosing. Nor could they deviate, decorate, adorn or otherwise enhance the appearance of any of the prescribed First Army insignia with initials, numerals, branch of service devices, divisional, or any other insignia design, no matter how apt the wearer thought it might be.


It should also be mentioned that the fourteen First Army designs adopted in December of 1918 were never formally recognized by G.H.Q., A.E.F. Therefore, in a somewhat ironic twist of fate, just as the “unauthorized insignia” banned by Memorandum No. 45 were, the wearing of the new insignia were also, technically contrary to the prevailing regulations that governed the uniform of the A.E.F.


Photo No. 10: Examples of three of the fourteen official insignia design drawings contained within Memorandum No. 45. The initials “R&W” signified the colors red and white, of which the majority of secondary unit insignia were composed. The only other prescribed color was orange.


Sketches courtesy of George Morgan




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 11: An enlisted soldier wears the newly authorized red and white Battalion HQ and Attached inset between the legs of his black First Army insignia.


Inset courtesy of the JBPC

Background courtesy of Bay State Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 12: The left and center Doughboys wear First Army Battalion HQ SSI as prescribed by Memorandum No. 45 However, the right hand soldier has ignored the paragraph of the memo which stated, “The practice of wearing unauthorized insignia or adornment will cease forthwith.” The embellished upper portion of his First Army shoulder patch, bearing the initials for the Motor Transport Corps, is clearly in violation of the memo.


Left & center photos courtesy of Bay State Militaria.com

Right photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com





Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 13: The following graphic*, and thirteen SSI images (Photos No. 10 through No. 14) show the fourteen new First Army designs that were adopted as 1918 drew to a close. From left to right, Air Service** - Motor Transportation - Quartermaster Corps.

*This and all of the following graphics were created whenever a photograph of a known First Army insignia design was unavailable. All of the graphics depicted in this post are copies of existing First Army shoulder patches.


**Either in keeping with the chosen color scheme of red and white color, or for reasons that today are unknown, the blue center ring was omitted from the December 1918 design of the First Army’s Air Service rondel.


Right hand photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 14: From left to right, Pioneer Infantry - Military Police* - Service Battalions.


*In this case, silver tape was used instead of the specified white cloth to fabricate one of the angled lines between the legs of the letter “A”.


Left photo courtesy of Bay State Militaria.com

Center photo courtesy of Griffin Militaria.com

Right photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 15: From left to right, Artillery & Coast Artillery – Band - All other enlisted personnel, miscellaneous & special services, as well as field clerks.


Left, Center & right photos courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 16: From left to right, Engineer Regiments - Signal Corps* - Ordnance Department.


*Of the fourteen subordinate insignia, this was the only design that was not made up of the colors red or white.


Left & Center photos courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com

Right photo courtesy of the ATB collection




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 17: The last of the insignia depicted in Memorandum No. 45 was for HQ Battalion & Attached (left). The right hand insignia denoting an Unassigned Officer, was the final insignia to be officially sanctioned by First Army HQ. It was adopted on December 18, 1918 in the one page document known as Memorandum No. 46.


Left & right photos courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 18: At left is the insignia prescribed by the December 1918 First Army memo for a band member. To its right, a lyre, the traditional symbol used by the U.S. Army for a musician or band member has been substituted, thus creating an unauthorized First Army band SSI.


Photos courtesy of the JBPC




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 19: This image of First Army, motor transport personnel shows the homogenizing effect that Memorandum No. 45 was intended to produce throughout the First Army. All of the men in the photo are wearing an identical Motor Transportation SSI which conforms to the mandate set forth by the pair of First Army memos.


Photo courtesy of the Troy Morgan collection




Link to post
Share on other sites

Anything But Uniform


Despite the proactive steps taken by First Army HQ in December 1918 to formalize and confine the number of various branch insignia to just fourteen different designs - the variety of unauthorized First Army shoulder patches bearing non-regulation designs seemed to expand rather than contract.

There is no way to know just how many of the First Army design aberrations were conceived after the above mentioned memo forbade the use of unwarranted motifs, but the total must have been more than a few.


Ironically, the number of existing First Army insignia designs that do not conform to Memorandums No. 45 and 46, far outweigh those that did. One can only assume that First Army troops ignored the prevailing regulations, and continued to devise and wear non-regulation shoulder patches.


One would think that the unrelenting denial of orders in respect to the style of SSI that could or could not be worn, would have resulted in First Army HQ generating a great deal more paperwork in the form of memos, bulletins and circulars. However, no documents mentioning a widespread breach of orders have been found. Judging by the exhibition of emblems shown beginning after photo number sixteen, the majority of which consist of irregular First Army shoulder sleeve insignia, it’s probably safe to assume that First Army shoulder patches continued to be anything but uniform.


Therefore, we must assume that the mandate dictated by Memorandums No. 45 and No. 46 were not strictly enforced. Probably due to the amount of paperwork involved, and the fact that the majority of men would soon be heading home for discharge and possible unit deactivation. Thus, to alleviate their personal bureaucratic burdens, most First Army and AEF senior and junior officers turned a blind eye to the parade of unauthorized shoulder patches that continually marched across their field of vision.


Photo No. 20: After December 1918, it was non-regulation insignia such as these that likely gave First Army HQ staff heartburn. From left to right a First Army insignia has been paired with:

  • That of the unauthorized emblem of the 29th Engineer Regiment (Flash Ranging)
  • An Air Service roundel and the unsanctioned (as a shoulder patch) squadron emblem for the 139th Aero Squadron
  • The initials “R.A.R.” for Railway Artillery Reserve, along with the mythical Oozlefinch Bird insignia of the 30th Coast Artillery Brigade (Railway Artillery)

All of the insignia described above fell under the all-encompassing umbrella of “non-regulation”.


Center photo courtesy of the Hawk3370 collection

Right photo courtesy of the John Adams-Graf collection




Link to post
Share on other sites

Regulation & Non-Regulation

First Army SSI

First Army Pioneer Infantry Units

August 30 to September 16, 1918

51st, 52nd & 53rd Pioneer Infantry Regiments

September 26 to November 11, 1918

2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 54th, 56th, 59th, 801st, 802nd, Detachment of 804th, 805th, 806th, 807th, 808th, 815th & 816th Pioneer Infantry Regiments

After December of 1918, HQ, First Army mandated that all First Army Pioneer Infantry Regiments wear an insignia composed of a half red and half white chevron situated point down between the legs of the block letter ”A. Despite the order, the following non-regulation Pioneer Infantry insignia were either created or still worn despite the memo.


Photo No 21: Period photographs suggest that the block letter “A” with a large red artillery beneath the “A” was the most common shoulder insignia used by the 3rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment. Note the numeral “3”, denoting 3rd Regiment on this soldier’s U.S. collar disc.


Background photo courtesy of Bay State Militaria.com


An illuminating discussion identifying this First Army insignia design can be found here:






Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 22: This cropped section borrowed from a yardlong photo labeled “Company C, 3rd Pioneer Infantry” taken in 1919, clearly shows that the men are wearing a SSI composed of the letter “A” with a large shell beneath it.


Photo courtesy of the Austin O collection




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 23: Three examples of the 3rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment’s insignia. Two of the shells (left & center) have been fabricated from red velvet and the other (right) was machine embroidered.


Photos courtesy of Advanced Guard Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Photo No. 25: Two more examples of the 3rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment insignia separated by another unauthorized variation of the First Army, Pioneer Infantry SSI embroidered with the initial “P”. It is presumed that this style of patch was “generic” and could have been worn by any of the First Army Pioneer Infantry Regiments.


Left Photo courtesy of Advance Guard Militaria.com

Center photo courtesy of Bay State Militaria.com




Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.