Multi-patched WWI Army uniforms

Odd combo? Never say “never!”

by Alexander Barnes

The triple-decker stack of patches from the uniform service coat belonging to Elmer Thompson, a Doughboy serving in Company “L” of the 332nd Infantry Regiment.

Among the world of US Army uniform collectors who focus on the period from WWII to the modern day, some of the most prized acquisitions are dual-patched uniforms —reflecting a soldier’s combat unit on his right sleeve and his current unit on his left sleeve.

To WWI uniform collectors, the search for dual-patched uniforms is just as exciting, but the underlying rationale for having two (or more) shoulder patches is quite different. For the US “doughboys” of the Great War, multiple patches reflect not only their current unit, but also that unit’s higher headquarters.

A modern day dual-patched Desert Combat Uniform (DCU) from the 4th Infantry Division highlighting the variation in 4th ID patches during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Taking this to the extreme were the soldiers of the 332nd Infantry Regiment who served in Italy in 1918 and 1919. Stacking their patches three-high, they reflected their membership in the 332nd Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Division and its nominal assignment to the US Third Army.

These uniforms are rare, expensive, and usually hard to come by for the average collector. There are, however, many other possible combinations of dual-patched WWI US army uniforms that are easier to find and more affordable.

Most soldiers of the 4th Division chose to place their Third Army patch inside the larger 4th Division patch. Interestingly, some of these 4th Division patches have the number “4” or “IV” in the center of the patch and this has been covered by the addition of the Third Army patch.

The majority of dual-patched WWI service coats have some relationship to the US Third Army. The reason is fairly obvious – the Third Army was the US Army of Occupation in the German Rhineland from December 1918 to February 1923. (Note: The Third Army was redesignated The American Forces in Germany (AFG) in July 1919 but maintained the Third Army patch as their own)  Even the symbology of the patch reflect this fact: an “A” inside of an “O.”

The longest-serving divisional combat units of the Third Army in Germany were the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 32nd, 42nd, 89th, and 90th Divisions. The 6th and 7th Divisions were assigned to the Third Army for a very short period, and the 5th and 33rd Divisions served their occupation duty in Luxembourg. Because these units were serving in what appeared to be an open-ended mission, the soldiers had more time to add the patches to their uniforms while the rest of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) were still in France and focused on returning to the States for demobilization.


Another version of the 4th Division patch, this time from a Doughboy’s German-made souvenir banner, which has the Third Army patch embroidered in the center

This “Marne Division” soldier has chosen to have a full size Third Army patch sewn below his 3rd Division patch in this portrait.

Surprisingly, for the period December 1918 to September 1919, there appears to have been little formal guidance for shoulder sleeve wear, although some trends are very obvious. In the 89th Division, the trend appears to have been to place a small version of the Third Army patch on top of and centered in the overseas stripes at the bottom of the left sleeve.

From the 1st Division comes this uniform coat showing the placement of the Third Army patch directly below the “Big Red One.” Other 1st Division uniforms have a small Third Army patch sewn directly onto the numeral “1.”

The 5th Division, another Regular Army unit, served in the occupation of Luxembourg after the war. This 5th Division soldier has chosen to show his Third Army affiliation by placing the small patch inside his “Red Diamond” patch.

Many Doughboys of the 4th Division placed a similar small Third Army patch in the center of their divisional “Ivy” patch.  Soldiers in the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 32nd, and 42nd Divisions appear to have followed no set pattern with some placing a small Third Army Patch in the center of their divisional patch and others placed a full-sized patch below it.

The non-Third Army units seem to follow whatever pattern suited the soldier’s whims. One reason why there are so few dual-patched First Army uniforms and photographs may be due to the fact that basic design of the First Army patch allowed for some unit specific information to be added inside the body of the patch itself i.e. Signal Corps, V Corps, Air Service, Pioneer Infantry, etc. This was codified in Headquarters, First Army Memorandum No. 45, dated 14 December 1918, that specified how to add distinct unit information to the large “A” of the First Army patch.

One of the more unique units serving in the occupation of Germany was the 308th Engineer Regiment. Assigned to the Third Army as a corps-level unit in III Corps, the 308th was considered one of the premier engineer units in the AEF. After they became the first US Army unit to successfully build a bridge across the Rhine River in 1919, their unit motto became “We bridged the Rhine.” This service coat shows how the soldier has maintained his original affiliation with the 83rd Division.

Not be outdone by the other units in Third Army, many of the separate field artillery regiments assigned to VII Corps dual-patched their uniforms to show their Corps and Army affiliations.

Another reason may also be that, because in many cases the First Army patch was so big, there was little room left below the patch and above the elbow to add another patch. Either way, across the Armies and across the AEF, there were many variations and apparently very few set rules. The photographs in this article are just some of the possible combinations as seen in period photographs or found in collector’s closets. In some cases, the combinations are quite unusual but, as many WWI collectors have learned: “Never say never.”

Here is a truly unique combination of patches, from a larger photograph of soldiers assigned to a Prisoner of War escort unit, showing the soldier’s affiliation with the 29th “Blue and Gray” Division and the Third Army. POW escort duty after the war was usually interesting, and at times quite dangerous, as the Americans returned former German or Russian prisoners to their homelands through revolution-torn Germany and Eastern Europe.


Not to be outdone by the soldiers of the Third Army, this District of Paris Doughboy has added a Services of Supply patch to his uniform.

If we didn’t see it, we wouldn’t have believed it—Private John Lee Ritter is wearing a Tank Corps patch above a 2nd Army patch. John Adams-Graf Collection

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