Odd combo? Never say “never!”
by Alexander Barnes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”