Royal Tank Regiment give three cheers for the Queen following the presentation of the regiment's new Standards
Uniform

The black beret and its unique place in British Army history

How the distinctive headdress was adopted with the advancement of armoured vehicles.

Royal Tank Regiment give three cheers for the Queen following the presentation of the regiment's new Standards

Berets have been worn by military units dating back to the 1800s, but the history of the black beret has a unique place in the evolution of the Armed Forces alongside technological advancements in armoured vehicles.

The distinctive black headdress is worn with pride by the 'Tankies' of the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and, with one exception, in the British Armed Forces, it is the hallmark of that regiment alone.

How the black beret was adopted as the official headwear of the RTR is interwoven with the history of armoured vehicles and the invention and development of the tank as a crucial weapon of war.

The Royal Tank Regiment can trace its roots back to 1914, making it the oldest tank unit in the world, and its beginnings as a fighting force in its own right stems from what is considered the first use of tanks in a major campaign during the Battle of Flers-Courcellette and the Somme in 1916, and what is considered the first major tank battle at Cambrai in 1917.

These armoured vehicles were initially conceived as ships on land and the word tank actually comes from Britain's attempts to keep the new landship weapons a secret from enemy intelligence by referring to them as 'water carriers' or 'water tanks' as they made their way to Mesopotamia.

Image ID: G77NGC: Soldiers in the newly formed Royal Tank Regiment march off the parade square at Tidworth, Wiltshire, where both 1 & 2 Royal Tank Regiments are parading to mark their amalgamation into the Royal Tank Regiment.
Soldiers in the newly formed Royal Tank Regiment march off the parade square at Tidworth, Wiltshire, where both 1 & 2 Royal Tank Regiments parade to mark their amalgamation into the Royal Tank Regiment (Picture: Alamy).

By 1918, following a reorganisation and expansion, the commanding officer of the Tank Corps, Lieutenant General Sir Hugh Jamieson Elles, was in discussion with fellow officers on the future of the tank forces, with a view to creating a distinct uniform and identity.

New headwear was needed as other attempts at headdresses for tank personnel had proved unsuitable – with peaked caps or helmets getting in the way of a clear view of the small vision apertures inside a tank.

Tank crews had also tried wearing leather crash helmets, and steel helmets with a visor, but again, these seemed impractical for operations inside an armoured tank.

General Elles found inspiration from the berets of the French 70th Chasseurs Alpins and decided that a beret would be suitable uniform for tank personnel.

Black was a preferred colour, mainly because tank crews would be working with heavy machinery and black was unlikely to show any stains from oils and other mechanical fluids.

It was thought that both officers and lower ranks alike should wear the same black beret, as it was felt this showed how all ranks were prepared to pitch in the work in hand together.

The black beret was adopted after it was officially approved by King George V on 5 March 1924.

This headgear remains a distinctive part of the Royal Tank Regiment's uniform, along with another custom of black coveralls.

With the exception of the Westminster Dragoons Squadron of the Royal Yeomanry, the tank regiment is the only one in the British Army to wear a black beret, and it is not to be confused with a dark blue beret as worn by Royal Marine recruits who have not yet qualified for their distinctive green commando beret.