Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1917-1918
To augment the Regular Navy in the event that the United States would become involved in the war raging in Europe, Congress under the Naval Appropriations Act of 3 March 1915, created the Naval Reserve. The legislation made provision for reserve status only for those who had previously served honorably in the Navy. To strengthen the program, an Act of 29 August 1916 permitted the enrollment in the Reserve of other persons whose skills would be of value in time of war. The 1916 act also officially established the Naval Flying Corps to consist of 150 officers and 350 men as a part of the regular establishment. During both World Wars and in the years since, the Naval Reserve has played a major role in the successes of the United States Navy.
The Reserve legislation made no restriction as to the sex of the enrollees, and it was under this broad authority that women were enlisted in World War I, and assigned the rating Yeoman (F), informally called “Yeomanettes”. After the end of World War I, membership in the Naval Reserve was limited to male citizens, but on 30 July 1942 the 1938 Naval Reserve Act was amended to permit the enlistment of women as officers and enlisted personnel to release male members of the Navy for sea duty. From the outset women have served well and honorably and since 1948 have become an integral part of the Regular Establishment.
The Yeomanette in the left background, or more properly, Second Class Petty Officer (F) of the “Enrolled Women of the Naval Reserve Force”, is shown in the blue uniform prescribed by Change 15 to the 1913 Navy Uniform Regulations. Although the change is undated, it was issued between Change 14 of 12 October 1917 and Change 16 of 10 January 1918. The coats, blue in winter and white in summer, were of the Norfolk style, single-breasted with two lower patch pockets. There were pleats from each shoulder in the back to the hem of the coat as well as in front and the coat was belted around. The buttons were the standard gilt ones of the Navy. The full skirts, fitted over the hips, were long in the style of the period. The white shirtwaist was worn with a black neckerchief when the collar was unbuttoned and without a neckerchief when the collar was closed. The straight brimmed hat was of the “sailor” style, blue felt in winter and rough white straw in summer. The original instructions did not specify the lettering of the hat band but contemporary photographs show either “U. S. Naval Reserve”, “U. S. Naval Reserve Force”, or “U. S. Navy”. High or low black shoes were worn with the blue uniform and white shoes with the summer uniform. The second class petty officer rating badge of a “yeomanette” on the blue jacket was identical to that worn by male yeoman—two scarlet chevrons with two white crossed quills in the vee, the whole surmounted by a white spread eagle. Since yeomen were not members of the seaman branch, the badge was worn on the left sleeve as shown.
The commander is in the official forestry green aviation uniform of 1918. This uniform was the outgrowth of the unofficial dress adopted in 1912-1913 by aviators. The first official recognition of the need for a special dress for the small but expanding naval air arm was a change of 22 June 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I. Change 11 prescribed a khaki uniform identical to the one previously worn but with drab, woven wool leggings instead of the leather puttees. The change related the uniform directly to that of the Marine Corps for the cloth was to be khaki cotton, as the Marine Corps field uniform. To provide a more adequate uniform for cold weather, Change 12 of 7 September 1917 authorized the uniform to be made of Marine Corps forestry green wool cloth. Change 18 of 1 April 1918 directed that both summer and winter uniforms be forestry green in color, light weight cloth for warm weather wear and wool for winter. Two bellows pockets were added to the coat below the waist line and leather puttees were again authorized. To indicate an officer’s grade, the same shoulder marks worn on the white service coat were used. The commander shows the three gold lace stripes with the gold star above them on his marks. Aviators, when flying with their coats removed, were directed to wear the flexible shoulder marks on their khaki shirts so that their rank would be recognized if captured. The cap cover was forestry green to match the coat and the visor shows the gold embroidered oak leaves and acorns of a commander or captain. The leather coat carried by the officer was not considered part of the uniform but flight gear issued to naval aviators.
The lieutenant commander of the Naval Reserve is shown in the blue service uniform. This style coat remained part of an officer’s wardrobe until the present double-breasted sack coat was introduced shortly after World War I. The officer’s affiliation with the Naval Reserve Force is indicated by the use of the Naval Reserve device on the standing collar behind the gold oak leaf of his grade, instead of the foul anchor of the Line. The device, introduced by Change 10 of 18 January 1917, was metal “…similar to the device on the cap of a commissioned officer, except the height shall be 1 inch.…” Officers of the Naval Reserve were also directed to wear a special button instead of the gilt eagle buttons of the Regular Navy. The device was a plain anchor, set vertically on the button, with the letters ‘U.S.” above the stock, one on either side of the ring, and the letters “N.R.” flanking the stock above the flukes. The sleeve lace, two stripes of half inch wide gold lace with a quarter inch stripe between them, is identical to that worn by a lieutenant commander of the Regular Navy. The gold star above the lace indicates a Line officer and the wings on the left breast indicate that the officer is a qualified naval aviator.
The lieutenant is shown in the summer khaki uniform of June 1917 with the most unsatisfactory wrap leggings. The cut of the coat is identical to the white service coat with only the upper breast pockets. The lower bellows pockets were not introduced until 1918. Aviators’ wings were first described in Change 12 of 7 September 1917 as “…a winged foul anchor with the letters ‘U.S.’” None of this type seems to have been worn, for Change 14 of 12 October 1917 directed that the “U.S.” be removed. The shield with vertical stripes and a plain field mounted on the anchor then became part of the device—still the mark of a naval aviator. The khaki covered cap is shown without the grommet, a practice initiated in World War I and carried forward under some circumstances. Although the uniform was modified several times during the war, officers were permitted to wear older style uniforms so long as they were serviceable, until the aviation dress was abolished in 1923.
Under the original 1913 Uniform Regulations, the only “working” uniform authorized was the dungaree suit. The wearing of dungarees was limited to duty aboard cruising vessels, submarines and torpedo boats by officers and men assigned to the engineer force or to duty in gun turrets. Dungarees could be worn only when working in areas where a standard uniform would be soiled. The original suit consisted of a pull-over jumper of blue denim and trousers of the same material. Change 17 of 18 March 1918 replaced the jumper with a single-breasted, five button coat. The change provided a more suitable dress for officers and men who had to remove the dungarees when leaving work areas. No provision was made for the display of an officer’s grade nor an enlisted man’s rating on the dungaree suit. The March 1918 uniform change introduced a new series of specialty marks for enlisted men assigned to the aviation service. The rapid growth of the Navy’s air arm indicated the need for new skills and ratings which gave great impetus to a vigorous training program. Aviation specialists were classified under the old, established ratings of quartermaster, carpenter’s mate and machinist’s mate. The existing devices with the addition of wings were used for the new ratings. An aviation quartermaster showed the ship’s wheel with wings; winged crossed axes were used for aviation carpenter’s mates. Instead of the old three bladed ship’s propeller, aviation machinists showed a winged two bladed aeroplane propeller. To identify men in training for aviation ratings, the apprentice badge, a single carrick bend knot, had an eagle perched on the center of the knot.
The provision of a white, warm weather uniform and some form of evening or dinner dress clothing for officers of the United States Navy was a long, slow process. Enlisted men had been provided with a white uniform for warm weather early in the history of the United States Navy. An officer was not permitted to wear a white coat or jacket until 1852 when a white drill jacket could be worn in the tropics as service dress when at sea, except at general muster, or when in charge of the deck. For warm weather duty, blue coats or jackets of light weight cloth were allowed and could be worn with white trousers. Finally in 1883, a white uniform was authorized, one that could be worn under all conditions when a service dress was proper, afloat or ashore.
With reference to a special evening dress uniform for social affairs, it was not until 1866 that a blue costume was authorized. The coat was patterned on the prevailing civilian full dress coat and was worn with insignia of grade and corps on the collar. By 1897, the evening full dress coat was worn with all the accessories: sleeve lace and shoulder ornaments. After the War with Spain, when warm climate duty became more prevalent, a suitable dinner dress for officers was authorized. A white mess jacket, to be worn with full dress laced trousers for dinner dress, or with either blue or white trousers for mess dress, was introduced by General Order No. 48 in June 1901. The Assistant Paymaster, with the grade of lieutenant, is shown in the 1913 version of the mess jacket. On each side are shown two medium sized gilt Navy buttons. The jacket is held together at the waist by two buttons connected by a ring. The shoulder marks are the non-rigid type, stiffened with horsehair introduced in 1899 to replace the old shoulder straps and show the two stripes of gold lace of a lieutenant with the white cloth of the Supply Corps between them. The shirt was plain white, starched, and fastened with two or three plain gold studs. The bow tie of the period was worn with a stiff standing collar with square corners. The white waist coat with a rolling collar was fastened with four small gilt Navy buttons. The plain blue high waisted trousers worn in mess dress were close fitting over the buttocks and without pockets except a watch pocket on either side. The black shoes were of patent leather. Under the 1913 instructions, gold laced trousers could not be worn with the white mess jacket. The officer’s cap with a white cover was specified for mess dress.
“Women of the Naval Reserve Force” were provided with both white and blue uniforms. The cut was identical, the Norfolk type coat with pleats down the front and back and the wide cloth belt. In warm weather when the coat was removed, the collar of the shirt waist was usually unfastened and a black neckerchief was worn. The buttons of the shirtwaist were plain white pearl 3/8 of an inch in diameter. There was a pocket on the left side of the waist only. The full white skirt, according to the illustration which accompanied Change 15, issued between 12 October 1917 and 10 January 1918, was to have a pocket on either side. However, all available photographs of Yeomanettes show pockets only on the left side. The white straw hat is banded with a black ribbon marked in gold, “U.S. Navy”. Although the instructions for enlisted men of the Naval Reserve directed that they show the words “Naval Reserve Force” on cap ribbons, many photographs show Yeomanettes with “U.S. Navy” and “U.S. Naval Reserve” on their hats. No provision was made for the display of a rating badge on the sleeves of the shirtwaist, so the Yeomanettes rating cannot be determined when the coat is removed. However, on either the blue or white coat, a Third Class Petty Officer Yeoman (F) would show a single chevron, the spread eagle and the crossed quills, specialty mark of all yeomen. White canvas or buckskin shoes were worn with the white uniform.
The white service uniform worn by the commander originated in 1883. It was tailored like the single-breasted, fly front blue service coat of 1877 and trimmed with white braid on the collar, down the front edges, around the bottom and down the back seams. In 1883 only grade was shown by means of stripes of white braid on the sleeves. In 1897 the same coat was worn but with shoulder straps to indicate both grade and corps. By General Order No. 48 of June 1901, the style of the coat was changed. It was single-breasted, buttoned with five large gilt Navy buttons and retained the standing collar which was plain. Grade and corps were shown by means of the shoulder marks introduced in 1899. The white service coat of 1901 is basically that worn today. The commander is shown in the 1913 version of the white service uniform. The shoulder marks show the three stripes of half inch wide gold lace of his grade with the gold star of the Line above them. Under the 1913 order, the diameter of the top of the cap was to be but a half-inch greater than the base, so the overhang was less than it is today. The embroidered oak leaves and acorns indicate an officer of the Line of the grade of captain or commander as they do today. With white trousers, either white canvas or buckskin shoes could be worn.
The Navy Nurse is in the white ward uniform—shirtwaist, full, starched skirt, white stockings and shoes, and a white cap. One thing which distinguishes her from a civilian nurse is the insignia of the Navy Nurse Corps on either side of the open shirtwaist collar. The device toward the end of the first World War was the gold foul anchor on which a gold oak leaf and acorn had been placed, the whole surmounted by the letters “N.N.C.” in silver. The white cap is without any indication of the nurse’s relative position in her Corps and is like that worn by many civilian nurses of the period.
The white dress uniform worn by the Third Class Seaman is quite similar to that described in the 1840 Uniform Regulations in that the collar and cuffs are faced with blue cloth. The 1913 instructions directed that the collar and cuffs of the white dress jumper be faced with blue flannel, while the undress whites omitted the blue facing. The white dress jumper for all enlisted men had three rows of white tape on the collar, but the number of rows of tape on the blue cuffs varied. Petty officers showed three rows of tape; Second Class seamen, hospital apprentices and baker as well as Third and Fourth Class ship’s cooks had two rows; and Third Class seamen and mess attendants had but one stripe of tape in the center of the blue cuff. The white jumper was not gathered in at the waist but hung loose. The white trousers were cut as the blues but had a fly front instead of a drop fall. The dress was completed with a black neckerchief (omitted in undress whites), a white cotton drill hat and black shoes.