Military Wiki

John J. Pershing wearing a Sam Browne belt.

The Sam Browne belt is a wide belt, usually leather, which is supported by a strap passing diagonally over the right shoulder. It is most often seen as part of a military or police uniform.[1]


Sam Browne missing his left arm (and his eponymous belt; he is wearing a full dress uniform with sash).

Polish chief of staff Gen. Mieczysław Cieniuch wearing a Sam Browne belt as part of the winter officer's uniform

Sam Browne was a British army officer serving in India in the 19th century.[2] In those days officers always carried a sword into battle. It hung from a small metal clip on the waistbelt, called a 'frog'. However, the scabbard tended to slide around a lot when they charged the enemy, meaning that it had to be steadied with the left hand before being drawn.[3]

During the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in India, Captain Sam Browne was serving with the 2nd Punjab Irregular Cavalry. On 31 August 1858, Captain Browne was involved in the fighting near Seerporah.[4] As he charged a cannon being reloaded, he was attacked by one of its crew. Browne received two sword cuts, one on the left knee and one which severed his left arm at the shoulder.[5] He survived the injuries but, without a left hand, he found that he was now unable to control or draw his sword.[6]

Browne came up with the idea of wearing a second belt which went over his right shoulder and held the scabbard in just the spot he wanted. This would hook into a heavy leather belt with "D-rings" for attaching accessories. It also securely carried a pistol in a flap-holster on his right hip and included a binocular case with a neck-strap. Other cavalry officers in the Indian Army began wearing a similar rig and soon it became part of the standard uniform. During the Boer War, the rig was copied by Imperial and Commonwealth troops and eventually became standard issue.[7]

Infantry officers wore a variant that used two suspender-like straps instead of the cross-belt. It was supposedly invented in 1878 by Lieutenant Sir Basil Templer Graham-Montgomery, 5th Baronet of the 60th Rifles while serving in India. There has been a great deal of discussion as to whether Browne modified Graham-Montgomery's design or vice-versa. Since there were no patents issued for either design and both camps have accounts backing up their claims, it may never be decided.


Due to its former use as equipment for carrying a sword, it is traditionally only worn by those to whom a sword would historically have been issued, namely officers. Throughout most of its modern history, however, its main function has been to carry a pistol, and it was found to be particularly useful with the heavy pistols typically used during the first part of the 20th century.

Lieutenant-General Hugo Österman, a Finnish general wearing the Sam Browne belt during World War II.


In Finnish army (as well as in Finnish Air force) the Sam Browne belt, officially known as a "command belt" or "officer belt", has been used by officers and senior NCOs as well as officer cadets when wearing service, dress or parade uniforms, currently it is mainly used by high-ranking officers during parades and other ceremonies, as it's only worn with dress uniform M58 and service uniform M83 while most army and air force personnel, excluding cadets studying in the National Defence College as well as soldiers on ceremonial duties, use the camouflage uniform M05 as their service uniform, and the use of the 'command belt' with any camouflage uniform except M62 (already phased out of service) is strictly forbidden.

Axis powers

Mussolini and Hitler wearing the belt

The Sam Browne belt featured prominently in many uniforms used by the Nazi Party in Germany, again in imitation of earlier European uniforms. It was popular with Adolf Hitler[2] and other leading Nazi officials.[8][9][10]

United Kingdom and the Commonwealth

In the 20th century it was a mainstay in the British Army officers' corps, being adopted service-wide in 1900 during the Second Boer War after limited use in India, and later becoming popular with military forces throughout the Commonwealth.[11] After World War II the Sam Browne belt saw a decline in use in the Commonwealth; for example, it was phased out by the Canadian military with the unification of the armed services in 1968. However, officers, and Warrant Officer Class 1 (but not WO2) of the British Army and Royal Marines still wear it in formal (No.2) dress and in some versions of full (No.1) dress.[citation needed]

In Australia all officers are entitled to wear the belt in ceremonial dress, also Warrant Officers bearing the rank of WO1 (but not WO2) are entitled to wear the belt.[12] Within the corps of the Australian Army there is some variation, with members of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps and Australian Army Aviation Corps wearing black Sam Browne belts.[13]

Rifle Belt

A different arrangement from the traditional Sam Browne belt consists of a similar wide belt with two vertical supporting straps, one over each shoulder. The design put the burden of the gear, with its heavy ammo pouches on the belt and straps, on both shoulders. It was worn by the officers of British and Commonwealth Rifle Regiments, who had to carry a rifle as their service arm rather than a pistol. It was also worn by big game hunters in Africa and India in the late-19th and mid-20th centuries. It is often seen worn in movies or TV shows as part of the costume of explorers or big game hunters.

Its invention is falsely attributed to Sam Browne. It was actually invented by Lieutenant Basil Templer Graham-Montgomery of the 60th Rifles while he was on service in India. Although a case of simultaneous development, Graham-Montgomery was seen as a plagiarist.

United States

During World War I, the Sam Browne Belt was approved by General Pershing, commander of the AEF, for wear by American officers as a rank distinction. However, the Army as a whole did not immediately approve its use,[14][15] and even went so far as to station MPs at stateside docks to confiscate them from returning officers.[16] The United States Army mandated the Sam Browne belt for overseas soldiers in 1918 under the name "Liberty belt"[17] and for all service members in 1921, this time under the internationally accepted name "Sam Browne belt".[18][19] It was a standard part of the uniform between World War I and World War II. It was eliminated in 1940 as an austerity measure and replaced by an unlined leather or cloth waistbelt that was sewn to the officer's jacket.[16]

A brown leather Sam Browne Belt was adopted by the Marine Corps during World War I. It was later changed to black, the official color of the Navy and Marine Corps leather gear. It is worn as part of the dress uniform by sword-bearing commissioned and non-commissioned officers in the Corps today. Drill Instructors wear the sword frog on their web belts as a sign of their office during Recruit Training.[20]

After the First World War, Sam Browne belts "become almost universal among American police".[21] The utility belts worn today by American police usually lack the cross-strap and the attachments for them. The belt fastens in the same way with the bar of the buckle engaging a pair of hooks and the end of the belt retained by a post and keeper loop. They are also frequently fully lined, as opposed to the old style half-linings, to support equipment the length of the belt.[21]

Worldwide policing

The Sam Browne belt is largely obsolete in police and security use due to risk of strangulation by potential opponents. It has sometimes been referred to as a Suicide Belt by personnel.[22] It had enjoyed some popularity with civilian police agencies worldwide and was probably most widely worn in this context during the 1940s and 1950s. This use has gradually faded out due to field safety concerns. It is part of the ceremonial dress uniform of many agencies, most notably the Red Serge worn by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.[23]

In Australia, a white Sam Browne belt and strap is worn by the Victoria Police Mounted Unit, the New South Wales Police Force VIP Cyclists, Protocol Inspector and Protocol Sergeant (during ceremonies only), NSW Police Academy Senior Protocol Officer (Senior Sergeant) and Parade Sergeant wear a black coloured leather basketweave Sam Browne belt and strap with silver coloured fittings as a badge of office. The same Sam Browne belt is also worn by the Australian Federal Police Ceremonial Mounted Cadre and AFP Drill Instructors.

In Italy a black Sam Browne belt with red trims is still worn by Carabinieri Warrant Officers (always when in service) and Officers (only at time); a white Sam Browne belt is also worn by Italian Police enlisted personnel. Reflective Sam Browne belts are a popular safety device among cyclists for increasing their visibility at night, and a bright orange version is often worn by school crossing guards in junior safety patrols.[24]


The Sam Browne belt has been proposed as a solution to occupational safety and health concerns about injury due to the weight of equipment on police officers' belts.[25] However, others have expressed concern that the vertical design of the belt could enable criminals to gain physical control of law enforcement officers in an altercation.[26][27]

Civilian use

During the interwar period, the belt became fashionable among some American[28] and European[29] women. Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady of the United States at the time, openly spoke out against the practice.[30] The belts also became a symbol of civilian authority by "everybody from bus drivers to volunteer schoolboy traffic cops".[31] The belt's use by junior safety patrol members became iconic.[32][33]

See also

  • Police duty belt
  • Junior safety patrol


  1. "Sam Browne belt". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  3. William Foster-Harris (1 April 2007). The Look of the Old West: A Fully Illustrated Guide. Skyhorse Publishing Inc.. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-1-60239-024-9. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  4. Who was sam browne? (1922, Jan 05). The Youth's Companion (1827-1929), 96, 11-11.
  5. "Sam browne belts originally devised for one-armed men". 23 July 1921. 
  6. Craig, Berry. "A Famous Military Fashion and the Man Behind It". pp. 62–63. 
  7. Lee Lofland (8 August 2007). Howdunit Book of Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers. Writer's Digest Books. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-58297-455-2. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  8. Roger A. Beaumont (2000). The Nazis' March to Chaos: The Hitler Era Through the Lenses of Chaos-Complexity Theory. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-275-96708-6. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  9. Ronald C. Newton (1992). The "Nazi Menace" in Argentina, 1931-1947. Stanford University Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-8047-1929-2. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  10. David Miller (30 December 2007). Fighting Men of World War II: Uniforms, Equipment and Weapons. Stackpole Books. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-8117-0277-5. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  11. Charles John Ffoulkes; Edward Campbell Hopkinson (1967). Sword, Lance & Bayonet: A Record of the Arms of the British Army & Navy. CUP Archive. p. 94. GGKEY:AQU0Q8J935F. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  12. "The Same Browne belt-Australian Army". Australian Army. Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  13. Jobson, Chris (2009). Looking Forward, Looking Back: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Army. Wavell Heights, Queensland: Big Sky Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-9803251-6-4. 
  14. Special to The New,York Times. "Officers Quick to Don Sam Browne Belts." New York Times (1857-1922), Jul 15, 1921
  15. "'Sam Browne' Belts Are Barred Here". 18 October 1917. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Jerold E. Brown (2001). Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Army. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 410. ISBN 978-0-313-29322-1. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  17. ""Sam Browne" Belt Adopted by U.S. Army And Named "Liberty"". 4 Jan 1918. 
  18. "Sam Browne Belt Made Regulation Equipment in Army". 7 July 1921. 
  20. Hooker, Daniel L. (November 2000). "Sam Browne belts and swaggersticks". pp. 54. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Massad Ayoob (28 February 2011). The Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery. Gun Digest Books. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-4402-2654-0. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  22. "Visiting...With Huell Howser". LAPD Motors. Los Angeles, CA: Huell Howser Productions. October, 2009. 
  23. David Ross (24 March 1988). The Royal Canadian Mounted Police 1873-1987. Osprey Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-85045-834-3. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  24. Pier Battistelli (22 November 2011). Italian Army Elite Units & Special Forces 1940-43. Osprey Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-84908-895-4. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  25. Soldo, Sandra (February 2004). "Overloaded: How the New South Wales police accoutrement belt plagues its wearers". 
  26. US patent 2564564 
  27. US patent 3352467 
  28. "Women Like Sam Browne Belts". 21 October 1917. 
  29. "Sam Browne Belt Worn in France by Women Hikers". 4 October 1936. 
  30. M, K (27 July 1941). ""No sam browne belts," says mrs. roosevelt". 
  31. "Nature Ramblings: Admirals Wearing Spurs". Society for Science & the Public. 30 March 1935. 
  32. Bill Lohmann Times-Dispatch, Staff Writer. "Aaa Safety Patrols * 1920-1995 75 Years of Safety Now as then, Kids in the Sam Browne Belts Stand between their Schoolmates and Danger." Richmond Times - Dispatch, Sep 20, 1995.
  33. "Helping to Keep Schools Safe." Times - News, Aug 14, 2009.

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