Facing Colour - Other Armies

Other Armies

The practice of using facing colours to distinguish individual regiments had been widespread in European armies in the 18th century when such decisions were largely left to commanding officers.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, the Dutch, Spanish, Swiss, Belgian, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, Swedish, Greek and Turkish armies had come to follow French standardised arrangements, although some variety might be ensured by the existence of different categories of infantry within a particular army, each with its own uniform and facings. As a general rule cavalry tended to be more variegated and it was not uncommon for each mounted regiment to retain its own facings colours up to 1914.

The United States regular army after the American Civil War adopted a universal dark and light blue uniform under which each regiment was distinguished only by numbers and other insignia, plus branch colors. The latter were yellow for Cavalry, red for Artillery and white (later light blue) for infantry. Combinations of colors such as scarlet piped with white for Engineers, orange piped with white for the Signal Corps and black piped with scarlet for Ordnance personnel gave wide scope for adding distinctive branch facings as the Army became more technical and diverse. This system continued in general use until blue uniforms ceased to be general issue in 1917, and survives in a limited form in modern blue mess and dress uniforms.

Notable exceptions to such standardisation within branches were the British Army (as noted above) and the Austro-Hungarian one. As late as World War I the latter employed 28 different colours, including 10 different shades of red, for its infantry facings.

In the very large Imperial German and Russian armies infantry, facing colours were often allocated according to the position that a particular regiment held in the order of battle - that is within a brigade, division or corps. As an example, amongst the Russian line infantry, the two brigades within each division were distinguished by red or blue shoulder straps; while the four regiments within each division wore red, blue, white or green collar patches and cap bands respectively.

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    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.
    Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)

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