FORT BLISS, Texas – America’s Tank Division will be toasting “cheers to 80 years” this Jul. 15 in commemoration of eight decorated decades of service.
Famously known by the moniker “Old Ironsides”, the 1st Armored Division is the oldest, most recognizable armor division in the U.S. Army.
OLD IRONSIDES DESIGNATION
As part of the mechanization of the Army and the buildup for World War II, cavalry and infantry units were brought together to form the division on Jul. 15, 1940, at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Maj. Gen. Bruce R. Magruder, the Division’s first commander, gave the division its famous nickname soon after its activation. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. had just named his 2nd Armored Division “Hell on Wheels”; not to be outdone, Magruder held a contest to find a suitable nickname.
Over 200 names were submitted, but none seem to fit the bill. At the time Magruder had just purchased a painting of the famous U.S. Navy warship, the U.S.S. Constitution, which had the nickname “Old Ironsides”.
Magruder happened to glance at his painting while mulling over potential nicknames. He was impressed with the parallel between the development of the tank and the Navy’s “Old Ironsides” spirit of daring and durability and immediately named his division the same.
INSIGNIA: TANK CORPS (WWI)
The history and lineage of the 1st Armored Division patch is as unique as the division itself.
“All Army patches have an entire history behind them; the patches in the U.S. Army are steeped in history and tradition, and all bear some sort of symbolism,” said Kari Atkinson, Director of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss Museum. “They weren’t just arbitrarily created; all of them have a reason for being what they are — whether it has a crocodile on it, or its predominant color is red, there’s a reason for that.”
In Jan. 1918, the Tank Corps of the American Expeditionary Forces was established under Col. Samuel D. Rockenbach as its chief. At his direction Lieutenant Wharton designed the original coat of arms, which followed an old armorial method, a shield (silver) bearing a charge (the three-colored triangle) and a crest (the dragon in silver).
This triangle itself symbolized an old heraldic element of armorial design known as a Pile — the head of a spear. Tanks were the spearhead element in many World War I engagements.
The triangle included the three branch colors: blue for infantry, red for artillery, and yellow for cavalry – representing the three combat arms of the Army and components of Armor.
The dragon at the crest of the design was also the charge on the coat of arms for the 1st Cavalry.
INSIGNIA: 7TH CAVALRY BRIGADE (MECHANIZED)
It would not be until several years later when the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) would add the next significant piece of the 1st AD patch.
This brigade — formed out of the 1st Cavalry Regiment on Jan. 16, 1933 under Gen. Van Voorhis (then a Cavalry Colonel), the 13th Cavalry, and the 68th Field Artillery — was organized expressly for developing the new armored force concept while training in emerging modern war-fighting tactics.
The formation of these new mechanized armor units required a new shoulder patch insignia.
Van Voorhis instructed Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow, then a Major and Brigade Adjutant of the 13th Cavalry Regiment to develop a shoulder patch for the new armored unit.
In response, Grow announced to the brigade that a contest would be held to select the design. The winner would receive a three-day pass, which was a highly coveted prize.
Col. George Linthwaite, then a newly enlisted Private, won the contest and the prize with his design, which was then designated as the official brigade insignia.
It was a circular patch four inches in diameter, with a solid yellow-gold background to symbolize the Cavalry heritage.
On the face of the patch, he drew a stylized black tank track with a drive and idler sprockets to symbolize mobility and armor protection.
In the center of the track at a slight diagonal, he placed a single cannon barrel, also in black, to symbolize firepower.
Finally, to symbolize the striking power (shock effect) of the new armored force, he added a diagonal lightning bolt in red, extending across the total design and full diameter of the patch.
Mobility, firepower, and shock effect — the tank’s triple characteristics — were embodied in the striking power of Armor.
INSIGNIA: ARMED FORCE (WWII)
The early success of German armor during WWII expedited the creation of the U.S.’s own armor organization, leading the War Department to create the Armed Force on July 10, 1940.
According to Robert S. Cameron, U.S. Army Armor Branch historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, the Armored Force was a new branch that combined the separate armored assets of the Cavalry and Infantry. It included the I Armored Corps, consisting of the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions, and the 70th General Headquarters Tank Battalion.
The divisions constituted combined-arms formations built around an armored brigade and an infantry regiment; reconnaissance, artillery, engineer, maintenance, and service elements supported these combat organizations.
Brig. Gen. Adna R. Chaffee Jr. of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) was appointed the Commander of the newly created Armed Force, as his old brigade became the core of the 1st Armored Division. Later that year he was promoted to Major General and given command of the I Armored Corps.
Known as the “Father of the Armored Force”, Chaffee defined the role of the armored division as “the conduct of highly mobile ground warfare, primarily offensive in character, by a self-sustaining unit of great power and mobility,” according to the U.S. Army Armor School.
Chaffee wanted a patch for this new Armored Force; he combined the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) patch with the triangle of the old World War I Tank Corps. This gave the Armored Force patch a historical significance, linking its origin with the Tank Corps and the coat of arms designed for it by the aforementioned Wharton in 1918.
INSIGNIA: PRESENT DAY
As the “Father of the Armed Force”, it is fitting that it was Chaffee’s patch in the end that was designated the official insignia by the War Department on Nov. 22, 1940. It was originally approved without the “Old Ironsides” tab; the tab was authorized as a separate item years later on Feb. 21, 1956.
The “Old Ironsides” tab was formally authorized as attached to the triangular portion on Nov. 5, 1970 to become the one-piece insignia we see today.
Like its naval namesake, the 1st Armored Division carries with it the traditions and military values for which Old Ironsides has been known for over the past eight decades. The patch’s symbolic design represents this continuous history; those who wear it can hold their heads up with pride and celebrate with cheers to their division’s 80 years.