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US Army Air Force (USAAF) Crusher Caps

Background

Army Airforce (Army Air Corps) crusher caps were as much sort out during the Second World War by aviators as they are today by collectors.  Nothing made an aviator look more seasoned than when sporting a floppy, crumpled cap riding at a jaunty angle atop his head.

The Visor Cap, or Service Cap, is essentially the primary dress headgear of servicemen and it bears, in the case of the Army and Army Air Corps, the insignia of the coat of arms of the United States. As such, the service cap is a crisply angled cap with stiff support to maintain its respectable posture. Army Air Corps personnel, while wearing the visor cap in flight, took to removing the stiffening in order to comfortably wear a communications headset over the cap. In time, the cap would become crushed and softened. A cap which had seen a lot of action eventually came to be known as a "50 mission crush cap," and the wearer of such a cap came to be recognized as an experienced veteran.

In deference to the air service the Officer's Guide states, "Officers of the Army Air Forces wear a similar cap [to officers of the Army] except that the front spring stiffening may be omitted and the grommet may be removed."

The front spring stiffening is what supports the insignia and also keeps the front of the cap jutting strongly upward and forward. This can vary from a curled piece of wire spring to a solid metal plate. The grommet is a round support, often simply a stiff piece of metal wire, that keeps the top of the cap round and suspended. While the grommet can be readily extracted from the cap, the front spring stiffening is typically sewn integrally into the cap and is not easily removed.

Eventually, manufacturers began to make caps specifically for aviators. These caps were specially made to be soft and crushable with a thinner and more flexible leather visor, little or no front spring stiffening, and a softer headband. While there was some variation in ability to crush the cap between the different models, some of these caps could be very easily rolled up and stuffed into a pocket.

Observations

Standard service caps are found to be constructed of several types of material. For the winter uniform there are the olive drab (O.D.) shades and these are usually either of a felt type of material or of the darker shade wool elastique. For wear with the summer uniform, caps were a tan khaki shade of either cotton, rayon, cotton/mohair blend, or worsted wool.

True crusher caps are most commonly found in the olive drab shade and seem to be exclusively of elastique material, presumably since the elastique is lighter and more supple than the felt.

Crusher caps in khaki shades appear to be primarily of the wool worsted material but, due to the limited numbers of these around, this observation may not be accurate.

While most crusher caps were made for officers, there are examples of both olive drab and khaki enlisted men's (E.M.) crusher caps. These seem to have been in much more limited quantity compared to the officer's crush caps.

Many service caps these days are pitched to collectors as having a crushed look. As has been described here, however, not all crushed caps are crush caps. In the collector's market, the true crush caps are more highly prized and carry higher market values.  The main discerning difference between a crush cap and a service cap is the thickness and flexibility of the leather visor.  True crush caps had a very thin visor usually constructed from one piece of leather whilst service caps had a thicker less flexible visor constructed from 2 pieces of leather which were joined together.  In a future segment, I will discuss the various name brands of service and crush style caps that were produced during the war period.

LEFT:    Navigator wearing the olive coloured Bancroft Flighter brand crusher cap. 

Individuality

In contrast to other army and airforces which impose strict regulations on what and how an officer can wear, the US Army Airforce allowed a certain amount of individualism to occur.  This is obvious when it comes to the wearing and style of headgear and leather flying jackets.  Although this individuality was frowned upon by direct superiors in the army and the navy, the army airforce due to its perceived elitism was allowed a certain amount of lateral movement, especially in relation to jacket art.  Airforce personnel attached to flying squadrons were allowed to remove the stiffener of their caps to facilitate the wearing of headphones.  This regulation lead to the creation of the 50 mission crusher cap.

 

 

 

LEFT:    5th USAAF observer wearing Bancroft Flighter crusher cap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BELOW:  I have attempted to compose a selection of service and crusher caps to cover most of the most popular brands.  All caps unless otherwise sited are from my collection and are of original manufacture (not reproductions). 

 

Knox brand crusher cap

Note the different type of cotton material used in this cap.  The material is very thin and light-weight providing the wearer with a cap which would not become too hot when worn in the tropics

Knox brand crusher cap

Note the flexible visor a large grommet hole for cooling

Kayson Flight Master brand crusher cap

Note The rough wool finish on this cap

Flight Weight brand crusher cap

Note the different style cap band in comparison to the olive coloured caps below

Enlisted mans service cap

Many airmen attempted to give their caps the 50 mission look.  This look duplicated the appearance of a cap that had actually been worn after many mission wearing tight head phones.  Army regulations prohibited the removal of the internal hat stiffener, however, this rule was rarely enforced in the army airforce

Dobbs Fifth Avenue brand service cap

Cover is made from felt material

Dobbs Fifth Avenue brand service cap

Note the satin lining and maker mark.  Not all service caps and crushers had maker marks, but the majority of them were stamped with some form of manufacturer motif or name

Bancroft Flighter brand crusher cap

This cap was worn by Lt. Harold Stanard, 5th USAAF who was a bombardier on a B-24.  The curled visor has be caused by continual rolling of the cap for placement in trouser pockets

Note the definite lined texture of the cover and the oversized eagle device made by N. S. Meyer of New York and stamped same on rear

Bancroft flighter brand crusher cap

"Roll it up and put it in your pocket" was a common quote of the day regarding these very pliable and functional caps. This cap was worn by Bombardier Lt. Stanard on all his bombing missions

Bancroft Flighter crusher cap

Bancroft Flighter brand crusher cap

Note the very thin leather visor made of one piece of soft leather.  This is characteristic of all true crusher caps.  Service cap visors were almost double the visor thickness and comprised two pieces of   leather sewn and/or glued together.  Note the slightly different colour of the sweatband in comparison to the crusher below

Bancroft Flighter brand crusher cap

The Bancroft brand has a very distinctive label embossed onto the sweat band

Service cap

Note the thickness of the leather visor in comparison to a true crusher cap such as the Bancroft or Knox brand.  A service cap visor is usually quite thick as it comprises two pieces of leather stitched and/or glues together.  A crusher cap visor has only one piece of thin flexible leather.  Many caps sold as crushers are not true crushers but are service caps with the cap stiffener removed and the sides "belted" into place to give them the 50 mission look

Assorted AAF enlisted and officer style side/utility caps

As with the crushers and service caps, these caps were also commissioned in foreign countries

Jones Brothers of Sydney crusher cap

The Jones Brothers manufacture was made in Surry Hills Sydney Australia.  The olive green top is a attached to the hat band by several push studs (clips) enabling the wearer to alter between the khaki and olive top.  The cap badge is made in Melbourne by Luke and is stamped same on rear.  Australian and English made crushers are very uncommon and actively sought by collectors. Often the olive covers were interchangeable with tan covers; snap clips being used to secure the cover to the side of cap

Knox brand crusher

Note the oversized eagle cap badge.  Cap badges came in a variety of sizes and the size attached to the cap was at the discretion of the officer

Pentibone Brothers service cap

The olive cover on this cap is made from felt.  Note the small English made eagle device.  Crusher and service caps including their hat badges were made in a number of allied countries where US air personnel served.  Hats were commissioned in England, Australia and New Zealand.  This cap was worn by a B-17 pilot who flew missions from England

 

 

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