The insignia of the Armor branch of the United States Army—a frontal view of an M26 Pershing tank superimposed over two crossed sabers—succinctly conveys its origins in the Army Organization Act of 1950, which officially stated that the “Armor shall be a continuation of the Cavalry.” Crossed sabers were first used as insignia in 1851 on the shakos worn by Dragoons and appeared on the hats of Cavalry officers in 1858; they became the Cavalry insignia in 1861 when Dragoons, Horse-Mounted Riflemen, and Cavalry were consolidated into a single Cavalry branch. The M26 was selected because it represented the pinnacle of U.S. tank technology at the time the Armor branch was established.

But the Armor branch was not the first to use the imagery of a tank for its insignia. In December, 1917, General John Pershing created the Tank Corps, American Expeditionary Force in France, while at the same time the War Department established the Tank Service, National Army (the two were combined in 1919). The original insignia for the Tank Corps was a “conventionalized tank,” which in actuality translated into the frontal view of WWI-era French tank. It was quickly replaced with an insignia featuring a side view of Mark VIII tank—which had the decided advantage of actually being recognizable as a tank—resting on two fire-breathing dragons encircled by wreaths.

When the fledgling Tank Corps was abolished by the National Defense Act of 1920 and tanks were assigned to the Infantry, a new insignia was created for officers in the tank service: the Infantry insignia of two crossed rifles, but with a circle containing the letter “T” superimposed over their point of intersection. This was quickly superseded by a new version that replaced the “T” with the side-view of a World War I tank (again, a Mark VIII).

This insignia was discarded (read: abolished) in 1933, but this didn’t keep some Soldiers assigned to tank units from wearing it in the early days of World War II. A major reason might have been the fact that although the War Department had created an Armored Forces branch in 1940, it did not issue the branch insignia—yet again, the side view of a Mark VIII tank—until early in 1942. In addition to the old Infantry tank services insignia, some enlisted Soldiers created their own unauthorized insignia during that period based on the image of the more modern M3 Stuart light tank.

One other interesting insignia related to today’s Armor branch was the one created for the Tank Destroyer Forces, an independent branch like the Armored Forces tasked with a singular mission: the destruction of enemy tanks. Announced in 1943, the Tank Destroyer Forces insignia was the image of an M3 Gun Motor Carriage, i.e, an M3 Halftrack armed with a 75mm gun.

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