Saturday, August 15, 2009

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Floating Plant & Dredging Fleet Personnel

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has traditionally operated a wide variety of watercraft in support of the water resources and infrastructure under its purview. These vessels are found in the major waterways of the United States and its territories - once including the Panama Canal Zone when it was a U.S. territory, and South Vietnam during the war. Floating Plant (including the Dredging Fleet), as these vessels are known, are manned by civilian crews. The officers are licensed by U.S. Coast Guard; and presently most are graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or other U.S. Maritime schools.

The military-status of Floating Plant personnel has had a chequered past. During the Second World War and the Korean War, unlike their colleagues serving in the Army Transportation Service, they were militarized and called to active duty. At the tail end of the Vietnam War, during the organizational reforms of the U.S. Army, Floating Plant personnel were deemed civilians.

In order to identify the officers serving on dredges, towboats, and ships of 60 feet or more, the Corps of Engineers directed they wear uniforms starting in 1969. The officers already wore khaki Navy-inspired uniforms with a variety of insignia denoting rank. Up until this point, hat badges were improvised and worn at the individual's discretion. Some wore a Maritime Service-style gold wreath with a Corps of Engineers branch insignia collar device in the center; others wore ball caps or garrison caps with the same.

With the new regulations came an end to improvisation and officially sanctioned khaki uniforms, headgear and employee identification. The khaki uniform was retained and reefers abolished, and officers were given a combination hat. The means of determining an individual's position aboard is indicated by identification plates: Master, Engineer (rank) and Mate (rank). License state is indicated by the color of the wear hat's chinstrap: gold-colored for Coast Guard-licensed officers, black for all others. The Floating Plant personnel also wear a unique hat badge. The symbolism of the insignia is explained thus:
[...] silver Engineer castle with a gold anchor supporting on its stock, a silver eagle, wings displayed. The anchor represents the maritime functions of Floating Plant Personnel and the eagle represents Federal service.
The original directives provided for changing of hat cover from khaki to white, depending upon the season; current regulations do not state as such.

Governing regulations for Floating Plant personnel uniforms:
  • ? (30 October 1969).
  • ER 670-2-3 (20 April 1987).
  • ER 1130-2-520, Appendix S & W (29 November 1996).

It is really this hat badge and that of the U.S. Army Transport Service that piqued my interest in Sea Service hat badges. Having been raised in the Navy and always keen on matters maritime, I had never known that the USACE had a civilian-manned fleet of ships. I am still mostly unsure who strikes the current insignia, as they do not have U.S. Government contract manufacturer hallmarks; so for all I know, they may be made in some Army machine shop in Philadelphia.

Floating Plant, 1970s
55mm x 63mm. Gray gun metal body and gold anodized anchor.
No hallmark.

Floating Plant, 1990-present.
55mm x 63mm. Grey gun metal body and gold anodized anchor.
No hallmark.

Reverse of badge is coated in thin layer of dark gray acrylic; also on reverse, not the crisp detail lacking in the earlier version. The beak is damaged; perhaps due to poor stamping/filing.

U.S. Corps of Engineers Branch Insignia
25mm x 18mm. Gold-plated brass.
No hallmark. Circa 1950.

This example was worn on Floating Plant personnel garrison hat. This device is pre-Second World War; apparently it was passed down from through the decades via a thrifty Quartermaster.  Note cut-out windows and fine detail.

Floating Plant Variant
60mm x 70mm. Copper with "gold coating"
N.S. Meyer Inc., New York hallmark. Allegedly circa 1950s-60s.

This is most probably a fantasy or fake. This badge is comprised of elements found in unofficial (pre-1968 ) woven and metal variants of Floating Plant hat badges: wreath, castle & eagle.

The wreath is of traditional U.S. Army Transport Service & ROTC design; most Floating Plant variants are of contemporary period Maritime Service-style wreaths. The wreath has pitting as seen in casts. The reverse shows that the manufacturer had some difficulty in positioning the bars for soldering.

The castle has an N.S. Meyer Inc. New York hallmark. If this were a poor fake, we'd see evidence of sheared-off keeper pin posts.

Capping the emblem is an eagle; this eagle is MSTS officer-style (circa 1950s-1960s).

Overall nicely polished. Not quite sure what to make of this. Fantasy, fake, pattern or variant. Who knows?


  1. I have one of these COE Floating Plant cap devices. thanks for the information.

  2. I have one of these also. I'm an officer on a Corps dredge. The manufacturer is Gemsco.

  3. I have three still on the cardboard they came with. They are unused. On the paper is the maker. Denmark's Military---authorized insignia since 1912. Astoria,N.Y. They are from the 70s or 80s

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