The Year: 1857. The Indian Army has risen up in open mutiny against British control. A young officer named Samuel James Browne joins his cavalry unit in moving to crush a rebel position when Browne finds himself defending against a surprise sword attack. He is stuck several times, with one of the blows completely severing his left arm at the shoulder.
This was not the end of Browne’s military career. He would in fact continue to serve one-handed through the Indian Conflict as well as the Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880, eventually reaching the rank of General.
At some point during his later service, he adapted his service belt to offer better stability and control of his sidearm, at the time the traditional saber issued to British cavalry officers. Drawing a typical saber required the user to grasp the scabbard with one hand and draw with the other. Browne’s adapted belt allowed him to easily draw his weapon using only his remaining hand.
The design quickly attracted the attention of many of Browne’s fellow cavalry officers, who adopted the style as the additional support also helped prevent heavy duty belts from sagging during extended action.
After his retirement in 1898, the “Sam Browne” Belt would become the main service belt worn by officers in the British Army.
Adoption by the U.S. Military
The United States entered World War I in 1917, with the American Expeditionary Force landing in France.
By this time British officers were regularly using the Browne Belt to support the weight of pistols, ammo pouches, map cases, binoculars and other gear on their service belts without sagging. American officers quickly began adapting similar belts which became known in American circles as “Liberty Belts”.
By 1921, the Browne Belt had become regular issue among U.S. Army officers and lasted until 1941.
Adoption by Law Enforcement Agencies
Sometime during military life of the Sam Browne Belt it also began to appear in civilian law enforcement agencies.
Here again the additional support of the Belt was crucial when it came to supporting flashlights, keys, handcuffs, and of course service sidearms.
The belt would achieve peak popularity before going on the decline in 1960’s due to safety concerns about the additional strap if an officer is forced to grapple with an aggressive suspect.
However, plenty of law enforcement and corrections officers continue to use the Sam Browne Belt today.
Use in popular culture
Hollywood moviemakers have sometimes used the Sam Browne to add a subtle note of authority to an otherwise disheveled costume. The character of Mad Max often sports such a belt to remind the viewer he was once a police officer serving in the future Australian Main Force Patrol (MFP).