WWII-Era M1 Helmets: A Beginner’s Guide

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Two GIs taking a smoke break during WWII wearing the M1 helmet. The soldier on the right wears a helmet with a late model helmet net and elastic foliage band while the helmet on the soldier on the left exhibits common paint loss to the helmet rim.

by Paul Sayegusa

Is this a WWII helmet? Few questions evoke so many opinions as this one often asked at shows, auctions, or online forums. Sometimes, the people answering the question seem to try  outdo others by over-complicating an already complicated evaluation.
In order to accurately deduce if a M1 helmet and liner are of WWII origin, it is important to know the basic manufacturing characteristics of the helmet and liner as new specification changes emerged. Approximating dates according to stamps in WWII helmets cannot always be done as some are unreadable. The collector should take note that as new specifications came into being, older patterns were normally used up, inconjunction with the production of new specification models of any part of the helmet. So, it is normal for odd combinations such as a fiber liner with a herringbone suspension. This can result in many interesting combinations, both historically and informatively.
This article will provide the new collector with a step-by-step process to determine the WWII vintage of the M1 helmet. The M1 helmets distinctive WWII manufacturing features will be described as well as dates approximating time of specification changes. Attention will be made to alert the collector of post-WWII modifications due to specification changes that were applied to helmets originally produced during WWII.

STEEL HELMET 

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Mc Cord was the first and the largest producer of WWII M1 helmet shells. They were also marked with an alpha numerical stamp in the same place as Shlueter made helmets but did not possess any other distinguishing hallmarks.

Adopted shortly before the United States entry into WWII, the first production M1 helmet shell was made of manganese steel coated in cork aggregate and dark olive drab paint. This combination gave the helmet a dark, coarse, appearance and texture.
An alpha/numerical stamp is located on the lower inside front of the helmet where the helmet flares out to the rim. The stamp can be hard to see but can identify maker and approximate year of manufacture.
These features are common to all WWII helmets and were never changed during the course of the war. Over time some shells developed stress cracks, which can vary from superficial surface crack/s to penetrating cracks in the helmet and are normal due to the age of original WWII helmets but do reduce the value of a helmet. For this reason, any M1 helmet of WWII to Vietnam War vintage should be handled carefully to reduce chance of damage.
RIM SEAM

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Initial production helmets in 1941 to late 1943 had their rims seemed in the front. All M1 helmets with this feature among others were produced during or just prior to WWII.

The “rim seam” refers to where the ends of the reinforcing strip of metal protecting the bottom edge of the helmet meet together. From 1941 to late 1943, the seam met in the front center edge of the steel helmet.
The rim was made of stainless steel which did not rust but shined excessively when exposed, as the paint normally did not hold up well under constant contact with hard surfaces. In 1944, an attempt to fix the problem of excessive shine of the rim’s exposed metal was made by changing the rim material to manganese steel. At that time, the seam moved 180 degrees to the center rear edge of the helmet.

CHINSTRAP LOOPS

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Originally, the chin straps were sewn onto fixed loops. This feature was installed on all front and early rear seamed helmets. The fixed loops were a weak point in the helmets design because the loops were in constant contact with the surface. Enough became broken off that they were superseded by the swivel loop type chinstrap attachments in 1943.

Metal loops (often collectors will refer to these as “bails”) attached the chinstraps to the helmet. From 1941 to late 1943, these loops were welded directly to the left and right side of the helmet. In the collecting terms, these are referred to as “fixed loop.”
The fixed loops were rigid and were prone to snapping off the helmet. In late 1942, a “swivel loop” was adopted and was such a successful improvement that it was retained on all future production of the M1 helmets until it was phased out in the mid 1980s. The airborne used a fixed loop in the shape of a half circle for most of the war but also used the standard swivel loop by the end of the war.

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From 1941 to late 1943, chin straps were constructed of cotton webbing in olive drab shade number three (top). It was produced in different shades from khaki to light green. Although officially phased out in 1943, the number three shade was used passed 1943, until supplies were exhausted. The decision to adopt the shade of field gear material to the darker olive drab number seven (bottom) was made by the end of 1943. It is usually found sewn on to rear seamed helmet shells.

CHIN STRAP
The chin straps on all WWII infantry helmets were sewn on to the loops described above. Initially they were dyed olive drab number three which was technically a greenish khaki, but in practice was produced in varying shades from khaki to greenish khaki.
In 1943, a decision was made to phase out olive drab number three in favor of olive drab number seven, or dark olive drab. By the end of 1944, the new color change was implemented. This change was not completed over night by all manufacturers as the old number three material was normally used until exhausted.
ADJUSTMENT BUCKLE AND SECURING END CAP

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From 1941 to late 1942, the chin strap buckle was made from a brass casting that can be readily distinguished by its brass construction and the raised bar cast into the top of the buckle. After 1942, a simplified buckle was developed to ease construction and conserve brass. The new buckle, stamped out of steel and painted black would remain unchanged for the rest of WWII. The adjustment keeper was placed at the end of the chinstrap to secure the extra webbing after adjustment. The manufacturing processes tabs used were the same as the buckle. On the underside of the buckle were two rounded tabs. These tabs were be replaced by square tabs in 1965.

These parts are located on the right chin strap. Early adjustment buckles were cast in brass with a distinctive raised bar in the center and finished black. The end cap was used to secure the free end of the chin strap once it had been adjusted to the wearers chin.
In 1943, in order to ease production and save brass, a new blackened steel stamped buckle was approved along with a steel end cap. Late 1944 saw the resumption of brass in the production in metal hardware. This was the last WWII specification regarding the chin strap assembly.
CHIN STRAP HOOK

Helmets-3This piece is located on the left chin strap and is used in conjunction with the buckle on the right side to secure the chin strap assembly under the wearers chin. The hook underwent the same material and finish changes as the buckle and securing cap at the same time.
By 1950, new specifications had been adopted which changed how the M1 helmet was produced. Although most of these changes were cosmetic they did differ from helmets produced during WWII and determined if a WWII produced helmet was altered from original WWII era of manufacture.
In the early 1950s, a fine sand aggregate was applied to new and refurbished older M1 helmet shells. If the exterior of the helmet feels like fine sand it is not a WWII helmet. This is where some of the confusion lies. It was very common for WWII produced shells to be repainted after WWII to post-war specifications.

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The following chin straps are common upgrades that can be found on post-war-modified WWII manufactured helmets. From left to right: A pair of clamped chin straps with male snaps for the parachutist M1 helmet and liner next to a pair of standard infantry chinstrap used from early 1950s to the mid-1970s. The buckle and loop clamps of the initial issue of this chinstrap were painted green. The last issue chin strap was introduced in FM 21-15 by 1972 . It clipped on to the helmet loops and incorporated a chin cup previously reserved for the parachutist helmet.

The purchaser must take in the totality of all features to ensure he/she is getting a true WWII helmet and liner. To be considered a WWII helmet, the helmet in question must possess all original manufacturing techniques and parts dating from the first approved production models in 1941 to the last WWII specifications in 1944.
If any post-1944 changes are present in any part of the helmet, then it cannot be considered a true WWII helmet. Depending on the post-war change a part may be simply changed for an original period correct piece or more drastic measures taken such as repainting to original specifications.
If refurbishing is properly done, the helmet will be period correct, but generally will not command the price of an unaltered original WWII built helmet. Restored helmets are best suited for re-enactors as the use of original helmets is not recommended due to damage that may occur.

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This is an example of two WWII manufactured front seamed helmets. On the left is an original unaltered helmet with dark paint and coarse cork aggregate and sewn chin straps. On the right, a front seamed helmet refurbished to 1950s specifications with lighter paint and fine sand aggregate and metal clamped chin straps.

Original helmets with proven period applied unit markings such as airborne or other unit markings will increase the price exponentially, but are outside the scope of this article.
Beware of fakes. A collector should keep in mind that while books are a great way to increase your knowledge, some details are just better for one to see. Few techniques are better than getting out and developing relationships with reputable dealers who can provide a wealth of information and possibly have a real example to purchase and/or study.

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