by Peter Suciu
Every helmet collector who has seen photos of piles of German helmets from the end of the Second World War has likely said, “If only I could have grabbed a few of those helmets!” Of course, those piles of helmets have long since melted, crushed or otherwise destroyed. Piles of such helmets exist only in photographs now.
And yet, every so often, caches of militaria – including helmets – are discovered. One such example occurred this past summer when Christian Cranmer, president and founder of New Jersey-based International Military Antiques, was able to work a deal to acquire just such a stash—of German-made helmets!
While it is likely that many of these didn’t actually see service on the heads of Wehrmacht soldiers, the massive “cache of dreams” includes thousands of wartime helmets produced in Germany for its then war-time ally, Finland. This stock most certainly includes combat helmets that saw service on the Russian Front.
Cranmer acquired the helmet from a Finnish military surplus dealer, who had been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and bought the helmets from the Finnish government about a decade ago. Since that time, the helmets were in storage in neighboring Estonia. After making the deal, the helmets were shipped to the United States this past summer and were made available for sale from IMA.
This helmet hoard is not Cranmer’s first big score. For the past 40 years, he’s been a treasure hunter combing the world looking for hidden caches. His first big score came in 1971 when he found 44,000 German K98 bayonets that he paid just $0.29 a piece to acquire. In 2003, Cranmer found 55,000 antique firearms in Nepal.
HOW THE HELMETS ENDED UP IN FINLAND
Finland, which had gained its independence from the Russian Empire following the downfall of Czar Nicholas II in 1917, had fought three bitter wars to retain that independence from 1939 to 1945. The first was against the Soviet Union in the brutal Winter War of 1939-45, when Joseph Stalin looked to expand his sphere of influence.
While the Finns put up a good fight, and even had an offer of assistance from Great Britain and the France, the might of the Soviet Union was too much for the Nordic nation. Peace was settled in March 1940, with territory ceded to the Soviets. This peace did not to last.
Finland joined with Germany following the latter’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. This resulted in the Continuation War (1941-44), during which the Finns looked to settle scores. With the tide turning against Germany and her allies, Finland exited the Axis. In the brief Lapland War, Finns attempted to expel the German military from their homeland.
Throughout WWII, massive amounts of foreign helmets flowed to Finland from its Axis allies. These included helmets of vanquished nations including Czechoslovakia, Poland and versions of the German helmet from Hungary.
“There is a mix of M38 Hungarian helmets in what we acquired,” said Alexander Cranmer, vice president of International Military Antiques (IMA). “I estimate that maybe 20 percent or so are M38 helmets of what I’ve pulled out so far.”
The vast majority are what IMA considers to be M40/55 helmets – as these are German produced helmets, but include reworked Finnish liners. IMA estimates about 10 percent of these helmets have German WWII-era stamps in the shells. The rest are likely postwar-supplied helmets from West Germany. According to Cranmer, all are German-made from the wartime era, regardless of when Finland received them.
“These were made in the same factories on the same machines and likely by the same people who supplied helmets for the German military,” Cranmer told Military Trader. “We’re selling these for $89.95, so the thinking is that the buyer gets a German-made shell but with a Finnish post-war liner for the same price or even less than a modern reproduction made in China or India.”
Sizes of the helmets of the M40 versions are typically in the 62 and 64 sized shells, which accounts for about 20 percent of the total cache, while the vast majority (80 percent) are the apparent post-war versions appear to be 66 size shells, but otherwise have, what Cranmer says, “The same profile with the roled edge.”
Whether these were made post-war or were WWII-era helmets refurbished by the West Germans is now the topic of debate among the staff at IMA. Christian Cranmer’s line of thinking is that West Germany wasn’t allowed to deal in military equipment. Therefore, the helmets were sanitized—stripped of any stamps or other markings—and then sold to Finland. The other notable fact is that many helmets are unquestionably WWII-era, featuring German stamps and a range of paint colors and shades with various Finnish grays and greens and even some German greens mixed in.
Collectors shouldn’t hope to win the lottery by buying these and trying to strip the paint hoping to find German decals underneath. “It is not impossible with some of them, as they look like haven’t been touched since they went into battle in 1944,” said Cranmer. “But I want to be honest and say that it is very unlikely there is original paint under what you see. I won’t say, ‘impossible,’ but we’re selling these for what they are: Finnish-used helmets.”
So does this mean this is the last great cache? Not likely, as the Cranmers have learned after all the years in business there is always more treasure to find. While this may have opened the door for other military items from Finland, this is likely the end of the line for those hoping to see piles of German-made helmets.
“Well, we have thousands,” said Cranmer, “but this is truly the last stock in the world of helmets like this.”
Christian and Alexander Cranmer can be seen in the National Geographic Channel reality series, “Family Guns.”
Peter Suciu has collected helmets for 30 years. He is of Finnish descent on his mother’s side.
For more information on German helmets and more, check out our Warman's World War II Collectibles, Identification And Price Guide, 2nd Ed. by Michael E. Haskew.