by Peter Suciu
It has been said, “In every lie, there is a bit of truth.” Whether that is, in fact, the truth, has yet to be proven. Nevertheless, it is true that in the world of military collectibles, there remains a lot of myths, fables and just plain downright lies. This is especially true with helmets. Since the appearance of “Helmet Myths” in the January 2009 issue of Military Trader, it was found that much more work remained to be done in debunking the misinformation that plagues this area.
So let’s get right to it. Here are a few more myths and misconceptions about helmets.
Myth #1: The French “Adrian” helmet was the first steel combat helmet used since the Middle Ages
This French Third Republic Dragoon
helmet shows how its shape influenced
General Adrian’s design for the Model 1915
steel helmet. While this helmet is more
ornamental, this pattern was used in
combat at the beginning of WWI and offered
nearly the same level of ballistic protection
as the Adrian. Author’s collection
The truth: First, one has to define “the Middle Ages.” Those Spanish and English explorers who were wearing steel helmets while trekking through the New World were doing so in the time period that is generally placed in the Renaissance. More importantly, various metal Dragoon and Cuirassier helmets that were still being worn throughout Europe at the start of World War I.
The helmet that was designed and introduced by Intendant-General August-Louis Adrian in 1915 was based on the helmet used by Parisian firefighters. But that firefighter helmet was, in fact, based on the French cavalry helmets. So while it might have been the first “widespread” helmet issued to an army in a few hundred years, the Model 1915 wasn’t really all that innovative. It isn’t as if armies somehow forgot to protect a man’s head!
Myth #2: The Prussians were the first to see the benefits of wearing a big spike at the top of the helmet before anyone else.
The Indo-Perisan “Kulah Khud” helmets were
likely the inspiration of the Prussian spiked helmets.
This example is a 19th century ceremonial copy
of the earlier Persian battle helmets.
The truth: Actually, part of the truth is very well known—namely that Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV visited Russian Czar Nicholas I in 1842 and reportedly saw a prototype for a spiked helmet on the Czar’s desk. The Prussian king promptly designed his own version, which was introduced two years before the Russian version. The story implies the Russian helmet was based on a Medieval Russian helmet found in the
outskirts of Moscow. However, that helmet may have a Tartar origin, and itself may have been inspired by the Indo-Persian Kulah Khud helmets of the 15th century. Whatever the original inspiration, by the end of the 19th century, many nations—including the United States—had soldiers wearing helmets with spikes.
Myth #3: The Soviets copied the Italian steel helmet.
A comparison between the Italian Model 1933
(top) and the Soviet SSh-39/Model 1939 (bottom),
which shows that the designs are similar but
hardly an outright copy. Author’s collection
The truth: Just as the Romans may have borrowed the architecture of the Greeks, so too the Soviets may have “borrowed” from the designs of the Italians. “It’s safe to say that the SSh-39/40 was not based solely on the Italian M-33,” according to Dr. Robert Clawson, author of Russian Helmets: From Kaska to Stlashlyem 1916 2001. “Many commentators have looked at the two and said that it obviously was a copy. I have had independent design engineers look at the two without knowing the sequence and every one of them said that the M-33 was a derivative of the SSh-39!” Dr. Clawson adds that it was likely that the Russians had looked at the M-33 and even designed one of their experimental models to look almost exactly like it but rejected it. “In the end it was an original design.”
Myth #4: WWI British steel helmets are the Brodie pattern, also known as the MkI
The truth: Collectors like to call World War I British helmets “Brodies” as they call French helmets “Adrians.” But Brodie is only part of the story.
John Leopold Brodie did in fact design the first true British modern steel helmets, which appeared as Type A and Type B variations. These helmets are shallower than the later MkI and most notably have a raw edge, while the later model features a finished edge and an improved liner. Only about 20,000 Type A helmets were made, and only several hundred B variations were field-tested. So while a MkI is clearly a helmet based on the Brodie design, the later, improved helmet is not truly a “Brodie.”
Myth #5: The Swiss liked the American experimental design Model 5 so much that they copied it when they produced their own Model 1918.
A side-by-side comparison of the Swiss M18 (left) with the
American Model 5 (right). Author’s collection
The truth: Many helmets look similar. And while eBay sellers may try to make the Swiss helmet sound more attractive, even American helmet designer Dr. Bashford Dean didn’t believe the Swiss copied the American pattern. In his book, Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare, Dean wrote, “It (the Swiss Model 1918) resembles our helmet so closely that it could be readily mistaken for it – yet there is no doubt whatever that the two models were designed independently on either side of the ocean. American model No. 5, it will be observed, has its side produced farther forward as a protection to the orbit.”
Myth #6: The early 1938 pattern Fallschirmjäger (paratrooper) helmets were “Luftwaffe Blue”
The truth: While the later wartime paratrooper helmets were painted matte or slate gray, the pre-war double decal helmets were actually apple green, not the blue color of the Model 1935 Luftwaffe helmets. Numerous fakes, including cut down M-35 helmets badly made into M36 helmets, have helped perpetuate the myth that the double decal helmets were blue.
Myth #7: The Afrikakorps used a variety of a variety of captured sun helmets including those of Dutch origin
The South African sun helmet, which was based
on civilian polo helmets, may be the basis of the
myth that German troops in the Afrikakorps used
captured Dutch helmets. Author’s collection
The truth: Whoever started this myth should have examined a map. Holland had no African colonies, and the closest tropical colonies were in the unoccupied Caribbean! Likewise, Holland didn’t issue any distinct sun helmet pattern to its troops serving in its colonies. The more likely source of these so-called “captured Dutch helmets” are those of South Africa. The South African 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions fought in North Africa, and these troops wore a hard shell sun helmet that may have its origin in a type of polo helmet. These helmets, which had a narrow brim, were reportedly very popular with tank troops who liked the small helmets.
Myth #8: The final Third Reich steel helmet was the recently discovered “Model 1945”.
The truth: Would a nation that is being destroyed in round the clock air raids and facing invasion on all sides bother with a new helmet design? And why have these Model 1945 helmets only recently been discovered? The fact is that these helmets, which are distinguished by the lack of ventilations, were probably just rushed helmets made during the end of the war—or were simply not finished. Those that have shown up complete with decals are likely post-war fakes, because again, why would anyone bother placing a decal at this point? So, if anything, the so-called “Model 1945” is nothing more than collector nomenclature for a late-war helmet.
Myth #9: The Nazis wanted a new helmet pattern, which Hitler personally designed, but it was not introduced in time, so it became the East German helmet.
The truth: Designers are always looking at ways to make improvements. But military leaders have better things to do than to design helmets. While the East German Model 1954 was most likely based on the wartime experimental Thale B-II helmet, this helmet was not personally designed by Adolf Hitler, nor was the helmet pattern rejected by the Führer for “not looking German enough.” There just wasn’t time to introduce a helmet by the time the war ended. The pattern was good enough that East German military planners adopted it.
Myth #10: All the equipment issued to the average Japanese soldier was considered personal property of the emperor, and therefore helmets wouldn’t be camouflaged.
This helmet shows the subtle type of
camouflage employed by the Japanese.
The truth: Within the myth lies much truth. Equipment was most certainly the personal property of the emperor, and “to be kept in the very best condition,” says Jareth Holub, an advanced collector of Japanese headgear. “If a soldier was killed, his equipment was reissued.” Holub adds that it is his opinion that painted camouflage patterns were discouraged, or at least not encouraged, and that a use of camouflage could be considered a defacement of property. For this reason the Japanese preferred to use nets instead, with foliage applied. However, camouflage helmets are encountered, and photographic evidence does confirm that these were used to a limited degree. “You see solid color over painted camos but patterns are extremely scarce and were probably field enhancements done under desperate circumstances.”
Bonus Myth: French soldiers took to wearing their soup bowls as skullcaps in the trenches in 1915.
Does this look like it was designed for eating soup?
This example in the collection of the Imperial War
Museum in London is one of the few surviving
French skullcaps from WWI.
The truth: Would any army—even the French—issue soup bowls instead of mess tins? The truth is that General Adrian put a steel skullcap into service in 1914, and these were likely so uncomfortable that the soldiers took to eating out of them instead.
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