by Peter Suciu with special thanks to Cody Grayland
Today, there are countless books on military helmets – and even this reporter can claim to be an “author of a work devoted to the topic.” No topic been more widely covered than that of the German steel helmet, but it wasn’t always so. Back in 1971, Ohio collector Floyd R. Tubbs authored Stahlhelm: Evolution of the German Steel Helmet, a 104-page study that was the first serious study of German helmets in book form.
Though the book was later revised and expanded with the assistance of Dr. Robert W. Clawson, a fellow collector and professor of political science at Kent State University in Ohio, Stahlhelm was not perfect. There were no color photos and among the rather small black-and-white photos are some helmets that are considered to be fakes by collectors today.
Stahlhelm included numerous drawings – believed to have been done by Larry Sutherland – of decals and these are far from perfect. In fact, many of the early fake SS decals, which are now easy to spot, may have been based on the rudimentary illustrations in the book. The book is also completely wrong in its description of the East German Model 56/70 steel helmet and its liner system. In this case, Tubbs may not have even seen an example when he wrote the book and may have based his information on what little information was actually available at the time.
However, the point cannot be overstated that Tubbs was a pioneer. He tackled a subject few knew much about and did a fine job of putting together a rather good piece of reference material. Later helmet book authors, including Ken Niewiarowicz and Paolo Marzetti, include Tubb’s work in their bibliographies of references.
Tubbs passed away in August 2002, and the story could have ended with his place in the world of militaria collecting forever linked to his book. However, in 2014 it was discovered by chance by another helmet collector that Tubbs had been working on another book, one of the history and evolution of the American steel helmet. Today, it might not seem as if such a work would have been necessary – especially given the top notch treatment the subject has received from authors including Chris Armold, Mark Reynosa, and Alec Tulkoff, among others. In fact, after German helmets, the American helmets have been written about in great length. Perhaps it is for this reason that Tubbs work was unpublished and essentially forgotten.
Fortunately, in addition to being a collector of hundreds of helmets, old Floyd was also something of a hoarder. Even after his passing, his manuscript and notes were maintained, if somewhat forgotten. Tubbs’ work saw the light of day when collector Carter Tatum bought a group of reference books from an online auction last year.
“To my surprise, this manuscript, and other loose material from Floyd Tubbs, arrived with them,” Tatum told Military Trader. “None of it had been mentioned or photographed in the auction, which isn’t surprising given its cluttered appearance. Unfortunately, the manuscript appears to be incomplete. There were other groups of books in the sale that I didn’t bid on, and of course, once I received mine, I realized—with dismay—that portions of the manuscript may have been included in those other lots.”
To date, no other works of Tubbs’ have materialized, but there is the possibility that all that remained was what Tatum purchased. It is likely from Tubbs’ own estate, as his name is on much of the work, and there is even correspondence between Sutherland and Tubbs, which discusses the former’s tardiness in providing illustrations!
“I am interested in original source documentation of American combat helmet development, so this was a fascinating find despite the absence of a written component,” added Tatum. “Floyd went to a lot of trouble and had obviously done research, as reflected by the many drawings he commissioned. At least one of drawings I recognize from vague descriptions in obscure reports, but of which I have never seen even a photo.”
What is unique about the manuscript is that, apart from cover mock-ups and the illustrations, there appears to be very little actual “writing” about the American helmet. Therefore, it isn’t known if a larger manuscript is still out there, or if Floyd Tubbs was the sort of author who started with illustrations and cover designs before doing the actual writing.
Despite the fact that no actual book was ever published and Tubbs’ notes seem to still be lost at this point, the documents that were recovered do shed some interesting light on the subject of the American steel helmet.
“Floyd had unearthed a monograph by the Motor Wheel Corporation describing the process of manufacturing M-1 helmets in the early 1950s,” noted Tatum. “One of only a few helmet producers, this company was, heretofore, unknown to the collecting community and would have remained so, if not for this document filed away for some thirty-five years.”
It isn’t clear when Tubbs became working on the book on American helmets but exchanges included in his notes with collectors and Sutherland are from the 1970s. For some reason, Tubbs appears to have had shelved the project by the 1980s and nothing came of it. Since that time, other excellent books have come out, but this still remains a fascinating collection of documents that shows that the passion for collecting and the sharing of information has existed long before the Internet.
“Hopefully, someone will come forward with more information regarding the written portion of the manuscript, or the story behind the book, and why it was never finished,” said Tatum, who has since passed it to another collector of American helmets Cody Grayland. “If it had, Floyd’s book might have preceded The M-1 Helmet and Steel Pots—both ground-breaking books by a decade. How that might have affected the collecting community is an interesting speculation!”
A special thanks goes out to Cody Grayland for loaning this reporter the manuscript so that Military Trader could publish some of the illustrations and cover designs. We like to think old Floyd would have been pleased that his work has been found and remembered.