Monday, June 19, 2017

Nazi Germany m.38 Fallschirmjäger combat helmet

The Fight of the Century!

(A premium seating ticket to the first Louis Schmelling fight)

American heavyweight boxer Joe Louis met with his German counterpart Max Schmeling twice.  In the first fight Schmeling won by a knockout in twelve rounds.  Adolf Hitler used it as an opportunity to trumpet Aryan superiority and German mastery in the ring as well as on the world stage.

The second matchup came on June 22, 1938; the results couldn't have been more different, Louis won by a knockout in 2 minutes and 4 seconds, Schmeling was only able to land two punches.  Louis was the heavyweight champion of the world, and the master race had been delivered a KO.

Louis towers over his vanquished opponent.

Hitler made great overtures to Schmeling, all of which the fighter rebuffed.  "I am no superman in any way" Schmeling said.  Further, much to Hitler's displeasure, when Schmeling was fighting in the U.S. he refused to fire his Jewish promoter, Joe Jacobs. 

With the outbreak of the Second World War, and Schmeling back home in Germany, he was drafted into the Luftwaffe and was accepted into the elite Fallschirmjager forces.

Schmeling on the cover of the German propaganda magazine Signal, wearing his m.38 fj helmet.  Schmeling was in no way sympathetic to the Nazi cause, and post-war anecdotes have him sheltering two Jewish children at the beginning of the war.

Wounded in the assault on Crete Schmeling was medically discharged and spent the remainder of the war participating in morale-raising exhibition bouts.
Joe Louis however, was a willing volunteer, joining the US Army early in the war.  In a highly publicized meeting with the president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with saying to the "Brown Bomber"; "Joe, we need muscles like yours to defeat Germany."

Louis spent the entirety of the war assigned to US Army Special Services where he participated in exhibition fights to raise morale and boost sales of War Bonds.

In a period of racial discrimination and so-called white supremacy, Louis was able to win over many whites with his whole-hearted support of the war effort and his much-reprinted and much quoted statement; "...we'll win because we're on God's side."
Frequently over the years, I have been the grateful recipient of helmets given to me as gifts. You can only imagine my delight, this Spring as a acquaintance gifted me with what is now a show-piece of my collection - the much coveted German m.38 paratrooper (fj) helmet.

Although the helmet lacks chinstrap and liner, the shell is in very good condition with the paint about 80% present and the decal wonderfully intact.

Just for the sake of display I added a reproduction chinstrap, and rather than compromise the helmet's originality by undoing the bolts to mount the straps, I merely tucked the ends of the straps under the liner band.  The result is, to me, visually pleasing.

The shell shape is essentially that of an m.35 with the brim and skirt removed.

The liner is secured to the shell by four robust screw and nut combinations.  These slotted screws represent the third and final production design of the m.38.

All that remains of the liner is the aluminum liner band, affixed  by the the screw and nuts...
which also secure the chinstraps, of which, here, only the ends remain.

The size, as in the m.35 family of helmets, is stamped
 inside the shell.
Another number, the significance of which is unknown to me, is stamped just above the rolled edge at the inside front of the shell.
Holes on the liner band allowed the leather liner to be attached.
The liner band is joined by solder at the front.
Most of the green paint remains intact.

The slightly misapplied decal gives this helmet some character.

And now, the usual gallery of the helmet in action:

Often FJ helmets were fitted with a fabric camouflage cover.

An FJ trooper decked out in a polka dot ascot and smoking a cigarette;
as if combat wasn't deadly enough.

And what of Joe and Max?

Here they are in 1971. 

These two champions developed a close friendship that lasted until Louis' death in 1981.   Schmeling was one of his old friend's pall-bearers.

 In 2005 at the ripe old age of ninety-nine, Max Schmeling went to his celestial reward, leaving behind the memory of his role in what became known as "The Fight of the Century"...perhaps a metaphor for that even greater fight of the century...

the Second World War.

See you next time with another cool helmet from the collection.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Thailand m.30/32 combat helmet

 A recycling story...

If you were a nation occuppied by the Japanese in WWII you find yourself awash in Japanese military materiel upon their surrender.  Suddenly your army (such as it is) has lots of helmets.

Such was the case with Thailand.  A small army, a whole bunch of Japanese helmets, just add insignia, and away you go.

The distinctive Japanese 30-32 profile in Siamese livery.

Ventilation holes in the dome.

This example has mounts for the French m. 26 -style liner and chinstrap.

Close-up of riveted mounting frame for the liner...

though the mounting holes for the original Japanese liner are apparent.

Back story...

Remember back in the late '70s and early 80's seeing ads in military magazines for genuine Japanese helmets for only 15 (later 25) bucks? Sounded like a rip-off, but what the heck, it was only fifteen dollars, so I gave it a shot. The helmet I got in the mail proved the adage: "You get what you pay for"; a stripped-down Japanese helmet sans liner and insignia of any sort.

On the plus side it did have a chinstrap, though it was unlike any I was used to seeing on Japanese helmets, and had the French-style suspension for a liner intact. What was most intriguing about this helmet though, was the printing on the remnants of newspaper that were stuck to it (obviously this helmet had been in storage for some time). The script on the newspaper fragments was unlike any I'd seen before. It was definitely not Japanese, nor was it Chinese or Korean. That puzzled me. Also, on the front of the shell, where an insignia had been, was the distinct and symmetrical outline of that missing insignia. The outline was clear and very distinctive, and again unlike the shape or size of any Japanese insignia that I was familiar with.

Mystery aside, I felt a little sheepish about this helmet and pretty much tucked it away in the old "live and learn" box, where it stayed for almost 25 years until it suddenly became somewhat of a prize.

In the intervening 25 years a couple of things happened: the publication of that outstanding book by Paolo Marzetti "elmetti di combattimento di tutto il mondo" (Combat Helmets of the World) and the advent of ebay.

Marzetti's book gave me my first glimpse of the Siamese model 1930-32 which was simply a salvaged Japanese 30-32 with a replaced liner (French m.26 style) and leather chinstrap.

  And mounted on the front, with that distinctive outline that had so puzzled me was the embossed metal Siamese insignia. Shortly after that, as ebay came into full-flower, I successfully searched out and obtained that helmet plate. The helmet came out of storage, the insignia was affixed, and suddenly that cast-off was placed front and center in my collection with some of the other more obscure models.

A very nice ending indeed.

See you next time with another cool helmet from the collection.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

How I mount my helmets.

I am frequently asked what my system is for mounting my helmet collection.

First off, a little bit about my particular taste.  I like my helmets to be displayed with the chinstraps fully visible, it provides an ovoid shape, which, to me, is suggestive of the face of the soldier who wore it.  I also like the mounts to be as unobtrusive as possible and have the helmets seem to "float".  I worked at a large public museum for seventeen years, and this technique I took with me when I left.

If you have the wall space you may find that this system is much more satisfying than using shelves.

You start with quarter-inch or three-eights inch steel rod.  I buy mine at a supplier in ten-foot lengths - which is the cheapest way to buy it - but it is also available in any big home improvement store.

I hacksaw the rods into fourteen-inch lengths.  To facilitate the right-angle bend I heat the metal, at the point of the bend, cherry red.  With one end in the vise and a vise-grips clamped to the other end, I make my bend.  I often use a square to check my work but after a few of these one develops and "eye" for the correct angle.  One should wear heavy leather gloves for this, and remember that the metal stays very hot for a few minutes.

Note that the rod is about six-inches long on one side and eight on the other.  The long one is the one that will be driven into the wooden 2x2 and the short end will support the helmet.

Here is the finished bracket, primed (which is important) and painted.

Toggle-bolts are used to mount the 2x2 wooden strips against the wall.

I cut my 2x2s about six feet in length which provides enough space for five or six helmets.

The long end of the bracket is pounded into holes drilled into the 2x2.  The fit must be tight enough to keep the bracket from turning on its axis and causing the helmet to fall.

To distribute the weight a little more evenly on the liner, I cut four-inch length of shipping tube and fit them over the bracket.  If you want to do this in a sound archival fashion you should cover the tube in unbleached muslin.

And there you have it...helmets "floating" against a well-lit wall.

I hope you find this helpful

See you next time with another cool helmet from the collection.