Saturday, April 28, 2007

German Model 1917 "stahlhelm": Scourge of the 20th Century

Nothing says lovin' like something in the oven, and nothing says coersive world domination (with a dash of genocide) like the German sthahlhelm (steel helmet) of the 20th century. First encountered in World War One and again in World War Two, this classic, and oft copied helmet profile, struck terror into untold millions of innocent victims. Such nasty hordes, such an efficient and outstanding design.

Here, in all of its terrible glory, is that apex of protection for the frontline soldier, the German M.17 trench helmet.

Weighing in at a hefty 2 lbs, 6 oz, this concoction of manganese, nickle, silicon, and carbon may not have been the first of the modern combat helmets, but it is certainly the best of the batch of WWI. Designed for maximum protection with a thickness of .045 inches, this is an outstanding example of a helmet design that remains with us to this very day, referenced in the so-called "Fritz" helmets of the kevlar variety.

This particular piece is finished in a glossy apple green with the original chinstrap and much of the original suspension. There are also many examples of camouflage patterns for M16 helmet, often with geometric shapes of green and brown with thick, black, painted outlines.

The distinctive "Frankenstein" lugs provided both a means for ventilation as well as support for an armoured frontal plate as illustrated in the Bashford Dean illustration below.

The "brow shield was for advanced position troops, typically lookouts and machine gunners. The heavy frontal protection provided by the quarter-inch thick plate could stop an enemy bullet fired from beyond fifty meters. Although it increased the ballistic protection of the helmet, the tradeoff to the soldier was the discomfort of the five to seven pounds of extra weight...what a pain in the neck!

This helmet is incredibly well designed, from the long visor...

to the deep neck and shoulder protection provided by the 2 and one half inch skirt.

The liner is the typical European three-pad style. This one has significant damage and has been backed with archival material.

I'm quite certain that the legend of this poster reads: "Now, let us take a look at the details of this fine helmet", or something along those lines.

In the dome of the helmet is stamped a manufacturers code "BN298". The significance of this inscription is unkown to me, I invite readers to subimt information.

On the inside helmet skirt is the size of this helmet "ET64" also pictured is a detail shot of the chinstrap mounting lug as well as the "rolled edge" of the helmet.

This model has a steel liner band, others had leather bands that attached to the liner.

A nice shot of the underside of one of the three liner tabs. The pocket contains a cusioning material that spaces the helmet shell an inch from the skull of the wearer. I've seen references that infer that these little pockets sometimes held first aid kits...for some reason I find that doubtful. Bashford Dean's seminal study "Helmets and Body Armour of the Twientieth Century" notes the padded "mattresses" that were contained within these tab pockets.

And , voila! just as the emminent Professor Dean illustrates, this helmet tab conceals one of those aforementioned "mattresses" suitable perhaps for a" liddle kiddle" (ask your wife).

A closeup of that lug from the outside,

and here, the inside.

Alas, regardless of the advances in protection, its the same old sad story in each war: the young soldier boys, usually in their teens, go confidently marching off looking like this:

...and, all too often, end up like this.

As you collect, reflect.

accession number: MOA hmar.90.32.10
Model 16 German helmet.
Acquired 1989, Lansing Michigan.
Purchase price :$40.00
Condition: good

Next post: Here come the Tommies! The British mark I of 1916...stay tuned.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Italian M-1915/16 Steel Helmet in Spanish falangist livery

Here is a wonderful story of a junk store find.

My wife and I used to live in Western Michigan and one summer we were checking out the antique/junk emporiums in the Lake Michigan communities of Grand Haven and Ferrysburg. Sifting through the usual fare of Beanie babies, old LPs, telegraph wire insulators, and the usual detritus I came upon this delightful piece. Scratched, dented, and only slightly misshapen, this wonderful Italian helmet leapt to my hand. With original paint, liner, and chinstrap I was thrilled to find this example with the typically stenciled insignia on the front. And boy oh boy was the price right.

Sixteen dollars later I walked out of that lakeshore junk store, the proud new owner of a very nice old veteran of Italia's efforts in the Great War.

Here we have that classic Adrian-style profile but without the weaknesses of the four-piece French helmet.

Typical of the era, and style, this helmet has the corrugated aluminum spacers that provide some distance between the liner and the steel shell. As with the French Adrian, the spacing is barely minimal to accommodate the amount of deformation that will be caused by high-velocity shrapnel, though, again, its better than the cloth cap.

Italian helmets of the twentieth century all sport stenciled insignia in a dizzying array of designs and colors. I have not been able to identify the significance of this particular insignia. Reader input would be greatly welcomed.

This picture...
and this one illustrate the main difference between this helmet and the Italian "Lippmann" helmet of my most recent post; the crest is riveted rather than spot-welded.

And here is my favorite thing about helmets...
a mute reminder of the person who wore it into combat. just an ordinary flesh and blood person like your or me. This helmet bears the handwritten identity of the former owner: "Mario Forteleoni, 1st regt. 3rd comp." I have to wonder what became of Mario.

The only other marking that I can find is a stenciled "60" on the liner.

The chinstrap and buckle are intact although the leather is noticeably shrunken.

Peeling back the leather and wool liner reveals the ventilation hole in the top of the helmet.

Liner materials are in remarkably good condition considering the age of this helmet.

This close-up reveals that the finish was brushed rather than sprayed on.

All in all a very nice specimen of a very handsome helmet. A helmet found in a junk store but ...

fit for a king.

UPDATE I received this comment in August. Thanks Pablo for the information.
pablo massolo said...
Dear Sir I am a helmet collector from argentina and member of yahoo helmets club.
You itailian adrian was in fact used by fascist units in the SCW, the painted sign is the´´ yugo y flechas ´´of the most important franquist units, the rivetts on the comb was a normal repair dome in spain during the conflict. Is a terrific helmets, much more interesting than a regular italian one, check josebas site for more examples on this lid! Thanks for the blog is great!! POLI, my mail: ( use this if you want to contact me )
I am always interested in new helmets and contacts!
Ps: a link from josebas, the same badge on an italian M33

accession number: MOA hmar.154.43.39
Model 1915/16 Italian helmet.
Acquired 1999, Ferrysburg Michigan.
Purchase price :$16.00
Condition: good

Come along as we explore the German M-16 in our next post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Italian M-1915/16 Steel Helmet of World War One

                                                          (with regimental crest)

                                                   (without regimental crest)

An outright copy of the French "Adrian" helmet, this attractive Italian manufactured gem, known as the "Lippmann helmet", simplified the construction process and eliminated many of the weaknesses of it's French progenitor. The Italian soldier of 1915 - 1916 had the next step in state-of-the-art helmet design.

This soldier wants YOU to appreciate his revolutionary helmet.

The Italian soldier, like his French and British counterparts, entered the war with the cloth caps of an earlier era... not so hot in protecting the head from high-velocity artillery shell fragments.

This elegant improvement of the French Adrian design included a two-piece construction rather than the four-pieces of its French counterpart. Fewer pieces meant fewer points of failure when impacted by debris, fragments, or shrapnel.

Another improvement to the integrity of this helmet was the elimination of rivets. The French Adrian helmet was riveted together, each rivet providing a weak point. Note that the ventilator crest of this little Italian job is spot-welded, all rivets are eliminated on this helmet, giving it improved structural integrity over its French forebear.

Oddly, rivets will reappear in the next generation of WW1 Italian helmets (the subject of my next posting).

Here, sadly, and graphically, we are reminded that no helmet of World War One was bulletproof. This specimen was pierced, at the temple, by a high-velocity bullet; mute testimony to the vulnerability of the front-line soldier to the marksmanship of his enemy.

The interior view reveals an opening in the crown connecting the ventilation holes of the crest to the head of the wearer.

I acquired this helmet without a liner.  Or the Grenadiers crest. Normally I would pass on a helmet with no liner or chinstrap, however, the condition of the shell and the telling bullet hole made this a particularly compelling piece for my collection.  With the recent addition of the 3rd Grenadiers insignia, its become a centerpiece!

This elegant little gem in its very modest way has become a real stand-out in my collection.

And a word on my accession number system. I've had readers question how I catalogue the helmets in my collection. I use two primary sources for my nomenclature: Chris Armolds "Steel Pots" volumes and the aforementioned volumes by Paolo Marzetti (Combat Helmets of the World).

Specifically this example guides off the Marzetti book: MOA (Museum of America) h (helmet) mar (Marzetti) 151 (page 151)
43.28 (figure 43.28). Simple huh?

accession number: MOA hmar.151.43.28
Model 1915/16 Italian helmet.
Acquired 1978, Lansing Michigan.
Purchase price :$5.00
Condition: shell only, original paint 80%

Next post: The Italian model 1915 riveted crest helmet of World War One

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

M-91 German artillery helmet of 1915

Is that a trailer hitch, or are you just glad to see me?

Ladies and gentlemen, the M-91 German artillery helmet of 1915.

As you may have guessed, the ball surmounting the helmet represents a cannonball. This was the distinctive headgear worn by artillerymen from the Franco-Prussian war to the first year of World War One.Paper Prussians rush a gun to the front to do battle with paper French Algerian zouaves. Note the orbs atob their little paper helmets.

The front of the M-91 enlisted man's helmet.

Right side, showing the black and white Prussian korkarde. (a reproduction just like on the pickelhaube of my previous post)

And the left side,with the original Reichs korkarde,

This rear view exhibits a slightly crazed but still shiny surface. The ventilated spine is quite identical to the pickelhaube.

This helmet is in really nice condition.

Close-up of the sliding buckles of the chinstrap...

as well as the date and unit markings under the rear visor.

Although the Prussian korkade is a metal reproduction the Reich korkade is original.

Acquired in 1979 at a military collectibles show in Lansing Michigan, I paid about $45.00 for this nice specimen. Today It's worth a great deal more. I'm fortunate that I began collecting helmets so early when there were still plenty of these things around at relatively reasonable prices.

The "helmet shows" were always a blast, and although, ebay has all but rendered them obsolete, there is nothing like browsing an exhibition hall or armoury filled with dealers and the weirdos and weenies who seek them out. It's a strange kind of fun.

Come visit next time for the grandpappy of modern combat Helmets; The French "Adrian" of the Great War.