Sunday, July 13, 2008

M35 Italian Tank crewman's helmet

Sixth in a series of posts on tanker's helmets

Ahh, Italian design, chic, elegant, sexy, usually black and generally leather ,always appropriate and in the best of taste.

At least that's what we've come to expect.  It wasn't always so.

Submitted for your consideration the M35 Italian tanker's Helmet of WWII and beyond.

La mia qualità! Ciò non era che cosa stavo prevedendo.

True, it is black, and leather, so far very Italiano, but design-wise, this is a pretty goofy looking lid.   Looking like a bowler hat  combined with a contraceptive device for an elephant, this zany piece of headgear was sported by Italian tankers for over thirty years.   But if, as American sculptor Horatio Greenough stated, "form follows function" I'd better analyze the function of this helmet before I spend too much more time harping on its ungainly  appearance.

As these all too grainy photos indicate the Italian M35 was worn with a certain elan by Italian tankers of the pre war era,

And this helmet continued to see service with Italian armor during and after World War Two.

So one can safely assume that this piece of protective gear, while looking totally unmartial, must have had certain protective aspects that made it effective and popular with the troops.

Let's examine the details.

This side view shows to good effect the leather skirting, the padded brow bumper, as well as the tall leather covered fiber bowl.  The leather is of a very high quality and the stitching is heavy duty and very tight.

From the rear it becomes clear that the skirt is designed to keep dust, oil , and debris from going down the back of the tanker's neck.  The 360 degree bumper provides outstanding protection from all angles, and is very sturdily constructed with an effective combination of firmness and flexibility.

From the top the bowl shows the very symmetrical nature of the helmet, there is none of the ovoid shape of the helmets of many other nationalities.  The superior stitching on the bumper is also shown to good effect.

Ventilation is provided through two screen covered vent holes which communicate fresh air through the bowl and the padded liner.

The natural color leather liner is made of high quality hide divided into seven "fingers" or flaps with an adjusting thong connecting each.  From the pristine condition of this liner I believe that this particular helmet was never issued.

Beneath the leather liner is the white felt padding, both thick and comfy which is suspended with about a half an inch between it and the skull of the bowl.  This space is crucial in preventing skull fractures when the bowl is struck.

This view of the stitching shows that the bumper is securely and permanently fastened to the body of the helmet.

Two nice stamps are particularly crisp and colorful in this liner.  This one indicates size and manufacturer...

while this one provides the date of manufacture.  Although this helmet was first issued in 1935, this individual was manufacured 26 years later.  Nice longevity for a helmet design.

This detail shot of the chinstrap assembly demonstrates well the superior materials and workmanship of this Model 35.  This is that type of tailoring that one expects to find in a high-end Italian leather jacket.  Brava Italia! on a very effective and long-lived tankers helmet.

There you have it, a very unusual looking helmet that does an unusually good job of protecting the head of the wearer.  And if this detailed exploration isn't convincing enough of the efficacy of this helmet, there's always that old adage:  "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".  To that end, next Monday I'll showcase the Spanish leather tankman's helmet, the ersatz version of the Italian M35.  And believe me, in my side by side comparison you'll see that the Spanish version is the poor cousin to the Italian.

The devil will be in the details.

accession number: MOA hmar 156.43.48
M35 Italian Tankman's Helmet
Acquired 1990, Lansing Michigan.
Condition: unissued

And while you're in the neighborhood, why not slip over to my toy soldier blog 
to catch up on the latest regarding the Civil War combat that continues in my garden.




Noel said...

You're the best, Mannie. The first military-history book I owned was on Beda Fomm, a volume in the classic Pan/Ballantine illustrated series. I've been fascinated by the Italian ww2 experience ever since. Antietam has Bloody Lane, Fredericksburg has the Sunken Road, but Beda Fomm has "The Pimple." Recently watched part of a superb Italian movie, made mid-60's, on their experience in WW2 Russia, I think the title was Italiani Brava Gente, or Attack and Retreat.

mannie said...


I'd prefer "Brava Gentile".

Seriously, though, I bet you've seen the Roberto Rossellini films "Open City" and "Paisa"; two of my favorites, also "The Night of the Shooting Stars" which came out 15 or 20 years ago.

Always good to hear from you Noel.

Mannie (Gentile)