Friday, July 31, 2009

M1917-A1 Every dog has its day

Sometimes even a stop-gap like the M1917-A1 can have its day in the sun.

The penny-pinching War Department, whilst searching for a suitable replacement for the WW1 M-1917, had, by 1936, issued a field modification for that helmet consisting of a new liner, suspension, and chinstrap, designated the M1917-A1.

For a nation plunged into a war it was all but unprepared for, the M1917-A1 was a slightly improved incarnation of the helmet worn by GI's doughboy fathers, the M1917. With a vastly improved liner and chinstrap, this "tin derby" was nonetheless obsolete as the first bombs were falling on Pearl Harbor and was nothing more than a stopgap until the M1 helmet could reach full production.

Though originally merely an upgrade of the M1917, in 1940 nearly a million new M1917 style shells with the 1936 liners were produced and issued to the troops in all branches. Otherwise the troops were using the upgraded lids from WW1.

During America's darkest days in World War Two the M1917-A1 was the helmet used by US forces. Morale boosting movies like "Wake Island" and "Bataan" Featured big names like Brian Donlevey, Robert Preston, and Robert Taylor, with strong supporting roles provided by the M1917-A1.

(The lighting was always so perfect in the Pacific theater)

However, one didn't need to look to Hollywood for inspiration. Real heroes in M1917-A1s were out there fighting and winning. These sailors of the USS Ward pose for cameras after sinking a Japanese mini sub during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Courage alone, however was not going to stop the inevitable.

An American GI and his Phillippine counterpart, armed for bear and sporting the M1917-A1, will be eventually succumb to Japanese gunfire, disease, and near starvation.

Sadly their efforts to hold the line against the Japanese juggernaut in the Pacific ended at best like this:

Or at worst, as the victims of their captors' barbarity. These were the days when the Japanese routinely hacked prisoners to death, a practice they now reserve for dolphins.

These two Depression-era infantrymen undergoing basic training before the war are training with the weapons and helmets of an earlier war. Military preparedness was eschewed by the peace-time populace, and the country was caught flat-footed when the shooting began.

Here, then is an old soldier in my collection, in issued, though outstanding, condition.

The shell is that of the M1917. No big surprises there. The difference is revealed when one looks under the lid...

and beholds this effective, and elegant suspension and liner, a marvel of steel, leather, and canvas webbing.

The top view demonstrates the new Olive Drab color that became standard for U.S. ground forces.

The handsome blackened nut secures the suspension to the shell. The sawdust-textured paint is also shown to good effect in this picture.

The number is a reminder of a much tinier U.S. military, the pre-war forces, when materiel was a precious and limited commodity, always to be inventoried, accounted for, and returned to the proper hook, slot, or rack.

The rim is joined more in the British-style rather than the American that characterized the WWI versions of this lid.

Close-up of simple, though, vast improvements over the old M1917. The bail affixed to the shell has the same function as that of the M1917 in that the chinstrap merely passes through it rather than attaches to it, but we get our first hint of the engineering and materials that will make this suspension so superior to it's WWI uncle.

High-grade leather in four leaves comprises the contact area for the wearer's head, depth adjustable with grommets and a leather thong.

The liner is suspended on steel bands which are lightweight but sturdy, unlike the fragile single leather strap that the entire chinstrap and liner of the M1917 depended upon. In the very dome is a padded leather pillow. This is a very comfortable, effective, and adjustable liner, providing excellent padding and the crucial spacing between the shell of the helmet and the head of the wearer.

This nice, crisp ordnance marking resides under the front leaf of the liner.

The high quality of the materials and manufacture is evident in this view.

Untying the crown pad reveals another ordnance stamp as well as the intersection of the steel supension bands and the securing screw.

As one examines the fine leather work of this liner the expense becomes apparent.

This marking, the number 20, is the only stamping I've found on the shell.

The attractive blackened brass "hook and arrow" fastener will survive this model helmet and campaign on with the M1.

As in its pre-war days, this helmet has a number once again, though this time it's for purposes of cataloging and curating.

And when is a curator a bad role model?

... when he can't resist trying things on, that's when!

See you next time with another helmet from the collection, until then, comments, questions, and corrections are always welcomed.



Anonymous said...

hi,i am new to the helmet forum but already i am in awe of the wealth of useful information shared. Your blog has been most usefull as i have been struggling to identify helmet types in the collection my father left me.I thought the leather liner in the one i had been trying to research was a remade part,but its as yours is,thank you again,Lez

Mannie Gentile said...


How gratifying to know that this blog is sometimes helpful. Thanks for the kind words.

The forum, unlike my simple blog, has a remarkably diverse membership, some of them world-class experts, who are always willing to help.

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Your narrative is as crisp as the lid, Mannie. Thanks! Noel PS. Is the old curator in me correct in assuming that got this in '78?

Mannie Gentile said...


Thanks for the kind comment. No, I got this one in 1984. My numbering system is based upon the page and illustration numbers of two standard reference works: "Steel Pots" (vol 1 and 2) by Chris Armold and "Combat Helmets of the World" by Paolo Marzetti. The Marzetti book is a treasure trove of helmets.


Anonymous said...

I've seen this helmet sometimes referred to as the "Kelly" helmet. I've never been able to find out why though. And as far as the movie usage of the 1917-A1, the only war film I've definitely seen it in was "In Harm's Way", the 1964 epic with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. All the other films I've seen had the 1917 (leather chinstrap) helmet on screen. Also ,it's been my experience in 40 years of collecting helmets is that the 1917-A! is a lot less frequently encountered than the 1917. I wonder if most of them were scrapped in WW2?