Sunday, January 31, 2010

British Mk V "turtle shell"

Handsome, unusual, and needing occasional improvement.

 No, not me,  I'm talking about the British family of "turtleshell" helmets.  Beginning with the Mk3 in 1944 all the way up to the mk5 of the 1980s, this helmet had a longevity very similar to the venerable U.S. M1, and it took only a little bit of tinkering to get this one right.

This is my newly acquired Mk 5, unissued and quite beautiful.


A distinctive profile, quite unique in the history of modern armor...

though not without precedent in antiquity:

 (go here for more pix of this gem)

Here's a shot of the family tree; a mk II on the gun while his comrades wear the "turtleshell".

The distinctive profile immediately makes clear how it came across its reptilian sobriquet.

 Any questions?

This helmet is large, with a flaring rim and a fairly deep seat for the head allowing good protection and deflection of debris and low-velocity schrapnel.

Tricked out here, with a net this Mk 5 is in a flat green, non-reflective paint.

The liner and rivet placement are what charaterize the Mk5 turtleshell from its earlier variations.

The "lift the dot" fastner is the same as the earlier MkIV version.  That stud in the very center is connected to the shell  and is firmly grasped by the spring-loaded grommet, connected to the liner suspension.  When the two are snapped together they are  firmly secured together.

The stud with the liner removed,  When I was in Kindergarten, one of my playmates (currently incarcerated at Southern Michigan Prison serving a life sentence) brought in a Mk IV helmet claiming it was the one his brother wore as an "armyman".  Enjoying helmets since infancy, it stuck me as odd that the brother of this tot fro Michigan US of A would be wearing a helmet so unlike what our other GI dads had worn, nonetheless,  I asked to try it on.

I found it immediately and singularly uncomfortable, even painful, and wondered how they could fight with such discomfort.  If you havn't guessed by now, it was sans liner.  I also think my little friend was, early on exhibiting a difficulty in distinguishing reality from fantasy, a difficulty which would ill-serve him as a criminally impetuous eighteen year-old with a hammer.

Though, I digress.  Below is pictured the other end of the stud as it emerges from and is peened over in the dimple at the very dome of the shell.

 Earlier versions of this helmet had a fairly rudimentary liner, evidenced by the side-by-side comparison below, with MkIV on the left and MkV on the right.

 A shortcoming of this liner/suspension system utilizing the single point attachment became apparent when any shrinkage, caused by drying of the rubber bumpers, friction-gripping it to the shell, would cause the liner to become of an incrementally smaller circumference than the shell.  This would have the embarassing result of Tommy Atkins, if without his chinstrap in place,  turning his head quickly over his shoulder while his helmet shell, bound by the law of inertia, would still be looking forward, wondering what all the fuss was about.

And the nature of that rubber is prone to gradual shrinkage and eventual self-destruction as seen below.

This cross-piece was once as hale and hearty as the modern version.  This phenomonon of self-destruction is, in the museum industry, termed "inheirent vice".  Many volatile types of hard and sponge rubber used in helmets are subject to this inevitable and unstoppable manifestation of entropy.  Have I mentioned my knees?

Below is a close up of that rudimentary MkIV liner...

in all of its oilcloth glory.

Here, then, is the much more comfortable MkV liner.  The stockinette grips the wearers head and could even be termed "cozy"

Now for those helmet-investors out there, you may wish to avert your eyes as this is the moment where everything gets, carefully, taken apart for the edification and instruction of those new to the hobby.

With the headband removed the suspension becomes apparent.

The helmet is entirely soldier-proofed indicating what is to be lifted and with redundancy regarding the "front" of the suspension...

as well as the headband.

The markings on this particular liner are delightfully crisp, with date, size, manufacturer and broad arrow.

The liner is comfortable and well padded...

and snaps out completely allowing the wearer to shake out dirt, bugs, and debris.

The suspension straps are comprised of very durable water-resistant cardboard.

The rubber spacers which provide the critical distance between the shell and the wearer's skull are glued to the ends of the straps.

The elasticized chin strap is essentially unchanged from earlier versions of this helmet, in both material, adjustment...

and the manner in which it is secured to the shell.  It is this chinstrap which keeps the wearer and the helmet looking in the same direction at all times.

It is also well marked...

as are all of the componenents of this outstanding example.

The helmet rim is neatly butt jointed on the rear skirt of the shell.

And finally,  the shell itself has very clear manufacturers markings.  Note that this lid shares the same birth date as yours truly.  We should all look so good.

With the advent of composite and ballistic plastic armor, the sun has finally set on the British Empire's last steel helmet.

"So long" to the age of steel.

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


Thursday, January 21, 2010

U.S. Navy M1 Shore Patrol Helmet Liner

"Let's see some I.D. sailor!"

The Shore Patrol is, more or less, the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Navy, at least it was back when I was a sailor.  "SPs", as they are called, are responsible for maintaining good order among sailors on liberty and in port.

SPs came in two varieties:

Variety one - The "good guys, that is, regular sailors from your own ship who were detailed with this duty while your ship was in port.  They generally strive to keep their shipmates out of trouble.

These SPs are shipmates of the sailors that they're posing with.  A pretty jolly bunch, wouldn't you agree?

Variety two - the "hard asses", these are the sailors who are assigned to Shore Patrol duty long term.  These are the specialists, the enforcers, they have no shipmates and don't care who ends up in the brig for what infraction however minor.  They generally strive to bust the chops of sailors on liberty.

These guys are full-time SPs on the lookout for some poor sailor who needs to get a tune-up for daring to have the cuffs of his jumper folded up.

Get the difference?

Here then, is the crowning glory of that second type of SP, the hard nosed petty officer with helmet and nightstick who is cruising for tipsy swabbies to fill up his paddy-wagon.  This is a standard Firestone M1 liner in white with "SP" emblazoned on the front in very dark blue.

Lookout mate, he's comin' our way!

Interior view shows a quite complete suspension save for the damaged  nape strap.

This liner has a stable one and one half inch crack in the front; the work of a sailor wielding a beer bottle perhaps?

The Firestone logo in the dome of the liner.

Liner with the Shore Patrol brassard in yellow and navy blue wool.  This one is from the 1960's from a ship's company SP , my brother Joe, aboard the U.S.S. Belmont (AGTR-4), one of the good guys.

Indulge me for a moment please, as I'm also an artist, of sorts, and here is a six-inch figurine I made of a Shore Patrolman from the 1950s.

Standing pierside waiting for the liberty hounds to come thundering down the brow.

The haircut and posture are very much that of a career man, but 'lo! what do I spy behind the bollard?

Could be anyone's, though it is odd that its still so frosty cold.  Hmmmm, must be a ship's company SP after all.

Until next time, anchors aweigh!

(the one in San Diego with his cuffs up)

accession number: MOA hrey  97
U.S Navy M1 helmet liner in Shore Patrol livery
Acquired 1998, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Purchase price :$7.00
Condition: very good

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The new Smithsonian Museum of American History (and Helmets)

One of the many things I enjoy about living in beautiful Western Maryland is the close proximity and easy access to our nation's capital, Washington DC, and the wonderful museums of the Smithsonian Institution.

Last spring I and two friends ventured "downtown" (as anyone within a 90 mile radius refers to the district) to see the newly redesigned and reopened Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History.
It was a remarkable experience.  An iconic museum with incredibly well designed and thoughtful exhibits exploring our young nation's rich history.

Of the zillions of artifacts on display, I took especial note of the representation of the various "tin lids" utilized to tell the story of the United States, from this early specimen from the Jamestown settlement of 400  years ago:

to this high-tech composite helmet, complete with night vision and Mar-pat cover, fresh from the war in Iraq:

I was surprised and delighted by the variety and condition of the helmets on public display in tribute to the fighting men and women of the United States.

Not surprisingly, one encounters the helmets chronologically with this M1917 of the First World War  an early stop in the exhibit.

The progression continued with a nice M1917A1 represented at the very beginning of the WWII section.  
As nearly all of the helmets were behind glass you can only imagine my contortions as I stooped to catch glimpses of liners, chinstraps, and other features not readily visible.

This barracks mock-up provided an evocative setting to introduce the good old M1 helmet of the American soldier.

And there was no shortage of U.S. Marine...

and U.S. Navy representation.  This talker's helmet, though missing chinstrap, was a sight for sore eyes for this old Navyman.

I found myself coveting this nice M1938 tanker's helmet, an example of which still eludes my collection.

Axis countries were represented, though generally through booty and bring-backs.  This German M.40 topee is nearly as nice (nearly) as the one in my collection.

Below, my friend Brian zeros in on a WWII fixed-bale M1 in the "hands-on" area.

This one, like most of the others, was in outstanding condition.,

The Vietnam War had a great deal of representation with helmets of both the Communist forces:

(here, in reed green)

(and here, in khaki)

as well as the ARVN forces.  Here's a particularly nice South Vietnamese Army Ranger's helmet, and unlike those popping up daily on ebay, this one's quite legit.

U.S. forces were represented with various examples of that era's version of the venerable M1,

as well as with a chopper crewman's helmet

After so much of the gallery being populated by steel pots, this newer kevlar "Fritz" helmet  came as a reminder that time and technology do "march on".

Helmets were also abundant in the Museum Store, by the stack and ready for some young GI Joe or Jane to don whilst chasing imaginary badguys through the backyard.

After a full and satisfying day we three made our way back to the train station caught our various trains home, certain to return, sooner rather than later, to further explore the many fine museums of this very singular treasure-trove that is "our nation's attic"

And I hope to be posting here again "sooner, rather than later".

Keep your head down,