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.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this info! I recently acquired this helmet at a flea market in relatively good condition and I didn't know it's nationality, this information helped uncover its history :) once again, thanks soo much