Wednesday, December 2, 2015
United States fixed-bail M1 combat helmet with Hawley liner
Nothing gets the heart of a collector aflutter like
a helmet-sized box in the mail.
Thus begins what will become a favorite episode of my 40-plus years of collecting.
A facebook friend, someone I've never met before, contacted me inquiring if I'd like a helmet. It belonged to a woman who was cleaning out her late father's effects. The former soldier wore the helmet during the Second World War and she asked my friend if he had any interest in the helmet, he responded that although he didn't, he knew someone who'd probably like it very much. So it was given, and so it was sent to me.
The soldier's name was Masaru "Ben" Wakabayashi, a Japanese American who was inducted in August of 1941 prior to the entry of the US into the war. Unlike some 120,000 Japanese-American citizens who were sent to internment camps for the duration of the war - Ben, who lived further inland (Colorado) was spared this injustice.
Wakabayashi was a driver in the 377th Infantry Regiment, and in November of 1944, as part of the 95th Infantry Brigade,participated in the Metz offensive under Patton.
Like most victorious GIs he came home, married, and got on with his life, and passed away only recently. His souvenirs, long put away, again saw the light of day. Thus the helmet made its way to my collection, and I'm grateful for it and for the kindness of the person who gave it to me.
Opening the box I was greeted by the familiar steel pot that typified the American GI for some fifty years.
When I turned it over something struck me as odd. Then, to my delight, I realized what I was looking at.
A battered but seasoned and fairly intact Hawley liner.
Hawley liners are something approaching rare these days as the paper fiber and fabric of which they are comprised are relatively fragile; so much so that they were soon deemed unsuitable and by November of 1942 were replaced by the very durable plastic resin liners that stayed in use until well into the 1980s. Although Hawley produced nearly four million of these liners, today, because of their fragility, they have become hard to find. This old soldier is original to the helmet and we can only imagine the history it has seen.
Now for the walk-around.
Characteristic of the early helmets, the Hawley liner is thicker and bulkier than later plastic/resin-type liners and the edge is very evident below the rim of the shell.
This is the early "fixed-bail" M1 of the first half of the War.
On the dome of the shell the numerals "21" are stenciled in blue. The significance of this number, as well as the color, is
unknown to me.
The chinstrap closure is blackened brass, typical for the
A comparison of the brass "raised bar" buckle of the fixed-bail (left) compared with the blackened steel buckle of the later flexible-bail M1.
This is the fixed chinstrap bail which distinguishes the early M1 manufactured from July 1941 to October 1943. The fixed-bail was prone to breaking off when the helmet was dropped. This problem was solved with the flexible bail of the later models.
Typical to most M1s manufactured during the war, the rim is joined at the front of the helmet shell.
Underneath the visor is the lightly stamped "heat of the steel" and shipment number.
These early production shells were prone to stress cracks.
And now to what makes this helmet so special; the liner.
The Hawley liner was introduced on June 26, 1941. Made of fabric-covered paper-based fiber, the liner was intended to not only support the helmet shell but also to be utilized as a stand-alone piece of headgear.
This is the later version of the Hawley liner which entered service in June of 1942.
Although the liner was impregnated with a varnish to provide some water repellant characteristics the liner was prone to swell when exposed to moisture.
The fragility of the fiber is very evident in this view.
The liner was prone to denting and fracturing of the fiber.
In addition to dents and cracks, this particular liner has a piece of fiber missing in the crown though the fabric maintains the exterior profile.
The cotton twill rim-binding became worn exposing the fiber underneath.
The headband of the fixed-bail helmet would become standard for all M1s well into the 1980s.
The herringbone and leather headband is adjustable
at the rear.
The contractor information is printed on the band.
Spring clips attach the headband to the suspension of the liner.
Unlike the last-generation of M1s, which have a T-shaped neck strap, the WWII M1 liners had a nape-strap to
provide a snugger fit.
Contractor's information and size are printed on the nape-strap.
Small studs secure the leather liner strap. The strap is the only component missing on this particular liner.
The fragility of the Hawley liner became quickly apparent and the US Army Ordnance Department began development of the plastic/fiber liner concurrent with the use of the Hawley. Although many Hawley's, such as this one, soldiered on through to the end of the war, The newer liners rapidly replaced the Hawley and by April of 1942 became the standardized liner for all M1s.
This saga might not be over. I'm hopeful that a photo of Ben Wakabayashi will become available.
That would be the icing on the cake. Watch this space!
Masaru "Ben" Wakabayashi is buried in Denver Colorado. We thank him for his service.
See you next time with another cool helmet from the collection.