The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man… Thomas Robert MALTHUS

All About STAHLHELM…

This article is about the German WW II army helmet. For the German paramilitary organization after the First World War, see Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten. For the 1951 war film, see The Steel Helmet.

German Stahlhelme from the Second World War

Stahlhelm (plural, Stahlhelme) is German for „steel helmet”. The Imperial German Army began to replace the traditional boiled-leatherPickelhaube (spiked combat helmet) with the Stahlhelm during World War I in 1916. The term Stahlhelm refers both to a generic steel helmet, and more specifically to the distinctive (and symbolic) German design.

The Stahlhelm, with its distinctive „coal scuttle” shape, was an instantly recognizable icon for military imagery and became a common element of military propaganda on both sides, just like the Pickelhaube before it.

Its name was also used by the Stahlhelm, a paramilitary nationalist organization established at the end of 1918.

Contents…

Background…

At the beginning of World War I, none of the combatants were issued with any form of protection for the head other than cloth and leather caps, designed at most to protect against saber cuts and the like. When trench warfare began, the number of casualties on all sides suffering from severe head wounds (more often caused by shrapnel than by gunfire) increased dramatically. The French were the first to see a need for more protection—in late 1915 they began to issue Adrian helmets to their troops. The British and Commonwealth troops followed with the Brodie helmet, which was also later worn by US forces and the Germans with the Stahlhelm.

Origin…

The design of the Stahlhelm was carried out by Dr. Friedrich Schwerd of the Technical Institute of Hanover. In early 1915, Schwerd had carried out a study of head wounds suffered during trench warfare and submitted a recommendation for steel helmets, shortly after which he was ordered to Berlin. Schwerd then undertook the task of designing and producing a suitable helmet broadly based on the 15th century sallet, which provided good protection for the head and neck..

After lengthy development work, which included testing a selection of German and Allied headgear, the first Stahlhelms were tested in November 1915 at the Kummersdorf Proving Ground and then field tested by the 1st Assault Battalion. Thirty thousand examples were ordered, but it was not approved for general issue until New Year 1916, hence it is most usually referred to as the „Model 1916”. In February 1916 it was distributed to troops at Verdun, following which the incidence of serious head injuries fell dramatically.

In contrast to the Hadfield steel used in the British Brodie helmet, the Germans used a harder martensitic silicon/nickel steel. As a result, and also due to the helmet’s form, the Stahlhelm had to be formed in heated dies at a greater unit cost than the British helmet, which could be formed in one piece.

Models…

The different Stahlhelm designs are named for their year of introduction. For example, the Modell 1942 which was introduced in 1942 is commonly known as M1942 or simply M42. Here, they are referred to by their M19XX names.

M1916 and M1917…

1916 Stahlhelm with 1918 camouflagepattern applied in the field.

The Stahlhelm was introduced into regular service during the Verdun campaign in early 1916.

The M1916 design had side-mounted horn-like ventilator lugs which were intended to be support for an additional steel brow plate orStirnpanzer, which only ever saw limited use by snipers and trench raiding parties, as it was too heavy for general use.

The shell came in different sizes, from 60 to 68, with some size 70s reported. The suspension, or liner, consisted of a headband with three segmented leather pouches, each holding padding materials, and leather or fabric cords could be adjusted to provide a comfortable fit. The one-piece leather chin strap was attached to the shell by M1891 chinstrap lugs, the same kind used in the Pickelhaube helmet.

The M1916 design provided excellent protection: Reserve Lieutenant Walter Schulze of 8th Company Reserve Infantry Regiment 76 described his combat introduction to the helmet on the Somme, 29 July 1916:

„… suddenly, with a great clanging thud, I was hit on the forehead and knocked flying onto the floor of the trench… a shrapnel bullet had hit my helmet with great violence, without piercing it, but sufficiently hard to dent it. If I had, as had been usual up until a few days previously, been wearing a cap, then the Regiment would have had one more man killed.”

But the helmet was not without its flaws. The ventilator horns often let cold air in during the winter, requiring the wearer to block the vents with mud or fabric. The large, flared skirt tended to make it difficult for soldiers to hear, distorting surrounding sounds and creating an echo when the wearer spoke.

Originally painted Feldgrau (field grey), the Stahlhelm was often camouflaged by troops in the field using mud, foliage, cloth covers, and paint. Official issue cloth covers in white and grey appeared in late 1916 and early 1917. Camouflage paint was not formally introduced until July 1918, when German Army Order II, No 91 366, signed by General Erich Ludendorff on 7 July 1918, outlined official standards for helmet camouflage. The order stipulated that helmets should be painted in several colors, separated by a finger-wide black line. The colors should be relevant to the season, such as using green, brown and ochre in summer.

After the effectiveness of the M1916 design was validated during the 1916 campaigns, incremental improvements were subsequently made. The M1917 version saw improvements to the liner, but was otherwise identical to the original design.

M1918…

WWI Stahlhelm and anti-shrapnelbody armour.

Extensive redesigns were made for the M1918 model. A new two-piece chin strap was introduced, and was attached directly to the helmet liner rather than the shell. Certain examples of the M1918 had cutouts in the rim along the sides of the helmet. It has incorrectly been said that these cutouts were to accommodate using headphones while wearing the helmet. These cutouts were actually done to improve hearing and to reduce echo created by the large, flared skirt.

The M1918 Stahlhelm can be distinguished from the M1916, as the M1918 shell lacks the chinstrap rivet on the lower side of the helmet skirt found on earlier models.

Central Power variants…

Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire used, or had commissioned, variations of the Stahlhelm design. The Austrians’ M1917 helmet was similar to the German M1916, but had a cloth webbing chinstrap and had the chinstrap rivet located higher up on the steel shell. The Hungariansproduced their own M1917 version that was similar to the Austrian design, but the chinstrap rivet was smaller in size and located even higher up than the Austrian version. The Austro-Hungarian helmets were manufactured by Krupp Berndorfer Metallwarenfabriken, and were brown in color.

Germany delivered 5,400 visorless versions of the M1918 helmet for Turkey. The missing front visor was thought by the Germans to be for religious reasons, and it was claimed that it was to allow Turkish soldiers to touch their foreheads to the ground during prayer, without removing their helmets. However, this story has been disputed. The Turks rejected any more than the 5,400 delivered and an unknown number from the overrun were issued to German armed forces and were used by German Freikorps units after the war.

M1933…

In 1932 the Army High Command ordered the testing of a new prototype helmet intended to replace the older models. It was made entirely from a composite plastic material called „Vulkanfiber”. The Model 1933 Vulkanfiber helmet kept the basic form of previous helmets but was much lighter. It was put into limited production following favourable field tests in early 1933 and small numbers were issued to Reichswehr infantry, artillery and communications units. It was removed from service following the introduction of the M1935 helmet and most of the remaining stock were reissued to civil organizations such as fire brigades and police forces. Some examples were also retained for parade use by senior officers, who were not generally issued with the Stahlhelm.

M1935…

Chinese soldiers wearing the M1935.

In 1934 tests began on an improved Stahlhelm, whose design was a development of the World War I models. The Eisenhüttenwerke company of Thale carried out prototype design and testing, with Dr. Friedrich Schwerd once again taking a hand.

The new helmet was pressed from sheets of molybdenum steel in several stages. The size of the flared visor and skirt was reduced, and the large projecting lugs for the obsolete armour shield were eliminated. The ventilator holes were retained, but were set in smaller hollow rivets mounted to the helmet’s shell. The edges of the shell were rolled over, creating a smooth edge along the helmet. Finally, a completely new leather suspension, or liner, was incorporated that greatly improved the helmet’s safety, adjustability, and comfort for each wearer. These improvements made the new M1935 helmet lighter, more compact, and more comfortable to wear than the previous designs.

The Army’s Supreme Command officially accepted the new helmet on June 25 1935 and it was intended to replace all other helmets in service.

Over 1 million M1935 helmets were manufactured in the first two years after its introduction, and millions more were produced until 1940 when the basic design and production methods were changed.

M1940…

The M1935 design was slightly modified in 1940 to simplify its construction, the manufacturing process now incorporating more automated stamping methods. The principal change was to stamp the ventilator hole mounts directly onto the shell, rather than utilizing separate fittings. In other respects, the M1940 helmet was identical to the M1935.

Fallschirmjäger version…

Fallschirmjäger

A variant of the M1935 helmet with a shell lacking the projecting visor and deep, flared rim was issued to Fallschirmjäger (German paratrooper) units. It was so designed in order to lessen the risk of head injury on landing after a parachute jump; also to reduce the significant wind resistance and resulting neck trauma. Early Fallschirmjäger helmets were manufactured from existing M1935 helmets by removing the undesirable projections, which were omitted when the new design entered full production.  The modified shell also incorporated a completely different and more substantial liner and chinstrap design that provided far more protection for German airborne troops.

M1942…

The M1942 design was a result of wartime demands. The rolled edge on the shell was eliminated, creating an unfinished edge along the rim. This edge slightly flared out, along the base of the skirt. The elimination of the rolled edge expedited the manufacturing process and reduced the amount of metal used in each helmet. Shell paint colors towards the end of the war typically ran to matte gray-green, and the decals were gradually eliminated to speed up production and reduce the helmet’s combat visibility. Greater manufacturing flaws were also observed in M42 helmets made late in the war.

M1944…

A simpler variant, designed in 1944 by the Army Ordnance Office, was also stamped out of one piece of metal but with sloped sides. Similar in appearance to the British 1944 Type Mk III helmet. Allegedly personally rejected by Hitler as being too foreign.

M1945…

There have been reports of a variant manufactured in the last months of the war. The M1945 was reported to have been similar to the M1942 design, but did away completely with the ventilator. These helmets are reported to be extremely rare. Many collectors and historians are of the opinion that the M1945 helmet is more likely to be just a regular M1942 helmet that lacked the vents simply because of machine malfunctions in the factory.

M1954…

A variant of the M1944 with a modified suspension system, developed further into the M1956.

M1956…

M1956 East German Stahlhelm

The East German M-56 helmet was originally designed in 1942 as a replacement for the M1935/M1940 model Stahlhelms. The design was never progressed and was unused until the requirement for a new German helmet for the Volkspolizei and the National People’s Army arose, it being realized that the reintroduction of the Stahlhelm would not have been tolerated by the Soviet Union. It came in three basic versions, Mod 1 or I/56, Mod 2 or I/57 and Mod 3 or I/71, and was widely sold (or given) to Third World armies.

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