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M1 Steel Combat Helmet and Liner

The now famous M1 "steel pot" helmet was adopted in 1941 to replace the M1917/ M1917A1 helmet, which remained largely unchanged since the First World War. The 1917 helmet was well designed to protect heads from the greatest dangers in the trenches-falling shell fragments, dirt, and debris. But it did not provide good protection for the sides and back of the head.

With the resurge of military life and expenditures, new overtures were made to American industrial firms to improve the protective coverage and ballistic limit of the M1917A1 and to take advantage of recent advances in steel alloy manufacture, liner materials, and mass production methods. In addition, a two-piece helmet was considered desirable to meet the increasing variety and complexity of tactical and climatic conditions.

The ideal shaped helmet was seen as one with a dome-shaped top following the full contour of the head and supplying uniform headroom for indentation, extending down the front to cover the forehead without impairing vision and down the sides as far as possible to be compatible with the rifle, etc., and down the back as far as possible without pushing the helmet forward when in a prone position, and with a frontal plate flanged forward as a cap-style visor and the sides and rear flanged outward to deflect rain from the collar opening.

The M1917 model was considered suitable for protecting the top of the head and by removing its brim, by adding sidepieces and rearpieces, and by incorporating the suspension system into a separate inner liner, the World War II Army helmet came into being. The original test item was known as the TS3, and it received a favorable report from the Infantry Board in February 1941. The Army M1 helmet was standardized on 30 April 1941 and was approved on 9 June 1941.

For the more mobile and open warfare of World War II, the Army adopted the famous M1 Steel Helmet, which covered more of the head. It was of two-piece design with an outer Hadfield steel shell and a separate inner liner containing the suspension system. The complete item weighed approximately 3 pounds, with the outer shell accounting for approximately 2.3 pounds and the inner liner, 0.7 pound.

The ballistics properties of the outer shell had been improved so that it would resist penetration by a 230-grain caliber .45 bullet with a velocity of 800 f.p.s. The Riddell type of suspension used in football helmets was modified for the inner liner. The principle of the original Riddell suspension did not contain an adjustable headband, and this feature was developed for the helmet liner. The M1 helmet was a marked improvement over former models since it furnished increased coverage over the sides and back of the head and provided a more comfortable fit with the partial elimination of the "rocking" tendency of the older helmets.

When the helmet causes the defeat of this missile at service-weapon velocities, it will be deeply indented, and it was deemed necessary to allow a 1-inch offset between the helmet and the head. However, battle casualty survey studies during World Wars I and II and the Korean War have shown that the primary wounding agent among the WIA and the KIA casualties was the fragmentation-type weapon. The World War II experiences are universal except for the surveys of some of the Pacific island campaigns where small arms missiles accounted for a greater proportion of casualties. After World War II, fragment simulators in a range of 5 calibers were widely used in ballistics evaluation tests of prospective ballistic materials for helmets and body armor.

It was heavy and hot, but it provided good protection and was useful for a wide variety of other "unofficial" purposes, such as pounding in tent stakes or boiling water. The M1 offered much greater protection over the earlier helmet by extending down to cover the sides and back of the wearer's head. Stamped from one piece of manganese steel, the M1 came with a removable liner constructed of resin-impregnated cotton canvas. The liner had an internal, adjustable suspension system and could be worn without the shell when in garrison. Both the liner and helmet had adjustable chinstraps, the former of leather and the latter of cotton webbing.

The helmet came painted in standard matte finish olive drab paint mixed with shredded cork or sawdust to reduce glare. Unit insignia and/or individual rank often were applied to both the shell and the liner. Such practices varied from unit to unit and from one theater to another. Camouflage netting of cotton cording often was attached to the helmet to help break up its outline and conceal the wearer's head. Both purpose-designed helmet nets and sections cut from vehicle camouflage nets, as on this example, were used.

Besides being a highly successful helmet design, the M1 was found to be useful for many other tasks as well. The ever-resourceful G.I. put it to use as a cooking and water-boiling pot, an impromptu entrenching tool, a hammer for pounding tent stakes, and even a handy latrine. The M1 was enormously popular and remained in service with modifications until it was finally replaced in 1983 by the ballistic Kevlar "Fritz" helmet. Its widespread use defined the appearance of millions of G.I.s in World War II and subsequently in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

In Korea, not all soldiers wore their helmet, because of its weight, lack of stability, and so forth. Many men on patrols complained about the noise made by the helmet when it came in contact with bushes and twigs and felt also that the helmet interfered with their hearing. For these reasons, some men on patrol preferred not to wear their helmets. These objections to the helmet were only partially overcome by continuing indoctrination and by improving the helmet characteristics, especially its stability on the head.

Against the cast iron fragmentation projectiles which were commonly used by the North Korean and Chinese Communist Armies during the Korean War, the M1 helmet probably gave a better performance than with the steel fragments which predominated during the World War II fighting. The relatively soft and brittle character of the cast iron fragments would lend itself to low hardness and toughness and to greater ease of refragmentation and defeat upon impact against the helmet.

During the period from 9 January to 1 March 1953, a study on the battlefield performance of the M1 steel helmet was conducted in Korea. The study was made by collecting all available helmets hit on the battlefield by enemy fire. The helmets were then forwarded through Graves Registration channels to the Central Identification Unit, Kokura, with information on (1) the type of missile that hit the helmet (grenade, mortar, "burp" gun, and so forth), (2) a complete description of what happened to the individual wearing the helmet, (3) the type of wounds sustained, and (4) the exact location of the wounds. After proper coordination with the Medical and Quartermaster Sections, an order implementing this was published by the Adjutant General, Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Korea, and sent to all division surgeons for their information and coordination with their battalion aid station personnel.

A total of 45 helmets were received during this period of time. It had been hoped that many more helmets would be recovered and forwarded with the information requested. Personal contact with battalion aid station surgeons at a later date revealed the numerous difficulties involved in recovering the helmets. Soldiers who had sustained hits on their helmets without receiving a wound did not want to give up their helmets and in many instances did not turn them in. There was also added danger in attempting recovery of damaged helmets from exposure to enemy fire during the time required for recovery.

In 16 of 45 cases were killed as a result of helmet defeat by the missile. In 13 of 45 cases the missile was defeated successfully, although some of these cases resulted in death from wounds elsewhere on the body. Many of the 16 nonlethal wounds sustained through the helmet were potentially lethal. This was judged from the direction the missile was traveling. Therefore, in assessing the effectiveness of helmet protection, these reductions in wound severity must be considered. In over half the cases studied, possible death resulting from head wounds was prevented by the helmet.

In Vietnam, the WW II M1 helmet, with minor modifications, was the soldier's standard headgear. A cloth helmet cover was designed with a disruptive camouflage pattern. The cover was reversible with leaf patterns in green or brown for fall or winter operations. The helmet cover also contained small slots for inserting natural foliage. The camouflage helmet band was designed to hold foliage in order to blend the helmet shape and color into the surrounding terrain. In Vietnam, this band more commonly held cigarettes, insect repellent, or an extra rifle magazine. Early in 1967, writing on helmet covers began. Most commonly seen were nick-names, names of girl friends, and names of home states or towns.

For more than 60 years, students in the Officer Candidate School have worn the M1941 helmet liners as part of their uniform. However, when Class 5-03 graduate in July 2003, they became the last class to wear the distinctive helmets. From now on OCS students will wear a black ascot as a basic officer candidate, a blue ascot as an intermediate officer candidate and a white ascot as a senior officer candidate. The time-honored sight of OCS formations marching to class or the mess hall, accompanied by drums and the guidon, will be nearly indistinguishable from other troop formations on post. The only distinction will be the black or white ascots they wear bearing the entwined letters 'OCS.'

The helmet liners were part of the Model 1941 helmet set issued to the US military forces from early in World War II until the mid 1980s. After the introduction of the PASGT Kevlar helmet, the M1941 Helmet Liner was retained at the only Officer Candidate School in the US Army. The tradition of the helmet liners began back in the early 50s. Even then, the senior officer candidates wore the distinctive blue helmets to signify their officer candidate status. The color of the helmet was always a way of recognizing an officer candidate's status. For more than 60 years, OCS candidates at Fort Benning proudly wore the painted Model 1941 helmet liner to distinguish their formations from the other enlisted and officer training units in training. While the fatigue uniforms of candidates in training changed, the gloss black or ski blue helmet liners of the candidates marked to all those soldiers who accepted the challenge to become Army officers in the high-stress challenge of Officer Candidate School.

The Battle Helmet Mk 1 or Steel Pot with Liner and chin strap, issued (olive green) was part of the "Battle Dress" and was the uniform that sailors wore when they went to General Quarters (G.Q.) (Condition 1) from WW II until the 1990s if assigned to a topside G.Q Station or they had duties that would take them topside, such as Repairs 1, 1B, 2 and 3. Sailors would improve their individual protection by tucking their trouser legs in the socks, and they would button their shirt collar and sleeves and put on a Life Jacket secured on a belt around the waist with an encased gas mask. Below decks, they would also don the Battle Helmet Liner (only) and put on a Life Jacket secured on a belt around the waist with the encased gas mask. They were then ready to investigate areas or break out equipment as directed by the Repair Locker Officer or Chief. If they were part of a fire party, and assigned as an OBA man, they would don a breathing apparatus and proceed to the scene or as directed.

The Materials Technology Laboratory at Watertown, Mass., used DuPont Kevlar in composite forms to develop a a protective vest and the helmet that replaced the World War II-era "steel pot." The new helmet, introduced in 1974, was credited with saving many lives in Grenada and Panama.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:44:36 ZULU