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M1917 Steel Trench Helmet

The first protection provided for the head in World War I came about in a purely fortuitous manner. General Adrian of the French Army noted that a soldier who had received a head wound due to a rifle bullet explained his escape from death on the fact that he had carried his metal food bowl under his cloth cap. Therefore, following initial experiments in 1914, steel cap liners ("casque Adrian") were issued to French troops in 1915 and led to the characteristic World War I French helmet in 1916. Many of the other countries soon realized the value of a helmet.

The disproportionate number of lethal head wounds, and the introduction into the French army of the "Adrian" helmet led the British to take similar steps. The "Inventions Committee" were tasked to undertake this job. They begain by acquiring a number of "Adrians" and some steel skull caps in July 1915. They recommended the purchase of a number of "Adrians" for sentry duty in front line trenches. Meanwhile, the War Office had also concluded on the need for steel helmets and decided to design one from scratch, since the french design was deigned to be too weak and too complex.

The British design was specifically to provide protection against shrapnel and "falling objects" The design of John L Brodie was patented in 1915, this being the familiar steel "bowl", providing good coverage from above, and ease of production, being pressed from a single sheet of steel. The first "Type A" was made of mild steel with a brim 1.5 - 2 inches wide, and had a slightly flattened dome. Production of the "A" had only been under way for a few weeks when, in October 1915, the specification of the helmet was changed. Henceforth, it was to be made of hardened steel of the Hadfield variety and was to be strong enough to protect against a shrapnel ball travelling at 750 ft/sec. This "B" type was a lot tougher than "A" but still not robust enough to stop a close/medium range hit from a rifle or m/c gun [and it was never intended thus]. Apart from the metallurgical differences, the "B" had a narrower brim, and the dome was no longer flattened. "A"s and "B"s were produced in parallel whilst production problems with the "B"s were fixed.

The first helmets began to arrive at the front in September 1915 and were allocated at 50/battalion. They were used as "Trench Stores", stored at the line and used by each unit as they took turns in that sector. On 09 December 1915, a question was asked in Parliament regarding the use of steel helmets. The Under Secretart of State for War replied that he knew of "no reason why the troops should not be wearing the steel helmets issued to them". At that time, most soldiers had not been issued with helmets. Rumors went around that some generals thought they looked stupid and would make the men go "soft". But, the introduction of helmets led to an immediate reduction in head injuries.

By early 1916, 250,000 helmets were issued. Soldiers criticised the "B" in that it was too shallow, too reflective, and too slippery. The edge of the rim was also too sharp. In May 1916 the Mark I was developed with a 2-part liner, thin mild steel "folded" rim; the helmet was now painted khaki and the texture roughened with a covering of sawdust or sand whilst wet. This gave an excellent matt [ie non-reflective] surface. * With a few minor modifications, the Mark I saw the war out, some being exported to the USA & also issued to the home front. Units soon began painting divisional signs etc onto their helmets. Some drilled holes to affix badges, this practice being outlawed because it weakened the structure of the helmet.

With minor changes, this helmet was worn by British Commonwealth troops in World War II.

M1917 Helmet

When the first elements of the American Expeditionary Force landed at St. Nazaire, France in June 1917, they were equipped with some of the most modern accouterments of any army, with one exception-they had no helmets. Instead they wore the felt M1912 service or "campaign" hat. Although adequate for the types of limited conflicts the US had fought in the Philippines and Cuba, the soft hat was wholly useless in the trenches of World War I.

The simplest and quickest solution to this problem was to adopt a helmet already in service with one of the other allied armies. With the exception of four regiments of infantry attached to the French, who wore French helmets, the helmet chosen for adoption by the Army was the British-designed Brodies steel helmet. Initially, American troops were equipped with British-manufactured helmets until American industry could begin producing a copy in sufficient quantities for issue at the front.

The American helmet is nearly identical to the British Mark I helmet. The difference between the two helmets is the rivet holding the chinstrap loop to the helmet itself, the lack of the "doughnut" in the liner of the American helmet, and the properties of the steel used to manufacture the M1917 helmet shell. Also the M1917 helmet had a heavier sawdust texture than the British Mark I.

The M1917 helmet was produced from manganese steel with an attached liner and adjustable leather chinstrap. It was normally painted in standard matte-finish olive drab, but many helmets were painted at unit level in a variety of different schemes. Multicolor, disruptive schemes, such as this example, were copied from similar patterns used with some success by the Germans. Unit insignia also were applied to helmets, particularly toward the end of the war.

The British-designed Mark I, and it's US-produced counterpart the M1917, offered reasonably good protection from shell fragments, particularly air-bursts, as well as falling dirt and debris. While this generally was sufficient for infantry fighting in entrenched positions, the introduction of US forces broke the stalemate of previous years and the war became a much more mobile and rapidly-moving conflict. This change in tactics quickly revealed the shortcomings of the trench helmet design-it offered virtually no protection from direct-fire weapons and objects striking the wearer from anywhere but above.

M1917A Transition Helmet

In the interval between World Wars I and II, the United States continued its research and development program on helmets in an attempt to increase the area coverage, to improve the protection ballistics limit (V50 or that velocity level at which there is 50 percent probability of a complete penetration of the test ballistic material by the projectile), and to facilitate troop acceptance by modification of the suspension system. Changes designed to improve the first two factors required careful consideration in order to be compatible with the weight and comfort limitation imposed by other testing technical services. Concurrent with the changes in weapon design were the demands for modification in the helmet specifications. With the advent of new weapons in the hands of belligerent countries, countermeasures can follow several patterns, such as increasing firepower to overcome the advantages of the new weapon, developing specific antitype weapons, or producing interim personnel protective devices.

Between 1918 and 1934, interest and progress in helmet development were maintained by the Ordnance Department and the Infantry Board. Following a series of experimental models (the model 5A was of pot-shaped design and received extensive testing before it was discontinued in 1932) and tests, it was recommended in 1934 that the M1917 helmet with a modified lining of a hair-filled pad be standardized as Helmet, M1917A1. The final end item with an adjustable headpad weighed 2 pounds and 6 ounces. The US M1917A Transition Helmet was developed due to deficiencies found in the WWI helmet (M1917). The US government used the WWI M1917 helmets and modified them with a new liner system and chinstrap. The M1917A has a hook-and-buckle type securing mechanism, which was the forerunner to the WWII M1 helmets. The helmet shell is smoother and less textured than the WWI M1917 helmets. It has a heavy stitched 2-piece webbed chinstrap. The top of the helmet also has a nut that is used to hold the suspension system (liner) in place. The suspension system is made of four strips bent to act as springs and provided tension to hold the new liner in place. The leather liner consists of 4 leather fingers that tie together. At the center of the helmet is a small leather-covered oval pad that serves as a cushion.

A lull in helmet development occurred in the period from 1934 to 1940 when the first draft call was issued. Before the standardization of the M1 helmet, 904,020 M1917A1 helmet bodies were manufactured from January to August 1941.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:45:36 ZULU