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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Understanding WWII German helmet insignia

German Army M35 double decal helmet 
There maybe no more iconic item from the Second World War than the double decal German helmet. Most people, even those who know little about the history of WWII can easily recognize one of these helmets. From the comical Sargent Schultz of Hogan's Hero's fame to more recent films Hollywood has cemented the double decal helmet as the predominate headgear of the WWII German soldier into the consciousnesses of modern culture.
Sgt. Schultz wearing his iconic double decal Luftwaffe helmet
While it is certainly true that the German armed forces did wear helmets with decals on them the use of a double decal helmet was far from predominate. In fact the German high command ordered the so called double decal helmet phased out before the invasion of France in 1940. The use of decals by the German armed forced is a interested and to some degree complex story. It is without a doubt worth understand by anyone interested in the history of WWII headgear.

The use of helmet insignia by the Germans actually starts back in the First Word War. Sometime in 1917 troops from the 1st Foot Guards Regiment and the 1st Guards signal battalion took to wearing a Hohenzollern crest on the left side of their helmet with the company number painted in white, red or in some cases black on the back of the helmet. The crests were hand rendered and surviving examples show a wide variety of sizes and styles. This is undoubtedly due individual artist's varying skill. Documentation is limited on the history of these crests but photographic evidence as well as surviving original helmets do exist confirming their use.
The Hohenzollern crest is clearly visible
on this M16 helmet
 
An Original but poorly renders
Hohenzollern shield

     Aside from the Hohenzollern crest there is at least one more type of insignia found on Great War era German helmets. Over the years a few German helmet have been found bearing a hand rendered Machine gun, usually on the wearer's left. The conventional wisdom is that these helmets were worn by members of machine gun crews. The lack of war time photos showing the use of these helmets have made many question as to whether these helmets are nothing more then post-war vet art. The existence of the many recorded veteran  accounts of German machine gunners being executed upon capture, does raise a few questions about the use of these insignia. German machine gunners undoubted knew what their fate might be should be be taken alive so the idea of advertising their position on their helmet does seem unlikely. That being said there may well have been some men who painted the machine-gun on their helmets as an act of bravado. Until some long forgotten veteran account or photograph evidence surfaces the use of these insignia in the field will remain unconfirmed.
Original M16 helmet with hand rendered MG insignia.
 This helmet was procured from an American WWI veteran's estate in the 1960s
 After the fall of the Kaiserreich in 1918 it wasn't long before German helmets with new insignia were being used. Between 1919 and 1920 paramilitary units known as the Freikorps battled communists in the streets of Germany, Latvia and Poland. These forces used hand rendered insignia on their helmets to identify their individual units. There were a number of different type of insignia used by these men. Photos taken during the March, 1920 Kapp Putsch show men from Freikorps Ehrhardt wearing large swastikas painted on the front of their helmets.
Member of Freikorps Ehrhardt wearing WWI era
helmets with hastily applied swastika 
    Other Freikorps units used their state colors to create a recognizable insignia while others choose a symbol in which to designate their unit. Freikorps Hacketau had one of the more memorable devices of the era, a large death head painted in silver or white paint on the front of the helmet.
Member of Freikorps Hacketau 

    Whatever the insignia used it is clear that as time went on the helmet was seen more and more as the preferred method of displaying the designation of the wearer unit.
When the Reichwehr was established as the new German defense force in the aftermath of the Great War no helmet insignia was authorized. On January 1st of 1921 new uniform regulations were established. While the new regulation said nothing about the helmet a letter from Wehrkreiskommando VII (7th defence district command) written to the various Bavarian Reichswehr units stated that a small white and blue shield (colors of Bavaria) should be painted on the left side of the helmet. A hand written notation on the letter indicates the order had received approval from the Reichswehr ministry. The exact date that these shields were to be applied to the helmet is not known. What is known is that a statement issued from the  Reichpresident on April 19th of 1922 made reference to a shield shaped insignia or Wrappenschild  which would display the colors of the providence where the units was assembled. The size of the shield was specified as being 3.4 cm high and 3.0 cm wide. Surviving original helmets from this era show a few different version of these shields. The shield were hand rendered. As with the Great War era Guard regiment insignia artistic skill does play a factor in the quality and appearance.
A unique photo of a member of a Prussian Reichwehr regiment during a training exercise.
The Wrappenschild is clearly visable 
    
Hand rendered Sachsen Wrappenschild
On January 26,1924 the German Navy or Reichsmarine introduced their own insignia. The insignia consisted of two crossed gold anchors on a white field. Very few original Reichsmarine helmets have surfaced. While helmets from this era always feature a hand rendered insignia a few Reichmarine helmets have been found with decals. Little information exists on these decals, and some have been panned as post-war fakes by collectors while others do in fact appear to be original. That being stated, with the complexity of the insignia it maybe that the Reichsmarine experimented with a decal. Undoubtedly this would have been easier to apply to the helmet then painting the cross anchor insignia by hand.  

Reichsmarine honor guard in Wilhelmshaven. The insignia of crossed
anchors on a white field can be made out on close inspection


After the National Socialists rose to power on 30 January 1933 the helmet insignia would change once again. On 14 March 1933 the Reichspresident issued a decree that all the provincial insignia and navy anchor crest were to be replaced by a shield of the same size based on the colors of the Reich battle flag (black/white/red). The new insignia was to be positioned on the wearer's left  
M16 helmet with the 1933 Reich battle flag colors insignia
The order was only temporary, on February 17th 1934 the shield was ordered moved to the wearer's right. . These late Reichswehr helmet are unique as surviving originals show a mixture of hand rendered insignia and insignia in decal form. It was without a doubt realized that decals were easier to apply then to paint the insignia by hand. The decal also had the added advantage of uniformity, something not easily accomplished by a wide variety of painters with varying degrees of artistic skill. A surviving memo issued by the Reichswehr ministry dated 5th of April 1934 offers some insight into the use of national colors decals at this time. The memo mentions that the new national colors decals were to be sent out to individual units and immediately applied to the helmets by them. The memo stated that the decal was to be placed exactly, "3 mm under the ventilation lug and mid-line of the insignia must pass though the center of the vent...". The memo also stated that the old insignia were to be removed. This memo indicate the importance that the high command placed on the uniformity of these insignia which could only be accomplished via a decal. From this point on the use of hand rendered insignia would diminish in favor of printed decals.    

 It should be noted that more then a few helmets from this era have been found with provincial colors painted on the inside of the helmet's skirt. This may have been a way for some regiments to continue the Reichswehr tradition of marking the helmet for the individual German states long after the order was issued to remove these provincial shields.  
M35 helmet's skirt with hand rendered Baden colors.  

 The use of the Reichswehr national colors decal was temporary. New decals were in the works. A Reichswehr order dated 5 April 1934 stated that new decals were to be issued out to all units. The news decal would consist of an national colors decal for the right side. The decal for the left side of the helmet would have an eagle with folded down wings clutching a swastika in its talons, the very symbol of the new regime. The eagle was silver for army units and gold for the Navy. The new decals were made of flax-oil varnish with the eagle made of foil. The new decal were applied to the helmet by brushing a thin layer of Ducolux, Kopal or Damar varnish onto the painted surface of the helmet then placing the decal over the tacky varnish. Once the decal was firmly bonded to the surface of the helmet a protective layer of varnish was painted over the decal. As time went on the last step of applying the protective layer was often skipped.
Early Heer decal circa 1934
   
These early decals are often called "dry transfers". It appears that the application of was found to be difficult, and new water transfer decals were developed. The water transfer decals were much easier to apply and did not take near the amount of time needed to apply the dry transfer version.
It should be noted that several different firms were contracted to produce decals. Decals from these different firms show slight differences. While the discussion of these differences is beyond the scope of this article it should suffice to say that such differences do exist.

Circa 1934 M18 helmet with a national colors decal.
It is interesting to note this helmet dates to the Great War.
Several layer's of paint can be observed showing the helmets service from
WWI, the Weimar era and finally the Third Reich

The SS went though a similar evolution in the use of helmet insignia. Early SS helmet from the 1920s do not have any insignia whatsoever. At some point the some SS units began using a white bordered black swastika hand rendered onto the left side of the helmet. In same cases the swastikas were white. Between 1934 and 1935 the different divisions within the SS units a number of different insignia configurations. Just like their Freikorps predecessors these insignia served to differentiate between the units within the SS. All of these insignia were painted by hand or applied by ways of a stencil. At least one SS-SS-Verfügungstruppe black parade helmet helmet has been found with a celluloid decal. It is likely that the SS-SS-Verfügungstruppe experimented with the use of decals just as did the Reichwehr.

Men from the SS-Verfügungstruppe out for a drive.
The men here wear Austrian M17 helmets
with hand rendered insignia
on August 12 1935 a new order was issued by the Chief of the SS-Headquarters. The order stated that new insignia would need to be applied to all SS helmets. The order indicated that SS runes on a silver shield would be painted on the right side of the helmet while a swastika on a red shield would be painted on the left side of the helmet. The order specifically states that the insignia were to be painted in oil. Interestingly an addendum to the order was issued two days after stated that the insignia were to be applied in the form of decals. A few SS helmets from this time period have turned up with hand painted decals. While it may be possible that these helmets had the insignia painted onto them in the two days between the initial order and addendum or more likely the SS equipment depots were slow at receiving the new decals and to comply with the new order the depots simply painted the new insignia onto the helmets in their possession.  
M16 SS-SS-Verfügungstruppe black parade helmet
with hand rendered insignia. This helmet likely dates to 1935
Himmler and other members of the
SS leadership wearing the new SS decals
      Starting in 1936 SS unit would began to receive the new M35 helmet. The new helmet would slowly replace the older WWI era helmets the SS had been wearing since the 1920s. The new helmets came from the factory with decals already applied
Members of an SS unit in training with their new M35 helmets.
The SS party decal is clearly visible
As with the decals worn by the Wehrmacht, there are subtle difference between decals applied at the five different factories which manufacture helmets for the SS. Heated debates rage on collector's forums and Facebook groups about these differences and what they mean. Suffice to say there are differences and for any collector who wishes to add an original SS helmet to their collection it is imperative that they understand these differences.   

SS decal applied at the Eisenhuttenwerke factory.
This SS decal is sometimes called the second pattern
SS decal applied on helmets made by
F.W. Quist G.m.b.H., Esslingen
This decal is often called the 1st pattern
After the invasion of Poland in 1939, changes to the use of decals would come again. In March 21 1940 the German high command ordered the helmets to be repainted with a rough textured dark field gray matte paint. The order also specified that the red, white, and black national colors decal would need to be removed from existing helmets and the factories were ordered to no longer apply these decals. The order states that this measure is being taken for camouflage purposes, and recommended that those units which were unable to acquire matte field gray paint should camouflage their helmets by means of smearing the finish with mud and clay or use a net or cover. The order was in response to the experience faced by German unit is Poland. The smooth painted used on helmets proved to reflect sun light, and the highly visible national colors decal without a doubt was used by Polish marksmen to great effect. 
An early production M35 Heer helmet with a matte field gray over-paint.
The paint applied per the March 1940 regulations, the national colors decal was painted over in this case
Note the  M27 Reichwehr era chinstrap 
   Oddly the March 1940 order was only issued to German army, no mention is made of the Luftwaffe, Navy or SS.   
In this photo the soldier has scrapped much of the national colors decal
away for purposes of camouflage or to comply with the March order.  
This may have been an oversight. A order was issued to Luftwaffe units on 12 June 1940 that stated that the use of the national colors decal would be discontinued. The SS would receive a similar order in August of 1940. A new version of the German helmet began to be issued out to German units in March of 1940. These helmets are known to collectors as M40s. A very small number of these M40s have been found with double decals. Research on the heading lot numbers of these helmets indicate they were made prior to the orders. In some cases a few SS M40 double decal helmet have turned up where the lot number indicates the helmet was made well after the order. It is believed that these helmets may have been worn by members of the SS who worked in concentration camps. The Nazi party decal may have been applied by camp supply depots or by the individual guards perhaps for political reasons or for the intimidation of the inmates. 
In the cases of the double decal army helmet when the date of the decal removal order coincided with the first issue of the new M40 it can be assumed that the factory had not received the order and issues out a small number of M40s with both a national colors decal and army decal.     
This wounded soldier still wear's the national colors decal well after it was ordered removed. His companion all wear matte field gray painted helmets where the decal has been painted over or scrapped off  
While the order clearly stated that the SS party, and national colors decals were to be removed photographic evidence shows the use of double decal helmet until the end of the war. There maybe different reasons for this. Some men, officer or NCOs may have used these helmet to distinguish themselves as leaders in their unit. Other men may have kept the decal to show their long service, as having been issued the helmet before the war, making them a recognizable old hand. 
A double decal helmet worn somewhere on the Eastern front
Still others may have been stationed in quiet areas of occupation such as Norway or France. They saw no need to comply with an order designed to camouflage the helmet for combat in an area where combat was not taking place. Some photos taken in late 1944 and 1945 show men wearing these double decal helmets. Due to sever supply shortages the German forces were experiencing at that time, these helmets may have been pulled from the regimental parade equipment and issued out. 
Photo taken during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1944.
These members of the SS are still wearing the party shield decals. Note the smooth parade finish
While the German Army, SS, Navy and Luftwaffe were all under order to remove the nation colors German police units were never ordered to remove the party decal on their helmets. Police units would continue to wear both decals until the end of the war.  

No major changed were ordered for the use of decal between 1940 and 1943. In August of 1943 a final change was issued. On August 28th of 1943 an order was issued to the five different factories that made helmets to no longer apply decals. The order stated that the application of decals regardless branch of service were to be discontinued. Police units who received helmets without decals applied the decals themselves when decals were available. The order seems to have been carried out fairly quickly. Helmets with heating lot numbers that tie their production to end end of August and into September generally do not have decals. There are some exceptions, though, which could be the result of the helmet having the decal applied in the field or the result of post-war forgery.  
A lot of discussed has taken place as to the reason for the decal drop in 1943. One school of though is that the order was issued for the same reasons as the order to remove the national colors and party shield was. This seems unlikely. The order was issued to the factories and not to the men in the field. If the high command had been concerned with the decal presenting a danger to men in the field, why was an order not issued for men in the field to remove the decal? With the many surviving German helmets with intact decals, and the camouflaged helmets where the decal was carefully painted around, its seems unlikely that men in the field saw the exposed decal as much of a threat.
Luftwaffe M40. The helmet has been sprayed with a 3-color camouflage pattern sometimes called "Normandy camo" The Luftwaffe decal was carefully masked off prior to the paint application.  
    The fact of the matter is the decal and its application was costly and time consuming. By halting the application of the decal the factory could save time and money. It should not be surprising that the decision was made at the same time as an order to discontinue helmets painted in Luftwaffe blue-gray. From that point on the factories would produce one type of helmets, painted field gray with no decal which could be issued to all troops regardless of branch of service. This would have certainly saved money and streamlined  production, at a time when the war was already turning against Germany.

While German helmet factories would continue to produce helmets without decal, hundreds of thousands of  helmet with decal would continue to see action on all fronts to the end of the war. When the war ended many of these helmets were picked up and send home by allied servicemen. Helmets with decals were without a doubt popular with the vets. It may be that they saw the decals with their political symbols as a representative of the regime which they had helped to defeat. While before and during the war these decals only were meant to indicate the wearer's branch of service today they serve as a recognizable representation of the largest war of all times. 
Single Decal SS M40


  






Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Short History of the German Steel Helmet of the Great War



In the early months of 1916 the surviving members of a small squad of German soldier huddled in the sordid recesses of a French shell hole somewhere in the proximity of Verdun. White hot shrapnel, fragments of rock, splinters of wood and earth careened overhead as French artillery shells burst overhead. The men drew their bodies down into the mud, clutching earth with filthy hand, taking shallow breaths, anything to present less of a target for the shrapnel's deadly effects. Just as the rain of deadly confetti began to slackened a shrapnel splinter about the size a pea slammed into the smooth surface of one of the men's steel helmets. The contact of metal on metal created a distinctive thud, followed by a gasp from the now wounded German soldier. Realizing that one of their comrades has been hit by one of these murderous bits of metal two of the men pulled themselves over the the wounded man's side. One man drew the leather strap back his comrade's chin while the other lifted the steel helmet from off his head. As the helmet was lifted the wounded man's eyes opened blinked, then gently moving his head from side to side, he uttered something that sounded like, "how bad" His comrades smiled back at him knowing that the splinter did not penetrate the steel, only denting it slightly. His only problem now would be a terrible headache, but a small price to pay to live another day. Scene like this were playing themselves out all over the muddy battlefields of the Great War. What makes this antidote all the more interesting is had these events occurred a few months prior, the soldier would have perished from the shrapnel strike. These men, part of the 1st assault battalion commanded by a certain Captain Rohn. They has been designated to test the German army's newest bit of equipment. The model 1916 steel helmet. A helmet that would not only provide invaluable protection to each German soldier who wore it, but would serve as a symbol of the Great War that continues to this very day.

Casualties from head wound are nothing new to warfare. Every army since the beginning of time has had to deal with their deadly effects. World War I was different though. The modern weaponry of the era had shown it had the ability to inflict a staggering number of head wounds, not previously experienced to the degree in earlier conflicts. Between 1914-15 the number of causalities, (many of them dead, or so severely wounded they could not return to active duty) made both the Allied and Central Powers take notice.

Dr.Friedrick Schwerd, one of the
designers of the M16 helmet
To deal with the growing issue the German High Command authorized the development of a steel protective helmet. In December 1915, military physician Friedrick Schwerd and professor August Bier of the Technical Institute of Hanover developed a prototype for field trials.
Dr. August Karl Gustav Bier, one of the designer of the M16 helmet.
On as side note Dr. Bier performed the 1st spinal anesthetic













The helmet was fabricated with high quality chromium-nickel steel and featured a visor and sloping skirt which protected the wearer’s neck and ears. Helmet shells were produced initially in size 60-66, and later in size 68 and 70. The design was fairly innovative for the era, and offered far more protection to the wearer than designs chosen by the opposing British and French forces, both of which left the neck and ears exposed.

This smiling British Tommy wears the British mark I helmet
The steel helmet was in improvement over the wool soft cap but didn't offer
 nearly the protection of the German model



One of 30,000 produced 1st pattern M16 helmets.
One notable feature of the design are two raised “horns” or Stirmpanzer lugs set on each side of the helmet. These lugs were deigned with the dual purpose of ventilation and to accommodate a removable sentries’ steel brow plate or Stirmpanzer.

Rare photo of a Stirnpanzer plate being used at the front
The brow plate proved to be impractical but photos do exist of these heavy bits of armor being used in combat. The Stirnpanzer lugs were made in different lengths for different sized helmets. The smaller the helmet the more extended the lug was from it's base. The Stirnpanzer was only made in one size, therefore different size lugs allowed the plate to be accommodated on whatever size helmet was.
Stirnpanzer lugs size 60-70
These protruding lugs gave the helmet somewhat of an odd look. In the post-war era some have taken to refereeing to the model as the Frankenstein helmet, since the lugs resemble the bolts on the Frankenstein's monster's neck as portrayed in Universal Pictures film. Some have even claimed that soldier of the era refereed to the helmet as such. This is of course erroneous as the movie wasn't released unit 1931 well after the end of the Great War.
James Whale the director of the 1931 Frankenstein  film
served as an officer in the British army during WWI
Could the lug on the M16 helmet inspired the bolts
on the monster's neck?
The newly designed steel helmet was issued to the 1st Assault battalion sometime in December of 1915. The field trial proved so successful that Chief of Staff, General Von Falkenhayn authorized the issue of steel helmets. The first delivery was made in January of 1916. 30,000 of these helmets were sent to the Verdun front.
This photo likely date to mid 1916. Note the mixture of steel helmets
and leather or felt Pickelhaubes. The photo indicates that the
issue of steel helmets proceeded slowly

Distribution to the rest of the Imperial forces continued slowly through the rest of 1916 to April of 1917. Early production M16 helmets are known to collectors as “square dips”; due to the square shape formed where the bill dips to the skirt. Engineers at the Eisenhüttenwerk plant (where these early helmets were produced) ended up modifying the design slightly due to the fact that during the manufacturing process the helmet’s skirt would often crack. A good many “square dip” helmets did pass inspection however and photos show them worn though-out the war. A few have been found with late-war camouflage patterns indicating usage though the entire war.
Its seems that the distribution of steel helmets to the men in the field but a slow affair. On January 22, 1917 a telegram was sent to all army groups by General Ludendorff, chief of the General Staff. It announced that the all German troops were to be equipped with a steel helmet. This assumes that much of the army at that point had not received a steel helmet. After the order was issued it still would have taken time to be carried out, many men would have not received their steel helmets till mid 1917.
A pile of "square dip" 1st production helmets ready to be issued

Each German helmet is marked on the flange with a manufacture mark and size stamp.
TJ66, marked M16. This is the size maker mark of
T.J for C. Thiel & Soehne, Luebeck
There are at least 14 known manufactures. The inside dome of the helmet is also marked with a code known as a “heating lot number” This number was to aid in quality control at the factory level. In some cases it may indicate where the helmet’s steel was rolled. It is believed that more than 7 million helmets were produced during the period of 1916-1918. The largest share of these helmets was produced by Eisenhüttenwerk, Thale, AG, F.C. Bellinger, Fulda, and Eisenhuette Silesia, Paruschowitz Oberschlesien. These factories are known today by collectors as “the big three”.
Heating Lot number in the dome of a M16 helmet
 
The German military went to great lengths to insure quality control of their helmets. Contemporary records dating to June of 1916, show one helmet out of a lot of 101 was tested for steel integrity on the rifle range during ballistic testing - multiple shots at a distance of 40 meters using an antiquated black powder 1871 11mm Mauser. If the inward dent exceeded 2mm or other failure occurred, a further 5 helmets from the lot were to be tested. If these failed, the lot was scrapped and the steel mill which supplied the ingot was required to overtake the costs for scrapping them.

During the final acceptance, each helmet was inspected in-plant by a quality control team made up of an Officer, NCO and some enlisted men known as Abnahmekommando. Prior to the installation of the liner, attention was given to weight, dimensions and paint adherence in addition to structural soundness of the shell. Each helmet that passed inspection was marked with an ink stamp made from a conjoined AK (for Abnahmekommando) on the inside rear flange by the acceptance officer. Helmets that did not pass were scrapped. Great care was taken to make sure no flawed helmet left the factory.
 Size and AK ink stamp applied by the
Abnahmekommando indicating the
helmet passed inspection

Helmets were painted at the factory with smooth low-gloss linseed oil based enamel paint. The color was designated as “field-gray”. The term field gray can be somewhat confusing as original helmets vary greatly in color. The official war department authorized formula was, 30% white pigment in an oil base, 15% ochre pigment (dry), 5% blue pigment (dry), 5% black pigment (dry) 20% turpentine, 10% siccative and 15% water. Yet original helmet paint can range from dark green to olive. Although some shades appear to be factory specific, it is not uncommon to find helmets produced at the same factory which exhibit variations in field gray. Color matching was not an exact science at the time which may explain the variation in shades of field gray. Once painted the helmets were oven cured at 120 degrees Celsius for eight hours.

German Field Gray Paint
There is often some confusion between the designation M16 and M17. The designation actually does not refer to the helmet at all, but to the liner. German helmets produced between January of 1916 and May of 1917 are fit with an all leather liner. The M16 liner consists of three individual 2-finger pads sewn to a leather band. Each pad has a cloth pocket with ties sewn onto the back. The pocket is designed to accommodate horse hair or gauze “pillow” which would allow for a more snug fit to the wearer’s head. The pillows could also be removed to allow for a larger head size.
Original horse hair pillow for M16 liner




Original M16 helmet liner
Manufacture mark and size stamp. Not all liners were marked as such
but when maker marks are encountered they are most often on outside of a liner band

This inside of a 1916 dated M16 liner.
The outer band was made from two separate pieces of leather stitched together
In May of 1917 due to a leather shortage the liner was redesigned. The new liner continued with the earlier “three pad” system but changed from a leather band to a steel band made from sheet metal. The pads were now crimped into place on a steel band. Another changed was made to the liner as well. The pads were now to be made from white chromed leather (Russian leather) instead of brown vegetable tanned leather. This change was made in hopes that the chromed leather would hold up better under the constant moister of the trenches.
Original 1917 dated M17 liner with chromed white leather pads
M17 liner pads are often maker marked and
dated on the back of the pad finger

 That being said large numbers of brown vegetable tanned pads had been produced and it is not uncommon to find these pads on both M17 and later M18 liners. M17 liner pads are sometimes found made from non-standard leather and backed with non-standard cloth. As the cost of war continued to plague the Germans ersatz materials were often substituted. M17 pads are found made from rabbit, goat, and sheep and on rare occasions pig skins. Coarse burlap was often substituted for the pad backing when cotton and linen where not available. There is some debate among collectors as to when and if production of the older M16 liners ceased. Original helmets are occasionally found with M16 liners bearing 1917 dated manufacture and or depot stamps. Whether these helmets are the result of being produced before May of 1917 or possibly were refit at the depot level with recycled M16 liner is almost impossible to know with any degree of certainty. It maybe possible that a few manufactures continued to fabricate M16 liners after the design was modified.
Late production M17 liner made with
ersatz hessian cloth and tie

The liners were designed to be secured into the helmet with three separate pronged pins, known as split pins. The head of each pin was welded onto two prongs. When the liner was installed the prongs were bent in opposite directions thus securing the liner into place. The front two pins are the same in design and size. The head of the rear pin is slightly thicker. The thicker head pin was designed to keep the Stirmpanzer (sentry brow plate) strap when worn from slipping off the helmet. With the introduction of the M17 liner the split pins were redesigned as well. The newer M17 pins had slightly shorter, but wider prongs then the here to fore mentioned M16 version. This design functioned more effectively and allowed a tighter or secure fit on the steel liner band then the M16 version. However M17 liner are often found secured with the early pattern split pins.
Short M17/18 split pins

Early M16 liner split pins. Note the middle pin
 has a thicker head. This was to keep the Stirnpanzer
leather strap from slipping off the helmet
During the M16 helmet design phase one critical aspect was over looked, the need for a chinstrap.The solution was to rivet steel M91 Pickelhaube posts to each side of the helmet’s skirt. The design would accommodate the chinstrap already being worn on the Pickelhaube, thus eliminating the need to design and fabricate a new chinstrap. This design proved to be problematic. The soldiers found the design to be uncomfortable due to the fact the strap was worn fairly far back on the chin and often hit the wearers wind pipe. The M91 posts also proved to be poor fits for the chinstrap hooks, with chinstrap often falling off at all the wrong times. Soldiers found ingenious ways of keeping the hooks secured in place. Original helmets are sometimes found with bits of wire twisted round the post to keep the hook secured into place. Some frustrated soldiers even went as far to ping the M91 post, thus mushrooming the steel enough to keep the chinstrap hook secured. The M91 chinstrap itself when though a number of changes though the course of the war. Pre-war/ early war chinstraps feature brass hardware with brown or blackened leather. 
M91 pre-war chinstrap with brass hardware 

By 1915 due to the strategic nature of brass the high command ordered a switch from brass hardware to nickel and enameled steel then finally to bare steel. The strap itself changed as the war progressed as well. Earlier model straps have the hardware sewn into place; later hardware was often riveted. Like the liners there are also a number of ersatz chinstrap versions. Sometimes original M16/17 helmets as well as Pickelhaube are found with a strap made from cloth webbing. Not much is known about these unusual straps and it is provable that they were produced at the depot level from recycled hardware when leather was unavailable. Originals are typically found void of maker or issue stamps giving some credence to this theory. In some cases the webbing appear to be British, making it possible that these straps were made from captured material. Regardless the number of surviving examples found on combat worn helmets does show they were used.
Ersatz cloth M91 chinstrap with steel hardware 


The chinstrap issued finally proved to be problematic enough that the high command finally authorized a new design. On July 15 of 1918 a newly deigned helmet was put into production. Although almost identical in appearance the new M18 did away with the ineffective the M91 chinstrap posts utilized a new chinstrap delivery system. The new design called for the M17 liner band to be modified by riveting swivel ring bails onto each side. A new chinstrap was also designed to be worn with this new system. The new chinstrap design incorporated a sprung hook or carbine clip attached to one end the other end being preeminently secured to the other bail.
M18 chinstrap carbine clip
 Original M18 chinstrap are found riveted or sewn into place. This new chinstrap was a vast improvement over the old M91 strap. Not only was the issue of the strap coming off the posts eliminated but the sprung clip allowed the chinstrap to be quickly unfastened. Now a soldier could easily remove his helmet to don his gas mask when the need arose, as it constantly did in the Great War. Only six factories are known to have produced the M18 helmet. Its unknown if the remaining factories continued to produce M17 helmets after the high command authorized the design change.

M18 helmet, 
Due to complaints from soldiers that the low skirt of the helmet inhibited hearing another design change was proposed. A new prototype was sent for field trials in August of 1918. This new design modified the skirt at the lower edge of the helmet in an upward dip below the Stirmpanzer lugs. Today this model is known as the M18 cut-out, telephone talker’s or Cavalry helmet. The later terms have no validity as the design was meant for all troops, and not just to those who used the telephone or served in Calvary units.
M18 cut-out helmet


 A change was also made in the type of paint which would be used on these helmets. A new paint known as Wollstaub had crushed wool felt mixed into it to produce a rough textured lusterless finish. The hope was this finish would reduce the glare on the helmet’s surface.
Close up of wollstaub paint


All told 100,000 M18 cut-out helmets all in size 64 were by the Eisenhüttenwerk factory during the final months of the war. The design proved to be extremely popular with the men at the front and had the war continued it is possible that the new design would have become the standard helmet of the Imperial forces.

No discussion on German helmets can be complete without touching on camouflage. The smooth factory finish on the helmets reflected the sun’s glare making a tempting target for the enemy. To make matters worse individual soldiers took to the practice of polishing their helmets with motor oil to a high gloss for inspection. Early techniques to camouflage were to smear the helmet with mud which effectively hid all traces of a glossy finish. In January of 1917 the war ministry authorized the testing of white colored canvas helmet covers which were to be issued to troops in snowy regions of the front. On February 14th of 1917 the war ministry also authorized the production of earth and field gray colored canvas helmet covers. Some discussion was made between High Command and the General Supply Offices as to whether these covers were to be worn strictly by sentries and patrols or were all soldiers to be issued with such a cover. It appears no decision was ever made, but contemporary records indicate 800,000 covers were issued. As is often the case soldiers found their own ingenious ways to camouflage their helmets. Some men cut up old sand bags and shaped the burlap over the dome of the helmet, then with section of bailing wire secured the cloth to the helmet. Original photos as well as surviving helmets attest to a variety of methods used.
Crudely made Hessian cloth cover on a M16 helmet


The practice of painting camouflage patterns on helmets has been a source of some debate. The scarcity of surviving original photos taken at the front of men wearing these helmet had lead some to erroneously believe that the practice was by in large a post-war aberration or was allowed limited in certain units such as Storm troopers or Machinegun battalions. While it is true that many enterprising Allied soldiers and French peasants painted camouflage patterns on discarded German helmets in order to sell them as war souvenirs, the German high command did in fact authorizes and encourage the painting of camouflage patterns onto combat helmet. In July of 1918 a directive came down from Chief of General Staff Ludendorff which called for helmets to be painted with a camouflage pattern. The directive reads as follows:
Chief of the General Staff of the Field Army
II. No. 91 366

7 July 1918

Through a purposeful, variegated surface paint on cannons, mortars, machine guns, steel helmets, etc., these devices may be much more easily hidden from view than before.
The authorized trials have produced the following results:

1. Steel helmets:
A painted surface with one color (e.g. green or light brown) or with small splotches of a variety of colors is superior to a standard single color helmet, although it still allows the recognition of the characteristic form and silhouette.
In this regard, a three-colored surface which has had the borders blended, simulating a shadow effect is not recognizable beyond a distance of 60 meters.
Particulars regarding a useful surface: Dull colors - the helmet must not shine. Sprinkling the still-damp oil paint with fine sand stops the surface from glistening in the sun.
The choice of colors is to be purposely changed according to the time of year. One of the three colors must match the basic color found in the region of fighting.
Suitable at this time: green, yellow ochre, rust brown
Separation of the surface of the helmet into equal-sized portions, consisting of large, sharp-cornered patches.
Support - On the front side of the helmet, no more than four colored fields must be visible. Light and dark colors are to be placed next to each other. The colored segments are to be sharply separated from each other by a finger-wide black stripe.
Necessary coloring materials for 1000 helmets: 5 kilograms each of ochre, green and brown; 2 kilograms of black.
After ongoing scientific testing, I have requested the War Ministry to regulate the appropriate seasonal color scheme. Until that point, I request that painting be carried out in the above-mentioned manner.

(signed) Ludendorff
To:
all Army Groups (5 each)
all Army High Commands (20 each)
Inspector General of Artillery Schools
General of Pioneers attached to General Headquarters
Commanding General of the Air Forces
Army Mortar School
Commander of the Gas Troops
M.SS Command Rozoy
General Staff Course Sedan
Field Artillery and Foot Artillery Practice Grounds
Chief of Field Transportation
Offices la, Ic, B, Munitions. Z, P, F, Illb (3 each)

The earliest account of helmets painted in camo colors only dates back to June 13 1918, referring to trials that had been carried out by 6th Bavarian Landwehr Division, who painted their helmets a dot pattern camo. After the trial proved successful and the directive was issued the practice spread to the rest of the army. It should not be assumed however that the every unit took part in the directive, as there are plenty of original photos taken in November of 1918 showing German soldiers wearing plain field gray helmets.
Today collectors have identified several variations of camouflage patterns found on original helmets. They are known as tortoise shell, stained glass, window pain, blotch or splotch and lozenge camo. It is probably that depots and individual soldier painted their helmets with patterns that matched their particular skill set, which may explain the numerous patterns. Although the Ludendorf directive was clear on which colors were to be used variations exists on original helmets. This maybe the result of the availability of certain colors at the front to the need to choose colors which blended into the setting where the individual found himself. Original helmets found having document service on the Italian front have been known to feature hues of blue, stone gray and white, colors which would have blended in well in the alpine stetting.
A German soldier recently taken prisoner.
The German has a clear camouflage pattern on his helmet. 


Attesting to the superior protection offered by the M16 and both M18 model helmets, these helmets continued to be worn long after the end of WWI. Both models would see future service with slight modifications in the Reichwehr as well as in Hitler’s armed forces during WWII.
German troops wearing re-worked M16s and M18s in the mid 1930s
Many of these helmets were even purchased by foreign nations after the war and were worn well it the 1970s. The superior protection that the design offered served as the basis for future German steel helmets. Although the m16 and M18 helmet has long since been retired from service the helmet's influence can still be felt. One needs to look no further that at the modern Kevlar helmets worn by U.S. and NATO troops. The design of these modern helmets offer the same protection that German soldier of the Great War all received from their steel helmets.

Modern MICH helmet worn by U.S. servicemen. 

One can only wonder what the ghost of Dr.Schwerd and Dr. Bier might think if they were to appear today. They may well be pleased that the influences of their 1915 design are still offering protection and preserving the lives of many servicemen and women.