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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.




     

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The truth about the camouflaged helmets of the Great War



If there is one aspect that draws contention about the history of Great War helmets it is probably the use of hand painted camouflage patterns. Discussions often rage on forums and Facebook pages about this topic. The disagreement usually centers around whether or not these camouflage patterns were used in the trenches. Those that believe that that the said patterns were rarely used if at all will point to the fact that few photos have surfaced showing such helmets in the field. They will also make mention that it is well documented that enterprising French peasants and a few allied soldiers made extra cash painting up regular field gray German helmets with camouflage patterns and selling them to returning British and American soldiers and war tourists in the early 1920s. The logic is easy to follow. If all members of the German army were wearing a camouflaged helmet their would have been plenty around for anyone wanting a war trophy to pick up, thus negating need for post-war paint jobs. While this argument does work well for making the case that the entire German army wasn't wearing a camouflage pattern helmet it does not answer the question as to why these helmets were popular war trophies in the first place? Could it be that those purchasing these post-war camoed up helmets associated them with true battle worn war relics, helmets worn by blooded front line troops.

To answer this questions it is helpful to know how camouflage developed in the German Imperial Army. The need for camouflage was realized soon after the first M16 pattern helmet were issued to front line German troops. While the new steel helmet was universally appreciated by German soldiers for the protection it offered over the previously used leather and felt Pickelhaubes there were issues. A equipment performance report from the 1st Bavarian Landwehr division dated to March 23rd of 1916 stated that the smooth finish of the helmet reflected sunlight. The glare created from the smooth surface of the helmet certainly provided a target for the enemy and the report recommend a matte finish be adopted. While in the short term a matte finish would have provided some protection it would have been temporary. The constant handling a helmet would have received in the field would soon have soon neutralized the matte finish. It wouldn't take long before the wearer found the finish would once again have reflective properties.
This lightly worn M16 is an excellent example of a helmet issued with a matte finish. The matte paint was an early attempt to create a finish which more easily blended in with the surrounding landscape. This helmet was a direct vet purchase in the 1960s. The helmet's finish exhibits mostly storage wear, and appears almost as it might have in 1917 when it was issued.

For the following two year a number of techniques were utilized to camouflage helmets. By far the most common method was the most simple, the application of mud to the helmet's finish. The uneven surface the mud created and the anti-reflected qualities that mud processes was enough to hide the helmet's shinny surface. Mud was also a logical choice as it would have blended in well on the muddy landscape which the Great War was fought. Helmet covers were also introduced and issued to a limited degree.
German M16 helmet with Hessian cloth cover

 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 Hessian cloth 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.
German soldiers wearing improvised cloth covers on their helmets

This undated photo may be a rare example of paint  being used to camouflage the helmet before painted camouflage patterns were authorized. Two of the men have smeared their helmets with what may be tan paint or possibly white wash.


It seems the German high command was aware of the need provide better camouflage for the 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)


This directive is specific on what it recommends, and gives clear reasons of why certain camouflage patterns are desired over others, "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."  The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that the German high command had been aware of the issue for sometime and had in all likely hood ordered field trials for certain camouflage schemes. At the very least they had taken note of what soldiers were already doing in the field. As the directive suggests certain camouflage patterns provide better protection then others. It may very well be possibly that certain units were using hand rendered camouflage patterns in the field well before the directive of July of 1918, and effectiveness of these patterns was studied. That being said documentation has never surfaced to verify such studies. Whatever documentation might have existed may be lost forever due to the Imperial German archives being burned in East Prussia in 1945 at the close of the Second World War. It is important to note that terms such as, tortoise shell camo, stained glass camo, blotch/splotch camo, or window pane camo, are commonly used to describe camouflage patterns on German helmets. These are collector terms used to identify the pattern and were not used by the German army.   
An original M16 with a blotch pattern camo. Perhaps applied before
Ludendorff's July 1918 directive which specified the use of
black outlines to separate colors


While the directive is clear that the camouflaging of helmets was to commence immediately there is no surviving follow up documentation indicting as to how well the directive was adhered to.Without documentation it is left to study other evidence. Studying original photos from the period are one of the best ways to do this. What should be acknowledged is that German soldiers were well aware of the short comings their helmets had and would certainly have embraced any idea which would have allowed them further protection. Despite what detractors may say a surprising number of photos do exist showing the use of these camouflage patterns.

German squad all wearing helmets with a similar camouflage patterns
The above photo is an excellent example of helmets camouflaged as General Ludendorff recommended. The black fingers separate the colors which may in this case be assumed to be green, yellow ochre, and rust-brown. The photo may show men during a training exercise before being sent to the front. The uniforms and equipment show little wear and no evidence of mud can be seen, as would have been standard to troops on the front. It may be while these men were off the line they received Ludendorff's directive and added the camouflage pattern at this point.
This example could not have been unusual. It stands to reason that units being refit in the late summer of 1918 would have had a camouflage pattern painted onto their helmet. During a refit equipment including steel helmet were repaired. Helmets would have been repainted and re-lined when necessary. With the new directive ordering a camouflage pattern be applied it is only logical that supply depots would have applied camouflage to comply with the directive. It is entirely possibly that many units returning to the Western front in late summer and the fall of 1918 would have returned wearing camouflaged helmets.
A solid example of a camouflaged M16 helmet.
A small amount
of gravel was mixed into the paint to create an uneven matte finish
exactly as General Ludendorff recommended. 








 The photo below may be an example of German soldiers wearing the camouflaged helmets near the front. It is also worth noting that every man in the photo wears a camouflaged helmet. This further bolsters the argument that during a refit all helmets were camouflaged.
 




  The photo to the left is one of the iconic pictures of the Great War. What is often missed is this young storm trooper has a camouflaged helmet. When the photo is enlarged the faint outlines of a pattern began to appear. The color on the front of the helmet extending over the helmet's dome is probably yellow ochre, while the color to the side may be green. This photo verifies the use of these helmets by front line units.


    
                
German soldiers being treated by A.E.F. medics in the fall of 1918
No other photo exhibits proof of the use of camouflaged helmets by German forces in combat better then the above photo. The helmet of the wounded German soldier facing the camera clearly shows the black outlines separating the colors of the pattern. This photo is important because it verifies that these helmets were worn in combat. The fact that both Germans are wounded in this photo demonstrates that they have both recently been taken prisoner off the battlefield. Although not pictured it is probably that his comrades had similar pattern on their helmets as seen in the previous photos.
Although not as dramatic as the photo above, this photo shows another example.

While surviving photos offer some verification a recent find in France sheds further light on the battlefield use of these helmets. In 2010 a group of relic hunters in Toul, France discovered a long buried German bunker. The bunker contained stacks of German helmets, gas mask canisters and a few other bits of German equipment.
Helmet cache in Toul, France.
  
Camouflage pattern is clearly visible on these helmets

When the helmets were cleaned of the years of accumulated  filth it was discovered that these helmets been camouflaged exactly as General Ludendorff had directed. These helmets may have belonged to a German unit that has been operating in the area around the time of the armistice.
This camouflaged M18 cut-out represent one of less that 100,000 that were made. Lack of photographic evidence has led some to believe this model saw little combat use. This discovery of this helmet in the cache verifies that many did in fact see action 

The discovered helmets after being cleaned

There are two separate theories that have been proposed on how this cache helmet of helmet arrived in the bunker. It may be after the armistice the helmets and other war material were put into the bunker and buried by French authorities to simply get them out of the way. Another theory states that the helmets were stashed by retreating German forces who believed they would be returning to the area after some future offensive. Whatever the reason it should be recognize that these helmets represent headgear that was worn in combat.

While combat photographs and battlefield discoveries prove the use of these helmet. The discussion about camouflaged helmets from the Great War would be incomplete without the acknowledgment that many of the surviving camouflaged helmets in collections today are war trophy counterfeits. Does this detract from the argument that these camouflage helmets were commonly used by front line German troops? The fact many of these helmets were faked in the immediate post-war era may in fact bolster the argument not weaken it. In a 1963 Interview conducted with Walt Disney, which can be found in Neil Gabler's, Walt Disney biography the future creator of Micky Mouse talked about his role in creating these war trophies. 
The young Walt Disney standing in front of the ambulance
 he drove on the post-war battlefields of the Great War.
The young Disney arrived in France with the Red Cross soon after the armistice. To earn extra money, on request Disney painted large French Croix de Guerres on the backs of his fellow service men's leather jackets. He received 10-15 Francs a piece for the work. Soon Disney's artistic skill came to the attention of one of his fellow servicemen, a boy from Georgia nicknamed Cracker. Cracker reasoned that troop replacements coming though Neufchateau would be willing to pay for "genuine" war trophies. Cracker had located a cache of German helmets in a supply dump outside of town. He brought the helmet back and had Disney paint camouflage scheme on them. After Disney applied the camouflage Cracker shot a few holes in the helmet, scuffed them about in the dirt, and created a convincing war relic. As planned the helmets were then sold off to the arriving American replacement troops and Cracker gave Disney a share of the profit. 
Walt Disney stands to the right of a friend.
Perhaps this is the enterprising Cracker?
     
Walt and Cracker could not have been the only people running this scheme there were probably many others. With the large number of American troops pouring into France in the late fall of 1918 and after the armistice the supply of real combat worn camouflaged helmets was probably quickly exhausted. The question that has to be asked is why not sell regular field gray helmet? Why was there a market for camouflaged helmets, especially "battle damaged" camouflaged helmets? The answer to this question maybe that the buyers of these helmets had seen many German troops in the last weeks of the war wearing camouflaged helmets. These men may have associated the camouflage helmets with combat, and possibly with more elite front line units such as the Storm troopers or Guard regiments. Certainly Cracker knew that camouflaged helmets would sell better then plan field gray helmets hence his agreement with Walt Disney. 


Is this one of Cracker's and Walt's creations?

This helmet purports to be a vet capture from Château-Thierry,
and is marked as such with medical tape. The catastrophic nature of the shrapnel damage  and several bullet holes does give credence to this helmet being a true combat veteran 
While it may be nearly impossible to tell the difference between many early post-war forgery and a true combat worn camouflaged helmet a large number of originals have surfaced with non standard paint scheme. These helmets often show little wear or light storage wear. These helmets are undoubtedly the work of early post-war artists and unlikely to been worn on the battlefield.
This unusual choice of colors may be an example of a early post-war helmet.
     

A surprisingly large number of American and British helmet have surfaced with German camouflage patterns. Many of these helmets do in fact use non standard color scheme making almost certain that these patterns were applied post-war.
U.S. P17 with German style camo
 The very existence of these camouflaged allied helmets further strengthen the argument for the high frequency of camouflaged patterns being used by German forces. Although in the case of these Allied helmets the patterns were applied post-war it begs the questions as to why they were applied at all? The response may be the same as to why allied soldiers purchase camouflaged German helmets as war souvenirs. These men were aware and had seem a large number of German soldiers utilizing these camouflage patterns on their helmets. They admired the style perhaps seeing it as a symbol of the Great War and sought to replicate it on their own helmet. If the Germans had only in rare cases used these camouflage patterns then why were so many Allied soldiers willing to replicate the camouflage on their helmets and or purchase a camouflaged German helmet as a reminder of their service in the Great War. The answer to this question has to be that the German forces were using these camouflage patterns with enough frequency that the enemy saw the Ludendorff camouflage pattern as a symbol of the Great War, and a sign of a true combat helmet.

With this evidence, photographic proof and the battlefield discovery of long forgotten caches of German camouflaged helmets; it is time to acknowledge that the use of camouflaged German helmets was not an anomaly. In fact the camouflaged pattern was utilized by German front line troops with great frequency in the last months of the Great War.