Info on British Protective Headwear in WW II

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Robert Hurst
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Info on British Protective Headwear in WW II

Post by Robert Hurst » 21 Feb 2003 15:31

Hi

Steel Helmets

Mark 1

At the outbreak of the 1939-45 war the standard pattern of steel helmet in use with the British Army (and, for that matter, with all other British armed forces) was the Mark 1, the same pattern that had been in service at the end of the Great War. This circular shaped helmet had been designed, in the main, to protect men in trenches against missiles falling from above, particularly shrapnel.

It was satisfactory for this purpose but shrapnel was, even by 1918, going out of use. With the onset of modern types of missiles, many of which were designed to travel horizontally, greater protection was required for the vulnerable areas of the head, such as the temples, the ear regions and the base of the skull at the rear, all of which were left unprotected with the Mark 1.

Mark 111

The lining of the Mark 1 helmet was considered to be the most satisfactory amongst the steel helmets then in use with other nations, and early in 1941 the Medical Research Council examined the possibility of designing a new helmet around the old liner. The result of their deliberations was a new design of helmet known as the Mark 111. Compared to the Mark 1 the total area of head protection was increased by 12 per cent, whilst protection against horizontally travelling missiles was increased by 15 per cent and against missiles falling from overhead by 11 per cent; the increase in coverage of the vulnerable areas of the head was 38 per cent. Questions concerning field of vision, ventilation, hearing, balance, protection against gas ( ie the ability to adjust the anti-gas service respirator) and of its carriage all received attention when considering the new design.

Samples of the Mark 111 helmet became available for trials in the autumn of 1941, and in the opinion of the Home Forces and those in the Middle East it afforded greater protection, it had better balance, and although a little heavier than the Mark 1 model it was less tiring to wear. (1) It also had an improved chin-strap.

For various reasons the Mark 111 was not suitable for use by Royal Armoured Corps personnel, airborne troops or despatch riders, for whom a special helmet was designed. However, both General Headquarters Home Forces and initially Middle East Forces did not recommend the introduction of the new helmet, claiming that it bore a certain similarity to the shape of other foreign helmets, a feature they felt might have caused confusion in battle between friend and foe, but in the light of the increased protection afforded by the new helmet these objections were overruled and in the case of the Middle East forces eventually revised.

Production of the Mark 111 steel helmet involved a deep draw process and its manufacture was dependent on the allocation of the required grade of manganse steel necessary. Supplies of this new helmet therefore began to be introduced late in 1943. The change over from the Mark 1 to the Mark 111 was gradual and was made in the normal course of maintenance issues, priority being given to troops in operational theatres. The superiority of the Mark 111 helmet over the Mark 1 was not considered sufficient reason to justify a wholesale change-over, even if Britain's manpower and material resources would have allowed it; the only exception to this policy was that the assault formations of the 21st Army Group were completely equipped with the new helmet.

Mark IV

In the spring of 1944 the question of suitability of design for the steel helmet rose again, this time in connection with the Far East war against Japan. The authorities proposed that the lining of the helmet be made detachable in order that its steel shell could be used as a basin or bucket. In September 1944 a method was adopted by which the liner was attached to the shell of the helmet by means of a simple 'lift-the-dot' fastener placed centrally on the roof of the helmet.

This helmet with its detachable liner was introduced as the Mark IV steel helmet. It was intended to supersede the Mark 111 on a maintenance basis and to equip the troops sent to the Far East on conclusion of the war in Europe.

The Mark IV was considered a satisfactory helmet, but it had one weakness in that the liner was held insufficiently rigidly. This fault was not corrected before hostilities ceased.

Note 1: The Mark 1 steel helmet weighed 2 lb 5 1/2 oz including liner, and the Mark 111 weighed 2 lb 9 1/2 oz includng the liner. For comparison, the US steel helmet, including detachable liner, weighed 2 lb 15 oz.

The above text and photos were taken from " British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two", by Brian L. Davies.

Regards

Bob
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Robert Hurst
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Post by Robert Hurst » 21 Feb 2003 16:08

Hi

Despatch Riders' Crash Helmet (First Pattern)

The 'pulp helmet', so named as it was produced from lightweight but toughened papier-mache, was the standard pattern crash helmet for use by despatch riders in the British armed forces before the war and up to July 1943, when it began gradually to be replaced by the despatch riders' Mark 1 steel helmet. Because of its internal construction, its external profile was higher than was the case with the DR's steel helmet: this was the result of the inner sling which, when the helmet was worn, rested on the crown of the wearer's head. The loops of this inner sling had to be tied tight enough to leave a space between the underside of the crown of the helmet and the crown of the wearer's head, the space being the safety margin afforded to the wearer in the event of an accident or collision. The inner sling was held in position by a cord laced in and out of a series of eyelet holes that pierced the rim of the helmet. The helmet had a leather neck flap that also formed the chin-straps.

Despatch Riders' Mark 1 Steel Helmet

In July 1943 approval was given for the issue of the 'SDteel Helmet, DR Mark 1' on the scale of one helmet for each officer and other rank, later to include personnel of the ATS, to whom a motor cycle or side-car combination was specifically allotted in War Establishment.

With the issue of the despatch rider's steel helmet, the Mark 1 steel helmet, together with the pulp crash helmet previously worn by motorcyclists and despatch riders, was withdrawn from use. A pool of DR crash helmets was kept in unit stires in sufficient numbers to meet the requirements of pillion riders, side-car passengers and other users, including those undergoing motorcycle training.

A very high proportion of injuries resulting from motorcycle accidents were fractured skulls or other head injuries. The wearing of the DR Mark 1 steel helmet o rthe DR crash helmet was made compulsory for all officers, other ranks and auxiliaries who travelled on duty by motorcycle, whether driving or riding as pillion or as a passenger in side-cars. The only exceptions made to this ruling were for operational, training or other conditions that made it necessary for other forms of headgear to be worn. These were as follows.

1. The Mark 1 steel helmet, during active operations, during operaitonal training or in air raids, by occasional riders, pillion riders and side-car passengers.

2. Soft caps. where these were specially ordered by higher authority for the purpose of distinguishing opposing sides during training.

3. In other circumstances when authorised by the War Office, C-in-Cs or GOs C-in-C.

The RAC Mark 1 steel helmet that was issued to personnel of the Royal Armoured Corps was valueless as a crash helemt for motorcyclists, since although it was of similar shape it had insufficient anchorage to make it stable enough; because of this it was not permitted to be worn by motorcyclists.

The former DR crash helmet (the pulp helmet) continued in use with the Home Guard.

The above text and photos were taken from "British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two", by Brian L. Davies.

Regards

Bob
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Maple 01
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Post by Maple 01 » 21 Feb 2003 16:28

The Mark IV was considered a satisfactory helmet, but it had one weakness in that the liner was held insufficiently rigidly. This fault was not corrected before hostilities ceased.
Could this be my much loved '44 paten helmet that we used during the Cold War and is responsible for making me slightly bald? :wink:

Regards

-Nick

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Post by Robert Hurst » 21 Feb 2003 16:34

Hi

The Special Non-Crash Helmet for Tank Crews

Before the introduction of the Royal Armoured Corps Mark 1 steel helmet, crew members of tanks and AFVs were afforded a limited amount of head protection by wearing the special non-crash tank helmet. Strikingly similar in appearance and in quality of material to the protective helmet worn by coal miners at that time, the non-crash helmet was made from very hard, but light, composition black material. The helmet was formed from a single length of this black material cut to shape and moulded to form the oval body; the open crown was covered with an oval patch made of the same hard material, shaped and riveted to, but slightly thicker than that used for, the body of the helmet. The rim of the helmet was moulded to form a narrow lip running completely around the perimeter. On the front of the helmet, aprroximately 1/2 in above this moulded rim, was a padded ridge approximately 8 inches in length, 1 1/4 inches in depth and standing out from the front of the helmet to a distance of about 1 in. The ridge was covered in black painted cloth and was held on to the front of the helmet by a pair of rivets at each end of the pad. It is also likely that the pad was also glued into position along its length. The inner lining consisted of a semi-ridged, leather-covered band held to the body of the helmet by a lace threaded in and out through a series of small holes punched through the shell of the helmet around and just above the moulded rim. The head-sling consisted of four lengths of canvas tape riveted to eight points on the inside of the helmet body in such a way as to form four loops. These were tied together with a short length of string and this formed the cushion that rested on the wearer's head. Three ventilation holes were cut into the body of the helmet.

There was an improved version of this non-crash helmet, produced from materials similar to those used in the construction of the despatch rider's pulp helmet. The surface of the helmet was covered with six panels of stitched canvas. It had a rounded ridge on the front and was provided with 'ear-flaps' which would seem to have been capable of accommodating RT ear phones. The adjustable chin-strap was a length of canvas webbing extending from the lower edge of the left 'ear-flap'. The three ventilation holes were very prominent on this version in that they were fitted with small rubber rings and stood proud from the surface of the helmet.

Royal Armoured Corps Pattern Steel Helmet

The steel helmet introduced for wear by crews of armoured fighting vehicles and intended to supersede the non-crash protective helmets in use with these forces both before and during the first years of the 1939-45 war had the same outer manganese shell as the steel helmet for airborne troops and the Mark 1 despatch rider's steel helmet.

The differences between these three helmets lay in the liners, all of which were adapted to suit the requirements of the respective users. The RAC steel helmet had the same pattern lining as that used in the ordinary Mark 1 and Mark 111 steel helmets, but the chin-strap was simpler than that used on the ordinary steel helmet in that it consisted of an elasticated flat strap.

The above text and photos were taken from "British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two", by Brian L. Davies.

Regards

Bob
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Post by Robert Hurst » 22 Feb 2003 12:00

Hi

Steel Helmet, Pattern for Airborne Troops

Of the three similar patterns of steel helmet (the RAC helmet and the steel helmet for despatch riders being the other two), the steel helmet for British Airborne troops was the first to be brought into service. Early models of the Airborne Forces' helmet differed slightly in the construction of the liner and the appearance of the steel shell; later models were distinguished by having web straps instead of leather straps. Taken in order of development the steel helmets were as follows.

1. The first model had a hard rubber rim fitted to the edge of the manganese steel shell, giving the helmet the appearance of having a 'lip' around the edge which extended further out at the back of the helmet. The purpose of this rim escapes me, unless it was intended to direct rainwater away from the back of the wearer's neck. The hard rubber rim was short lived.

2. The second model had a 1 in deep flat, hard rubber or composite material band fitted to the rim.

3. The third model had a plain manganese steel shell and is the type often encountered today in private hands or museum collections.

Models 1, 2 and 3 all had neck-straps, chin-straps and chin cups in black leather. The neck-straps were anchored to the inside of the steel shell at three positions. This arrangement, together with the chin cup, helped to ensure that when properly adjusted the helmet was held firmly on the wearer's head. The leather straps used as the helmet harness had one disadvantage in that when wet, through either rain or perspiration, it was difficult to thread the chin-strap through the brass rings. Leather too was expensive and in short supply, so that eventually Airborne steel helmets were produced with the head-harness manufactured from webbing straps. Although considerable numbers of these helmets with the webbing harness were produced before the end of hostilities, very few seem to have been worn by British Airborne troops, Polish Airborne Forces appear to have been re-equipped with this type, at least in time for their part in the Arnhem air drop.

All helmets, regardless of their outer appearance or the type of head-dress used, were heavily padded on the inside of the shell.

The above text and photos were taken from "British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two", by Brian L. Davies.

Regards

Bob
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Post by Robert Hurst » 22 Feb 2003 12:24

Hi

Glider Pilot's Protective Helmet

Glider pilots were issued with two helmets: all received an Airborne pattern steel helmet for when they were required to fight as infantry once they were on the ground, whilst for wear in the cockpits of their gliders pilots wore a protective helmet which incorporated earphones and a mouthpiece for RT communication. The latter helmet was quite distinctive in that it had a flatter profile than was usually the case with other protective helmets and the rim of the helmet had a conspicuous band.

Airborne Forces Parachute Training Helmets (Early Pattern and Standard Pattern)

The earliest form of head wear used by Airborne troops during periods of training was a close fitting leather helmet, not unlike a flying helmet in general appearance. Although it afforded a certain amount of head warmth, it was unsatisfactory as a protective helmet.

Initial efforts to provide Airborne troops with a protective training helmet resulted in a fairly crude prototype helmet formed from slabs of thick Sorbo rubber cut and bonded together to form a head covering. It was tied under the wearer's chin by two short lengths of tape or cord. This prototype training helmet eventually evolved in to the standard pattern training helmet that was used throughout the Airborne Forces for the duration of the war, and indeed for a considerable time after the war. Known colloquially as a 'rubber bungy', it was a linen-covered helmet thickly padded around the perimeter with heavy duty sorbo rubber. The short neck flap, which also covered the ears and ended in an adjustable chin-strap, was produced from the linen. The crown of the training helmet, surprisingly, was unprotected and consisted of only a thickness of the linen used.


The above text and photos were taken from "British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two", by Brian L. Davies.

Regards

Bob
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Post by Marcus » 22 Feb 2003 12:26

Very nice.

/Marcus

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Robert Hurst
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Post by Robert Hurst » 22 Feb 2003 12:32

Hi Marcus

Happy to oblige

Regards

Bob

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Re:

Post by Empiricist » 27 Feb 2023 21:05

Robert Hurst wrote:
22 Feb 2003 12:24
Hi

Glider Pilot's Protective Helmet
The British glider pilots helmets.
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