The Neville Public Museum

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Making Headway with Headgear in WWI

Monday, August 28, 2017

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entering the Great War. The U.S. officially entered this “European War,” on April 6th, 1917 when the military joined forces with Great Britain, France, and Russia to fight against the central powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. A major European war had not been fought since the Napoleonic War. Most of the warring countries thought WWI was going to be a swift war, and that they would be back home by Christmas. That did not happen.  Over 11 million lives were lost and it became the most destructive war that Western nations had seen.

Lack of sufficient helmets caused several deaths throughout the war.  The evolution of head wear during WWI shows how unprepared Europe was for this conflict. The museum’s collection reflects the helmet choices made by different nations at different times. 

The Brodie Helmet

The Brodie Helmet was developed and produced by Great Britain.  At the start of the war, the belligerent nations were not prepared for the destruction modern weaponry would unleash on their soldiers. At the outbreak of WWI, soldiers were commonly supplied with cloth or leather caps which didn’t offer any protection. The development of adequate protective helmets did not begin until casualties from grenades and artillery shrapnel increased.  

Instead of having separate stamped pieces welded or riveted together, the Brodie helmet was made out of a singular piece of steel.   The Brodie helmet was used by all members of the British Empire and other countries, including Australia, South Africa, and Canada.  The United States also adopted this design in 1917 when they entered the war.

The Adrian Helmet


The French were the first to attempt to make adequate headgear for their soldiers. The French Soldiers were sent into battle with a dark blue jacket, red pantaloons, and a wool cap known as a kepi.  After suffering numerous casualties, the French realized that the uniform needed to be changed. The dark blue jacket and red pantaloons gave way to a horizon blue uniform, and the soft cap transformed into a steel helmet called the Adrian helmet. The French Adrian Helmet was made of several different stamped pieces that were either welded or riveted together. This helmet style was so popular that other allied countries, including Russia, Italy, and Belgium adopted it. 



The Pickelhaube Helmet

At the onset of the war, the Germans used the iconic spiked helmet called the Pickelhaube Helmet. It was made of black, pressed leather though a leather shortage in Germany eventually led the Germans to construct these helmets out of pressed felt or paper maché. These materials did not afford the wearer much protection. The helmet was designed to be ceremonious and to romanticize the nature of the military and war. In 1916, the Germans replaced the Pickelhaube with the Stahlhelm. The Stahlhelm, which is infamous for its use by the Nazis in WWII, was first introduced in February 1916 at the battle of Verdun. By the end of the year, the German western front was issued the Stahlhelm, but the German eastern front would not be issued the helmet until mid-1917.


Ben Dudzik
Intern 
University of Washington


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