The History Of The Military Helmet

One of the most lethal places to attack any human being is in the head.

Since days of old, warriors have been taught or self-adopted that attacking an enemy at their head and face can stop them quickly.

So, in an effort to defend against such attacks, helmets or head wear was adopted.

But do you know when the first military helmets were used?

Do you know of all the variances in military helmets?

In today’s post, I am going to go through a history of the military helmet.

We will look at helmets used by militaries worldwide.

I am using a wide list of resources to research all this information, so you can view the references at the end of this post.

Keep in mind that the weapons used would determine the headgear wore.

So over the years, the design and materials have changed tremendously.

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The first military helmets

The first known helmet wear came in the area of 2300 BC.

The Sumerians and Akkadians were warmongers that ruled in Mesopotamia.

Their empire consisted of modern day Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and parts of Turkey.

There is even a reference of Akkad in the Bible.

They were known to wear leather helmets to protect their heads.

As time moved on, other ancient civilizations adopted helmet use:

And these were just a few of many.

Knights and the middle ages

As weapons progressed, so did armor and head wear.

In the Middle Ages, we began to see full body armor with helmets even sometimes attached to the other armor.

Some of the helmets that were wore consisted of:

  • The armet which was a fully enclosed metal helmet that would have a visor that flipped open. The armet was used in the 15th century all throughout Europe.

    Armet helmet

    armet made by daniel tachaux in 1915 to replace the missing original on an English Greenwich armour

  • The zischagge, or better known as a lobster tail helmet was developed in the Ottoman empire (Turkey) in the 1600’s. It was wore by primarily cavalry soldiers and we still see similar head wear today.
  • The nasal helmet was recognizable in that it always came with a piece that guarded the wearer’s nose. These were used throughout the Middle Ages.

These are just a few of the helmets that were donned in the Middle Ages.

Early modern

As we moved into a more modern time, the development of modern weapons took warriors into a different level of warfare.

Helmets changed and we saw helmets such as:

  • The Tarleton was a crested leather helmet that was more of a show piece than a protection. Many British and even American officers wore the Tarleton.
  • The Pickelhaube was a spiked helmet mainly used by Prussian military. While the Germans were the main wearers, many other military systems adopted a similar helmet.

    Pickelhaube helmet

    Kaiser Wilhelm II August Von Mackensen and others wearing Pickelhauben with cloth covers in 1915

  • The Dragoon helmet was a decorative helmet wore by French cavalry.

As you can see, this period was more about show then protection.

In many ways, the headgear that was used in these periods gave enemies targets to go for.

As we moved further in time, the realization that headgear needed to protect became evident.

When World War I commenced, military units saw that shells were lobbed into bunkers.

Helmets had to be developed to give some protection for troops.

We saw these helmets developed:

  • The Adrian helmet was first issued to French troops. Made of steel, it gave more protection then the simple skull caps they wore.
  • The Brodie helmet was designed in London and became the helmet of the British army. The U.S. copied the design with the M1917 helmet.
  • The Stahlhelm helmet was the German steel helmet. It had a unique design that could help our forces recognize German soldiers easily.

World War II

Designs changed somewhat as we entered World War II.

The United States designed a helmet that would be used for many years and adopted by many other nations.

The M1 helmet would be used by soldiers in the U.S. up until 1985.

This helmet did save lives and I know that I had no issues with my M1 helmet.

Other helmets designed were:

  • The MKIII Turtle helmet used by British and Canadian forces
  • The Bulgarian M36 helmet which had a design similar to the Stahlhelm helmet

There were others but overall, we saw heavy production of the M1 helmets.

Today’s helmets

Just as weapons and warfare has changed, so has the style of helmets that soldiers and officers wear.

While the M1 was a great helmet, the thought of having a lighter helmet that was still as protective or more so became a priority.

The Department of Defense opened up contracts and many different designs were implemented for short times but many were recalled.

The primary ingredients in helmets became lightweight Kevlar or Aramid.

These helmets were even better at protecting soldiers and lighter to carry too.

The military keeps looking to upgrade helmets further.

The current helmet used by American soldiers is the Advanced Combat Helmet.

It is made from ballistic fibers of Kevlar and Twaron.

It is designed to be able to wear night vision and communication headsets.

There has also been a “nape pad” developed that reduces the risk of shrapnel wounds to the back of the neck and lower head.

The United States has designed a newer version called the Enhanced Combat Helmet that is thicker.

ECH helmet

enhanced combat helmet prototype

We should see more soldiers equipped with this version soon.

It is made of the same basic materials as the Advanced Combat Helmet, but it will offer a lot more protection.

Many United States allies are using versions of the Advanced Combat Helmet, and other countries are developing similar designs or their soldiers.

  • French forces use the Spectra helmet that is made from polyethelene that is an ultra-high molecular weight. It will stop small shell fragments traveling at 2,200 feet per second.
  • British forces use the Mk 7 helmet which is similar to the Advanced Combat Helmet
  • Argentine military use the Cabal II which is also similar to the Advanced Combat Helmet but with a greater slope in the front
  • The OR-201 is the Israeli Defenses helmet that is also used by many other militaries.
  • Russian forces and their allies are still using a steel helmet. The Ssh-68 is a tough helmet, but is heavy.
  • The Iraqis were behind the game as they used a compressed canvas helmet called the M80.

What does the future hold for helmets?

As we move into more sophisticated weapons and styles of war, I personally see cyber becoming a bigger priority.

Will this equip our soldiers with what could be similar to a video game in their vision?

Time will only tell.

If this does happen, I believe we will see helmets made from similar lightweight materials, but cover the complete head and have a shield that acts as a video screen.

I do believe we are closer than many think to this type of system.

It may be similar to Star Wars outfits.

Final thoughts

What are your thoughts about the helmets of the past, present and future?

Do you think that the newest version of helmets are satisfactory?

What would you change?

I do want to add that I worked for a short time at Nike in the St Louis area.

We were subcontracting a design that was being used within helmets along with floors of troop carriers that cut down on injuries.

I was fascinated by this simple design made with plastic that has saved many lives and limbs.

I think you should take a look at the material that is being used that I had the opportunity to make.

It is through a company called Skydex.

The helmet padding is a superior design that will save lives and is quite cost effective.

So leave your comments, questions or suggestions below.

Thank you.

References

All photos used in this post are courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons.

  1. A brief history of the combat helmet
  2. Evolution of Combat Helmets based
  3. Advanced Combat Helmet on Wikipedia
  4. M1 helmet on Wikipedia
  5. Combat helmet on Wikipedia
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One thought on “The History Of The Military Helmet

  1. Taylor Hicken

    Wow, that’s amazing that a helmet could stop shell fragments traveling at 2,200 feet per second. It’s amazing to see what type of equipment people are able to create to help save the lives of those in the army. I remember when my brother was in the army, I was always praying for his safety.

    Reply

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