The M1 Helmet of World War Two - A Basic Overview. by OCAD. 3st July. 2011.
The amount of reference material available from books and websites on the US M1 steel helmet is vast and in most cases of a very high standard. Due to this we are merely choosing to touch on the basics of what to look out for when identifying and dating an M1 helmet to the Second World War.
The M1 is indeed an iconic helmet seeing service with the US military from the early 1940s up until its replacement by the "Fritz" or PASGT composite helmet in the mid 1980s. The M1 was so successful as a helmet system that many countries adopted it and even began to produce their own "clones". The most notable clones were from Austria, Germany and Belgium.
Through it lifetime minor changes and updates were implemented to improve protection and user experience, such as paint texture and colour, rim material and positioning, chinstrap bales, chinstraps and of course the liners. However in general terms the actual helmet design changed little.
USN gun crew helmet.
The Helmet in detail
Perhaps the first thing to look out for when examine an M1 helmet is the shell. The shell can tell you a lot about the helmets age and in some cases its usage. For example the US Navy often tended to over paint their olive drab helmets with shades of blue, grey, yellow, orange, white or red and so on, for the various functions performed by their personnel while aboard ship. However what must be noted is that there was no standard, which is why you often come across many varied shades of "Battleship" grey USN helmets.
Up until late 1943 the rim of the helmet was stainless steel with its join at the front. The paint tended not to stick to this rim and chipped off easily with many period M1s show this characteristic clearly. After this point the rim changed to manganese steel, which was the same material as the shell, and the position of the rim join moved from the front to the rear.
It is worth noting that the Austrian and Israeli M1 clones in particular used a stainless rim with the join position at the rear, however the shell texture was different to US wartime M1s.
Shell texture during the war used crushed cork which gives a dimple like appearance. This texture tended to wear more easily, and as can be seen on the left image above, is clearly shiner than the what was later used.
Sometime postwar, between the end of WWII and the Korean War, the helmet texture changed to sand and the colour of the helmet changed from OD# fs33070 to OD# 319. The two images below highlight the texture differences.
The chinstrap loops or bales on the very early M1 helmets were welded or "fixed" into the shell and were looped shaped. These were realised to be too fragile and so were soon replaced by rectangular shaped fixed bales. Fixed loop baled helmets are rare and naturally are quite sought after. Beware of forgeries and reproductions.
In 1943 the fixed bale was replaced in favour of the swivel bale, which remained standard until the helmets withdrawal in the 1980s, which can be compared below.
Helmet chinstraps also can help date a helmet. From its introduction to the end of the Second World War all M1 helmet chinstraps were sewn, or to be more specific, bar tacked to the chinstrap bale. They were of a sand khaki colour and had brass buckle and prong attachments.
In late 1944 the colour of the chinstrap change to OD.7 and the metal hardware became blackened steel. After the war the chinstraps were attached to the chinstrap bale by blackened metal T1 clips and the metal hardware had a new and improved fastening mechanism.
The Liner in detail
The lining system of the M1 helmet went through a variety of changes, both in material and design. The lining was quite unique for the period in being a separate body that slipped into the steel shell, as opposed to other helmets of the era, where their lining systems were either pinned, sewn or bolted to the shell. Worth noting is the French postwar M51 helmets adopted this liner concept.
The liner body is hard and made up of a composite fibre material, which can take some flex but would split under too much pressure. The liner shape is a clone of the steel shell and fits snugly into place. However it is not uncommon to see scuff marks or scratches, especially on the exposed rivet heads.
The outside surface of the liner was OD, reflecting the colour of the shell, but in some rare cases liners have been found where they were left unpainted. The inside of the body was left unpainted and has a 'Tortoise-shell' look to it, which can be seen on our header banner. The liner shell also has an air-vent above the frontal rivet, which was a feature on wartime liners.
It is not uncommon to find liners sporting regimental and / or divisional crests and markings or even the outer surface painted in another colour. Such as white for Medics, Military Police ("Snow-drops") or snow camo etc.
The very first M1 helmet liners were made by Hawley and made up of compressed cardboard covered in khaki cloth on the outside, while the inside was painted in the same colour as the cloth. The edging of the liner was folded inwards making a thick rim, which characterises this particular liner. Hawley liners suffered badly from the climate and were somewhat fragile and were later replaced.
Hawley liners had silver / white rayon webbing riveted onto the body with aluminium washers. Early washers were rectangular in shape while later washers were 'A' shaped, which became standard in all later liners. The sweatband of the Hawley was non-adjustable and snapped into the webbing studs. The forehead area was covered in leather only. The leather chinstrap swivelled on its bales but could not be removed. The nape area of the liner also had webbing with studs where a nape strap could be attached. This feature remained constant on all liners, but it is interesting that many liners are missing their nape strap.
The Hawley seems to have mainly been issued to the Pacific theatre and interestingly photographs document Airborne soldiers wearing the Hawley in their M1C helmets on D Day.
Low pressure liners were made by St Clair and Hood Rubber Company, and were introduced to replace the cardboard Hawley liners. They were thinner than the later high pressure liners and tended to split under pressure. They have herring bone twill webbing and adjustable sweatbands that could be unclipped and removed. The webbing colour also changed from the white of the rayon to light khaki.
The sweatband was also made of HBT with the contact surface being lined fully in leather as opposed to the sweatband on the Hawley.The 'A' washers remained aluminium, while the chinstrap bale became simply a stud where the leather chinstrap could be clipped on, allowing easy removal. The buckle of the chinstrap was square and painted OD, refer to the Low pressure liner image above.
High pressure liners replaced most low pressure and Hawley liners, which in some cases were sold to children as toys. The lining configuration and materials stayed the same in high pressure liners as they were in low pressure liners. However brass 'A' washers and studs were used by some manufacturers. The chinstrap buckle also seems to have changed to black from OD, but this could be due to late war production rather than liner manufacture.
The most common makers seem to have been Capac Manufacturing Company and Westinghouse Electric Company. Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, Mine Safety Appliances, International Moulded Plastics and Seaman Paper Company also supplied liners for the M1 helmet, as well as Inland Manufacturing Division which seems to have made most Airborne liners.
Differences between the early liner webbing washer and the later 'A' washers have been highlighted below.
Below is an illustrated guide to identifying the manufacture's markings found in World War Two M1 helmet liners. Cardboard and Low pressure liner manufacturers.
High pressure liner manufacturers.
Other than Hawley all liners and including those of the Korean War era had a frontal air-vent situated just above the rivet, which was also used for attaching insignia.
Postwar most of the manufactures resumed their civilian roles. Micarta and Capac seem to have supplied liners for the Korean war era, although some WWII era liners and indeed shells saw service much later. The OCAD Collection has a Vietnam War era helmet example with a WWII issue shell and Vietnam war era liner, which highlights this.
Worth noting also is that the webbing colour changed after the war to dark OD, and so if a WWII liner configuration has dark OD webbing then it is most probably Korean War era. The set of images below give a basic overview of a Korean War era M1 liner.
Vietnam Era liners and those issued before the M1 was replaced in the late 1980s have a certain thickness to the body. The outer surface is similar in colour to the shell and is quite rough textured. The interior of the liner has been left unpainted and is more 'orange' than the High pressure liner. The webbing configuration is also notably different as can be seen in the example below. The air-vent has been withdrawn.
Reading this article should give you a firm starting point when searching for a good olde US M1 steel helmet of World War II.
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