The M15 Adrian helmet (French: Casque Adrian) was a combat helmet issued to the French Army during World War I. It was the first standard helmet of the French Army and was designed when millions of French troops were engaged in trench warfare, and head wounds from the falling shrapnel generated by the new technique of indirect fire became a frequent cause of battlefield casualties. Introduced in 1915, it was the first modern steel helmet and it served as the basic helmet of many armies well into the 1930s. Initially issued to infantry soldiers, in modified form they were also issued to cavalry and tank crews. A subsequent version, the M26, was used during World War II.
History and usage
At the outbreak of World War I soldiers in the French army wore the standard kepi cap, which provided no protection against injury. The early stages of trench warfare proved that even basic protection of the head would result in a significantly lower mortality rate among front-line soldiers. Consequently, the French staff ordered development of a metal helmet that could protect soldiers from the shrapnel of exploding artillery shells. Since soldiers in trenches were also vulnerable to shrapnel exploding above their heads, a deflector crest was added along the helmet's axis. Branch insignia in the form of a grenade for line infantry and cavalry, a bugle horn for chasseurs, crossed cannon for artillery, an anchor for colonial troops and a crescent for North African units was attached to the front.  Contrary to common misconception, the M15 helmet was not designed to protect the wearer from direct impact by rifle or machine gun bullets. The resulting headgear was credited to Intendant-General August-Louis Adrian.
The helmet adopted by the army was made of mild steel and weighed only 0.765 kg (1 lb.11oz.), which made it lighter than the contemporary British Brodie helmet and the German Stahlhelm, although it also delivered less protection against shrapnel and bullets. By the end of World War I, it had been issued to almost all infantry units fighting with the French army. It was also used by some of the American divisions fighting in France and the Polish forces of Haller's Blue Army.
The helmet proved to be fairly efficient against shrapnel and it was cheap and easy to manufacture. As a consequence, more than three million Adrian helmets were produced, and they were widely adopted by other countries including Belgium, Brazil, China, Greece, Italy (including license-built versions), Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Siam, United States, U.S.S.R., and Yugoslavia, each of these nations adding its own insignia to the front of the helmet.
Because the new steel helmets offered little actual protection against bullets, some were reportedly among the first pieces of equipment being abandoned by the soldiers on the battlefield. It was also discovered that the badge placed on the front of helmets impaired the helmet's durability,[clarification needed] which made several armies remove their national insignia altogether. Early helmets were painted blue for French troops and khaki for colonial forces. Those made after 1935 are usually painted khaki, reflecting the French army movement to a more camouflaged uniform in the 1930s.
In 1926 the Adrian helmet was modified by being constructed of stronger steel and simplified by having the main part of the helmet stamped from one piece of metal, and therefore without the joining rim around the helmet that characterizes the M15. The large ventilation hole under the comb, which had been a weak point of the old design, was also replaced with a series of small holes. The M26 helmet continued in use with the French army until after World War II, and was also used by the French police up to the 1970s. During the Interwar years Belgium began to produce their own domestically made M26 Adrians and exported them around the globe. These helmets can be distinguished from their French counterparts, because they have a slightly different comb and a wider rim. In other countries the Adrian-type helmets were also in use with the fire-fighting units, railway guards or marine infantry (e.g. Japan's SNLF). Adrian helmets are still prized by collectors today.
Winston Churchill wore an Adrian helmet while serving in France as commanding officer of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers from 5 January to 6 May 1916. According to Nicholas Rankin, Churchill was presented with the helmet by a French general in December 1915, before joining his regiment.
Wz.15 (Polish version of the Adrian helmet) as part of a soldier's grave at Powązki cemetery in Warsaw
Recognition card featuring a Soviet soldier wearing the Adrian helmet with red star insignia
Statue of Albert I of Belgium with Adrian helmet
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Notes and references
- Military Trader
- Military headgears
- Andre Jouineau, page 8 "Officers and Soldiers of the French Army 1918", ISBN 978-2-35250-105-3
- Militaria: The French Adrian Helmet
- Later, French and license-built Italian versions were made in even lighter-weight aluminium, probably for parade use.
- Notably the AEF's 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions
- (French) Adrian au Spectra (2005). "Heaumes Page". Archived from the original on 30 November 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-01.
- (Polish) Bolesław Rosiński (2005). "Hełm wz.15". bolas.prv.pl. Retrieved 2006-11-02.
- Rankin, Nicholas Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945, page 83.