The Brodie helmet, called Helmet, steel, Mark I helmet in Britain and the M1917 Helmet in the U.S., was a steel combat helmet designed and patented in 1915 by Englishman John Leopold Brodie. Colloquially, it was called the shrapnel helmet, Tommy helmet, Tin Hat, and in the United States the doughboy helmet. It was also known as the dishpan hat, tin pan hat, washbasin, battle bowler (when worn by officers), and Kelly helmet. The US version, the M1917, was copied from the British Mk 1 steel helmet of 1916. The German Army called it the Salatschüssel (salad bowl).
The term Brodie is often mis-used, and in its correct term only refers to the original 1915 Brodie's Steel Helmet, War Office Pattern, designed by Mr Brodie for the War Office. The Brodie helmet was modified to become the Helmet, Steel, Mk.I, in 1916.
During the first couple of years of World War I, none of the combatants provided steel helmets to their troops. Soldiers of most nations went into battle wearing cloth caps that offered no protection from modern weapons. German troops wore the traditional leather Pickelhaube, also of little protective value.
The huge number of lethal head wounds that modern artillery weapons inflicted upon the French Army led them to introduce the first modern steel helmets in the summer of 1915. The first French helmets were bowl-shaped steel "skullcaps" worn under the cloth caps. These rudimentary helmets were soon replaced by the Model 1915 Adrian helmet, designed by August-Louis Adrian. The idea was later adopted by most other combatant nations.
At about the same time, the British War Office had also seen a similar need for steel helmets. The War Office Invention Department was ordered to evaluate the French design. They decided that it was not strong enough and too complex to be swiftly manufactured. British industry was not geared up to an all-out effort or war production in the early days of World War I, which also led to the shell shortage of 1915.
A design patented in 1915 by John L. Brodie of London offered advantages over the French design. It was constructed from a single piece that could be pressed from a single thick sheet of steel, giving it added strength.
Brodie's design resembled the medieval infantry kettle hat or chapel-de-fer, unlike the German Stahlhelm, which resembled the medieval sallet. It had a shallow circular crown with a wide brim around the edge, a leather liner, and a leather chinstrap. The helmet's "soup bowl" shape was designed to protect the wearer's head and shoulders from Shrapnel shell projectiles bursting from above the trenches. The design allowed the use of relatively thick steel that could be formed in a single pressing while maintaining the helmet's thickness. This made it more resistant to projectiles, but it offered less protection to the lower head and neck than other helmets.
The original design (Type A) was made of mild steel with a brim 1.5 to 2 inches wide. The Type A was in production for just a few weeks before the specification was changed and the Type B was introduced in October 1915. The specification was altered at the suggestion of Sir Robert Hadfield to a harder steel with 12% manganese content, which became known as "Hadfield's steel", which was virtually impervious to shrapnel balls, provided they impacted from above. Ballistically this increased protection for the wearer by 10 percent, and could withstand a .45 caliber pistol bullet traveling at 600 feet per second fired at a distance of 10 feet. It also had a narrower brim and a more domed crown.
The original paint scheme, suggested by Brodie, was a mottled light green, blue, and orange camouflage, but they were also painted in green or blue-grey.
That same month the first delivery of the helmets was made to British Army troops. Initially, there were far from enough helmets to equip every man, so they were designated as "trench stores", to be kept in the front line and used by each unit that occupied the sector. It was not until the summer of 1916, when the first one million helmets had been produced, that they could be generally issued.
The Brodie helmet reduced casualties, but was criticized by General Herbert Plumer on the grounds that it was too shallow, too reflective, its rim was too sharp, and its lining was too slippery. These criticisms were addressed in the Mark I model helmet of 1916, which had a separate folded rim, a two-part liner, and matte khaki paint finished with sand, sawdust, or crushed cork to give a dull, non-reflective appearance. In 1917 the liner was modified to include a rubber cushion to make it more comfortable, although this was not adopted for the M1917. Helmets were often painted with unit insignia towards the end of the war, and are often called "parade helmets" by collectors.
The weight of a Mark I helmet was approximately 1.3 pounds (0.59 kg).
It was first used in battle in April 1916 at the Battle of St Eloi. Troops from other countries also used the Brodie helmet, including the United States Armed Forces when they began to deploy in France late in 1917. The United States government initially purchased some 400,000 helmets from Britain. From January 1918 the U.S. Army began to use helmets manufactured in the U.S. and these helmets were designated M1917. The steel helmet was known to the troops as a "tin hat", or, for the officers, a "battle bowler" (from bowler hat).
By the end of the war some 7.5 million Brodie helmets had been produced, including 1.5 million M1917 helmets for use by American forces.
Current safety concerns
In May 2014, the UK's Health and Safety Executive, in consultation with the Imperial War Museum, advised that WWI-era helmets were not safe to handle, owing to the likelihood of them containing asbestos. It advised that schools should not allow pupils to handle such artefacts, but should instead ensure that the objects were either safely disposed of, have the asbestos removed from the object or safely display the object.
Post World War I
From 1936 the Mark I Brodie helmet was fitted with an improved liner and an elasticated (actually, sprung) webbing chin strap. This final variant served until late 1940 when it was superseded by the slightly modified Mk II, which served the British and Commonwealth forces throughout World War II. Several Commonwealth nations, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, produced their own versions of the MK II, which can be distinguished from those made in Britain. During this period, the helmet was also used by the police, the fire brigade and ARP wardens in Britain. The helmets for the ARP wardens came in two principal variations, black with a white "W" for wardens and white with a black "W" for Chief Wardens, however numerous different patterns were used. A civilian pattern was also available for private purchase, known as the Zuckerman helmet, which was a little deeper, but made from ordinary mild steel.
In 1944, the British replaced it with a significantly modified design known as the Mk III "Turtle" helmet.
The U.S. Army used the basic Brodie-patterned M1917 helmet until 1942 with some modifications, which included a totally new liner and canvas chin strap. It was finally superseded by the M1 Helmet in 1942.
- Helmet M-1917
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- Helmet M1917
- Burns, Judith (14 May 2014). "Wartime helmets and gas masks 'dangerous', schools told". BBC News website.
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