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The M1 helmet is a combat helmet that was used by the United States military from World War II until 1985, when it was succeeded by the PASGT helmet. For over forty years, the M1 was standard issue for the U.S. military. The M1 helmet has become an icon of the American military, with its design inspiring other militaries around the world.
The M1 helmet is extremely popular with militaria collectors, and helmets from the World War II period are generally more valuable than later models. Both World War II and Vietnam era helmets are becoming harder to find. Those with (original) rare or unusual markings or some kind of documented history tend to be more expensive. This is particularly true of paratroopers' helmets, which are variants known as the M1C Helmet and M2 Helmet.
The M1 helmet was adopted in 1941 to replace the M1917 helmet. Over 22 million U.S. M-1 steel helmets were manufactured by September 1945 at the end of World War II. A second US production run of approximately one million helmets was made in 1966–1967. These Vietnam War–era helmets were different from the World War II/Korean War version by having an improved chinstrap, and were painted a light olive green. The M1 was phased out during the 1980s in favor of the PASGT helmet, which offered increased ergonomics and ballistic protection. It should be noted that no distinction in nomenclature existed between wartime front seams and post war shells in the United States Army supply system, hence World War II shells remained in use until the M1 was retired from service.
While obsolete in the United States, the M1 Helmet and international variants are still in use by other nations around the world. The M1 helmet liner still occupies a symbolic niche in the United States military. For example, liners are currently worn in training by United States Navy SEALs BUD/S candidates, where in it is painted with the trainees' class number, name, and rank insignia, and painted and chrome-plated versions models are still used in ceremonial units. In Israeli service, reserve soldiers have used the M1 helmet in combat as late as 2006.
The M1 is two "one-size-fits-all" helmets—an outer metal shell, sometimes called the "steel pot", and a hard hat-type liner that is nestled inside the shell and contains the suspension system that would be adjusted to fit the wearer's head. Helmet covers and netting would be applied by covering the steel shell with the extra material tucked inside the shell and secured by inserting the liner.
The outer shell cannot be worn by itself. The liner can be worn by itself providing protection similar to a hard hat, and was often worn in such fashion by military policemen, Assistant Drill Instructors (known as AI's), and rifle/machine gun/pistol range staff, although they were supposed to wear steel at the range. The liner is sometimes worn in U.S. military ceremonies and parades, painted white or chromed. The depth of the helmet is 7 inches, the width is 9.5 inches and length is 11 inches. The weight of a World War II era M1 is approximately 2.85 pounds, including the liner and chinstrap.
The shell of the M1 was changed mainly in silhouette, as seen from the side, from its World War II beginnings. The second, and last, U.S. production run of about 1 million M1s during the mid 1960s, lowered (streamlined) the top forehead portion. The bulk of the helmet is constructed from a single piece of pressed hadfield manganese steel. The rim edge of the shell has a crimped metal band running around it, which provides a clean edge. This is usually known as the "rim". The metal band of the rim material has a seam where the ends of the strip meet. On the earliest shells the seam met at the front. This was moved to the back of the rim in 1944,when the rim went from being made of stainless steel to manganese steel.
On each side of the helmet there are stainless steel loops for the chinstrap. The shape of these fixtures is one of the most recognizable distinguishing factors between shells produced at different times. Early World War II production helmets had fixed, rectangular loops, and late-war and 1960s helmets feature movable rectangular loops which swiveled inward and outward. This swivel feature was adopted in 1943 to address the problem that when earlier helmets were dropped, the loops were more susceptible to breaking off. Early paratrooper shells feature fixed, D-shaped loops. World War II production helmets feature Olive Drab shade 3 chinstraps, replaced starting in 1944-45 with Olive Drab shade 7, cotton web chinstraps that are sewn on. 1960s and 1970s chinstraps are made of olive drab webbing attached to the shell with blackened metal clips. Nylon, clip-on, chinstraps were introduced in the U.S. military in the 1980s and issued to be fitted by the individual serviceman to his own helmet. These straps featured a two-piece web chin cup and were fastened by a metal snap rather than buckle.
Many soldiers wore the webbing chinstraps unfastened or looped around the back of the helmet and clipped together. This practice arose for two reasons: First, because hand-to-hand combat was anticipated, and an enemy could be expected to attack from behind, reach over the helmet, grab its visor, and pull. If the chinstrap were worn, the head would be snapped back, causing the victim to lose balance, and leave the throat and stomach exposed to a knife thrust. Secondly, many men incorrectly believed that a nearby exploding bomb or artillery shell could cause the chinstrap to snap their neck when the helmet was caught in its concussive force, although a replacement buckle, the T-1 pressure-release buckle, was manufactured that allowed the chinstrap to release automatically should this occur. In place of the chinstrap, the nape strap inside the liner was counted on to provide sufficient contact to keep the helmet from easily falling off the wearer's head.
Alternative use of steel shell
The design of exterior metal led to some novel uses: When separated from the liner, the shell could be used as an entrenching tool, washbasin, bucket, and as a seat. The shell was also used as a cooking pot but the practice was discouraged, as it would make the metal alloy brittle.
The liner is made from many parts. The outer part is shaped to fit snugly into the steel shell. The various elements of the suspension system are riveted, later clipped, inside it. The suspension is made from strips of webbing material stretching around and across the inside of the liner. A sweatband is mounted onto these, which is adjusted to fit around the head of the wearer. World War II and Korean War era liners also have their own chinstrap made from brown leather. The liner chinstrap is snapped or riveted directly to the inside of the liner and does not have bails like the shell chinstrap, but it still swivels inside the helmet. The liner chinstrap is usually seen looped over the brim of the shell and helps to keep the shell in place when its own chinstraps aren't in use.
The first liners were made from compressed paper fibers impregnated with phenolic resin, but were quickly eliminated, because they degraded quickly in high humidity environments and were replaced by constantly evolving plastic liners. During the same period, the original silver Rayon suspension material was phased out in favor of khaki cotton. There were many companies making liners during the war—Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company made most of them, while other companies included, The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, CAPAC Manufacturing, Inland Division of General Motors, Mine Safety Appliances, Seaman Paper Company, and International Molded Plastics.
Liners nearly identical in construction to World War II examples were produced between 1951 and 1953 during the Korean War by the Micarta Division of Westinghouse and CAPAC Manufacturing. These liners differ in that color of the HBT webbing was changed from khaki or Olive Drab #3 to a darker green color known as Olive Drab #7. Much later, liners switched to using stronger synthetic webbing and had improved neck support.
In the 1960s, the M1 helmet liner was redesigned, eliminating the leather chin strap, nape strap and a change in the suspension webbing to a pattern resembling an asterisk in a coarse cotton web material in lieu of the earlier herringbone twill. In the early 1970s, materials changed to a thicker, more flexible nylon with a rougher unbeveled rim. Later changes included a move to a yellow and green material for liner construction.
Around late 1942 or early 1943, the United States Marine Corps used a cloth camouflage-patterned helmet cover for its helmets. The cover was made from herringbone twill fabric. It had a "forest green" pattern on one side and a "brown coral island" pattern on the other. Actually, before the coverings were used on the helmet, history has proven that soldiers would smear feces on their helmets and on their faces as well.
The United States Army often utilized nets to reduce the helmets' shine when wet and to allow burlap scrim or vegetation to be added for camouflage purposes. Most nets were acquired from British or Canadian Army stocks or cut from larger camouflage nets. The Army did not adopt an official issue net until the M-1944 mesh net that included a neoprene foliage band, which would have been retained on later Mitchell and woodland camouflage covers.
After World War II, various styles of camouflage cover were used at different times. In the 1960s through 1970s, the type commonly seen in the United States Army and Marine Corps was a reversible fabric cover called the Mitchell Pattern. This type was nearly omnipresent in Vietnam, and where, for the first time, the army wore the cloth camouflage as general issue; whereas in World War II and the Korean War, the army traditionally wore their helmets only with nets, or just plain, without anything on it. By contrast, United States Marines have consistently worn a cloth camouflage cover over their M-1 helmets in all three major wars—World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The Korean War (1950–1953) was largely fought using World War II weapons and equipment, and the Marine Corps helmets and camouflage covers were basically the same as those used during World War II. In Vietnam, the green portion of the reversible fabric camouflage was normally worn outermost. Helmet covers in the (European) woodland camouflage, were designed for fighting in the European Theater of Operations (NATO), and became the post-Vietnam (jungle pattern) camouflage cover used by the U.S. military from the late 1970s onward. The (European) Woodland pattern was not reversible; they were only printed on one side. These covers were all constructed from two semi-circular pieces of cloth stitched together to form a dome-like shape conforming to the helmet's shape. They were secured to the helmet by folding their open ends into the steel pot, and then placing the liner inside, trapping the cloth between the pot and the liner. An olive green elastic band, intended to hold additional camouflage materials, was often worn around the helmet to further hold the cover in place.
Other armies used these or similar covers printed with different camouflage patterns, or employed entirely different methods. In the Dutch Army, for example, it was common practice to use a square piece of burlap as a helmet cover on M1 helmets, usually secured by a net (see above) and a wide rubber band.
During the Battle of the Bulge and Korean War, soldiers made white helmet covers as camouflage in snowy areas. They were not issued to soldiers, so many soldiers simply made them from a white cloth from a shirt.
Air Force use
With the use of the USAAF for massed daylight bombing raids over occupied Europe during World War II, flak protection against German anti-aircraft fire was developed. The first derivation of the M1 was to provide cut-outs so that it would fit over the earphones of the flying helmet. When extra metal plates were added to cover the earphones, the result was the M3. Larger ear plates and no flared lip to the helmet gave the M5.
The U.S. Navy adopted the M1 helmet as protection for its gunners, particularly those engaged in anti-aircraft weapons operation due to the expectation that gunners would be exposed to hostile machine gun fire from attacking aircraft, ordnance, as well as falling shrapnel from their own anti-aircraft fire. Such helmets were typically painted the same shade of blue, grey, or red (denoting damage control) on naval vessels.
Several nations adopted the M1 helmet after World War II. The Dutch and Austrians, in particular, were very prolific in creating these clone helmets. Many[who?] speculate that adoption of the M1 style of helmet was due to the negative aura that surrounded the Stahlhelm, in addition to other more practical reasons. For reenactors with a budget and movie sets, these clone helmets are a very viable alternative to original front-seam helmets. Because of this, they are a resource that has yet to be tapped into by World War II enthusiasts. However, the shape of these helmets is slightly different from the World War II and Korean War vintage M1, and a trained eye can tell the difference. For example, the slight "S" shaped curve on the rim is more pronounced on the World War II and Korean War helmets. The visor in the front is also larger and the rim flares out more.
The M1 was used by the Canadian Army from 1960 to 1997, although M1 Helmets had been used in limited numbers by Canadian Forces as early as 1943. Canadian troops participating in the invasion of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands during 1943 wore US M1 helmets to avoid friendly fire incidents with US troops also participating in the operation.
Israel Defense Forces made extensive use of the M1 in its original form as well as updating the design with a 3-point chinstrap from the 1970s onward.
The M1 helmet was the basis for the Type 66 helmet used by the Japan Self-Defense Forces and despite the adoption of the newer Type 88 helmet, it still remains in use as late as 2011 with JSDF soldiers undertaking search & rescue efforts following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami being seen wearing Type 66 helmets.
- Stanton, Shelby L., U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II, Stackpole Books, 1995, ISBN 0-8117-2595-2, url:, pp. 57–58
- Hartzog, William W., American Military Heritage, url:, p. 224
- Tagliavini, Michele. "STAGE AND SCREEN In all those Hollywood war films, and in quite a few newsreels, the GIs wear helmets but never fasten the straps. Is this bravado, bad discipline or artistic licence?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 8 March 2013.
- Pike, John. "M1 Steel Combat Helmet and Liner". GlobalSecurity.org. GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
- Arnold, Chris. Steel Pots: The History of America's Steel Helmets. 1997. ISBN 0-912138-70-X.
- Reynosa, Mark A. The M-1 Helmet: A History of the US M-1 Helmet in WWII. 1996. ISBN 0-7643-0074-1
- Reynosa, Mark A. The Post World War II M-1 Helmet. 1999. ISBN 0-7643-1033-X
- Giard, Regis and Blais, Frederic, HELMETS of the ETO, Histoire & Collections, 2007. ISBN 978-2-35250-062-9
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