The first American steel helmet was adopted during World War I as the M1917 "Doughboy" helmet. The M1917A1, adopted in 1939, had only minor changes and was visually almost identical. In 1941, the M1917A1 helmet was replaced by the M-1 "steel pot" helmet in all the armed services, although it did not become universal for at least another year.
Coast artillery soldier with M1917 helmet, Ft. Story, VA, March 1942.
The artillery and small arms fire of World War I caused disproportionate head wounds that awakened the need for a steel helmet for Allied troops. The first to issue helmets were the French forces followed by the British and Americans. The first US Army protective helmet was the British Mk I, the shallow-dome British helmet designed by John L Brodie and issued in 1915 to British forces. The Mk I was adopted by the U.S. since the British could furnish helmets while the U. S. was still setting up production. The Mk I, with an American modification to the suspension system and a different metal alloy, was designated as the US Model M1917 steel helmet, issued to U.S. Soldiers and Marines serving in France as the AEF.
The M1917 helmet was made of manganese steel with a fixed liner and leather chinstrap with sliding buckle. The leather/felt/netting liner had an integral suspension that separated the wearer's head from the steel dome but did not provide much comfort. The M1917 was painted lustlerless olive drab, with a sawdust anti-reflective texture. Individual units permitted other color schemes, paint and markings, although drilling the helmet to attach insigina was prohibited after drilling was found to weaken it.
By February 1918. 700.000 American made M1917s had been delivered. By the end of WW I, on 11 November 1918, more than 2,700,000 American M1917 helmets had been produced.
In 1936, the M1917A Transition Helmet was produced by refurbishment and retrofit of M1917 models. The M1917A used the M1917 steel shell and incorporated suspension and chin strap changes that were later standardized as the M1917A1.
An Airborne infantry soldier wearing an M1917A1 helmet takes part in a military demonstration, Fort Bragg, NC, Sep 1942. He is armed with an M1 Carbine.
In 1939, the M1917A1 improved version of the WW I helmet was introduced with the same steel "tin hat" shell, but with several other changes. A leather liner with hair-filled pads and two-piece canvas webbing chinstrap (with brass hook and buckle) made the updated version far more comfortable and sturdier than the M1917 original. A small nut at the apex of the helmet holds the liner in place. The M1917A1 weighs two pounds, six ounces.
The M1917A1 was the standard U.S. helmet at the beginning of WW II but was quickly replaced by the M-1 "steel pot" helmet early in the war.
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