M-1 Steel Helmet

Early in World War II, U.S. forces were still equipped with the M1917 / M1917A1 "Doughboy" helmet, a left over from the First World War. The M1917A1 helmet, adopted in 1939, differed only in minor details. In 1941, the M-1 "steel pot" helmet was adopted as a replacement in all the US armed services, although it did not become universal for at least another year. The new helmet was issued to the Marine Corps in the spring and early summer of 1942. At Guadalcanal, in August 1942, the M1 helmet was common and the old "dishpan" helmet had mostly disappeared.

U.S. M-1 Steel Helmet with camoflauge net (WW II Europe)
U.S. M-1 Steel Helmet with camoflauge net (WW II Europe).

After its adoption in 1941, the M-1 Steel Helmet became the symbol of U.S. military forces and was used world-wide by all branches of the services for the duration of World War II, in Korea, and through the Vietnam War. The M1 helmet was replaced by the Kevlar PASGT helmet, first fielded to U.S. military units in the early 1980s.

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Visit the Olive-Drab.com World War II Timeline for day-by-day events 1939-1945! See also WW2 Books.

M-1 Steel Helmet Origins

A steel helmet is designed to protect the user from flying fragments of exploded ordnance. By extending further down the sides and back of the wearer's head and neck, the M-1 was a big improvement over the M-1917A1 helmet. The M1917 model was considered suitable for protecting the top of the head. By removing its brim, by adding side pieces and earpiece, and by incorporating the suspension system into a separate inner liner, the World War II "Army helmet" came into being

By 1940, US Army research team at Fort Benning, GA under Major Harold G. Sydenham, worked on a new design for a two-piece helmet offering far more protection for the wearer than the M1917A1. The original test item was known as the TS3, and it received a favorable report from the Infantry Board in February 1941.

Production of M1 Steel Helmets at McCord Radiator Co, Detroit, MI, April 1942
Production of M1 Steel Helmets at McCord Radiator Co, Detroit, MI, April 1942.

The Army M1 steel helmet was standardized on 30 April 1941 and was approved on 9 June 1941. It was of two-piece design with an outer Hadfield manganese steel shell and a separate inner liner containing the suspension system. At first, the steel helmet was made by the McCord Radiator Company of Detroit, MI, while the fiber liner was manufactured by the Hawley Products Company.

Following adoption of the M1 steel helmet, the Ordnance Department retained development and procurement of the outer steel shell and the Quartermaster Department took over development and production of the inner liner and suspension system.

U.S. M-1 Steel Helmet and Helmet Liner
U.S. M-1 Steel Helmet and Helmet Liner.

Each M-1 helmet shell was stamped from a single sheet of manganese steel. The helmet has a chin strap "bail" or "bale" -- a rectangular wire loop -- on each side attached with either a hinge or welded directly to the helmet. A second component was the M-1941 helmet liner, a removable inner helmet constructed of resin-impregnated cotton canvas. The liner had an internal, adjustable suspension system and its own leather chin strap so it could be worn without the steel shell for duty that did not involve combat or combat training.

The steel outer helmet had a chin strap made of cotton webbing attached using the bail, its only attachment. The chin strap was often left undone (or buckled on the back of the helmet) with the unfounded idea that the force of an explosion could catch the helmet cause injury from the jerk of the chin strap. Although the interior suspension system of the liner was adjustable and would keep the helmet on the soldier's head even without the chin strap, there were times when an unstrapped soldier would have to hold his helmet on by hand. Commanders had to order the men to fasten their chin straps at all times.

M-1 Helmet Chin Strap and Release System

During the course of the North African campaigns in 1943, the rigid hook fastener of the chin strap was found to be a source of potential danger. The strap remained fastened under the impact of a blast wave resulting from a nearby detonation, thereby jerking the head sharply and violently with the production of fractures or dislocations of the cervical vertebras. Therefore, it was necessary to redesign the helmet strap with a ball-and-clovis release so that it would remain closed during normal combat activities but would allow for a quick voluntary release or automatic release at pressures considerably below the accepted level of danger. Following extensive tests by Ordnance engineers, a new release device was developed which would release at a pull of 15 pounds or more. This device was standardized in 1944.

Several distinguishing characteristics are noted to determine the period of an M-1 helmet: World War II era helmets have the seam in front whereas post-war production will have the seam in back. World War II helmets had khaki (early) or OD #7 (late) webbing chin straps while the liners of the same period had leather chin straps. Early production helmets had fixed bales; a swivel bale was introduced in 1943. These and other differences useful for dating the M-1 helmet are found on this web page.

The helmets were painted with standard matte finish olive drab paint with shredded cork or sawdust grit mixed in to reduce glare, giving a bumpy finish. Unit insignia and/or individual rank often were painted or glued to both the shell and the liner. Medics had conspicuous Red Cross symbols on their helmets while the Military Police wore white helmets with MP stenciled on or OD helmets with a white stripe and MP letters. Other special services or units had their own colors and markings. Even chromed helmets were used for ceremonial units and parades.

Cotton cord camouflage netting was frequently attached to the helmet to hold materials (leaves, branches) that help break up its outline. Helmet nets were issued or made in the unit from large camouflage nets. The Army did not have a standard issue helmet net until the M-1944 helmet net which appeared in Europe in December 1944 or January 1945. The USMC camouflage helmet cover, first worn at Tarawa in late 1943, was made of herringbone twill material printed with a reversible green to brown pattern designed for use in tropical environments.

The M-1 was a popular helmet, worn by all services worldwide from early WW II through Korea and Vietnam, until its replacement in the mid-1980s by the PASGT Kevlar Helmet. Approximately 22 million of the steel helmet shells were manufactured during World War II, along with 33 million helmet liners. In addition to its mission as head protection, the M-1 steel helmet was used for boiling water to make coffee, for cooking and shaving, as an intrenching tool, to bail water from a landing craft, as a hammer, or even as a "pot to piss in".

M-2 Parachutist's Steel Helmet

The parachutist's helmet, M2 was the first of the WW II helmets for parachutists requirements, often called the D-Bale helmet. The M2 helmet is almost identical to the M1 steel helmet with front seam rim, but has ordinary steel wire “D" bales spot-welded in place (no swivel, no stainless steel). The bales were toward the rear of the helmet so the strap can be fastened over the back rim during jumps. The M2 helmet liner was made by modification of standard liners. The changes included OD#3 webbing A-frame straps with buckles that attached to a leather chin cup. The M-2 was superseded by the Helmet, Steel, M1C, Parachutists in December 1944. The M2 was not produced in large quantities and became rare after the war; most so-called M2 helmets on the market are reproduced from modified M1 helmets.

Helmet, Steel, M1C, Parachutists

A second variation of the M1 steel helmet designated the M-1C was also issued to paratroopers, with a padded chin strap and a system that kept the liner and shell together during a jump. Helmet, Steel, M1C (Parachutist's) included a modification of the M1 helmet liner (Liner, Helmet, M1, Parachutist's) with a special chin strap which insured that the helmet would stay on during the opening shock and descent of the parachute. This liner chin strap was provided with a chin cup, and two snap fasteners secured the steel shell to corresponding fasteners on the inside of the liner and prevented the separation of the two components during parachute jumping. The regular helmet shell chin strap was worn behind the head.

M-1 Steel Helmet Specifications

Depth: 7 in.
Width: 9.5 in.
Length: 11 in.
Weight: 2 1/4 lbs.

The M-1 Steel Helmet in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the M-1 steel helmet, with minor modifications, was the soldier's standard headgear. A cloth helmet cover was designed with a disruptive camouflage pattern. The cover was reversible with leaf patterns in green or brown for fall or winter operations. The helmet cover also contained small slots for inserting natural foliage. The camouflage helmet band was designed to hold foliage in order to blend the helmet shape and color into the surrounding vegetation. In Vietnam, this band more commonly held cigarettes, insect repellent, or an extra rifle magazine. Early in 1967, writing on helmet covers began. Most commonly seen were nick-names, names of girl friends, names of home states or towns, or a short time list of dates of return to "The World".


U.S. Army Steel Helmet Books

For more comprehensive information on this subject, the following books are recommended:

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