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The Fallschirmjager Helmet

Discussion in 'German WWII Uniforms and Equipment' started by Jim, Sep 20, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    On 29 January 1936 the commander-in-chief of the German Air Force,
    Reichsmarchall Hermann Goring established Germany’s first paratroop training school at the Luftwaffe base at Stendal. Trainees consisted of volunteers from the Regiment ‘Hermann Goring’, which had evolved from a paramilitary police unit in 1933 before being incorporated into the Luftwaffe. The men were reorganized into the 1.Bataillon and 15. (Pioneer) Kompanie of what was to become Fallschirmjager Regiment1. Likewise, on 1 April 1937, the Army formed a parachute company which also trained at Stendal? At this early date, when jumping from an aircraft was considered more of an athletic stunt than a serious military task, no suitable equipment existed for parachute training. Consequently a new protective helmet was designed for this purpose by Eisenhuttenwerke; with the appearance of a cut down standard M1935 helmet, it was soon introduced for general use in 1936.

    The Model 1936 paratroop helmet

    The Model 1936 paratroop helmet was made of steel, the domed skull being of the general shape of the M1935 helmet but without the extended frontal brim and flared side and rear. It employed a three-rivet M1931 liner retaining system like the M1935, but with a modified eight-‘finger’ leather liner and a heavy foam pad in the crown. The helmet used the same hollow rivets as the M1935 for air vents. The unique chinstrap system had two ‘Y-shaped elements, designed to cross behind the back of the neck and unite below the ears before passing under the chin. A carbine hook secured each of the four strap ends to ‘D’-rings on the helmet’s liner ring. The straps were then made tight around the chin by pronged roller-buckles. Four reinforced oblong slots above the edges of the helmet shell allowed the wearer to engage the carbine hooks when it was not used for parachute jumping.

    This photo illustrates the paratroop helmet in its early smooth, light field-grey finish with double insignia decals. The Fallschirmjager wears the second pattern jump smock in olive green, with the parade version of the parachute harness straps. He is a recipient of both the DRL Sports Badge and the Hitler Youth Sports Leader Award, worn below his parachute qualification badge.

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    The Model 1937 paratroop helmet[/CENTER]

    In 1937 an improved helmet shell was introduced that utilized the same components as the M1936. The M1937 was nearly identical to the M1936 with the exception that it now had two, rather than four, non-reinforced oblong slots in the helmet shell. In sustained use the liner system proved faulty, as the three split rivets combined with the aluminium M1931 liner band ring tended to warp or shear. Subsequently the helmet underwent modifications that resulted in the introduction of the improved M1938 paratroop helmet. Following the introduction of the latter many of the prototype M1937 helmet shells were stored; and a few of these were eventually reissued with new liners, chinstraps and paint finish to meet general shortages during the later war years.

    The Model 1938 paratroop helmet

    Following the experience gained from field trials of the M1937 helmet, designers soon modified the shell, liner system and chinstrap in order to ensure a more stable and protective jump helmet. To better secure the liner, the M1938 incorporated four hollow-bore spanner bolts (with screws and hexagonal washers) in place of the three split-tailed rivets found on the M1937. The first of these spanner bolts were made of zinc plated brass and were attached by a single hexagonal washer. This was changed on 16 June 1938 by the introduction of steel bolts with two steel hexagonal lock washers, between which sat the ends of the chinstrap, the two rear ends being secured by a single central bolt. The liner system was completely redesigned, with heavy rubber padding on the sides and crown and an improved aluminium liner band ring; later production models incorporated a zinc-plated steel ring instead of aluminium. Helmet sizing was achieved by varying the thickness of the rubber padding in the appropriate sized helmet shell. The support lining was now constructed out of two pieces of leather sewn together in the centre, in which 12 holes were cut for ventilation. Sheepskin leather was initially used for the liner, but was supplemented by the addition of pigskin from 19 March 1940. The sponge-like padding in the earliest helmets was crafted out of natural orange rubber; this was later changed to synthetic rubber with a black or dark grey colour. The chinstrap was modified by the removal of the carbine clips in favour of a sliding buckle that could lock under the chin when the two ends met. The chinstrap also incorporated a quick-release tab so that the tension could be loosened and the helmet removed quickly. The oblong side slots in the shell edges formerly provided for the carbine clips were no longer needed, and were omitted. Several different types of buckles were used on the chinstrap, all of which served the same basic purpose. The most common was a friction clip arrangement, followed by a gripper clip, gripper buckle, or pronged buckle arrangement. The gripper clip types used a fine serrated edge that held the leather strap in place against a bar.

    This 1941 studio portrait of a young Fallschirmjager illustrates the M1938 paratroop helmet with single decal. Note the unique chinstrap arrangement, held by snaps and a friction clip

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    The M1938 helmet was constructed in four different centimetre shell sizes (64,66,68, 71), in which four holes were struck to attach the lining using the spanner-bolt configuration described above. Eisenhuttenwerke undertook the design and production of these helmets, and was the sole manufacturer throughout the war. Original examples are stamped with ‘ET’ or ‘ckl’, representing both trademarks used by the Thale manufacturing facility. No other revisions to the basic design were introduced since the M1938 proved satisfactory for its intended purpose. However, there continued to be persistent problems with attaching the liner to the shell. The spanner bolts underwent several design revisions during the war in efforts to resolve this problem. The original manner bolt required the use of a specialised two-pronged tool for adjustment, which led to difficulties under field conditions. As a result the overall design was changed some time in 1942.

    The M1 938 paratroop helmet with textured slate grey finish. Just visible is one of the hollow spanner bolts to retain the liner to the shell and to provide some ventilation; the central air vent is flanked by two small holes for the adjustment tool.

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    This new design introduced a hollow-bore style with a standard slot that was easily removed or tightened by a regular screwdriver. By 1943 the bolts were once again changed for the sake of economy, and were now manufactured without the central air vent. Both of the improved retaining bolts were produced from aluminium, which was later changed to steel for increased durability. Interestingly, many Fallschirmjager veterans have commented on their general dislike of the overall paratroop helmet design. While the chinstrap arrangement was well liked because of its ability to hold the helmet completely secure, many veterans have complained that the helmet was not properly ventilated and became very hot in warm climates. In addition, there was a general feeling that the lack of a flared brim gave little protection against artillery fragments and direct fire from all sides. Veterans of Fallschirmjager units have often expressed the view that the standard M1935 pattern helmet would have sufficed, and would not in practice have presented a serious risk by getting caught up in the shroud lines when jumping from aircraft. Many have also recalled that the retaining bolts were in need of constant adjustment, since the screws would become loose from their retaining washers during heavy use. If the bolts were lost, ad hoc adjustments were made in an attempt to keep the liner inside the helmet shell; the most common was wire inserted through the empty bolt hole and then wrapped around the liner band ring and helmet shell. In other cases, two-pronged rivets of the type used on standard M1935 helmets were inserted through the bolt holes.

    The factories that produced the metal bands for the M1931 liner marked each side with a trademark and a size designation. One of the first to produce the liner was the firm of Max Densow/Berlin Kofferfabrik, whose marking appears here in a 1936-dated example of the aluminium liner band. This firm discontinued production of helmet components before the outbreak of war.

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