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View Full Version : Which WWII helmet was the most effective?


Roboto
11-02-2006, 11:57 AM
I was watching Band of Brothers last night, and thinking that English helmets looked like flying saucers and relatively non-protective due to their shape. American helmets look effective, but seem to wobble on the soldierís head and would impair vision. German helmets looked more stable, but seemed like they would impair the soldierís peripheral vision.

Which one was the most effective in combat?

silenus
11-02-2006, 12:40 PM
You have to remember that British helmets were a hold-over from WW1, where the primary concern was shrapnel exploding overhead.

The most effective was likely the German helmet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stahlhelm), since the US Army has adopted a kevlar model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PASGT) that greatly resembles it.

Paul in Qatar
11-02-2006, 12:53 PM
I am certainly no expert, but Soviet troop repeatedly commented on how light and cheap the German helmets were. Unless they were made out of Krell Metal, I would suppose this lessened their effectiveness.

The Scrivener
11-02-2006, 05:02 PM
FWIW, I have a relative who has a few WWII artifacts. One of them is a German helmet with a bullet hole right through it (one surface only -- IIRC, behind the right ear). I suppose that given a heavy enough bullet, any of the WWII helmets would fail -- right?

And I thought that helmet was plenty heavy; but then, I was a young kid at the time I held it.

R. P. McMurphy
11-02-2006, 05:07 PM
The Pentagon spent a boatload of money to research a design to replace the WWII helmet. The design they came up with was almost identical to the German WWII helmet. I don't know about materials but apparantly the design was superior to anything else out there.

athelas
11-02-2006, 05:10 PM
Did the helmets really help? I mean, I can't really see one stopping a bullet, unless it was going to be a glancing blow anyway. Dunno.

hajario
11-02-2006, 05:12 PM
Did the helmets really help? I mean, I can't really see one stopping a bullet, unless it was going to be a glancing blow anyway. Dunno.

The answer to your question is in the second post of this very thread.

Jonathan Chance
11-02-2006, 06:30 PM
Did the helmets really help? I mean, I can't really see one stopping a bullet, unless it was going to be a glancing blow anyway. Dunno.

I'm pretty certain a round making a direct hit would punch through most of the WWII vintage helmets. But it's at the margins where it counts. A glancing hit could either be fatal without a helmet or concussive with...which one would you like?

silenus
11-02-2006, 07:06 PM
Helmets, like body armor, aren't meant to defeat a direct hit by a rifle bullet. They are designed to protect the wearer from "incidental damage." Grenade fragments, shrapnel, random crap kicked up by incoming rounds, etc. can wound very easily if you aren't wearing protection, but are easily stopped by modern body armor.

iano
11-02-2006, 07:17 PM
The strength of the German helmet was simply that it protected a greater portion of the head, i.e., the ear and neck portion. Lay face-down on the ground and what's most vulnerable is not the top of your head, but the back of it.

Throatwarbler Mangrove
11-02-2006, 07:35 PM
Helmets, like body armor, aren't meant to defeat a direct hit by a rifle bullet.

Modern body armour is meant to, and does very effectively, defeat direct hits from rifle bullets, sometimes suprisingly large ones.

silenus
11-02-2006, 07:41 PM
About time the troops were wearing it then. The old-style flak jackets didn't do squat about stopping aimed fire.

John DiFool
11-02-2006, 08:26 PM
There was a shot in Saving Private Ryan, where a grunt gets hit in the helmet with a
glancing bullet, stops to take off the helmet to examine it, and another bullet hits him right
between the eyes...

Operation Ripper
11-02-2006, 08:54 PM
Just an anecdote here, when I was a child, my paternal grandmother took me out to one of her storage sheds and showed me a complete (I recall) doughboy uni, with helmet. It disappeared, of course, but the toy she gave me that day, a handmade, handpainted doughboy machinegunner I still have. Sigh. :(

Spavined Gelding
11-02-2006, 09:15 PM
No WWII helmet, US, British, German, Russian, Japanese or whatever, was designed or intended to defeat a square hit from a high velocity projectile. They all did a pretty good job of what they were intended to do: keeping low velocity missiles from penetrating the skull. The US helmet, because the suspension straps and headband were attached to the removable lightweight helmet liner, had the added advantage of allowing the steel shell to be used as a wash basin, grocery basket or, in times of dire need, a shovel.

Remember that US forces were still using the steel pot helmet through Vietnam and for some ten or fifteen years afterwards. What was learned in Vietnam was that the steel helmet would not stop an overhead burst of anti-personnel artillery fire Ė think a blizzard of double edged razor blades moving at about 2000 feet per second. I suspect that had a lot to do with the development of the present Kevlar helmet. Unfortunately the new helmet is a single use item. All it does is protect your head. You canít shave or bathe out of it.

David Simmons
11-02-2006, 09:23 PM
You canít shave or bathe out of it.Shave? Bathe?

Spavined Gelding
11-02-2006, 09:29 PM
Shave? Bathe?

Rear echelon M. F.s Ė tell the Old Man weíre going to be late on account of a 300 mile detour. :rolleyes:

Fish Cheer
11-02-2006, 09:29 PM
The old-style flak jackets didn't do squat about stopping aimed fire.Why is it called a "flak jacket" anyway? The "Flak" wasn't directed at infantry, was it?

Askance
11-02-2006, 09:49 PM
Why is it called a "flak jacket" anyway? The "Flak" wasn't directed at infantry, was it?Because it was originally developed and worn by an air force, specifically the RAF (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flak_jacket)?

Johnny L.A.
11-02-2006, 10:04 PM
I'm pretty certain a round making a direct hit would punch through most of the WWII vintage helmets.
I remember reading about a test in the '80s when the old steel pot was being replaced by the Kevlar 'Fritz' helmet. A helmet of each type was shot with a .45 ACP and a 9mm Luger round. I do not remember the range. The 9mm went through both sides of the steel helmet. It stuck in the entry side of the Kevlar helmet but did not penetrate far enough to hit the skull were it being worn. The .45 caved in the steel helmet and bounced off of the Kevlar helmet.

Which is not to say that they were designed for such protection, nor were they designed to withstand a rifle round.

Askance
11-02-2006, 10:06 PM
The most effective was likely the German helmet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stahlhelm), since the US Army has adopted a kevlar model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PASGT) that greatly resembles it.This hardly proves its effectiveness, except maybe its cost-effectiveness.

silenus
11-02-2006, 10:09 PM
Actually, it does. The US Army spent millions designing the new helnet and armor. They would hardly pick a design that wasn't effective in the majority of combat situations.

Askance
11-02-2006, 11:58 PM
Actually, it does. The US Army spent millions designing the new helmet and armor. They would hardly pick a design that wasn't effective in the majority of combat situations.Such faith. Between "lowest bidder", "the army we have rather than the army we want" and the demonstrable lack of foresight to design an army for the "combat situations" the US army actually finds itself in these days, it's hardly such a given as you think.

sqweels
11-03-2006, 12:02 AM
I have a side question on WWII helmets:

We've all noticed how both German and British paratroopers had special helmets, more bowl shaped with minimal flange along the rim. For a while I thought you injure your neck or shoulder on landing or something. But it recently occured to me that it's because the flanges catch the air. Is that right?

Paul in Qatar
11-03-2006, 02:27 AM
The helmet catching the air for some reason? No, not that I have ever noticed.

Pushkin
11-03-2006, 04:13 AM
I read an account in a UK paper a while back where a veteran recalled that the British helmet could catch a blast and was more likely to flip back off your head or knock your head back if it was secured to your head.

Paul in Qatar
11-03-2006, 04:22 AM
I always kept my chin in on my chest. I liked to watch the plane fly away between my toes.

Swede Hollow
11-04-2006, 10:02 PM
Here (http://theboxotruth.com/docs/bot29.htm) is a link to a web site that tested a Kevlar helmet against several popular-sized rounds of ammunition, both hand-gun and rifle. It shows that combat helmets are not designed to stop everything.

I have seen pictures of American tank driver helmets during WWII or Korea that look very similar to the German helmet, except lighter and with vent holes at the top) it gets hot inside of a tank). These tanker helmet designs appear to be based on old leather (American) football helmets. So this design may just be the best shape for general protection of the noggin and separate designers reached the same conclusion. Plus this design can easily accommodate headphones without compromising the fit.

So for the OP, all three provided basic protection. However I would say that the German design is the best of the three listed since it worked well and set the stage for many similar designs to follow over the next 88+ years. The Germans first started using that basic design during WWI to replace the expensive and difficult-to-make spike helmet that they used at the start of the war.

Oslo Ostragoth
11-05-2006, 12:31 AM
Such faith. Between "lowest bidder", "the army we have rather than the army we want" and the demonstrable lack of foresight to design an army for the "combat situations" the US army actually finds itself in these days, it's hardly such a given as you think.
It's the "lowest bidder" on a very tough set of specifications. Tougher than you'll ever see for civilian markets. And the U.S. military, which happens to include my nephew* among "the best and the brightest", is constantly working to prepare itself for the "next war".

*This guy is incredible. If he stays in long enough, he will end up running the Air Force.

Lust4Life
11-05-2006, 07:59 AM
I always kept my chin in on my chest. I liked to watch the plane fly away between my toes.
So you never did a rivet count then Paul? :)

Martini Enfield
11-05-2006, 08:15 AM
I can personally attest that a 174gr FMJ .303 British Mk VII SAA Ball round- fired from any of the Lee-Enfield family of rifles- will go straight through 1.5cm of solid steel at 100yds.

Which means that the German Coal-Scuttle Helmets would do bugger all against a direct hit from any of the Allied primary service rifle calibres (.303, .30-06, and 7.62x54R)- but as had been mentioned, any helmet is going to be of use against shrapnel, glancing blows, and the like.

Mk VII
11-05-2006, 05:28 PM
I have a side question on WWII helmets:

We've all noticed how both German and British paratroopers had special helmets, more bowl shaped with minimal flange along the rim. For a while I thought you injure your neck or shoulder on landing or something. But it recently occured to me that it's because the flanges catch the air. Is that right?

We pretty much copied the German paratrooper's kit initially, largely because they appeared to know what they were doing and nobody else knew much about the subject. Yes the old pot could have got flipped off by the airstream, not least because the chinstrap system was pretty rudimentary. The Americans don't appear to have considered jumping with it either; they used leather flying-helmets or modified football helmets for the initial test units.

Raguleader
11-05-2006, 06:05 PM
I have seen pictures of American tank driver helmets during WWII or Korea that look very similar to the German helmet, except lighter and with vent holes at the top) it gets hot inside of a tank). These tanker helmet designs appear to be based on old leather (American) football helmets. So this design may just be the best shape for general protection of the noggin and separate designers reached the same conclusion. Plus this design can easily accommodate headphones without compromising the fit.

Some Allied bomber pilots would wear steel pot infantry helmets while flying, to protect them from flak. They had to cut earholes in the helmets so they could wear headsets with them.

So for the OP, all three provided basic protection. However I would say that the German design is the best of the three listed since it worked well and set the stage for many similar designs to follow over the next 88+ years. The Germans first started using that basic design during WWI to replace the expensive and difficult-to-make spike helmet that they used at the start of the war.

I've read that a big reason for replacing the spike helmets was also that Allied snipers would take shots at the little spikes that would sometimes be visible poking above the trenchline. When they scored a sucessful hit, it was rather uncomfortable for whoever the helmet was attatched to.

Spavined Gelding
11-05-2006, 06:35 PM
I've read that a big reason for replacing the spike helmets was also that Allied snipers would take shots at the little spikes that would sometimes be visible poking above the trenchline. When they scored a sucessful hit, it was rather uncomfortable for whoever the helmet was attatched to.

That wasnít as big a problem as was the fact that the body of the pikelhaube was leather. It might turn a sword blade but it didnít do much for shrapnel. The spike (pikel) was removable and in the field it was generally removed and the leather body worn with field-grey cloth cover. Photos of the early months of WWI show British, French and German-Austrian front-line infantry soldiers wearing cloth hats. Iím not sure that the Russians ever did adopt a steel helmet in WWI.

WotNot
11-06-2006, 03:42 AM
I have a side question on WWII helmets:

We've all noticed how both German and British paratroopers had special helmets, more bowl shaped with minimal flange along the rim. For a while I thought you injure your neck or shoulder on landing or something. But it recently occured to me that it's because the flanges catch the air. Is that right?
In addition to Mk VIIís answer, my own assumption has been that the standard Infantry helmet could be seen as serving the same purpose as a construction workerís hard hat Ė protection against nasty hard things falling from above (as Spavined Gelding mentions, prior to the First World War, the thinking was that since they couldn't make a helmet that would stop a bullet, there wasn't any point in having one. Once they got stuck into long-term trench warfare, though, they found that a significant number of casualties came from shrapnel, debris etc coming from above, so helmets were swiftly commissioned and issued).

A paratrooperís helmet is more like a motorbike helmet, giving side and back protection against impact with a solid object, like the ground.

Like I say, this is more or less a guess on my part, but British motorcycle despatch riders did seem to wear the same helmets as the paras, so it makes sense.

ralph124c
11-06-2006, 07:50 AM
The French Army (WWII) still had fairly elaborate helemts in 1940-and the Portuguese 9WWI) had something that looked medieval. Why the spartan look?

TheLoadedDog
11-06-2006, 08:54 AM
Did the helmets really help? I mean, I can't really see one stopping a bullet, unless it was going to be a glancing blow anyway. Dunno.
This is hardly cite material, but I have heard of a WWII soldier suffering non-serious grazing and concussion when a bullet penetrated his helmet, then was contained by it and buzzed around the perimeter between the helmet and his head.

Pushkin
11-06-2006, 09:03 AM
This is hardly cite material, but I have heard of a WWII soldier suffering non-serious grazing and concussion when a bullet penetrated his helmet, then was contained by it and buzzed around the perimeter between the helmet and his head.

Similar story in recent times from British soldiers in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. They both had shots fired at their heads, the bullets penetrated the helmets and left a score over the soldier's head but no serious injury. The soldier shot at in NI recounted the smell of cordite afterwards.

Paul in Qatar
11-06-2006, 09:07 AM
My goodness no! (As the Secretary of Defense would say.)

Helmets are very important indeed. First off, there are lots of dangers in military life quite aside from the Bad Guys. Heads get bumped on armored vehicles, things fall onto soldiers, they walk into things, especially at night. The case can be made everyone should wear helmets when they drive civilian cars.

While many 'threats' (hot, sharp, fast-moving bits of metal) defeat helmets, many others do not. Lots of guys have found a really scary scrape on their helmets once things calmed down a bit. Had they not worn helmets, they would have been killed or wounded.

Even old-fashioned steel helmets quite a bit.

Raguleader
11-06-2006, 11:36 AM
My goodness no! (As the Secretary of Defense would say.)

Helmets are very important indeed. First off, there are lots of dangers in military life quite aside from the Bad Guys. Heads get bumped on armored vehicles, things fall onto soldiers, they walk into things, especially at night. The case can be made everyone should wear helmets when they drive civilian cars.

Heh, I'm the poster child for requiring people to wear helmets in libraries. I'm always knocking my head into shelves, table tops, etc. that it's a wonder I even remember the Library of Congress shelving system. :rolleyes:

Mk VII
11-06-2006, 03:22 PM
At Camp Edwards, MA I saw a photo of a M1 helmet where a .223 bullet fired accidentally had penetrated the steel pot, gone round between the liner and the pot, and exited the rear.
The shell of the British RAC [tankers] helmet is the same as the paratrooper's one, and the Don-R [motorcyclist] 's one. Only the liners and the attachment points differ.
In recent years fake para helmets have been made by welding up the screw holes in the other types of shell and drilling new ones for a reproduction liner.

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