The Steel Helmet

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German soldiers in the early Wehrmacht period (mid 1930s) wear the M1918 helmet; note the very visible lugs on the side of the helmet.  The decorations on the officer at right are from the Great War.  Note the cut of the collar on his uniform, and the position of the NCO lace on the collar of the man at centre.  Soldiers at left wear the M1918 style helmet with cutouts for the ears.

The M35 Helmet

A new Steel Helmet (Stahlhelm) was introduced for the German Army in July 1935 and subsequently referred to today as the M1935 or M35 Helmet.   With the familiar "coal-scuttle" shape that had characterized the earlier steel trench helmet worn in the Great War from 1916 onwards, the helmet provided better neck and ear protection than helmets in use in the French, British or American armies of the time.  The helmets were produced in a smooth finish, varying in colour from grey-green to a very dark green. 

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The M35 was intended to replace the older style helmets completely, though the rapid expansion of the Wehrmacht made this impossible and older style helmets saw use through to the end of the war.

Helmet Decals

Helmet markings, either in the form of decals, or painted on, were worn from 1923 to 1933, and based on the colours of the various German states.  The National Socialists, on attained power in 1933, preferred to stress the unity of the German nation, and adopted a tricolour shield as shown at right to replace the older state colours.

The new M35 helmets saw new decals adopted as shown below; the pattern varied for the different branches, and the Army wore a tricolour shield on the wearer's right side in black/white/red with the Army's insignia of a silver eagle clutching a swastika on a black shield shaped background worn on the opposite side.

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The decals were applied with lacquer and were not like the modern water-tranfer decals found in plastic model kits, or used for reproductions of the helmet decals for re-enactors.  They were printed face down; an original example is shown below.  The standard pattern adopted by the Army is shown below left also.  Like everything produced in the Third Reich period, there were many minor variations to the design, which are well documented in books and on the internet, and are beyond the scope of this website.
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The decals were often painted over in the field, obscured with camouflage materials, or removed altogether, and were also not immune to the effects of weather and hard use of the helmet.
Wartime Changes

There were minor changes to the production methods of the M35 helmet during the early war years, including the method of supplying the helmet with ventilation holes and the type of steel used in the construction.  The most visible outward change was the deletion of the tricolour decal on new production helmets beginning in March 1940.  The helmet continued to be produced with the Army insignia on the left hand side, however.

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In 1942, helmet manufacturers stopped rolling the edge of the rim on helmets (save for one firm which continued producing rolled rims until 1944) as an economy measure.  The first helmets to be produced in this manner were assember in August 1942, and are referred to today as M1942 or M42 helmets.  By 1944 the use of the Army decal on new production helmets officially ceased, however some helmets retained the decals until the end of the war.  By 1942 also, the colour of helmets had switched to medium or darker field grey, and rougher finishes were the norm.

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The black chinstrap with metal buckle was the most common fastening device, though there were many variations on both the type of leather and the type of buckle used.  Regulation called for the buckle to be on the wearer's left hand side, as shown above.


There were many methods of camouflaging the helmet in the field.   This could involve the use of mud or camouflage paint, it could also mean securing natural foliage to the helmet.  Among the most popular methods of foliage attachment were the use of leather straps or rubber bands, as well as the use of the bread bag strap (as shown below).  Chicken wire in various guages was also used, and a string net was introduced during the war for that purpose as well.  Finally, the Army eventually adopted helmet covers made from camouflage cloth, similar to the ones in use by the Waffen SS, but in camouflage patterns unique to the Army and without the necessity of "rocker clip" attachments.  Like the study of helmets, the study of camouflage accessories is a complex one.

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