The History Of The German Helmet - History Key

The History Of The German Helmet

There are many collectors of military items, and even more, items to collect, but how many of the ones who are paying serious amounts of money does really know something more related to the items they buy?

One of the most ”alive” sectors related to militaria collecting is the one related to WW2, especially equipment used by the German army. Probably one of the most iconic pieces from both WW1&WW2 is the German helmet, the ”Helmet” present in so many contexts and images, being also a reference in many collections.

The ”Stahlhelm” (”steel helmet” in German) entered the scene when it replaced the traditional German Imperial leather and brass Pickelhaube one, becoming also a new reference for propaganda materials produced by several nations.

Bavarian Pickelhaube
Bavarian Pickelhaube ©


In the first phase of WW1, the soldiers were equipped only with some cloth and leather caps, having no real protection for the head. When the trench warfare became a way of living the war, the casualties caused by head wounds formed very high numbers, also considering that the head was the most exposed while in a trench situation.

Some tests related to a new form of head protection were made during 1915, when German troops stationed at Vosges, France, designed a helmet made by a leather cap and a steel plate. They had to come up with a solution, because of their unit, the Army Detachment ”Gaede”, suffered heavy casualties due to shrapnel and splinters.

German soldiers wearing first type ''Gaede'' helmets, 1915
German soldiers wearing first type ”Gaede” helmets, 1915 ©


Dr. Friedrich Schwerd from the Technical Institute of Hanover was responsible for the design of the first German helmet. Thirty thousand units of the first type helmet were ordered and in use by German troops since 1916. After its deployment at Verdun, during February 1916, the casualties related to head injuries feel a lot.                                                         

The first official model for the German army helmet is remembered as the ”Model 1916”. During November 1916 Austria-Hungary purchased 416,000 German helmets, being also licensed to start the production in May 1917. The result was the Austrian M17 helmet, almost identical to the German M16.

German M16 helmet
German M16 helmet © Pinterest


Also, a Hungarian M18 version was produced, being very similar to the Austrian M17, but having smaller chinstrap rivets placed higher than the M17.

During 1934 the design of a new German helmet reached the testing phase. The improved Stahlhelm was designed after the WW1 models, and Dr. Friedrich Schwerd was there once more, working together with a company from Thale.

The new ”Model 1935” or M35 German helmet was lighter, more comfortable and compact, having an improved ventilation system and a very useful incorporated leather suspension. Millions of M35 helmets were produced between June 25 1935 (when the helmet was officially accepted by the Army’s Supreme Command) and 1940, when other production methods were adopted.


German M35 helmet
German M35 helmet ©

During 1940, the M35 suffered some minor modifications related to the ventilation hole mounts, now directly stamped onto the shell, Otherwise, the M40 was identical to the M35.

The German paratroopers, the Fallschirmjäger, used a modified version of the M35, lacking the projecting visor, so designed in order to avoid possible head injuries on landings after being parachuted. The Fallschirmjäger version also had a different liner and chinstrap system, modified in order to offer more protection.


M42 Model
M42 Model ©

The Model 1942 followed, having the rolled edge removed from the shell. This was a solution that has reduced the amount of metal used for each piece.

M42 Model
M42 Model ©


A 1944 variant was also made. Already designed during 1942 by Prof.Dr.Ing Fry and Dr.Hansel, the project was personally rejected by Hitler because the M44 was too similar to the British Mk III helmet.

During the last months of the war, a model 1945 was made. Apparently similar to the M42 lines, totally lacking the ventilation system. The helmet is so rare, that many experts consider that the so-called M45 is, in fact, a normal M42, lacking the ventilation holes due to a factory error.

Some Stahlhelm versions were made for civil defense issue. Firefighters or members of the Luftschuzt personnel were equipped with dedicated helmets. The Luftschutz helmet is also known as the ”gladiator pattern”, being formed by three steel plates, usually black painted. The Luftschutz was an organization in charge of air raid precautions, helping the civilians in case of air raids and also trained in firefighting or protection in case of chemical attacks.

Luftschutz helmet ''Gladiator'' pattern
Luftschutz helmet ”Gladiator” pattern ©



German WW2 firefighter helmet
German WW2 firefighter helmet © Stewart’s Military Antiques

No matter if you saw many helmets, today’s market is a pool full of sharks. There are many, many reproductions related to German militaria, so we would suggest you to do some serious homework before buying. Believe it or not, but from time to time fakes are spotted also in some well known as so-called ”safe” shops.

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