The Great liar

At the outbreak of hostilities, none of the major combatants wore any form of protective body armour except the ceremonial cuirass and helmet of French heavy cavalry regiments, and the leather Pickelhaube worn by certain German units. The initial phase of the Great War was one of movement, but after the First Battle of Ypres this changed to positional fighting, with the entrenched armies of France and Britain facing those of Germany across a narrow strip of No Man's Land which extended from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier. Attackers and defenders were exposed to merciless barrages of high explosive and shrapnel, while assaults were mounted frontally en masse against withering machine gun and rifle fire which produced appalling casualties.

With the advent of trench warfare the incidence of head wounds rose alarmingly, due primarily to shell fragments. Urgent measures were taken by all the warring powers to provide their soldiers with head protection; but it was the French Army that introduced the modern military helmet into actual service, thanks largely to the efforts of Sous-Intendant-Général August-Louis Adrian who, during pre-war colonial service, had been renowned for developing devices to improve the welfare of his men.

During a visit to the front line in 1914 Gen. Adrian talked to a wounded man who had been struck in the head by a shell fragment: 'I was lucky', said the sufferer casually, 'I happened to have a metal mess-bowl in my hat and it saved my life'. This incident impressed the general deeply; he promptly had a steel cap liner or 'cervelière' made and fitted inside his képi, which he wore constantly

Wearing a flexible waistcoat of scale armour, a British officcr directs the retrieval of a captured German artillery piece near Mametz Wood on the Somme, 10 August 1916. Commercial vests of this type enjoyed considerable sales among frontline troops, but their protective value was marginal. They were normally worn under the uniform tunic. (Nat. Army Mus.)


to discover whether it would cause undue discomfort.

In February 1915 the Army adopted the liner, and 700,000 were ordered under the designation 'Calotte protège-tête en tôle d'acier, 1915 • It proved difficult to convince the French 'poilu' of its effectiveness, and the 'calotte' was more often used as a cup, cooking vessel or, as a final indignity, a 'pissoir'; but despite such misuse the 'calotte' was successful, and the design of a proper military helmet proceeded rapidly. Based on the pattern worn by French 'sapeurs-pompiers' (firemen), the 'Casque modèle 1915 "Adrian", infanterie'' was adopted on 21 iMay. At first the 'casque Adrian' was only seen on the heads of immaculate staff officers and dignitaries visiting the battle zone. The first large-scale issue of helmets to combat units took place in time for the Champagne offensive of September 1915. By Christmas 3,125,000 had been produced, and by the end of the war almost 20 million.

The British Army quickly imitated the French and, in November 1915, manufacture began of the familiar 'tin hat' or Mark 1 steel helmet. Known also as the Brodie helmet after its inventor, the Mark 1 was originally to be made of mild steel like the 'casque Adrian'; but at the suggestion of Sir Robert Hadfield the material was changed to a steel containing 12 per cent manganese and known to this day as 'Hadfield's steel'. The wide brim of the Mark 1 was dictated by the need to give overhead protection from shell fragments and shrapnel but, unlike the French helmet, the design was well suited to mass production—by ijuly 1916011e million had been delivered. By the end of the war seven and a quarter million had been produced, including one and a half million for use by the United States Army under the designation M1917.

The German Army produced a steel helmet known as the 'von Gaede' at the beginning of 1915, but it was employed in only limited numbers. After considerable development work by Professors Frederick Schwerd and August Bier at the University of Hanover, the M16 Stahlhelm was adopted in November 1915. The first 30,000 were distributed among assault troops in time for the Verdun offensive of 21 February 1916. In contrast to the easily cold-lormable Hadfield steel used by the British, the Germans chose a harder martensitic

Two German infantrymen wearing 'Infanterie-Panzer' stand guard with a Maxim MG08/15 machine gun on the Western Front. This is the early pattern 'Sappenpanzer' introduced in 1917. The soldier on the right has the reinforcing 'Stirnpanzer' fitted to his M16 Stahlhelm helmet. (Imp. War Mus.)

silicon/nickel steel. As a consequence, and also because of the deeper configuration, the Stahlhelm had to be hot-pressed in electrically heated dies at a far higher unit cost. It did, however, give greater protection to the head, ears and neck than either the French or British helmets but with the penalty of increased weight—2lbs io^oz as against ilb iioz and 2lbs 2^oz respectively. By the end of the war, eight and a half million Stahlhelm helmets had been produced.

By late 1916 the protective helmet had been universally adopted by the armies on the Western Front—but, paradoxically, the number of soldiers with head wounds increased significantly. This was due to the fact that many of these casualties would, in the absence of the helmet, have been killed outright. Medical statistics reveal that before the introduction of the helmet one head wound in four proved fatal, but after, the ratio became as low as one in seven. Similarly, it was shown that a large percentage of wounded soldiers suffered wounds caused by missiles of low and medium velocity. Estimates vary from 60 to 80 per cent, and the proportional frequency of wounds was established as: extremities 60 per cent, head and neck 20 per cent, and torso 20 per cent.

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