An iconic piece of American military history that saved thousands of lives

The “steel pot”

Actors wearing M1 helmets in the movie Saving Private Ryan

The M1 is an iconic helmet, seeing service with the U.S. military from the early 1940s until 1985, when it was succeeded by the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT) helmet. Being such a renowned item and relevant to the Normandy Landings also, we have decided to make it the logo of our company.

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In 1941, the M1 helmet came to replace the outdated M1917 (the American version of the British helmet patented by inventor John Leopold Brodie) and the slightly modified M1917A1 helmet (the “Kelly” helmet), which represented the design and technology of the First World War meant for protection in the trenches. They did not offer good protection for the sides and back of the head, only the top. The M1 was developed as a result of the widespread dissatisfaction with the older helmets since they provided only limited protection from exploding shrapnel. The new helmet was standardized in April 1941 and was approved in June 1941.

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Soldiers wearing the M1 and the M1917A1 helmets in 1941

More than 22 million sets were delivered to the army by the end of the war in September 1945. 20 million were manufactured by the McCord Radiator and Manufacturing Company of Detroit, Michigan, and 2 million by the Schlueter Manufacturing Company of Janesville, Wisconsin. The heat stamp inside the helmet indicates the manufacturer and the date of manufacture.

The M1 assembly was a two-piece design with an outer, pot-shaped steel body made of non-magnetic Hadfield manganese steel and an inner plastic hard-hat type liner nestled inside the shell. The liner, initially made of compressed paper, contained a suspension system that allowed it to be adjusted to the wearer’s head. The webbed suspension system of the helmet was an adaptation of the famous football helmet developed by John T. Riddell. The liner of paratroopers had a different construction. The ballistics properties of the outer shell had been improved so that it would resist penetration by a 230-grain caliber .45 bullet with a velocity of 800 f.p.s. According to a post-war report, the M1 reduced the number of casualties in WWII by 8% meaning that it saved the lives of approximately 76,000 soldiers.

General Patton wearing the helmet liner

The liner could be worn alone without the steel shell for duty that did not involve combat or combat training. Moreover, it was put to use as a cooking and water-boiling pot, an impromptu entrenching tool, a hammer for pounding tent stakes, and even an emergency latrine. It was used even as a “beer mug” by Vincent Speranza, paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge when he wanted to bring something to drink for his injured comrade and found only beer in one the demolished bars in Bastogne surrounded by the Germans. The story also led to the birth of the Airborne Beer that you can taste from a helmet-shaped mug on our tours stopping in Bastogne.

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Airborne Beer in Bastogne

Most soldiers wore the chin strap unfastened or wrapped around the back of the helmet with the metal ends clipped together. This occurred because in hand-to-hand combat enemy soldiers could attack from behind, reaching over the helmet and pulling from behind. With the chin strap worn, the wearer’s head would be snapped back leaving the throat and stomach exposed to knife stab. Other soldiers feared that the concussion blast of explosions could also break their neck because of the fastened chin strap. Later in the war, the helmet got upgraded with an improved canvas chinstrap which would unlock automatically under pressure.

Second World War M1 helmets were painted with flat olive drab paint, mixed with finely ground cork, that produced a rough, textured, flat finish. Camouflage netting was often attached to the helmet to help break up its outline and conceal the wearer's head. During the Battle of the Bulge and in the Korean War, since white helmet covers were not issued to soldiers for winter conditions, they made their own white camouflage helmet covers from any white cloth available on the battlefield, for instance from shirts or parachute canopies. The extra material of the cover and the netting was tucked between the interior of the shell and the liner.

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U.S. soldiers in Vietnam

The M1 helmet became the symbol of U.S. military forces and was so successful that many countries adopted it and began to produce their own variants. They are still in use in some countries.

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