Building of the "MGS" - Military History Collection PzBrig21 - Augustdorf
Building of the "MGS" - Military History Collection PzBrig21 - Augustdorf

Exhibit of the Month - May '24


As exhibit of the month - May 2024, we would like to introduce you to the M18 steel helmet, which is on display in the MGS - Augustdorf Military History Collection.

Steel helmet M18

Steel helmet M18
Steel helmet M18

When the armies of the German Empire went into the First World War in 1914, their soldiers wore a leather helmet as headgear, which was to become the trademark of the Prussian and German military for a period of 75 years under the term “Pickelkappe”.

This leather helmet was introduced on October 23, 1842 for the troops of the Kingdom of Prussia and was gradually adopted by all the armies of the German states. This leather helmet had its baptism of fire in the wars of 1864, 1866 and 1870/71, proving its usability. These helmets were very beautiful to look at and were particularly suitable for parades during the forty years of peace between 1871 and 1914, but they were no longer up to the demands of modern war. As long as the war was still a war of movement, there were no major problems for the soldiers. But during trench warfare it soon became clear that the leather helmet was no longer up to the changing requirements. Not only had the ammunition become much more explosive over time, but especially in the barrage of artillery it became clear that the leather helmet no longer offered its wearer the necessary protection against projectiles, grenade fragments and rock splinters. Thousands of people were left lying there every day with severe head injuries, but concerns about supplies of ammunition and weapons were more important than effective head protection. Although it was repeatedly requested by the troops at the front, the Prussian War Ministry obviously had an aversion to helmets made of iron or sheet steel, as can be seen from various letters on the subject.

That only changed in the summer of 1915, when Professor Friedrich Schwerd from the Hanover Technical University, then captain of the artillery in the stage inspection staff of Bülow's army, appointed the Privy Medical Councilor Professor Dr. Bier, then a consulting surgeon with the 18th Army Corps in St. Quentin, helped set up an operating room with a strong steel magnet. This steel magnet was used to capture bullet fragments lodged in the brain.

Professor Dr. Bier had found that only about 17% of head injuries were caused by infantry bullets and 83% by shrapnel. These splinters, often no larger than the size of a pea or a few millimeters of matchstick, still caused the most devastating brain injuries.

On one of the trips back from these operations, Professor Schwerd suggested making a one-piece helmet made of tempered chrome-nickel steel or a similarly alloyed steel and claimed that such a helmet would definitely eliminate bullet fragments like the ones he had encountered during the operations would be held.

Privy Councilor Bier wrote this to headquarters and a few days later, on September 1, 1915, Captain Schwerd was appointed to the War Ministry in Berlin. Captain Schwerd arrived in Berlin with a finished idea for the steel helmet and presented it to the head of the clothing department, Lieutenant Colonel von Feldmann. From now on, this strong-willed and insightful officer held his protective hand over the inventor.

Now the detailed work began, which led in uninterrupted succession to the choice of material, to the creation of the model, to the production of the test helmets, to the firing, i.e. testing it on the firing range in Kummersdorf and finally to the decision to make the helmet for the army to introduce.

The shape of the helmet was chosen so that bullets and splinters bounced off and rifle bullets that hit at an angle were deflected without penetrating. The helmet owes its perfect, artistic form to a considerable extent to Professor Schwerd's art-loving wife.

At the end of January 1916, the first 30,000 helmets reached the front. He found enthusiastic recognition among the shock troops before Verdun. Due to the positive experiences in the large-scale test, the Chief of General Staff, General von Falkenhayn, ordered the introduction of the M 16 steel protective helmet for the field army in the second half of February 1916.

In May 1917, the War Department's Clothing Procurement Office changed the interior of the helmets. This gave the helmet the new designation “M 18”. By the end of the First World War, around 7.5 million steel helmets had been manufactured.

After the end of the Empire, the steel helmet was continued to be worn in the old form and color by the still existing parts of the old army, the provisional Reichswehr, the Freikorps and the people's and residents' militias and finally the Reichswehr.

On January 1, 1921, new uniform regulations came into force for the Reichswehr. According to this regulation, a coat of arms in the colors of the country to which the unit belongs had to be attached by hand under the left ventilation bolt.

The steel helmet in our collection is an M 18 steel protective helmet. Since it was worn by a soldier of the former Prussian Infantry Regiment 18, it has a black and white coat of arms.

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