The Stahlhelm

WW1 German M18 cavalry / radio operators helmetOne of the most iconic pieces of equipment issued to the German solider of WW2 was his Steel Helmet (Stahlhelm).

It's origins can be traced back to the models of helmet produced from 1916 onwards during the First World War, when it was recognised that the traditional spiked Picklehaube may not offer the best protection to Soldiers engaged in trench warfare.

The helmets were designed not to protect the head from direct bullet impacts, but to protect the wearer from artillery fragments and falling debris whilst huddled down in the trenches.

As with all helmets, the design featured the protective 'dome' to protect the skull, but also incorporated an elongated brim slanting outwards to cover and protect the eyes and face and a skirt that flaired out giving protection to the ears and neck - giving the classic 'coal scuttle' shape.

Another noticeable feature of the WW1 Stahlhelm were the raised ventilation lugs. These were incorporated into designs as a means of letting out heat if the helmet was worn for long periods. It was also intended to hang a thicker brow plate from them which was made from 5mm thick steel meant to protect the wearer from enemy headshots.

The vast surplus of these helmets were used by the German Interwar Army (The Reichswehr) paramilitary groups such as the Freikorps and then later by the Wehrmacht as the Army became known in 1935. This is illustrated with the pictured example of an M18 cavalry / radio operators helmet which has been finished in the early war 'Apple Green' paint colour and had the appropriate insignia added to it.


The WW2 German Stahlhelm 35

The Stahlhelm 35
In 1934 work began on improving the old design with a view to producing a more lightweight and compact version. The helmet was formed on a press and retained the rolled edge of it's predecessors. The ventilation lugs were dropped in favour of hollow rivets which were inserted into the shell and the improved and more comfortable ‘M-1931’ pattern liner developed in the interwar period was fitted to this and all subsequent designs by the means of 3 split pins.

The helmet shells were stamped with a run number on the back skirt and and the initials of the maker and shell size in centimeters on the left


The WW2 German Stahlhelm M35
TheTricolour and Army Eagle fitted to an M35 helmet


In the case of the helmets designated for Army use, they were finished in the standard army field grey colour with a smooth finish. That said, it is difficult to get an exact match to what field grey actually was. It is widely thought that the colour was RAL 6006, as was the case with most other field gear. However, the shades of this varied between factory to factory, application and how the batch of paint was mixed, so it is rare indeed to find 2 helmets that match in colour.

Once sprayed, decals were affixed – the national colours (Tricolour) to the right and the Wehrmacht Army Eagle applied to the left underneath the ventilation holes.


The WW2 German Stahlhelm M40

The Stahlhelm 40
Modifications to the M35 came in the form of the Model 40 helmet. Again produced with a rolled edge and at a glance not majorly different in appearance to it’s predecessor. Improvements in steel quality and manufacturing led to a slightly heavier weight and a different shape. The major change with this model was that the air holes were pressed directly into the helmet reducing the time and materials taken up by the previous method of inserting the separate ventilation rivets.

Air vents on the German helmet
The different styles of ventilation holes, the hollow rivet fitted to the M35 and the pressed version on the M40 & M42

Lessons were learned from the experience of the men who had fought in the early campaigns of the War and in 1940 orders were issued to finish the helmets in a rough non-reflective textured paint and also to remove the Tricolour in an effort to aid the camoflaguing of Infantry men in battle.  

The owners of the older helmets either tried to scratch the decal off or painted over them to cover them up as can be seen in some of the many field repainted examples.

The WW2 German Stahlhelm M42

The Stahlhelm 42

Sometimes known as the ‘razor edge’ the M42 final model to roll of production lines. It’s design was based on speeding up production and once again to lessen materials used. As per the M40, the air vents were pressed into the helmet, but due to the hot-stamping method of manufacture, the edges were no longer rolled inwards and the helmet was left with a distinct rim around it. 

The comparison between the rolled and 'razor' edge rims on the WW2 german Helmet
The comparison between the rolled and 'razor' edge rims

These final model helmets were then mass produced until the end of the war.

By this time, the Army eagle decal was also being phased out due to shortages, but if stocks remained or if helmets had been in storage prior to the orders, it is not uncommon to find examples with insignia.


Makers Stamps & Meanings

Marking Firm Location
ET (or CKL) Eisenhuttenwerke Thale
FS (or EF) Emaillierwerke AG Fulda
NS Vereinigte Deutsche Nikelwerke Schwerte
Q Quist Esslingen
SE (or HKP) Sachsische Emaillier u. Stanzwerke Lauter

WW2 german helmet Stamps to show maker and size of shell and the 4 number production run.
Stamps to show maker and size of shell and the 4 number production run.

Liner & Shell sizes

Liner size Shell size Head size
52-53cm 60cm Very small
54-55cm 62cm Small
56-57cm 64cm Medium
58-59cm 66cm Large
60-61cm 68cm Extra large

The model-31 liner system

This liner replaced those fitted to earlier helmets and was fitted to all M35, M40 and M42 helmet shells during the war.

The liner band was made initially from aluminium but this was found to crack at certain stress points with use, so it was eventually produced from a more durable zinc coated steel. Over the ears, 2 mounts to hold the 'D' rings were rivited into place onto which was fitted the leather chinstrap.

Weaved into the outer band was another band made from a more flexible sheet metal onto which 5 flat sheet steel bars were rivited. This system acted like a spring allowing some movement and the ability to absorb any blows to the head.

A leather liner was then fitted, held in place by use of small pins. The liner had either 8 or 9 fingers depending on it's size and a drawstring at the top which could be tied up or slackened off to suit the wearers headshape.

To identify makers and sizes, the finished unit recieved a stamp above the left ear. The first digits would be the shell size the liner was suitable for followed by n.A. (standing for 'Neue Art') and finally the head size of the liner.

So, for a size 66 shell, the liner would be marked as '66 n.A. 58'


WW2 German M31 helmet liner, split pins and chin strapWW2 German M35 helmet, liner and chinstrap fitting

M31 liner, 2 peice chin strap and split pins. ...............................Internal view of the liner inside the helmet shell.


Helmet Decals
Some of the more commonly found helmet decals

Party Shield & SS Runes - . Tri Colour & Heer Eagle

Party Shield & SS Runes ................................................................. Tri Colour & Heer Eagle

Tri Colour & Luftwaffe Eagle - Tri Colour & Kriegsmarine Eagle
Tri Colour & Luftwaffe Eagle............................................................sTri Colour & Kriegsmarine Eagle

Thanks to John at military steel helmets and decals for the use of the decal pictures.

Submitted by Neil Barlow

facebook instgram flickr