USA (1919-1945)
Cavalry and Infantry style Helmets

This is a guest post by Mr Larry Munnikhuysen III, a director at the Virginia War Museum.

Introduction

In 1918, Col. George S. Patton, Jr., then head of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) Light tank School, sent a request to the fledgling Army Tank Corps HQ in Washington, DC requesting several items be procured or designed for tankers. The ‘AEF Tank Helmet’ was on this list and modified and improved but by the time the process was completed the war was over. The new helmet was finally approved for issue in 1919. Arguably the ‘ugly duckling’ of tank helmets it nevertheless remained in service from 1919 until 1940.

This type helmet has been mistakenly called the ‘Chaffee Style’ tank helmet for many years. This was a name created by early helmet collectors because they did not know what the helmet was actually called. General Chaffee had nothing at all to do with this helmet.

Beginning in 1936 the U.S. Army began looking for a replacement for the ‘1919 Pattern tank helmet’ The experimental Mechanized Cavalry Group purchased a helmet made by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Co. of St. Louis, Montana in 1936 for their tankers and motorcyclists. This helmet was referred to in official correspondence as the ‘Cavalry Style tank helmet’. Less than three hundred of these cushioned leather helmets were made and today only three are known to exist in private collections.

The Infantry Branch of the Army began their own search for a tank helmet for tank crews assigned to the Infantry tank companies. The “Cavalry Style tank helmet” was evaluated and rejected because it was not size-adjustable and had no provisions for radio receiver headphones. In 1938 the Army let out contracts to the Rawlings Sporting goods Co. and the Sears Saddlery Co. of Davenport, Iowa for a new tank helmeted called the ‘ Infantry Style tank helmet. This helmet, though similar to the ‘Cavalry Style tank helmet’ had a foamed rubber donut shaped ring encircling the bowl of the new helmet plus leather cup on each side into which radio receivers could be fitted. This new helmet also came in a wide range of standard head sizes.

The 1919 Pattern Tank Helmet

The first helmet officially accepted by the U.S. Army for tank crews was called simply the “Helmet, Tank” (FIG.A). Early tank manuals call it such, yet this helmet is usually (incorrectly) called either the World War One tank helmet or the Chaffee helmet by both museums and collectors.

1918 pattern helmet
FIG.A Three views of the 1919 pattern “Helmet, Tank.” Notice the gray felt lining. (Dave Powers Collection)

History

The 1919 pattern “Helmet, Tank” owes its existence to famous American tanker, George S. Patton, Jr. Prior to taking command of, and opening, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) Light Tank Center and School in December 1917. Patton was an observer at the French Tank School and later the British Tank Center. Patton made observations at these schools along with recommendations for his own Light Tank School and kept these in a simple spiral note pad.

Written on a page from this 1917 note pad is a list of items and intended recommendations, under item number 13 is the notation “Helmet or head guard.” This is the first instance of an official recommendation for an American tank helmet (FIG.B). Patton followed up this notation in an official report to the Chief of the Tank Services on the 12 December 1917 in which he noted:

‘Leather helmets like those worn by football players or aviators, but without ear pieces, must be provided for the crews to prevent their being knocked unconscious when going over rough ground.’

Page of recommendations from Patton's 1917 note book.
FIG.B. Page of recommendations from Patton’s 1917 note book. Item 13 recommends a helmet or head guard. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Although Patton would certainly have been aware of the British 1916 pattern leather tank helmet (FIG.C) and the special tank helmet which French tankers routinely made from their Model 1915 Adrian helmet (FIG.D) he appears to have wanted a helmet of his own design. Indeed, when he sent his assistant, Capt. Elgin Braine back to the United States in early 1918 to expedite shipments of tanks and equipment to France, one of the items he was to expedite was an improved leather helmet.

The leather helmet Patton sought to have improved was probably the helmet which is today referred to by collectors as the “AEF Tank Helmet” (FIG.E). Although no examples of this helmet are known to still exist there is a series of photographs showing them being worn by members of several of Patton’s light tank battalions in 1918.

FIG.C British leather tank helmet of 1916. Courtesy of the David Aeon Collection.
FIG.C British leather tank helmet of 1916. Courtesy of the David Aeon Collection.

FIG.D. French Mle. 1915 artillery helmet modified for use by tank crew. Courtesy of the Sebastien Greffe Collection.
FIG.D. French Mle. 1915 artillery helmet modified for use by tank crew. Courtesy of the Sebastien Greffe Collection.

Given that the AEF tank helmets were noted by Patton as early as January 1918 and are only seen being used by members of his light tank battalions, it is probable that the AEF helmets were made in France specifically for Patton’s light tank crews.

A report from Lt. Col. James A. Drain of the Ordnance Corps dated 22 August 1918 states:

‘Considered with Col. Welbum, Col. Clopton, and representatives of Ordnance Department, with Braine, various forms of Interphone System, head pieces, helmets, and gas-masks. These have now been sent to Col.Clopton for field trial and report.’

The helmet referred to in the Drain report is the “Experimental Type 13 Tank Operator’s Helmet” (FIG.F), which had been developed by Maj. Bashford Dean and the New York Metropolitan Museum’s Armor Workshop. Dean states:
‘An effort was made (1918, Summer) to protect (the tank operator from injuries in the head caused either by heavy bumps or by lead splash which finds its way into the tank from disintegrating rifle balls. To this end a helmet, in an experimental lot of thirty, was produced by the Equipment Section of the Ordnance Department under the advice of the officers of the Tank Unit, Engineering Division.’

helmet 13
FIG.F Experimental helmet model No. 13 for American tank operator, shown with and without detachable padded-silk curtain and visor, guarding against lead splash.

Whether the Experimental Type 13 helmet was ever used in France is open to conjecture. Bashford Dean stated after the war that, “No official reports have as yet been received as to the practical value of this model; the writer learns, however, that it was used in the tanks during the last push and that it was well spoken of.”

This author can safely state that in all of the official after action reports of all the light tank battalions in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, there is not one mention of any crew wearing the Experimental Type 13 helmet. Of course, the Experimental Type 13 might still have been worn by some crews of the AEF heavy tank units but just not mentioned in official reports.

Thus, with the possible exception of the Experimental Type 13 helmet, the only tank helmet used by American forces in World War I was the locally produced “AEF Tank Helmet.” This appears to be confirmed by a postwar report entitled “Personal Experience Report” written by Captain Braine on 22 December 1918 in which he summarizes:

‘In connection with this work 1 also followed up the Signal Corps with reference to the wireless apparatus, interphones, splash-proof face guards, steel helmets, and had experiments tried with triplex glass for eye slits, which proved successful. There were, five or six interphone whom I took this matter up, and any number of securers on face guards, leather helmets, steel helmets, possible to get anyone to make a decision on any of them.’

After the Armistice in November 1918, the AEF Tank Corps shipped its personnel and equipment back to America where it was absorbed into the Army. 1919 through to 1920 saw various services working to integrate the lessons learned into a much smaller peacetime Army. It was felt that a helmet was indeed needed for tank crews. On 14 October 1919, the Sub-Committee memo from the Technical Board stated,“Leather helmet gotten up by the man in the leather shop at Rock Island Arsenal, tested and found satisfactory. The Sub-Committee approves its adoption for issue to the Service.” This is probably the one that Patton had requested. It was also recommended that no further work be carried out on the development of a steel helmet for tank crew. The Supply Department would make sure the approved number of leather helmets were supplied vehicle: two to each 6-ton tank and eleven for each Mark VIII tank with a reasonable reserve supply.

Thus was born the 1919 pattern “Helmet, Tank,” from the designs formulated during World War I, but not used during World War I. In 1920 the United States Congress decided that the Army did not need a separate Tank Corps and abolished it, assigning all tanks to the Infantry Branch. The 1919 pattern helmet would enjoy a long life with the infantry tankers being used successfully, if not glamorously, from its birth in 1919 until 1940.

The Chaffee Helmet

The 1919 pattern “Helmet, Tank” has long been called the Chaffee helmet by collectors. It was said that a famous picture of Maj. Gen. Adna R. Chaffee, the father of the Armored Force, wearing this helmet was the source of the title. Tank crew helmets were all referred to as “Helmet, Tank” by the Army until 1 March 1961 so the need for some type of differentiation was needed, at least by collectors.

Unfortunately, the name “Chaffee” is probably not one to which this helmet is entitled. The only photograph known to exist of Major General Chaffee wearing a tank helmet is one that appeared in the 7 July 1941 issue of Life Magazine an issue devoted to America’s pre-war defenses. This color photograph (FIG.G) shows Chaffee, then head of the newly formed Armor Branch of the Army, wearing the 1938 pattern tank helmet, not the 1919 pattern tank helmet.

FIG.G. Major General Adna R. Chaffee, Chief U.S.A. Armored Force, 1941. Courtesy of Life Magazine.
FIG.G. Major General Adna R. Chaffee; Chief U.S.A. Armored Force, 1941. Courtesy of Life Magazine.

Major General Chaffee died of cancer several months after this photograph was taken. Chaffee had been a cavalry officer throughout his career and was the motivating force behind the development of the experimental Mechanized Cavalry in the late 1930s, a formation that would become the nucleus of the new Armored Force in 1940.

The 1919 pattern “Helmet, Tank” was used almost exclusively by the Infantry Branch which was the only branch of the pre-World War II Army authorized to have tanks. The Cavalry Branch was forced to call their experimental armored vehicles “combat cars” and “scout cars” and developed their own unique protective helmet for use by the mechanized cavalry troops, a helmet (FIG.H) which is today called the “Cavalry Style” tank helmet. If Chaffee had ever worn a tank helmet prior to the Life photograph it would have been the “Cavalry Style” not the 1919 pattern helmet used by the infantry tankers.

FIG.H. The
FIG.H. The “Cavalry Style” tank helmet. Courtesy of the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

Construction

As stated earlier, the original leather helmet prototype, approved by the Sub-Committee on Tanks in 1919, was constructed by the Saddle Shop at the Rock Island Arsenal. The actual production models of this helmet, however, appear to have been made at the Jeffersonville Quartermaster Depot The Report of the Chief of Ordnance dated 1920 which was a detailed report of all Ordnance Corps and arsenal activities from June 1919 to July 1920 states:“Leather and textile manufacturing equipment which was installed at Rock Island Arsenal has been transferred to the Quartermaster Corps and forwarded to the Jeffersonville Depot.” While it is certainly possible that helmets were made at Rook Island Arsenal prior to the removal of the leather working equipment, it would seem more likely that the site of their production was Jeffersonville Depot.

FIG.I. Construction details and measurements for the 1919 Pattern
FIG.I. Construction details and measurements for the 1919 Pattern “Helmet, Tank.”

The author has been fortunate to be able to examine several 1919 pattern helmets from private collections and museums and all those examined appear to follow the same basic construction technique and pattern. The author believes it is probable that quantities of this helmet were produced at several different times given the longevity of the helmet’s use. Some 1919 pattern helmets that were examined have what appear to be government inspector’s initials die stamped on one of the interior headliner flaps, but most do not, a good indication of separate production lots or times. The author has derived the drawings in FIG.I and FIG.F and all the accompanying measurements from the 1919 pattern helmet in his personal collection that is representative of the others he has examined.


FIG.F Construction details and measurements for the 1919 Pattern “Helmet, Tank.”

The helmet is constructed using five separate pieces of leather, an adjustment strap with buckle, and a 3/8-inch thick gray felt lining. The body of the helmet is a cross-shaped piece of H-inch thick, russet colored, saddle leather measuring roughly six inches (152 mm) by seven inches (178 mm). Four holes 5/16-inch (1.93 mm) outside diameter (OD) are positioned centrally on the cross to act as ventilation holes on the top of the helmet. Each of the four arms of the cross are perforated by three 5/16-inch (1.93 mm) OD holes except for one of the 6-inch sides which has only two 5/16-inch (1.93 mm) OD holes (this is to indicate the front of the helmet).

The bottom hole in each quadrant acts as the passage for the leather thongs that attach the headliner flaps, the other holes act as ventilation. On the bottom of each arm are two sets of two parallel slits which form the loops through which pass the adjustment strap. The four arms, when folded down form a bowl that is the body of the helmet. Glued on the interior side of the helmet body is a 3/8 inch thick lining of gray felt conforming to the overall size of the helmet body.

The gray felt consists of a circular central portion that fits into the top of the helmet body. Sewn to that is a long rectangular piece which conforms to the circumference of the helmet body. All holes in the helmet body pass through the felt lining. Attached to each of the four “sides” of the helmet body are four 1/16-inch thick flaps of leather, the flaps for the front and rear of the helmet are five inches wide and the two flaps for the remaining sides are 4 1/2-inches wide.

There are two 5/16-inch OD holes, arranged vertically, and situated at the midpoint of each flap. These four headliner flaps are machine-stitched with waxed cotton thread to the base of the helmet body then folded under to the inside of the helmet body thus forming a leather head band or liner. Passing through the two vertical holes in the center of each liner flap, passing through the felt lining and the two lower holes of the helmet body, on each of the helmet sides, is a leather thong six inches long, 3/16-inch wide, and 1/16-inch thick which is knotted together on the helmet exterior thus drawing the helmet side, felt lining, and liner flap taut.

The lower exterior circumference of the helmet is encircled by an adjustment strap that passes under and through the two sets of vertical slits on each of the helmet sides. The adjustment strap is made of a 1/8-inch thick strip of leather the same as the helmet body. It is twenty-nine inches long and 3/4-inch wide. On one end is a brass adjustment buckle, painted black, a standard Army issue equipment buckle of the Model 1910 series of equipment.

It would appear that the designers of the 1919 pattern “Helmet, Tank” intended that the “side” of the helmet having only one ventilation hole, as opposed to two, would be the front portion of the helmet. Why one “side” of the helmet needed to be designated as the front is open to conjecture, but it probably was intended to instill a uniformity of wear with the adjustment buckle being in the same position for all wearers whenever in formation. The intended position of the adjustment buckle is unknown.

A study of period photographs strongly suggests that wearers tended to put any “side” to the front and the adjustment buckle was worn wherever the soldier felt like it. The 1919 pattern “Helmet, Tank” has earned the distinction of being one of the Army’s most unattractive pieces of headgear, yet it has also the distinction of being one of the most long lived pieces of headwear, lasting a full twenty years. The 1919 pattern helmet is today one of the rarest of all American tanker helmets.

US Army Nomenclature

Prior to 1961 the U.S. Army nomenclature system termed all combat vehicle helmets simply “Helmet, Tank.” In the late 1930s and early 1940s there were sometimes as many as three different combat vehicle helmet types in issue at the same time, causing major inventory headaches. The Army finally resorted to differentiating the various types of tank helmets by calling them “Helmet, Tank” followed by the Ordnance Department drawing number.

This author has chosen to use the date of official Army pattern acceptance, 1919, as the way to distinguish this helmet from other tank helmets in use during the same time period. The term “1919 pattern” is not an official Army designation.

New Developments

The years between 1920 and 1936 saw little innovation in the mechanization of the U.S. Army. The infantry was content with the World War I vintage M1917 (American copy of the French Renault FT) light tank believing the only use a tank would ever provide was to break down an enemy’s wire barriers and engage and destroy his machine gun nests, as was done on the Western Front of 1918.

The cavalry and field artillery were more concerned with retaining their horses and paid only scant attention to the increasing mechanization occurring within the armies of Europe, especially England and Germany. It is little wonder that the tank helmet of this period, prior to 1936, remained the 1919 Pattern Helmet, Tank1 (FIG 1).

FIG 1. The
FIG 1. The “Helmet, Tank”—1919 Pattern. This helmet was used from 1919 to 1942. (Photo – Larry Munnikhuysen Collection)

The Infantry Board did make an attempt in 1934 to introduce a more modern helmet by having the Ordnance Department develop a steel helmet capable of including a tank communications system. A series of prototype steel helmets for tank crews was fabricated at the Rock Island Arsenal and titled Project KSB121.2 The experimental series were all essentially the same in appearance being a steel helmet with ear cut-outs covered by hinged ear-covers incorporating radio receivers (FIG 2).

FIG 2. This Combination Tank Helmet, Experimental Model was the final design under Project KSB121 in 1935. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.
FIG 2. This Combination Tank Helmet, Experimental Model was the final design under Project KSB121 in 1935. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

The helmets in these experiments were very similar in appearance to the M3 and M5 USAAF flak helmets which would appear during World War II. The project was cancelled in 1935 with none of the experimental helmet designs being approved.

During these inter-war years, the development of more modem armor and the expansion of mechanization was hindered not only by the severe economic restrictions of the Great Depression, but also by inter-service and governmental in-fighting. The original Tank Corps, which had shown such promise during World War I, was eliminated in 1920, largely at the insistence of the Infantry.

Matters were made worse for proponents of mechanization in the same year when Congress decreed that in the future all tanks would be under the control of and assigned only to the Infantry Branch. By the 1930s, the ‘Cavalry Branch,’ or at least those in the cavalry experimenting with mechanization, had found a way to circumvent this congressional mandate by calling their cavalry light tanks ‘combat cars’ and the armored cars ‘scout cars.’

The disarmament fever of the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s saw all branches of the military competing for the severely limited funding available for experimentation. This problem was compounded by the traditionalists of the infantry and cavalry who saw no need for mechanization.

It was because of these issues that tank helmet design remained moribund until events in Europe in the late 1930s initiated a frenzied renewal of interest in armor and mechanization. A by-product of this renewed interest saw several different tank helmets being designed and worn by different groups at almost the same time.

The Cavalry Style Tank Helmet

The cavalry style tank helmet (FIG 3) was developed following a May 1936 request from the 1st Cavalry Division, which was the experimental mechanized cavalry unit of the United States Army. A test was performed at Fort Knox, the home of the experimental mechanized cavalry, to select a modern helmet for use by crews of the Army’s new M2-series light tanks. Several different types of commercial football helmets were evaluated before a design submitted by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company of St. Louis was selected.

FIG 3. The cavalry style tank helmet. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.
FIG 3. The cavalry style tank helmet. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

The Rawlings helmet featured a hard top made of resin impregnated laminated paper with ten ventilation holes and two long, soft leather cheek pieces which buckled together under the chin. The liner is the same as that found in Rawlings commercial football helmets of the time, eight white fabric straps spaced evenly around the circumference of the helmet interior and connecting at and sewn to a central leather disk. Following these tests the Ordnance Technical Committee authorized the helmet to be procured and designated it the ‘Helmet, T-1.’

The Ordnance Officer at Fort Knox immediately sent in a requisition to the Artillery Division, Manufacturing Service, to procure 238 of the helmets from the Rawlings Company. The Rawlings Company is the only known producer of the cavalry style tank helmet and the company logo is impressed into the helmet neck guard (FIG 4).

FIG 4. The Rawlings Company logo impressed into the leather neck guard of the cavalry style tank helmet.
FIG 4. The Rawlings Company logo impressed into the leather neck guard of the cavalry style tank helmet.(Photo – Larry Munnikhuysen Collection)

The original helmet requisition had still not been fulfilled as of January 1938, because at that time a second requisition from the First Cavalry was submitted for the balance of the original 238 helmets and requesting that the helmets be expedited so that they would be available for use by the mechanized cavalry in the 1938 Second Army maneuvers. In July 1938, the Army re-designated this helmet from “Helmet, T-l” to “Helmet, Tank—Drawing # D-31760” and requisitioned 86 of these cavalry style helmets for combat car personnel and 49 for motorcycle drivers, 5 which would complete the original 1936 requisition.

The cavalry style tank helmet provided a modicum of bump protection to the wearer’s head, much more than the 1919 Pattern tank helmet which was still in use; however, as armor technology progressed, the cavalry style helmet began to show its disadvantages. The main complaints included its lack of any real ballistic protective qualities, the cheek or side pieces were not configured to accept radio receivers, and there were only three sizes available—small, medium, and large.

As vehicle radios and intercoms became more common in combat cars there is evidence that the mechanized cavalry units compensated for the lack of radio receiver receptacles in the cavalry style tank helmet by modifying some infantry style tank helmets. These modified infantry style tank helmets, which were designed to accommodate radio headphones, had the distinguishing foam rubber “donut” ring removed and were issued to the personnel assigned to radio equipped vehicles in headquarters (FIGs 5a & 5b).

An infantry style tank helmet modified for use by mechanized cavalry signals personnel. The donut shaped crash pad has been removed and

Another modification which appears in several known examples of the cavalry style helmet is a small black leather loop added to the rear of the helmet. This leather loop, intended to hold the dust goggle strap in place measures 11/16 inch wide and 1 5/8 inches long. It is attached to the helmet body by means of a brass colored snap fastener (FIG 6). The addition of this retention strap may have been a field modification done within the 1st Cavalry Division or could possibly indicate a change to the original design specification initiated by the Army for the last batches of helmets to be produced.

FIG 6. The goggle retention strap modification to the cavalry style tank helmet.
FIG 6. The goggle retention strap modification to the cavalry style tank helmet. (Photo – Larry Munnikhuysen Collection)

Gallery

1918 Col. George S. Patton, Jr
1918 Col. George S. Patton, Jr head of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) Light tank School

FIG 5b. U.S. Army photo showing a signals modified infantry style tank helmet being worn by a trooper of E Troop, 1st Cavalry Regiment (Mech) in 1939. U.S. Army Photo, Patton Museum, Ft. Knox, KY.
FIG 5b. U.S. Army photo showing a signals modified infantry style tank helmet being worn by a trooper of E Troop, 1st Cavalry Regiment (Mech) in 1939. U.S. Army Photo, Patton Museum, Ft. Knox, KY.

FIG 17. A mystery infantry/cavalry type tank helmet. Maker and dates of use unknown at this time. Courtesy of the Dave Powers Collection.
FIG 17. A mystery infantry/cavalry type tank helmet. Maker and dates of use unknown at this time. Courtesy of the Dave Powers Collection.

FIG 18. A tank helmet similar to that shown in FIG 17, but with a fitted steel shell. Courtesy of the Dave Powers Collection.
FIG 18. A tank helmet similar to that shown in FIG 17, but with a fitted steel shell. Courtesy of the Dave Powers Collection.

FIG 19. The distinctive interior linings of the helmets shown in FIG 17 and FIG 18 are identical. Courtesy of the Dave Powers Collection.
FIG 19. The distinctive interior linings of the helmets shown in FIG 17 and FIG 18 are identical. Courtesy of the Dave Powers Collection.

FIG 20. Another unknown infantry type tank helmet, possibly a design mock-up or a movie prop.
FIG 20. Another unknown infantry type tank helmet, possibly a design mock-up or a movie prop. (Photo – Larry Munnikhuysen Collection)

The Infantry Style Tank Helmet

In 1937, the Infantry Board requested the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company submit designs for a helmet to replace the Helmet, Tank 1919 Pattern, which was then in use in all Army tank units except the mechanized cavalry. A design, heavily influenced by the cavalry style tank helmet, was accepted in late 1937 and designated the “Helmet, Tank-Drawing #C-66424” (FIG 7).

FIG 7. The infantry style tank helmet. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum. 27th Sept 1940 (CNN: 224400)
FIG 7. The infantry style tank helmet. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum. 27th Sept 1940 (CNN: 224400)

This helmet was commonly referred to as the infantry style tank helmet. Actual production of this new helmet appears not to have begun until 1938 at the Rawlings plant in St. Louis, Missouri. The design of the infantry style tank helmet generally conformed to the cavalry style tank helmet although with several noticeable differences. The new infantry tank helmet incorporated features such as a longer leather neck piece with three small snap fastened straps to retain the wire harness of a radio headset and goggle straps.

In addition, the leather cheek pieces each had leather “cups” or pockets sewn to them externally to hold radio headphones. Each of these leather cups had two retention straps attached to securely hold radio headphones. However the most noticeable difference was the addition of a large donut ring around the outer circumference of the helmet bowl. This crash pad or “donut” was made of foam rubber covered in doe skin and though undoubtedly effective added a great deal of weight to the helmet.

FIG 8. The Rawlings Company logo impressed into the neck guard of the infantry style tank helmet.
FIG 8. The Rawlings Company logo impressed into the neck guard of the infantry style tank helmet. (Photo – Larry Munnikhuysen Collection)

The predominant maker of the infantry style tank helmet was the Rawlings Company and their helmets are easily recognizable by the Rawlings logo impressed on the rear neck guard of the helmet (FIG 8); however, there are examples known which were produced by the Sears Saddlery Company of Davenport, Iowa. The helmets produced by Sears Saddlery Company have their company name ink stamped in red on the interior central leather pad of the liner (FIG 9).

FIG 9 The Sears Saddlery Company logo ink stamped on the central liner pad of their infantry style tank helmet. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.
FIG 9 The Sears Saddlery Company logo ink stamped on the central liner pad of their infantry style tank helmet. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

Both manufacturers ink-stamped the helmet size onto the central leather pad of the liner. The interior lining of both the Rawlings and Sears Saddlery-type helmet consists of four cotton straps running from the circumference of the helmet bowl and intersecting centrally where they are sewn to the central leather circular pad. The lining straps of the Rawlings-made helmets have a black line of stitching running through the center of each strap, whereas the Sears Saddlery models are plain (FIG 10 & 11).

FIG 10. Interior liner straps of the Rawlings produced infantry style tank helmet.
FIG 10. Interior liner straps of the Rawlings produced infantry style tank helmet. (Photo – Larry Munnikhuysen Collection)

FIG 11. Interior liner straps of the Sears Saddlery produced infantry style tank helmet. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.
FIG 11. Interior liner straps of the Sears Saddlery produced infantry style tank helmet. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

A major difference in the construction of the two types of helmets is in the way the circular foam rubber bumper cushion is attached to the outside of the helmet bowl. The Rawlings produced infantry style helmets utilize waxed cotton thread to stitch the bumper cushion to the helmet (FIG 12), while the Sears Saddlery models use a leather strip (FIG 13).

FIG 12. Close-up showing the waxed cotton thread stitching used to attach the donut shaped crash pad on the Rawlings produced infantry style tank helmet.
FIG 12. Close-up showing the waxed cotton thread stitching used to attach the donut shaped crash pad on the Rawlings produced infantry style tank helmet. (Photo – Larry Munnikhuysen Collection)

A color variation in examples of the infantry style tank helmets appears to indicate two distinct variations; the first having a rather pale green paint on the hard fiber top and a definite pale or white color to the covering of the foam rubber donut anti-crash ring (FIG 14), the second having a darker hue to the fiber top of the helmet and a more olive green color to the covering of the donut ring and the cheek flaps giving the whole helmet a more uniform khaki or olive drab color (FIG 15).

This color difference and the dates they appear in period photographs probably indicates that there were at least two different production runs at the Rawlings factory, the first in early 1938 and the second probably in 1940.

Several variations of the cavalry and infantry style tank helmets are known to exist although whether they were actual production models or prototypes is not known. One variant of the infantry style helmet (FIG 16) was modified in August 1938 as part of a development project attempting to design a better method of attaching the standard Army radio headphones.

Helmets C-66424 and D-31760 have been modified to provide adequately for use of Headset HS-22-A. A standard headset part, the leather cup with snaps, was sewed on the outside of the ear flap to cover the opening. Then an inside flap was added and or a Hollywood movie prop. Another helmet that occasionally shows up on the collector’s market is often referred to as a cavalry style tank helmet (FIG 21) because of its similar appearance and construction. It is probably a commercial football helmet of the 1930-1940s.

FIG 21. Unknown football type helmet bears design features found in both the Rawlings Pattern tank helmet of World War II and the pre-war cavalry style tank helmet.
FIG 21. Unknown football type helmet bears design features found in both the Rawlings Pattern tank helmet of World War II and the pre-war cavalry style tank helmet. (Photo – Larry Munnikhuysen Collection)

The cavalry and infantry style tank helmets were both replaced beginning in 1941 by the Rawlings Pattern tank helmet (FIG 22), although the infantry style would continue to see service well into the early years of World War II (FIG 23).

FIG 23. Infantry style tank helmet being worn by a U. S. Marine Corps tanker of the 9th Defense Battalion in August 1943. U. S. Marine Corps Photo, National Archives.
FIG 23. Infantry style tank helmet being worn by a U. S. Marine Corps tanker of the 9th Defense Battalion in August 1943. U.S. Marine Corps Photo, National Archives.

The Rawlings Pattern tank helmet, which would become the iconic American tank helmet of World War II, was essentially another generation of the basic design that started in 1936 with the cavalry style tank helmet. The cavalry and infantry style tank helmets are considered by collectors to be two of the rarest and most desirable of American helmets.

FIG 22. The Rawlings Pattern tank helmet adopted in 1941 is the iconic American tank helmet of World War II. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.
FIG 22. The Rawlings Pattern tank helmet adopted in 1941 is the iconic American tank helmet of World War II. U.S. Army Photo, Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

About the author

Larry Munnikhuysen III was a graduate of Christopher Newport University with a KA in history and has done graduate level work in American history at Virginia Commonwealth University. A veteran of the United States Air Force. He is a member of the board of directors of the Virginia War Museum.

Sources

Minutes of the Ordnance Technical Committee, 16 July 1936, Item 12994,

Driver’s Helmet For Use In Combat Cars Ml—Procurement Of 238, RG 177, NA II, E34, Box 123.

Memorandum to: Commanding General, Fort Knox. KY.from: Headquarters First Cavalry, Office of Motors Officer, Fort Knox, Kentucky, July 16,1938, RG 177, NA II, E39, Box 29.

“A Tanker’s Uniform for a Tanker’s Duties,” a research Report Prepared at the Armored School, Fort Knox, Kentucky, 1951-1952, page 10.

Charles Lemons, Organization and Markings of United States Armored Units 1918-1941 (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2004), 136.

War Department, Office Chief of Cavalry, Washington, DC, 27 November 1937, To: President Cavalry Board, Fort Riley Kansas: “Item 2. The Infantry Board has recently developed another type of tank helmet as shown by enclosed blue-print.” RG 177, NA II, E39, Box 29.

Robert L.Burnes, 50 Golden Years of Sports (St. Louis, MO: Rawlings Manufacturing Company, 1948), YD.

War Department, OCSigO, Washington, DC. 15 August 1938, To: Chief of Ordnance. OCSigO-421-Helmets (5-12-38) 1st. Ind. RG 177, NA II, E39, Box 29.

2. Extract, Minutes of the Ordnance Technical Committee, 5 July 1934, Item 11578, Tank Helmet, Development Of, Records of the Chief of Arms, 1878-1943, Record Group 177, National Archives (II),

“Leaves from Old Notebook, Tanks & Tactics, France 1917-1918 “Fatten Papers, Box 54, Folder 2, MS Div., Library of Congress, Washington. D.C.

Capt. George S. Patton, Jr., ‘To: The Chief of the Tank Service,” 12 December 1917, p.16. Patton Papers, Box 54, Folder 2, MS Div., LOC.

Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1885-1940 (Boston: Houghtor, Mifflin Co., 1972), 479-480.

Lt. Col. James A. Drain., “To: C.O.O. through C.T.C.”, 22 August 1918 p.1, The Rockenbach Papers, Box 3, Folder 3, Archives Section, Virginia Military Institute Library. Lexington, Virginia.

Brashford Dean, Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare (New York: Carl J. Pugliese, 1977), 226

Capt. Elgin Braine, “To: Commanding Officer, 302nd Center, Tank Corps, U.S.A.,” 22 December 1918. p. 9, Patton Papers, Box 55, Folder 4, MS Div., LOG.

Col. L.B. Moody, “To: Sub-Committee on Tanks, Chairman, Ordnance Technical Board,” 14 October 1919, reprinted in The Doughboy, 23, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 4.

US work on anti-magnetic coatings
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One Response to US Army Tank Crew Helmets

  1. nickg says:

    very interesting!

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