Friday, August 21, 2015

World War II British Airborne Helmets: Real or Reproduction?

In at least the past decade or two collectors of World War II British Airborne helmets have had the same fate befall them as did collectors of German Fallschirmjäger helmets much earlier. Reproductions of varying quality have increasing appeared on the market. As stated elsewhere in this blog, the demand by re-enactors has been one of the factors driving this situation. In addition the limited supply of authentic helmets existing outside of museums, and available to the collector’s market has greatly diminished, also breeding a demand.

As a result individuals seeking to acquire the genuine article are constantly searching for any and all information on the subject, in order that they stand at least a reasonable chance of obtaining same, in any case usually still at a substantial investment, thus doubling the importance.

Recently there has been a significant and outstanding effort by Military Mode Publishing in corroboration with the Airborne Assault Museum, Duxford to fill this requirement. It is the second of three volumes published, which provide detailed historical research as well as extensive studio-quality colored photographic imagery of the subject. Although not cheap, the book, as well as its companion volumes, has received extensive excellent reviews and accolades from collectors. The publishers other extremely worthy efforts include a companion book on the Denison Smock and its successive evolution into the current issue, and a very recent publication devoted to British Airborne Insignia from inception to date. Interested readers may find the Military Mode web site at Sample pages of the book are included at their web site.

The only perspective missing in this superlative effort is a side-by-side forensic analysis of the genuine helmets compared with examples of the reproductions that unfortunately abound. To do so is a double-edged sword, as it immediately provides a tutorial to counterfeiters as to the shortfalls in their efforts. As a result it is with somewhat mixed emotions that a direct comparison is presented herein, hopefully that it will do more good than harm. Arming both new, as well as seasoned, collectors with the information which can have a net positive effect. This article will first present two examples of reproductions, and a third which is a probable post-WWII modification of an original helmet by the Australian Military Forces. The first being the Helmet Steel Airborne Troops (HSAT) MK II, and the second and third being copies/modification of the HSAT MK I. Full acknowledgement and gratitude being given to International Military Antiques and WAR for the photographs. The first example is reasonably self-evident as a reproduction. While all three are currently sold as reproductions, the extent of antiquing implemented on the second example could, in the author’s opinion, be very easily used to deceive in the future, although not directly stated or inferred by the seller. After viewing the photographs below I'll let the reader be the judge. While not specifically formatted the reader can enlarge and copy the photographs as jpgs for offline comparison, or comparison with imagery of other helmets. The majority of the photographs can be enlarged without any loss of resolution by double clicking.

Photographs of Helmet Steel Airborne Troops (HSAT) MK II available from International Military Antiques. Please take note of the following features:

     • Color of helmet shell.
     • Color and weave of the web chin harness.
     • Bright brass tips, buckles and attachment fittings for web chin harness.
     • Color of interior leather headband.
     • Square shape and location of interior head protector cushion.
     • Material, color and configuration of interior padding.

Helmet Steel Airborne Troops (HSAT) MK I offered by WAR Genuine
original HSAT MK I helmets with the fiber rim are exceedingly rare. Please carefully note the detailed features of this reproduction helmet:

     • Partially obscured manufacturer's initials and date stamps.
     • Dyed interior of leather chin harness and surface texture of leather.
     • Dyed chamois chin pad.
     • Color and surface composition of fiber helmet rim.

This example is suspected of being a Post-WWII Australian Military Forces conversion of a HSAT MK I,  replacing the original leather chin harness with the later web configuration. This would account for the empty hole seen in the rear of the helmet.

The next two examples being shown for direct comparison are from the author’s personal collection, and are the HSAT MK I (Leather chin harness) dated 1945, and a post WWII example HSAT MK II dated 1955. Although purchased at Crown Surplus in Calgary, Alberta in 1970, the first helmet while using all original components, has had the exterior re-painted. Also note khaki versus white web interior crown loops, possibly a different manufacturer (BS vs BMB)? The second helmet being of later manufacture appears to be all original and unissued, and was obtained in 1975.

The specific details of any airborne helmet that should be carefully checked for authenticity include, but are not limited to:

• The helmets manufactured during World War II used a non-magnetic
manganese steel basic shell. Test with magnet.

The paint color on the wartime helmets was a browner shade of olive
drab, not the greener shade found on post-war and the majority of
reproduction helmets.

The color, weave and texture of the web chin harness on genuine
helmets differs from most reproductions.

The interior top thin protector pad was circular, of a black rubberized
material, with either a smooth or a unique rippled pattern surface.

• The original black leather chinstrap assemblies had the edges dyed
black, with only the inner surface left natural.

• The leather helmet liners when newly issued were a light pink-tan
color, typical of new russet leather.

• The metal fittings on original web chin harnesses had a black anodized
 finish, not bright brass or other bare metal.

• Known manufacturers codes stamped into the interior side of the leather
cushioned headband include:
BMB – Most common, and standing for Briggs Motor Bodies Ltd of Dagenham
G&S – Gimson & Slater of Nottingham
C.C.L. – Christy & Co Ltd London
BS – William Beardmore Steel Co. of Glasgow

• Be extremely cautious of any interior markings which have the date
 stamp obliterated.

• Carefully compare the material and configuration of the helmet’s
padding with either a known genuine helmet, or a good color photograph
of same.

• Most surviving genuine helmets that are in unissued/excellent condition
tend to be of either a very small size (6 5/8) or exceptionally large (7 1/2 - 8).

 • Color and surface composition of fiber or rubberized material of helmet rim

• Does the helmet pass the smell test; any old helmet, issued or unissued will
have a certain musty odor from age and storage, whereas a reproduction will in
 all probability have the smell of new leather and/or new paint.

This final example is a genuine late issue HSAT MK I (no fiber rim), and judging
from appearances probably unissued. That conclusion being reinforced by its small size
(6 5/8). With full acknowledgement and gratitude to Bosleys Buywyze website. Its
features could serve as a sealed pattern against which other helmets can be
evaluated. The importance of such a detailed inspection might be strongly indicated by
the fact that the current asking price for this specific helmet is 1450.00 GBP ($2219.63

An additional very subtle "purist" authenticity check for the original issue HSAT MK II, is that the web chin harness contains a secondary set of web reinforcing strips sewn around the joints in the harness. This is best described in the following series of photographs.

For those who might be interested the following are a series of photographs of the
second model of training helmet issued to British paratroops, referred to as the Bungee
helmet. The helmet incorporated a ring of sorbo rubber surrounding the head, but without
any protection on top. Most common configuration had a pair of large grommets to
facilitate hearing on each side flap. Models with four grommets on each side were also
produced. Unfortunately it suffices to say that this helmet, facilitated by it relative design
simplicity, has also been reproduced.


AV Campinas Praça Capital said...

Dear sirs, I have a Mk.III helmet and I bought it as an original one. Reading your excellent article (congrats for that!!!) I think I really have an original helmet but I am not an expert on British helmets.

Please, would it be possible for you take a look at the pics I have and help me on determining whether my helmet is WWII period or not?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance and best regards,

Alex Triffoni.

Arnhemjim said...

Hello Alex,
Apologies, short of putting my personal e-mail address out to the entire world, it seems impractical. A suggestion please. Given the 13 inspection steps listed in this article to establish authenticity; count how many your helmet passes. Use the photos in the article for comparison. That should give you a percentage (confidence) number. If that number is say 11 out of 13 (85%), that's the certainty you have the real thing. Being non-magnetic is important. Hope this is of some assistance.
Arnhem Jim

Oscar Charlie said...

Hi Jim,

Thanks for such an informative and well researched website. I have a non magnetic helmet no chinstrap only single webbing strap and hole at back. I have followed your advice but can't seem to find a mention of just single webbing strap anywhere. Do you have any knowledge of this?

Arnhemjim said...

Hello Oscar Charlie,
Although I'm not positive without either physically seeing the helmet. or images of it, I believe that the helmet you have is probably the WWII Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) steel configuration. While the basic helmet shell is common to both the paratroop and dispatch rider helmet, the suspension is different in each. You may want to check the following web site to see if it contains your helmet; Hope this has been of some assistance, and thank you very mach for your interest in this blog.
Arnhem Jim

Post a Comment

Post a Comment