Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, July 8, 2016

The AEF's M-1917 Helmet

A Doughboy Reenactor in Authentic Gear

By Mark A. Reynosa

The United States entered World War I in April 1917, and at the time the United States Army did not have a helmet for its troops. The adoption of a helmet by the French, British, and German armies convinced the U.S. Army that a helmet was needed as a standard piece of equipment. In June 1917 the Army selected the standard British helmet design for its use. This was the British Mk. I steel helmet. There were three main reasons for the selection of the British Mk. I helmet design:"the immediate availability of 400,000 ready-made helmets from England, the simplicity of manufacture from hard metal, and the superior ballistic properties." When the British Mk. I was selected by the U.S. Army, the U.S. production version was designated and standardized as the Helmet, M-1917. Until U.S. production of the M-1917 could begin, the Army purchased the 400,000 available British Mk. I helmets in England and issued them to the American Expeditionary Forces already in Europe. Production was begun on the M-1917 helmets in the fall of 1917. By the end of November 1917, large quantities of M-1917 helmets became available for the U.S. Army. 

Rear View
The M-1917 helmet was very similar to the British Mk. I helmet, basically an inverted bowl stamped out of a single piece of manganese alloy, which was made up of 13 percent manganese and was .036" thick. This differed from the British helmet, as the Mk. I helmet was made up of 12 percent manganese. Thus, ballistically, the M-1917 helmet increased protection for the wearer by 10 percent over the British Mk. I helmet and could withstand a .45-caliber pistol bullet traveling at 600 feet per second fired at a distance of ten feet. A rim was spot welded to the edge of the steel bowl, with the ends butted, as opposed to lapped, which was done on the British Mk. I helmet. Riveted to the steel bowl were two flexible guiding loops for the chin strap. Here again, the U.S. M-1917 helmet differed from the British Mk. I helmet. On the U.S. helmet the loops were secured by solid machined rivets, whereas the British Mk. I helmet used split rivets. An adjustable leather chin strap was riveted to the steel bowl and consisted of two halves, each joined together by metal loops which were secured to the ends of the leather halves by steel split rivets. Also riveted to the steel bowl was the helmet lining. To make the outside surface of the helmet anti-glare, the helmets were first painted, then fine sawdust was blown on the wet paint, and finally the helmet was painted again. To increase protective properties the helmets were painted in an olive drab shade.

Machine Gunners of the 3rd Division at Château-Thierry

During the fall of 1917 production was begun on the M-1917 helmets. By the end of November 1917, the first deliveries of large quantities of M-1917 helmets were being made to the U.S. Army. On 17 February 1918 approximately 700,000 M-1917 helmets had been produced. As United States involvement in World War I increased, the U.S. Army placed additional orders for the M-1917 helmet. By July 1918 orders for the M-1917 helmet reached 3,000,000, in August 6,000,000, and in September 7,000,000. In November 1918, when hostilities ended and American production was ordered to cease, U.S. manufacturers had produced a total of 2,707,237 M-1917 helmets.

Excerpted from U.S. Combat Helmets of the 20th Century; reprinted with permission.


  1. When he was with the BEF in France, Churchill wore a French helmet, which he considered superior to the British design:

  2. From Steve Harris

    The 107th Regiment, the old 7th from NYC, before the great parade in 1919 when the 27th Division marched up 5th Avenue, had painted its helmets a dark greener so the doughboys would standout from the doughboys from upstate New York.

  3. I seem to recall that there was a fight about royalties with the British inventor?

  4. Re Churchill's choice of helmet. I've read (sorry - can't remember where) that the French Adrian helmet was INFERIOR to the British Brodie helmet. I suspect Churchill's decision to wear it (but did he do so as routine? - it would have been most irregular) had a lot to do with its more stylish appearance. Winston liked to stand out! (Since writing this I've discovered Wikipedia more or less backs me up).

    1. Remember Churchill was wearing his Adrain toward the end of 1915-early 1916 (forget the exact dates). I'm not sure that helmets had been fully adopted/accepted/issued to the British Army by that time. The French were the first of the allies to adopt a helmet so it is possible that Churchill was wearing an Adrain as that was what was available at the time.

    2. Jeffrey, I think you are probably right to correct me. WSC was in the trenches very early in 1916 and although the Brodie helmet was becoming available by then there were still too few to be issued as personal equipment, and they formed part of "Trench stores", to be handed over to incoming units at the time of relief. (I've been doing some reading!) The Adrian that WSC wore had been presented to him during a familiarisation visit to French trenches a few weeks earlier and so was his personal property.

    3. I believe I read somewhere that WSC found the French helmet lighter and more comfortable than the British Brodie helmet. WCS enjoyed his comfort.