The Brodie helmet, called Helmet, steel, Mark I helmet in Britain and the M1917 Helmet in the U.S., was a steel combat helmet designed and patented in 1915 by the Briton John L. Brodie. Colloquially, it was also called the shrapnel helmet, Tommy helmet, or Tin Hat, and in the United States known as a doughboy helmet.
During the first year of World War I, none of the combatants offered steel helmets to their troops. The soldiers of most nations went into battle wearing simple cloth caps that offered virtually no protection from modern weapons. German troops wore the traditional leather Pickelhaube, also of little protective value.
The huge number of lethal head wounds that modern weapons were inflicting upon the French Army led them to introduce the first of the modern steel helmets in the summer of 1915. The first French helmets were bowl-shaped steel "skullcaps" worn under the cloth caps. However, theter adopted by numerous other combatant nations.
At about the same time, the British War Office had also seen a similar need for steel helmets. The War Office Invention Department was asked to evaluate the French design but they decided that it was not strong enough and was too complex to be swiftly manufactured—the British industry was not geared up to an all-out effort of war production in the initial stages of World War I, which also led to the shell shortage of 1915.
A design patented in 1915 by John L. Brodie of London offered advantages over the French design as it was constructed from a single piece that could be pressed from a single thick sheet of steel, giving it added strength.
Brodie's design resembled the medieval infantry kettle hat or chapel-de-fer, unlike the German Stahlhelm, which resembled the medieval sallet. It had a shallow circular crown with a wide brim around the edge, a leather liner, and a leather chinstrap. The helmet's "soup bowl" shape was originally designed to protect the wearer's head and shoulders from fragmentation falling from above. The shallow bowl design allowed the use of relatively thick steel that could be formed in a single pressing while maintaining the helmet's thickness. Although this made it more resistant to projectiles, the design offered less protection to the lower part of the head and neck than other designs.
The original design (Type A) was made of mild steel with a brim 1.5–2 inches wide. The Type A was in production for just a few weeks before the specification was changed and the Type B was introduced in October 1915. The specification was altered at the suggestion of Sir Robert Hadfield to a harder steel with 12% manganese content which became known as "Hadfield's steel", which was virtually impervious to shrapnel balls provided they impacted from above. It also had a narrower brim and a more domed crown.
The original paint scheme, suggested by Brodie, was a mottled light green, blue, and orange camouflage, but they were also painted in green or blue-grey.
That same month the first delivery of the helmets was made to British Army troops. Initially there were far from enough helmets to equip every man, so they were designated as "trench stores", to be kept in the front line and used by each unit that occupied the sector. It was not until the summer of 1916, when the first one million helmets had been produced, that they could be generally issued.
The Brodie helmet reduced casualties but was criticized by General Herbert Plumer on the grounds that it was too shallow, too reflective, its rim was too sharp, and its lining was too slippery. These criticisms were addressed in the Mark I model helmet of 1916 which had a separate folded rim, a two-part liner, and matte khaki paint finished with sand, sawdust, or crushed cork to give a dull, non-reflective appearance. In 1917 the liner was modified to include a rubber cushion to make it more comfortable (this was not adopted for the M1917). Helmets were often painted with unit insignia towards the end of the war, and are often called "parade helmets" by collectors.
The weight of a Mark I helmet was approximately 1.2 pounds (0.54 kg).
It was first used in battle in April 1916 at the Battle of St Eloi. Troops from other countries in the British Empire also used the Brodie helmet as did the United States Armed Forces when they entered the war in 1917. The United States government initially purchased some 400,000 helmets from Britain. From January 1918 the U.S. Army began to use helmets manufactured in the U.S. and these helmets were designated M1917. The steel helmet was known to the troops as a "tin hat" or for the officers a "battle bowler" (from Bowler hat).
By the end of the war some 7.5 million Brodie helmets had been produced, including 1.5 million M1917 helmets for use by U.S. forces.
Post World War I
From 1936 the Mark I Brodie helmet was fitted with an improved liner and an elasticated webbing chin strap. This final variant served until late 1940 when it was superseded by the slightly modified Mk II which served the British and Commonwealth forces throughout World War II. During this period, the helmet was also used by the police, the fire brigade and ARP wardens in Britain. There was also a "civil" pattern available which was a little deeper but made from ordinary mild steel, which was available for private purchase.
In 1944, the British replaced it with a significantly modified design known as the Mk III Turtle helmet.
The U.S. Army used the basic Brodie-patterned M1917 helmet until 1942 with some modifications, which included a totally new liner and canvas chin strap. It was finally superseded by the M1 Helmet in 1942.
Brodie helmets are still being used today, most notably by tribal levies in Pakistan, and up until just recently, by the Israeli civil defence forces. The steel shells of these helmets are most likely Second World War era British surplus, with domestically manufactured replacement liners.
Some live-action role players use Brodie helmets as substitute Medieval chapeaux-de-fer. The Brodie helmet resembles its Medieval original enough to be an acceptable substitute.
- Helmet M-1917
- Index CEF Helmets
- Dunstan, Simon; Ron Volstad (1984). Flak Jackets: 20th Century Military Body Armour. London: Osprey Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 0850455693.
- Bull, Stephen; Adam Hook (2002). World War I Trench Warfare (1): 1914–16. Oxford; New York: Osprey Publishing. pp. 10–11. ISBN 1841761974.
- Sheffield, Gary (2007). War on the Western Front: In the Trenches of World War I. Oxford; New York: Osprey Publishing. p. 227. ISBN 1846032105.
- Helmet M1917
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