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Stahlhelm types

In 1935 the military approved a new stahlhelm known as the M35.  The M35 was similar in basic appearance to the old M17 but was lighter, more functional, and significantly updated.  The M35 helmet evolved several times throughout WWII based on wartime production needs.  Each modification resulted in a slightly newer variation although each held the same basic design.    At least three models were manufactured exclusively for combat; the M35, M40, and M42.  Each helmet was designated by its year of introduction.  In the UK, the M42 helmet is often referred to as the M43.  All three versions of this helmet were worn throughout WWII.


Model 1935 (M35)

The M35 helmet was manufactured in response to the military's request to update the WWI pattern stahlhelm that was still in service in the early 1930's.  The new design, while similar to a WWI steel helmet, was more streamlined than the WWI version and it was considerably less bulky.   In addition, the new model also incorporated a different type of liner system to support the head of it's wearer.  The new liner system was considerably more advanced and comfortable than the three pad liners used in WWI style helmets.

When the M35 helmet went into production in 1935, units of the Army (Heer) and Air Force (Luftwaffe) eagerly awaited the finished product.  Much to their dissatisfaction, the first shipment of completed M35 helmets did not reach units of the Heer or Luftwaffe until 1936!  This delay, in part, was due to a number of large foreign orders that took precedence over the requests of the German Armed Services (Wehrmacht).   It is important to note that German firms produced the M35 for foreign export prior to WWII, with large quantities being purchased by the Chinese and Spanish governments.   While virtually identical to the German issued M35, most of the exported helmets did not have the same type of liner system found in Wehrmacht issued helmets.  In addition, the majority of foreign export models were not stamped with production code numbers and maker's marks like those found on original WWII era German combat helmets.   However, many of the early export helmet shells are identical to the M35 used by the Wehrmacht when these helmets were first introduced into service.

M35_helmet.gif (8900 bytes) Venthole35.jpg (4405 bytes) Rolled edges along the base rim of the helmet

Separate air vent rivets

Apple-green color in a smooth finish

Originally decals on both sides

Model 1940 (M40)

The Model 1940 helmet (M40) is similar to the M35 in that it retains the rolled edges along the base rim of the helmet.   Although rather easy to identify, the M40 is often mistaken for an M35 (or visa versa) because of it's rounded edges.   Despite this common design element, differences between the M35 and the M40 are easy to spot since they are directly related to the way in which the air vent is inserted into the shell of the helmet.  In an effort to reduce production costs and manufacturing time, helmet producers made the decision to eliminate the steps necessary to insert the separate air vent rivet by simply embossing the air vent hole into the side of the shell.  This simple step helped to improve wartime manufacturing efficiency, but it required a new shell mold to be made to accommodate the embossing procedure.  As a result, the basic shape of the M40 is slightly more rounded than the M35.  In addition, it is often the heavier of the two helmets with a thicker steel shell.  A subtle difference that is often overlooked.

M40_helmet.gif (7988 bytes) Venthole40.jpg (4737 bytes) Rolled edges along the base rim of the helmet

Embossed air vent holes

More rounded shape

Finished in matt dark grey; though the color ranged from light to dark field grey, depending on the manufacturer

Usually one decal (no tricolor)

Model 1942 (M42)

The Model 1942 helmet (M42) is the most common of all WWII German combat helmets.  This is partly because this style of helmet was manufactured for a longer period of time during the war (1942 to 1945), but also because helmets in this style survived right up to May of 1945.   It is safe to assume that the large numbers of M35 and M40 helmets manufactured prior to 1942 were lost, buried, or left behind when the wearer was killed in action.   When damaged helmets could be collected from the battlefield, they were often transported to factories where they could be melted down for their steel.

Many examples of the M42 helmet exist today and they are somewhat easy to obtain.  The M42 helmet is identical to the M40 in all respects except for the fact that the base edge of the helmet DOES NOT have a rolled edge.  Many people are confused as to why this helmet was manufactured with a flared (or sharp) edge.  The answer is actually quite simple.   In a second step to reduce production time and costs, manufacturers elected to skip the process that curled the metal edge under.   The elimination of this step during in the production of the M40 helmet resulted in the M42 model.

M42 helmets are typically encountered without any helmet decal.  However, it should be noted that manufacturers did apply single decals to this model helmet right up until the early part of 1943.  While a number of M42 helmets have no decal at all, it is fairly common to find M42's with a single Heer, Luftwaffe, or Waffen SS decal.   The M42 helmet was painted in a variety of dark green, rough or sand textured colors to reduce the helmet's glare in the field.  As with the M40 helmet, the inside of the M42 is typically a smooth finish.

M42_helmet.gif (7864 bytes) Venthole40.jpg (4737 bytes)  

Base edge of the helmet DOES NOT have a rolled edge

Embossed air vent holes

Dark grey-green, rough or sand textured colors

Usually no decals (but some had one decal)

Helmets were camouflaged with paint, mud, hessian camouflage netting and with foliage tucked into a cruciform strap harness hooked over the helmet. One of the commonest and easiest way was to use a rubber ring cut from a tire inner tube forced down around the body of the helmet. Chicken wire mesh was also formed around the helmet, and bent under the rim of the helmet. Burlap cloth from sandbags was also used. Shades of paint, and presence or absence of decals, varied widely throughout the war

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