Hełm – a combat protection, protecting the head from injury, made of resistant material. For many centuries it was used only by the military, but over time it also found use among civilians. Many fields use the original name helmet (e.g., firefighter’s helmet, miner’s helmet), and some industries have adopted the name helmet (e.g., construction, emergency services, and motorcyclists, cyclists, climbers, and skaters).
In former times it was usually made of metal or leather. Since World War I helmets made of steel were introduced on a mass scale, while nowadays helmets made of synthetic fibers are mainly in use.
In ancient times helmets were used by Greek hoplites and Roman armies. They were often made from a single piece of bronze plate. It provided an effective shield, but the warrior could not hear much in it. It was very often decorated with bird feathers or horsehair.
The Romans used helmets of Gallic design, hence the name Galea (full name cassis-galea). Later they began to mass produce their own helmets (cassis). This was due to the professionalization of the army (more or less since the reform of Marius), in which an effort was made to unify the offensive and defensive armament of the legionaries. This also applied to helmets, which underwent numerous transformations and modifications resulting from the use of materials and production techniques as well as functions (legionary infantry helmets, auxiliary troops helmets, cavalry helmets).
The Roman helmet (cassis) protected the head of the Roman infantryman, being tied under the chin with a leather strap. It was made of leather covered with metal plate.
The top of the helmet was reinforced with knobs, rings or a button made of bullion, fulfilling decorative functions. Roman helmet was characterized by cheeks and epaulettes – with time it became a prototype for later eastern helmets, including also Polish hussar helmet.
In the Middle Ages the essential part of the helmet was the bell, either uniform or assembled from several parts. Its lower part sometimes had a circumferential rim, and a neck cap was attached to its edge to protect the neck. The face shield was sometimes a nosal, a plate placed in front of the bell or forming part of it. Younger helmets have a movable veil instead of a nosal. The top of the bell was often crowned with a sleeve for a plume or pith.
In Poland, as in other European countries, helmets were forged in the workshops of specialists – helmet makers, as well as armourers, usually belonging to the collective guild of smiths. Separation of manufacturers of head protection occurred as a result of progress in armament production. In 1326 Hannus “helmfrint” worked in Kraków, another name for helmetmakers is “helmsmeden” or “galeatores”. Until the middle of the 15th century there were at least ten workshops producing helmets in Kraków, excluding armourers. There was probably a specialization among helmetmakers. In Lvov, between 1382 and 1414, Piotr Eysenhutil (Ysenhuter) worked, i.e., an artisan forging capalines.
Types of medieval helmets: Shikhaks, conical helmets, ocular (Helmets popular among Scandinavian peoples, they resembled Norman helmets in design, except that they had an ocular – an arched strip of metal plate attached to the nosepiece and rim of the helmet, which gave additional protection to the face when cutting from above, without much loss of visibility or quality of ventilation), scaly (The bell was composed of small metal scales attached to a stiff cap or a cap made of organic material),garczkowe (it was completely closed and protected the head and partially the neck and neck), kapalin (In the late Middle Ages it became the most common helmet in Poland. The capalin was known already in antiquity, and gained popularity again in Europe in the 12th century. In the Kingdom of Poland it appeared at the end of the 13th century, but became common in the 14th century. In the Kingdom of Poland it appeared in the late 13th century, but became common in the 14th century. (A hat-shaped helmet was made of several riveted plates or, more rarely, from a single piece of iron), a visor (A helmet called a visor appeared in Western Europe about the middle of the 14th century. This veil was not part of the bell, but connected to it by an abutment or front hinge or two temple hinges).
Hełm (szyszak) husarski – The Hussar helmet is derived from the open conical helmet of eastern origin, also known as the Szyszak, which was used in medieval Poland and Rus. A characteristic element of the helmet was its finial, the so-called szysz, in the form of a sleeve for a plume or spearhead.
The hussar helmet was made of iron and consisted of a semicircular bell, lined with leather with a high and impressive crest. The crest was most likely adopted from the sturmak used in western Europe. An outer ring was riveted to the lower part of the bell. A characteristic element was a peak with a nose, riveted to the rim, which expanded at the end into a prominent face veil in a shape similar to a leaf. Its cut clearly referred to the Eastern style. Also attached to the helmet’s rim were a cap and cheeks, in which hearing holes were cut out, usually in the form of a heart.
The helmets, as well as the whole hussar armor had many decorative elements, e.g. brass buttons placed on the cheeks. The decorations emphasized the social and military position of the hussars. This was of great importance as the hussars in Poland were the most serious mark of national authority, a unit reserved for the wealthiest and most ambitious, arousing the admiration and delight of foreigners.
A popular type of helmet used in the 16th-17th centuries was the morion. In this period and the next, however, helmets lost their popularity with the development of firearms, against which they did not provide a shield.
Morion – a type of open helmet structurally derived from the capalino, in use in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was worn by infantrymen (mainly pikemen and musketeers), rarely by cavalry (e.g. raiders) and exceptionally in France by cavalrymen. Characteristic features of the morion are the so-called crest and the shape of the brim: sides falling down, front and back – raised and pointed. Today, helmets of this type are worn by members of the Swiss Guard. In films about the conquest of Mexico and the Incan state it is the most characteristic attribute of the conquistadors.
W XVII-XVIII in the second half of the 19th century the Turkish misiurka gained popularity in the lands of the Republic of Poland. It was a helmet consisting of a flat, slightly convex “plate” protecting the top of the skull and with attached spiked protection of the forehead, sides of the head and neck. Used only over a leather cap or turban, as it had no padding.
W XVIII-XIX in the 19th century helmets were used only by a few military formations, such as cuirassiers and order formations. Helmets of this period largely served an ornamental and distinctive function. One of the more widely used helmets of the 19th century was the German leather and metal pikielhauba.
Hełm kirasjerski – cuirassiers were a type of heavy cavalry in metal plate armor (cuirass or cuirassier armor) that existed in the 16th-20th centuries, western Europe. Cuirassiers were a privileged formation and were exempt from many mandatory elements of service. The cuirassiers wore steel, open helmet-shaped helmets that were reminiscent of the helmets of the Hellenistic Greeks and Romans. They had a brim of black bear fur, and were decorated with a black horsehair epaulet and a mottled feather on the left side.
Pikielhauba – was introduced in 1842 by order of Frederick William IV as protective headgear for Prussian infantry. Similar helmets had been used earlier in Russia. They may have been copied by the Germans (the Russians replaced pikielhauba around 1918 with budionovka). The pikielhauba was made of hardened leather, dyed black with a high gloss, reinforced with metal elements, the most distinctive of which was the skewer. The skewer was used to attach a decorative horsehair plume to the helmet, used in conjunction with the gala uniform. The skewer on officers’ helmets was usually plated in gold or silver. Over time, it became a decorative element in its own right, without a plume. Aside from the pickguard, the most recognizable part of the pickguard was the large, decorative ornament on the front of the helmet, signifying the soldier’s affiliation. In 1892, a thin brown cloth cover – the M1892 Überzug – was introduced as standard equipment during training and combat operations. The purpose of the cover was to protect the pickerelhaub from dirt and to camouflage the soldier during combat, as the pickerelhaub was highly shiny. On the front of the cover instead of decorative ornamentation the regiment number was embroidered or stenciled with red paint. Since August 1914 the numbers were painted green, so that the soldier would not stand out from the background on the battlefield. At the beginning of the First World War, the leather pikielhauba with canvas cover was the standard helmet of the army of the German Empire. From 1915, due to a shortage of raw materials, it was also produced in sheet metal and even felt. In October 1916, the color of the cover was changed to grey-grey (feldgrau). However, pickerelhauby did not work well on the then new battlefield. They insufficiently protected soldiers from shrapnel and since 1916 they began to gradually go out of use replaced by steel helmet M1916 (Stahlhelm). After stahlhelm became popular they were used only as ceremonial headgear outside the battlefield.
The need to reintroduce protective headgear for soldiers became apparent at the beginning of World War I, when, on the Western Front, soldiers lay in the trenches of positional warfare, exposed to frequent artillery and mortar fire. The development of steel helmets began at that time to protect against shrapnel, especially from projectiles falling from above, such as shrapnel, and to some extent against firearms projectiles falling at an angle from greater distances. The first helmet to be widely introduced in 1915 was the French wz.15, developed under the direction of Colonel August Adrian (the so-called Adrian Helmet), later adopted by some other armies of the entente. It was medium deep, relatively light and distinguished by the longitudinal crest above the helmet’s bell, covering the ventilation hole, as well as by the characteristic visor and cap, but it provided little protection. The same year saw the introduction of the British Mk I helmet, shallow but with a shape designed to deflect shrapnel balls as well as possible (reminiscent of medieval capalines). This helmet was also adapted by the American army. In 1916 the German helmet wz.16 was introduced, so called stahlhelm, deep and heavy, providing the best protection, with the shape referring to the medieval headdress, with characteristic earflaps connected to the cap. The weight of these helmets ranged from 0.67 ÷ 0.76 kg (French) to 0.98 ÷ 1.4 kg (German).
Modern helmets had leather inserts inside, usually consisting of several flaps, tied at the top, under the helmet bell, allowing the helmet to fit the head and provide cushioning. However, these helmets did not directly protect against perpendicularly falling firearms bullets – only the German stahlhelm had the option of a front armor plate, but this was not popular due to its weight and only partial protection. Towards the end of World War I, helmets became common all-military headgear.
Hełm „adrian” wz. 15 – French steel helmet, developed in 1915 by a military commission headed by the chief intendant of the French army, Colonel Louis Adrian. It was the first widely used modern military helmet. It was used from its creation until the early 1970s. The development of a new design of headgear for the army was forced by the new way of fighting, the massive use of heavy and rapid-firing artillery on the fields of World War I. Shrapnel that hit soldiers’ heads caused wounds that were difficult to heal and often fatal. Previous headgear offered no protection against shrapnel on the new battlefield.
In Poland helmets wz. 15 were basic type of helmets until introduction of Polish model 31 in 1933. During the September campaign they were used by armoured vehicles crews, cavalry and few infantry units. In Poland they were painted khaki color, while in France at first gray-blue and then khaki.
Newer models of these helmets, retaining their general shape, were used by the French (model 26), British (Mk 2) and German (M35, M42) armies also during World War II. Other countries, including Poland, Italy, Japan, the USSR, and the USA, developed their own designs of steel helmets, usually deep, in the 1930s and 1940s. Helmets made of new types of steel were resistant to pistol bullets and intermediate and rifle bullets fired from long distances. In Polish Army in the interwar period there were used various imported and foreign helmets, most often French wz.15, but in the early 1930s the own type of deep helmet wz.31 was introduced, which was used in all first-line infantry units until 1939, whereas in 1939 cavalry used light French helmets. Steel helmets were still designed and used for several decades after the war. For example, in Poland since the end of 1960s the standard helmet became deep steel helmet wz. 67, with plate thickness of 1.4 mm and weight of the helmet (without internal equipment) 1.5 kg.
Hełm wz.31 – Polish steel helmet, developed in 1931. First helmets were handed over to the units in January 1933. The helmet was used in infantry and artillery units of Polish Army, in Navy, as well as in Border Protection Corps, Border Guards (special model with white eagle wz.27 with height of 10 cm), State Police and some National Defense units. In the artillery helmets were worn with the visor backwards to facilitate observation and operation of sights. Probably the wz.31 helmets were also exported to Spain and Persia. In total, until September 1939 they were produced about 320 thousand pieces. The helmet was one-piece with a slight undercut and a profiled visor. It was covered with an anti-reflective varnish “Salamandra” type or smooth. It was available in khaki, gray, gray-green and navy blue (the last one in police units, where khaki helmets were also used). It provided adequate protection against shrapnel, shrapnel and pistol bullets. The weight of the helmet was about 1.3 kg.
Hełm korkowy (inna nazwa to hełm tropikalny) – a lightweight headdress made of cork or stem core. Because it protected the head and face well from the sun, it was often used by Europeans in tropical areas during colonial times. The first simple cork helmets appeared around 1840 in India during the Anglo-Sikh War, but they gained popularity thirty years later when European armies began using them in their overseas colonies. During the Franco-Prussian War, German Pikielhaubs became common, which likely influenced the design of the cork helmet. During World War II, the cork helmet was in common use by the British, Turks, Belgians, French, and Germans fighting in Africa and the Middle East.
This type of helmet (but without the real cork material) was also used during WWII by the Japanese and Americans fighting in the hot equatorial climate, as well as by the Italians in North Africa and the German Afrika Korps units. They were also widely used in the Philippines.
The British Army formally abolished cork helmets in 1948, but they remained in use in other countries.
Hełmofon – headgear with built-in earphones and laryngofones or microphones, designed to protect the head and enable radio or telephone communication in conditions of high external noise. Used since World War I, among others by pilots of military airplanes, today almost exclusively used by soldiers of armoured and mechanised forces inside tanks and armoured personnel carriers. Also used by the Navy, including on torpedo boats. Helmets do not protect – like military helmets – from shrapnel hits in direct combat, their task is only to protect the head in the cramped interiors of the combat vehicle from strikes of protruding elements of the equipment, especially when it is moving through uneven and wild roads. In the past, they were often sewn from leather or faux leather and were called “pilots”. Modern helmets are usually sewn from tarpaulins, between the layers of material are sewn every few centimeters strips of special elastic cushions, designed to absorb impacts. The helmets described above are used mainly in the Russian, and earlier Soviet, army. They were also used by armies supplied by Russia/the USSR with armoured equipment (e.g. People’s Army of Poland). Similar design was also used by Bundeswehr tankers. In other countries, the crews of armored vehicles did without special protective headgear (e.g., German and British tank crews during World War II), being satisfied with a set of headphones with laryngofon, worn over a regular cap, furzeżerka or beret. Other armies (e.g., United States Army) used and still use rigid steel or plastic helmets with built-in headphones.
Since 1980s, steel helmets have been gradually replaced by helmets made of artificial fibers, especially para-aramid fibers (Kevlar), which are characterized by several times higher resistance than steel helmets, with similar weight. The first successful model, which is still widely used in many armies, was American PASGT Kevlar helmet developed in 1975. A similar helmet of this type, wz. 93, with a high degree of resistance, was also developed and introduced in Poland in the 90s. There are also produced helmets made of fiberglass laminated with ballistic nylon.
Hauba lotnicza, pilotka – a type of leather cap designed for airplane pilots, fitted closely to the aviator’s head. It became particularly popular in the early 20th century, when open-cockpit aircraft began to be used on a larger scale.
Common to all haubas were large earmuffs, a strap fastened under the chin, and often a short visor that was placed in front and turned upward to show the pilot’s padding, which was usually wool or fur. Most pilot’s jackets were extended at the back to cover the pilot’s neck, protecting him from wind and cold. The visor was adapted for the installation of telephone (or radio) headphones and goggles. The front of the visor was profiled in such a way as to allow the goggles to adhere as closely as possible to the pilot’s face. Some haubas were additionally equipped with electric heating, which was extremely useful for pilots during flights at high altitude or in winter.
With the advent of enclosed cockpits, the demand for pilots diminished, but their use did not cease altogether. Flight hats experienced their second youth during World War II, when again pilots put them on their heads during flights. However, they lost their position again after the introduction of jet aircraft, when leather pilots began to be replaced by more secure and safer for pilots modern helmets made of plastics, such as plastic and later carbon fiber.