M1917A1 Helmet – Head Protection in the Early Days of WWII

The M1917A1 helmet was worn by members of the US Armed Forces during the early struggles of WWII.

During the First World War, combating nations developed steel helmets to minimize head wounds caused by shrapnel. The British adopted a design patented by John L. Brodie that had a shallow crown and wide brim. This “soup bowl” shaped design offered protection to the wearers head and shoulders from projectiles exploding above the trenches. The helmet first saw use in 1916 at St. Eloi in the Ypres Salient.


November 17, 1915 photo introducing the Brodie helmet. (Photo by Illustrations Harrow)


American soldier during stateside training wearing the M1917A1 helmet


Soldiers of the 34th Infantry Division march through Belfast, Northern Ireland in January 1942

When America entered the war in 1917, it lacked a steel helmet of its own. The American government initially purchased some 400,000 British Brodie’s to equip its soldiers and in January 1918, began production of its own derivative helmet, the M1917.

In 1936, the US Military took steps to modernize the aging M1917. The military updated the helmet’s interior leather suspension and replaced the WW1 leather chinstrap with a sturdier cloth version. By 1939, these modifications were standardized and the new helmet was designated the M1917A1. Leftover stocks of WWI helmets were refurbished and a contract was given to the McCord Radiator and Manufacturing Company to produce the re-designed helmet.

In WWII, the M1917A1 first saw combat at Pearl Harbor, followed by Wake Island, and the Philippines. The helmet also saw service in the early stages of the European Theater in Iceland and the United Kingdom.


Men of the 4th Marine Regiment on Corregidor


Men of the 8th Marines climb down cargo nets before heading to Guadalcanal. The men wear a mixture of M1917A1 and M1 helmets

Starting in 1942, the M1 helmet began to replace the obsolete M1917A1, but because of initial production shortages of the M1, some US Army, Navy and Marine personnel continued to wear the WWI style helmet until the end of 1942, including during the battles of Midway and Guadalcanal.

Although not as collectible today as the M1 helmet, surviving examples of the venerable M1917A1 are a reminder of early struggles America overcame in the dark and desperate early months of WWII.


Top view of the M1917A1 helmet


Interior view of the leather lining


M1917A1 Helmet worn by an Army 2nd Lieutenant


M1917A1 Helmet with US Marine Corps Insignia

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