Monday, April 16, 2012

Fallschirmjäger Versuchshelm, West German Bundeswehr Paratrooper Helmet 1955 - 1961

After an unexpected postal delay, I received a very unique and rare helmet that I picked up off of eBay.  The helmet is a West German, Bundeswehr Fallschirmjäger Versuchshelm............ or as we would say in English, a West German Army, Experimental Paratrooper Helmet.

The helmet in the listing was pictured with a homemade woodland camo cover on it, with a "Buy It Now, or Best Offer" price.  After a week and a half of price negotiations, and one re-listing of the item, we settled on a price.  The helmet was offered as a replica with no prior known history................. When I looked closer at the photos (with the cover removed), I noticed that the helmet looked superficially like a German WW2 Luftwaffe paratroopers helmet, but was all wrong in the small details.  It did however, meet all of the quirky requirements of an early Bundeswehr paratrooper's helmet!  And the best part is that the early Bundeswehr helmets are MUCH rarer than any of the WW2 paratrooper helmets!  My eBay gamble paid off and I am now the proud owner of an early West German Experimental Paratrooper's helmet!

From 1955 to 1961, the West German Paratroopers tried no less than 12 different styles of experimental steel helmets with various types of liners.  In the early photos it is not uncommon to see 3-4 different helmets being worn by various troopers in the same photograph!  All of the helmets were more or less based on the old M38, WW2 German Paratrooper's helmet that was used by the Luftwaffe.  There were only 2400 of these trial helmets made (not all the same.... this includes all 12 or more of the styles).  That makes any individual helmet very rare.  Only a small number of the helmets were actually issued out for trial use.  The others were kept in reserve for later issue.  My helmet is one of these unissued trial helmets.

In 1961, this "old style", experimental helmet was abandoned in favor of the US styled, M1 helmet, with a German leather liner and strap system. The M1 styled, "steel pot", helmets were used until the adoption of the new Kevlar helmets in the 1990's.

There is no surviving written documentation on these old trial helmets, so all of the historical research has been very tough job.  There have been a number of documentations and surveys done by collectors using confirmed examples and by studying photographs, most notably by Ludwig Baer, in his book Vom Stahlhelm zum Gefechtshelm, Band 2.  There have also been a lot of collective comparisons by various collectors who actually own and have had the chance to inspect these helmets.  My helmet matches several of the early styled helmets that are confirmed to be original, exactly.

One of the big differences between the post-war paratrooper helmets and the WW2 Luftwaffe helmets, is the helmet shell rim.  The WW2 versions are rolled under and the post-war versions have a crimped on trim to cover the raw edge.  The original color of the post-war Bundeswehr Fallschirmjäger Versuchshelms, are a blue gray with gray leather straps.  Some of the field helmets were painted a brown to brown-green, but the blue gray is the most common (this was true even for the German infantry helmets of the same period).  The experimental helmets have no markings or stamps with the exception of a liner size stamp.  The earliest of the experimental helmets all seemed to use the hollow spanner type bolts to secure the liner and straps, and the later models used a simpler slot headed bolt stet up.  Mine has the early hollow, spanner head bolts.

There is a very informative message thread over at the Wehmacht Awards Forum site that you should check out if you are interested in learning more about these helmets.  There are a number of  good photos of many of the various styles of shells, liners and straps:

April 16, 2012 Update:  I just received some more information about the helmet from the person I purchased it from.  He says that his friend was in the US Army, 173rd Airborne, in the 1970's and picked it up while he was on a joint para-maneuver with the West German Bundeswehr paratroopers in Germany.  I think that bit of information pretty much solidifies the fact that this helmet is an original Bundeswehr Fallschirmjäger Versuchshelm!

Now we might as well get on with the actual photos of my helmet.......... here is the album:

To finish things up, here are some historic photos of some West German paratroopers wearing these experimental helmets in the 1955 - 1961 time frame:


Terry Roberts said...

I found your post on these helmets just after checking out an example at a local auction. Liner label reads Kopiweite Gr.56 Stahlhaube Nr. 71 and a blurred stamp which seems to read "K?????? Bening? O.R.G.M. Could be DRGM, but it looks like an O in the photo I snapped. Just hope the other bidders think it's some cheap repro!

Terry Roberts said...

Darn, it is a cheap repro! Good job I didn't buy it.

Mannie Gentile said...

Congratulations on a great helmet.