The First World War brought about many changes in the world. The conflict not only gave rise to social and political change, but also ushered in a new era of military tactics and trends. For the first time in history, aircraft fought above the battlefield, strafed ground troops and engaged in strategic bombing. Armored vehicles were utilized to break through fixed fortifications. Massed machine guns and chemical warfare inflicted horrific wounds on hundred of thousands.
Gone were the bright uniform colors and braid. British crimson, Prussian light blue, Russian green and French dark blue were replaced by olive drab, field grey, khaki and dark green hidden at times by thick mud and dust. Protection and concealment became more important than prompt and tradition. While nations commenced the war wearing traditional 19th century non-protective headgear, by the end of the conflict most nations had re-equipped with steel helmets. The Germans (Austrians and Prussians) were no exception.
Prussian and Austrian troops were initially fitted with traditional spiked helmets made of leather and metal. The picklehaub, as it is known, is a favorite of helmet and WW I collectors.
The frontal plates of these highly decorative helmets typically bear monarchical coats of arms, regional badges or regimental designations.
Infantry helmets typically bear a spike as depicted above. Artillery helmets are topped with a raised ball.
Cavalry helmets often bear flattop ornaments reminiscent of the Polish four cornered czapka -- a traditional lancer headgear.
While the picklehaub is certainly eye appealing, it lacks protective value. Thus enter the stahlhelm, or steel helmet. Officially designated the m1916 helmet, the stahlhelm provided the soldat with excellent head and neck protection necessitated by the new age of warfare. So iconic is the helmets form that the 20th century German soldier is instantly recognized by the stahlhelm.
The WW I helmet differs from its later WW II cousin, the m1932 and the collector should be familiar with the differences between the two (and later models). The earlier helmet, which saw some WW II use, has a much higher crown and is easily recognized by a set of prominent lugs on both sides. The lugs provided an attachment point for and additional frontal shield of armour for snipers.
Notice that the silhouette of the 1916 helmet depicted above is much higher than the 1932 depicted below.
1916 helmets are found with regimental designations painted on them. However, my favorites bear hand painted camouflage. Field applied camouflage reminds the collector that someone used this helmet for protection and raises questions about the battles at which the helmet might have been present.
On the market, the picklehaub is a pricey item to obtain. Reproductions are plenty so be very careful. The m1916 is still quite affordable as WW I collecting is not as popular as that of the Third Reich. The price of a Third Reich helmet is significantly greater than that of a WW I example. There are m1916 reproductions on the market Also, there are original helmets with modern day camouflage applied. As some camouflage was done years ago by well intentioned reenactors, it has aged with time and bears the scratches and marks of field use. Again, be careful. As with any militaria object, pieces identified to particular soldiers attain the highest prices followed by those that are unit identified and camouflaged. Still, a nice camouflaged m1916 is still quite affordable - relatively speaking.