article skunkworks in the trenches americas experimental helmets of wwi 2At the outset of WWI, the U.S. was under-equipped. In addition to not having its own steel helmet, American troops deployed with a version of the French Chauchat machine gun.

America's Experimental Helmets of World War I 

By Peter Suciu
via Springfield Armory's The Armory Life web site 

 When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917 and entered the First World War, it was woefully unprepared for the horrors that lay ahead. The conflict, which had devolved into a bloody stalemate, had seen the development of much new military technology. Tanks and airplanes had been employed to turn the tide, while horrific new tactics that involved poison gas and even tunneling under the trenches to blow up the enemy were introduced.

Millions were already dead by the time America joined the fray. It was truly a different conflict than what had begun in August 1914. The colorful French uniforms that included red trousers and the German spiked helmets (pickelhaube) had given way to muted colors and steel helmets.

While the United States military was equipped with the then-modern Model 1903 Springfield rifle, it lagged behind when it came to machine guns — and in the early stages of the American involvement, Doughboys were equipped with the French Chauchat.

Meanwhile, most U.S. soldiers were issued a helmet that wasn’t really all that different from the British MkI “Tin Hat,” which had been introduced in the early months of 1916. The United States would continue to wear the basic helmet — albeit with an updated liner — until 1940.

Yet, largely forgotten is the fact that the United States had sought to develop its own helmet. Several models were actually considered, and that is where the name Dr. Bashford Dean typically enters the story. While his work in WWI American helmet development was significant, Dean’s greatest contribution to the world of helmet collecting actually was his book, Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare, which was first published just after his death by the Yale University Press. That book has been the premier reference for helmets of the early 20th century, but it has also served to perpetrate the myth of Dean.

While it is true that Dean played an important role in the development of various experimental helmets, Dean was not the only individual involved in the effort to develop a superior helmet.

“The French had an active experimental helmet program during the First World War, and they had some half dozen models, even as they stuck with the Model 1915 ‘Adrian’ helmet,” explained advanced helmet collector Ian Henry, author of a forthcoming book on U.S. experimental helmets of the era.

“What we know about Dean is that he was quite enthusiastic about designing a U.S. helmet, and that came from his interest in armor,” added Henry.

Read the entire article on The Armory Life web site.

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