HISTORY SWISS helmets from M18 to M71
translated with GOOGLE
After the outbreak of the First World War, a general mobilization was proclaimed in Switzerland on August 3, 1914. Three divisions were raised to strengthen border defenses to prevent a possible spillover of the fighting into Swiss territory. The introduction of the Stahlhelm by Germany, the Adrian by France and the Brodie by England prompted Charles L'Eplattenier, a patriotic sculptor, to be asked to devise a suitable counterpart. The different factions in Switzerland started to come up with a draft. By 1916, Swiss involvement in the war was becoming increasingly unlikely, reducing the need for a helmet. The French-speaking L'Eplattenier turned to romantic paintings of Swiss battles as inspiration. The Swiss War Department was looking for a steel helmet that was comparable to foreign models in function, while the helmet also had to be distinguished by its aesthetic qualities. The government itself had never officially commissioned the development of this helmet.
The Swiss M17 from L'Eplattenier
Experimentel helmet Dunand 1916, inspiratian L'Eplattenier(?)
The result was somewhat similar to the 1916 Franco-American type helmet "casque Dunand", however deeper on the sides and longer on the forehead, while also bearing the characteristic Swiss cross embossed on the forehead as shown in the photo up here. The removable liner, held on a rattan backing, sits above it two intersecting arches with a small cushion, which supports the main weight of the helmet. The helmet was first presented to the public on September 15, 1917, when Commander Tretoyens de Loys posed with it in an unauthorized photo shoot that was included in an issue of Schweizer Illustrierte (pictured below). The helmet was praised, especially by the French speaking part, for its beauty, originality and character. It was designated model M17. Meanwhile, a model helmet was also being worked on in other parts of Switzerland. A second version of the M17 was still produced in 1918, with the sight reduced. This model was also rejected due to its difficult manufacturing process and was to be replaced by a simpler model. The new helmet was without the visor and embossed cross that were considered superfluous, making it possible to manufacture it from a single sheet of nickel steel.
commander Tretoyens de Loys
Due to internal struggles, a helmet based on the German model was eventually chosen. L'Eplattenier saw the new model as a poor imitation of the German Stahlhelm, so that, after being rejected, he filed a lawsuit against the Swiss government in 1919, which paid him 22,000 Swiss francs in compensation. The only deployment of his helmet came on Armistice Day, when troops monitored the progress of a general strike in Switzerland. The company Bremer Torfwerken of Berlin also received compensation given that the new helmet, according to them, was only an imitation of the German model 16 on the grounds that it was a protection of cultural property. Further steps to court were not taken because they had other things to do in 1919.
The first green and original M18
The German speaking Colonel Imboden of the Swiss Army was now formally and officially charged with the design and manufacture of a new helmet model. But in reality it was Dr. Edward Gessler and First Lieutenant Paul Böesch who carried out the entire project. Probably in the same period as the development of the M17. The new helmet was made of 1.5 mm thick manganese steel and this solid model was first produced experimentally by the Werker factory in Baden and then by the Metallwaren Factory in Zug in October 1917. Contrary to what is often reported, its not sure that this helmet was inspired by an American test helmet "model 5" but it was developed at the same time and the Swiss knew that model. The resemblance is striking. What is also striking is that no test models of the M18 exist as far as I know. Finally, the M18, which closely resembles the German M16, was taken into use at the beginning of 1918. The interior is also remarkably similar to the German model. The final model became the green M18 in the photo above.
Black with sawdustpaint M18 1943
That new helmet was officially introduced on February 12, 1918 as «Model 1918». It was painted olive green and had a smooth surface. But shortcomings were also found during field use. On moonlit nights the helmet was visible at 300 meters and a wet helmet reflected the light as shown in the photo below. In addition, there was a noise and whistling while driving and cycling through the draft and in cold weather, an unpleasant experience so that the soldiers closed the ventilation holes or started wearing a cap under the helmet.
Clearly visible helmets compared to the uniforms
There are a number of variants that are usually referred to as M18, M18/40, M18/43 and M18/63. The differences are easy to recognize by the liner of which there are three types. There are two types of helmet shells. Those from before 1940 and those from after 1940, when the visor got a bit bigger. The chinstrap was changed in 1930 so that it was possible to put on a gas mask more quickly. You rarely come across that first model chinstrap. The new spring-hook chinstrap remained in use until 1975. In 1936 a blue-grey smooth variant was introduced for departments other than the army. Argentina is the only country to have adopted the helmet as M38. There they all got a different color and were therefore called M38. Below the photo. Brazil got some copies to try out but never used them.
Argentinian M38 repainted in green police color
The helmet shell of the M18 was modified in 1940 so that the visor was slightly larger. This was necessary in order to be able to use the now improved armament. In 1943 they were (almost) all sprayed Black with glue and sawdust and sometimes sand or cork in the paint because they were still too visible. The annular lining or liner was also adjusted to a U shape, which improved ventilation. After 1943 it continued to be used in many different colors by all units of the army, police and fire brigade. So you can find them in two different models and with three different linings.
Part of my collection
Post-1940 firefighter's helmet from Zurich
The fire brigade M18 is always smooth and usually black with a hole at the front to mount a logo or municipal emblem of arms. In 1963 there was a three-part and slightly simpler leather liner for all models so that the holes in the leather could no longer tear out. The aluminum M18 got its own cheaper model liner in 1948. There were even plastic and leather versions of the M18. Many helmets have been modified during use or have been given a different color. Often helmet shells and liners are from different years.
Black motorcycle helmet M48, before 1971, Swiss production
In addition to the M18, 13,377 English helmets were imported in 1948 from Belgian and English army files. These were intended for the vehicle crews and motorcyclists. These were initially two models with different liners that were also used in Belgium. The purchased models were quickly followed by helmets of almost the same model produced in Switzerland. They can be recognized by the number of rivets. The English helmets came in three sizes but the Swiss in one size. In 1962 the liner was modernized and installed in all available helmets. They are called the M48/62, photo above. The M48 was intended for use in vehicles and the motorcyclists had a leather neck protector. Originally they were all black, but after 1971 there were also green ones similar to the color of the M71. The M48 for the vehicles was replaced at the same time by a leather French model.
M71 from the first smooth paint production
The M18 helmet was issued to the military until about 1973 (other sources say 1975) but was succeeded in 1976 by the M71, pictured above. The M18 continued to be used by various services long after the introduction of the M71. The M71 is often offered for sale as a parachutist helmet, which is not correct. The M48 was used there and after 1971 they received a French "Gueneau type 202". Called POPOV by the tank crews because they sometimes used it as wel. The M71 was developed from the late 1960s and was actually ready in 1971. It was not until 1976 that they were actually issued to the units. The first year without sawdust as with the M18. The M71 has never earned the respect it should be given. It is a solid and comfortable model that is well made. In the 1980s, Switzerland also switched to plastic models, often from German production.
copyright Ben van Helden (c) All rights reserved 2023
copyright Ben van Helden (c) Alle rechten voorbehouden 2023