OVER 100 YEARS, THE SOLDIER’S HELMET HAS GONE FROM STOPPING ROCKS TO BULLETS.
An upcoming exhibit at the Smithsonian highlights one of the most under-appreciated pieces of soldier kit, the infantryman’s helmet. The May 20th Military Invention Day event at the National Museum of American History showcases 100 years of helmets and how they went from stopping flying dirt and rockets to a 7.62×39 bullet.
The U.S. Army first began using helmets in 1917 upon its entry into World War I. The helmets were copies of the British Army’s standard issue helmet, known as the Brodie Helmet or Mark One. Shallow with a wide, hat-like brim, the Mark One was mostly to keep artillery debris out of a soldier’s face and protect against flying debris.
The iconic M1 helmet, fielded during World War II, got rid of the brim and extended further down the sides of a soldier’s head, offering increased protection. The M1 offered slightly better protection against flying pieces of steel shrapnel but was still not bulletproof. Lacking any breakthrough in bulletproof armor technology the M1 soldiered on through Korea and the Vietnam War.
Truly modern protection wasn’t available until the early 1980s, when the Personal Armor System Ground Troops, or PAGST helmet became available. The PAGST was made of a new ballistic material, Dupont’s Kevlar, and could reliably stop pistol-caliber bullets. The new, ergonomic design protected the sides of the head and the neck, although the new look earned disparaging comments due to its unfortunate resemblance to the German World War II helmet.
Today, U.S. ground forces troops are issued the ACH, or Advanced Combat Helmet. The ACH is lighter than the PAGST and more bullet resistant, and under certain conditions can stop rifle rounds (see video below.)
For more information about the history of U.S. military helmets and the Military Invention Day event,