German Steel Helmets 101: Understanding the WWII German Stahlhelm

Nothing quite like a WW2 German helmet in your hands...

It is our intent to produce a series of YouTube videos this summer on this topic which is near and dear to my heart. I encourage you to look at the series of YouTube videos I prepared a few years ago in conjunction with the now defunct Wilson History and Research Center. These are available here and cover a wide range of German WWI and transitional helmets. We had also done an additional eight videos on WWII German helmets but when our benefactor Robbie Wilson passed away, these got lost. Stay tuned and we shall recreate this in the upcoming months.

The German helmet was probably the number one choice of souvenirs for the returning GIs from the European Theatre of Operation (ETO). This along with a flag and pistol of some sort were among the most popular items. I ought to know as I’ve probably owned over 30,000 German helmets and quite a number were purchased from veterans or their families. I have dedicated an entire chapter in Volume I of my series THE SECRETS BEHIND THE TREASURES OF WORLD WAR II ” The Making of a Collectorholic” to this topic alone (click here to purchase your copy).

In a nutshell, the Germans produced three distinct styles of combat helmets between the period of 1935 and 1944. They also produced a number of non-combat “para-military” styles but more on that for a different session. These three are known by their model number which is associated with the year the model was introduced. The approximate weight of a German combat helmet is a bit over 3 pounds including the liner and chinstrap.

For purposes of discussion, a German helmet consists of a steel shell, a leather liner, which is held in place by a liner band (made of either aluminum or steel/zinc), and a chinstrap.

The first is known as the M-35 (Model of 1935). It was initially issued to Army (Heer) personnel, then quickly Navy (Kreigsmarine) and soon followed by Air Force (Luftwaffe), SS (Schutzstaffel) and Police (Polizei). It is distinctive in many ways but the most obvious are the rolled edge of the helmet which has a lip which curls under the edge. It also has a set of two ventilation holes which have a separate piece usually referred to as a donut because of its shape which is applied to the holes on the side of the steel shell. The size of the shell is stamped on the side of the interior of the skirt of the shell along with the initials of the manufacturer. The standard sizes of the shell range fro a small of 60 cm to a very large of 68 cm.  The majority of the leather liners are stamped with the size which varies from 53 to 60 cm.

 Here is a basic chart of shell and liner sizes

German Helmet Shell Size

German Helmet Liner sizes

60 cm   Extra-Small

52 or 53 cm

62 cm   Small

54 or 55 cm

64 cm   Medium

56 or 57 cm 

66 cm   Large

58 or 59 cm 

68 cm   Very Large

60 or 61 cm 


The Model 1935 helmet was originally issued with two decals for each of the branches mentioned above. In some cases, this was the only way you could differentiate between the services.

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The second major model of German steel helmet from this period is called the M-40 (Model of 1940). By this time the Second World War had begun and German armed forces (Wehrmacht) had expanded tremendously. The need to expedite the process of helmet manufacture dictated changes. The major change in the M-40 was the elimination of the separate donut on the ventilation hole. Now the ventilation holes were simply a one piece mold. The rolled edge remained so the helmet was essentially unchanged except for disposal of the donut.  The paint color also changed from what is referred to as a parade finish which had a glossy look to it to a more subdued flat paint.

The last change was that army and Luftwaffe helmets were issued with just one decal. The SS had some with one decal but also some retained both decals. The Police was distinctive because with all models including the M-42, which I’ll discuss shortly, both decals were retained.

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The last type of German steel helmet from the Second World War was called the M-42 (Model of 1942). Continued pressure on helmet manufacturers to supply the troops in the field with protection for their heads required a drastic change in the shape and look of the stahlhelm.  The complex process needed to produce the rolled edge was changed and the unrolled edge, often referred to as the “raw edge” appeared. In addition to being easier to produce, the unrolled edge did allow rain water to roll off the side of the helmet a bit easier rather than running down the neck of the wearer. These helmets were produced well into 1944 but the application of the decal seems to have vanished from most combat helmets by the end of 1943.

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In conclusion, let me say that most of the facts mentioned above have exceptions but for the most part, the information provided here will give you a basic knowledge of the intriguing world of the German steel helmet.

Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis on this important topic. 

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