French Model 1915*

French soldiers with recent medal awards*

General Information: The French Model 1915 was the first modern era steel helmet and the first full production steel helmet to reach the battlefields in the First World War. Credit for the creation of the helmet is given to Intendant (quartermaster) general Agust-Louis Adrian.[1] He was responding to the urgent need for protective headgear to reduce the number of head wounds and fatalities, particularly those from shrapnel. Collectors often refer to the helmet as the “Adrian” after its creator.

The design was inspired by the bourguignotte helmets used in France, and throughout Europe, in the 16th and 17th centuries.[2] It also somewhat resembles the French firemen’s helmets of that era. A prototype was developed in April of 1915 and approved in May of the same year. The first large scale field use of the helmet was in September 1915, when it was issued to soldiers engaged in the Grand Offensive of Champagne and Artois. Ultimately the French produced 20,000,000 Model 1915 helmets which were used by several nationalities during and after the war.[3]

The Adrian helmets were produced in four main parts: main shell, front visor, rear visor, and comb. Early helmets were painted in a glossy, light blue color, which proved impractical in trench warfare conditions. A darker, matt bluish-grey paint was officially adapted in mid-1916. It is common to find early blue helmets repainted with the later bluish-grey scheme. There were two basic kinds of liners: first and second patterns. The first pattern was made from one piece of leather with seven tongues tied together at the apex. The second pattern was introduced in September 1916. It was similar to the first, but was made with six tongues sewn into a leather band. The change made more efficient use of leather. Four corrugated aluminum bands placed between the liner and the shell provided a degree of ventilation. The helmets were manufactured in three sizes: A, B and C. Within each size, more precise adjustments were achieved by varying the thickness of the corrugated aluminum strips. The sizes broke down as follows:

                Size A: 54, 55 and 56 cm

                Size B: 57, 58, and 59 cm

                Size C: 60, 61, and 62 cm

The interior dome of the helmets and the liners were sometimes stamped with size markings: B1, B2, B3, etc., with B1 corresponding to the smallest head size for the B-size shells and B3 corresponding to the biggest.

If you look inside the liners (do this carefully!) you will notice that some of the M15s had red fabric as interior padding material. At the start of the First World War, many French soldiers were still wearing red pants. This was determined to be a bad idea for reasons that now seem obvious, and the French army made a switch to blue-grey cloth like the rest of the French soldier’s uniform. As a result of the change, there was a large amount of unused red cloth in French army stores, and some of this material was put to use to line their steel helmets.

French armed forces wore eight official helmet badges during the First World War. The badges corresponded to different branches of service: infantry, artillery, navy/colonial, chasseurs, engineers, zouaves/tirailleurs/spahis (North African), medical, and quartermaster. The French also supplied other countries with helmets, each of which had its own badge. These included Belgium, Greece, Romania, Russia, and Serbia. The Italians were supplied green helmets without badges. In addition, soldiers from the aspiring nation states of Czechoslovakia and Poland who served under French command had Adrian helmets with their own distinctive badges.

Displayed Example: The helmet shown has a standard infantry badge. The liner is an example of the first pattern. It is a size C shell, which is the largest size produced. The chinstraps on these helmets are fragile. This one is broken in two places and was repaired once. The helmet is neatly repainted by brush in the typical bluish-grey color used starting in mid-1916.

Collector Notes: Adrian helmets are great fun to collect. They are relatively affordable compared to headgear from the Central Powers. In addition to the variety of statutory badges for the different armed services and different nationalities, there are great varieties of other modifications designating things like rank or military units. In recent years, high-quality fakes of high-value Model 1915 helmets have entered the market. Some of these are good enough to fool even experience collectors, so beware! Look for signs of tampering on the attachment prongs in helmet interiors. Notice if there are extra holes in the cloth material where the prongs for the liner attachments are found. This may indicate the liner was switched out. Check for outlines of a different badge behind the badge on the helmet you are examining. Above all, get informed. Buy good reference books and join a collector’s forum.

* Permanent Collection

* French soldiers stand in a relaxed group wearing medals. The medals appear to be the Military Medal, established on 25th March, 1916, for acts of bravery. They have probably been awarded for their part in the Battle of the Somme. The French helmets, with their very distinct crests, can be seen clearly. Taylor, Alan. “World War I in Photos: Soldiers and Civilians.” The Atlantic. April 27, 2014. Accessed November 28, 2017. Photo credit: National Library of Scottland.

[1] Haselgrove, M. pp125

[2] Dagnas 1984. pp70

[3] Hennequin, R. pp60

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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