Austro-Hungarian M17

*

General Information: The Austro-Hungarian Model 1917 helmet was almost identical to the German First World War helmets. The main exterior difference was that the Austro-Hungarian M17s were painted brown and the rivet for securing the chinstrap loop attachments was higher up. In period black and white photos, it is the location of the chinstrap rivet that is the quickest way to distinguish the two types. The Austro-Hungarian model improved on its German cousin by having the holes for the drawstring reinforced with metal eyelets which inhibited tear-throughs common with the latter. The liner bands were metal, similar to the German M17s but with some minor differences. The two-part cloth chinstraps with roller buckles were sturdier than the one-piece, leather, sliding buckle type used on German M16s and M17s. The Austro-Hungarian helmets often had lot numbers, but these were on the exterior of the dome rather than the interior as with the German models. In addition, like the German helmets, the Austro-Hungarian helmets had maker codes and size numbers stamped into the interior skirt section on the wearer’s left side.  Often the helmets have ink army inspection stamps on their interiors. These helmets were produced in sizes 62 to 68. Note there was no size 60 as with the German helmets.

The nomenclature for these helmets is a little slippery. They are sometimes referred to as an “M16” or “M18.” “M17” seems more correct to me as this was the first year of their manufacture.[1] In addition, you will sometimes see Austro-Hungarian military relics identified as “KuK,” or in this case, “KuK M17.” KuK or k.u.k., is shorthand for “kaiserlich und königlich,” which translates as “imperial and royal.” It alludes to the fact that the Habsburg emperor was both the kaiser (emperor) of Austria and the könig (king) of Hungary.

Displayed Example: I acquired this helmet in a trade with an Italian collector buddy who specializes in WWI Austro-Hungarian and Italian militaria. He was aiming to get one example from each of the manufacturers of the era. It so happened that I had a beautiful and rare example made by the Warchalowski-Eisler Company. This company made the only size 68 shells. Their company logo looks like two tear drops inside a circle. It is actually a “W” with an “E” turned sideways and placed on top of the W. The manufacturer was less important to me than it was to him. I just wanted one good, complete specimen and was less interested in what company made the thing, so was open to a trade. We haggled and I ended up with the helmet displayed here plus some money for my “helmet fund.”

Understanding this helmet gets into some arcane territory. The helmet was made by A . Western Cilli which used the code “AW.” Cilli was the name of the city in the Austro-Hungarian empire where the factory was located. Cilli is now part of Slovenia and the name has changed to Celje. On this helmet there is no manufacturer code due to a weak strike and/or being covered by paint. So, how do we know it is an AW helmet? It’s a size 64 shell and there were only two companies that made helmets in this size: AW and Manfred Weiss (MW) located in Csepel, Budapest, Hungary. The split pins on the AW helmets had round edges while those on the MW helmets had flat edges. In addition, the AW helmets had inspection stamps like my helmet, while the MW helmet inspection stamps were different. So, it’s an AW helmet. In addition, it is a factory refurbished helmet. Well, how do we know that? The A. Western Cilli company had the contract to refurbish damaged helmets. These helmets were collected and sent to Cilli for reconditioning. The helmets were repainted entirely or in part with spray paint. If the split pins were removed, however, these were touched up with a brush. One way to detect whether a KuK helmet was reconditioned, therefore, is to notice whether the rivets or split pins show signs of being brush painted like this one (see photo). Standard helmets from the factories generally had chinstraps with six eyelets, while refurbished had chinstraps with twelve eyelets like this one. Late-war helmets also sometimes had twelve eyelets, so this feature is not unique to reconditioned pieces, but it is a characteristic of the type. The reason for the additional eyelets was to more readily accommodate a gas mask.[2]

One curious thing about Austro-Hungarian WWI helmets is that the cloth material behind the leather pads is often made from fabric obviously originally intended for some other purpose like drapery or upholstery. This one has dark burgundy colored cloth with un-military flower prints!

Collector Notes: The KuK M17 is a less common helmet than its German WWI helmets, so you can expect to pay somewhat higher prices for these. Unlike the German helmets, camouflage was never mandated for the Austro-Hungarian M17s. When they are found with camouflage, they usually do not conform to same regulation pattern as the German camo pieces. Camouflaged Austrian WWI helmets are particularly rare and fetch premium prices. The Austrians produced M17s after the First World War. These are interesting and relatively rare collector items too. The main external difference between the WWI and post-war versions is that in the post-war versions the split pins holding the liner are the domed type like the ones used for attaching the chinstrap hardware.


* Marzetti, Paolo. HelmNet (private) Austro-Hungarian WW1 helmets in the photos of the time, 28th post. November 9, 2015. Accessed April 4, 2022.

[1] Haselgrove, 2006. pp.18

[2] Osio, 2017. Osio 2022.

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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