Italian M33

General Information: The Italian M33 was the main helmet used by Italian armed forces throughout the Second World War. It was designed by an engineer named Nicola Leszl. The helmets were made of a strong nickel and steel alloy. The liners were brown leather mounted on a steel harness. The helmet sizes were stamped into the liner leather in a series of dots. Holes on the sides and one in the back provided ventilation. The helmets were painted grey-green (“grigio verde”). Starting in 1940 a darker shade of paint was introduced. The Italian army used black stencils to designate various units within the armed forces, although uses of stencils was not universal.[1]  

The Finns imported 30,000 M33s for use by their armed forces.[2] The Spanish Nationalists also used a large number of these helmets during the Spanish Civil War and afterwards.

Displayed Example: If you carefully pull back the chinstrap loop you can sometimes find a year stamp pressed into the metal. This one has “39” for the year 1939. It has the earlier lighter color grigio verde paint. The liner is 58cm. The original owner wrote his surname in pencil in the interior of the helmet: “Micheli.” It has a partly legible lot number in the back skirt section.

Collector Notes: Although a large number of M33s were made during WWII, this helmet type is harder to find than you might imagine, especially if you are looking for one in top condition. There was a great variety of stencils for various military, militia and police units which can make for interesting collecting, but be warned; you can go deep in this direction! Italian WWII helmets tend to be less expensive than their Axis counterparts, but the RSI (Repubblica Sociale Italiana) period helmets can be pricy. As with other areas of collecting, high pricing inspires creative fakery. There are a great many fake RSI helmets on the market.

Italian armed forces continued to use the M33 into the 1960s and large numbers of these were produced after WWII. The post WWII helmets are most readily identified by their webbed chinstraps. The wartime helmets had leather chinstraps dyed in the grigio verde color. The Bulgarian army had a helmet, designated the M51, that was very similar to the Italian M33 and the less valuable Bulgarian M51s are often misidentified as M33s. A quick visual differentiator are the chinstraps. The Bulgarian M51s had light brown tanned leather chinstraps. The vent holes are also different. The Bulgarian M51s are either smaller or larger than those on the M33s.

My father had acquired an M33 in 1943 which makes him one of the first collectors in the US to own one of these things. It was part of a cache of war booty collected from Italian and German prisoners during the North African campaign. To reward his Boy Scout troop for its exceptional effort in collecting war materials (metal, paper, etc.) they drove a dump truck full of captured items, helmets, bayonets, canteens, gas masks, and other items to some location, and pulled a lever to empty the load. The stuff spilled onto the ground and my father and the other Scouts laid claim to the spoils. For Dad this included a German M40 helmet, an Italian M33, a German gas mask, a canteen, a bayonet and other souvenirs.

[1] Marzetti, 2003.

[2] Raudasmaa, 1997.

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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