Russian M17

Red Army soldiers wearing M17s and French M15s*

General Information: There was never an official designation for this helmet. Because it was produced in 1917, “M17” seems a good name. In contemporary documents it is sometimes identified as “Russian model helmet with shovel steel” or “ShLS” using the Russian abbreviation. This refers to the type of steel chosen for the helmet’s manufacture. In his thorough book on the subject of Russian helmets[1], Ivan Karabanov suggests using the abbreviation “ShLS,” but this has yet to catch on with collectors. “Russian ‘shovel steel’ helmet” is the name mainly used by Karabanov. The helmet has also been referred to as the “Sohlberg” after the name of one of the factories where it was produced. As Karabanov points out, though, this is a misnomer as the helmet was manufactured in several factories. Another, related collector misconception is that the helmet was only produced in two factories in the then Russian province of Finland: Sohlberg and Holenberg. In reality, it was produced in several factories throughout Russia.

There were two types of circular rosettes used to cover the vent holes in the top of the helmet. One had three attachment arms that had pointed ends, and on the other the three attachment arms have rounded ends. Both types can be found on Russian M17s and they are not, as commonly believed, differentiators between helmets made in Russia and those made in Finland, which in any case, was part of Russia at the time.

The first small shipment of 3,750 helmets reached Russian army depots in May 1917. By the end of November 1917, 330,000 helmets had been shipped from different manufacturers to various army depots. By the end of the next month there was a resolution to cease further production. The Russian government had intended to produce millions of these helmets, but supply problems and revolutionary disruptions prevented this from happening.

The M17s saw very little combat use in the First World War, but they were used extensively by different armies during the Russian Civil War, by the Red Army up to the early stages of WWII, and also by the armies of the Baltic states and Finland.

The Finns used the M17s during the Second World War. They were issued to fire and civil defense units. The Finnish M17s can be readily identified by their three-pad leather liners. They are often painted black. Period Russian documentation refers to the numbers of helmets produced, numbers assembled, and numbers shipped to depots. It seems likely that a large number of helmets were produced, but not assembled at the time the order to cease production was issued. My guess is that the WWII Finnish M17s were assembled from stocks of WWI leftover, unfinished M17 shells.

Displayed Example: I purchased this helmet in 2017 from the great German dealer, KP Emig. It is very difficult to find good Russian M17s in their original, WWI Russian factory condition, so I was happy to land this one.

Collector Notes: A large number of Finnish used M17s are circulating in the collector market and can be purchased at relatively affordable prices. Of course, some of these have been remade to look like original Russian WWI pieces and then sold at premium prices. Look for signs of black paint having been removed, or black painted interiors.


[1] Karabanov. 2016

*Don. Re: M15 Soviet Helmet. 12/13/2012. https://www.warrelics.eu/forum/headgear-steel-helmets-rkka-red-army-soviet-army/m15-soviet-helmet-26163-4/. Accessed 3/12/2022.

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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