Portuguese M16

“Portuguese Expeditionary Corps on the Western Front 1917-1918” IWM*

General Information: The Portuguese Model 1916 was used by the Portuguese Expeditionary Corp (Corpo Expedicionário Português, CEP) on the Western Front during the First World War. The helmet was modeled after helmets made by the Mackintosh company in Britain. These were supplied to hatters for resale as private purchase helmets, mainly for use by officers. This style of private purchase helmet was eventually banned by the British army because of the very weak protection it afforded the user. Sources disagree about where the Portuguese M16s were made. According to a description from the UK militaria dealer Regimentals, these helmets were made by Mackintosh and supplied to Portuguese troops.[1] If correct, the helmets may have been sourced from inventories that were unsellable because of the British army’s ban on this type. According to another source, they were made in Portugal. Samples sent to the UK for evaluations revealed glaring problems.[2] The issues included the poor anti-ballistic qualities of the weak, lightweight metal used. In addition, the ribbed feature caused shrapnel fragments to catch and penetrate the helmet rather than deflecting them. Because of these defects, the Portuguese M16 has the distinction of being the worst helmet of the First World War.

The chinstraps were attached to the helmet by means of wires woven through holes along the helmet rim. Because of the poor attachment mechanism, chinstraps are missing on most surviving specimens. The original factory paint on the M16s was either grey-blue or brown. The original liners were made of four pieces of cloth.

It is possible that the M16s were issued to Portuguese troops as a stopgap measure until enough British MKI-type helmets were available. In period photos, Portuguese troops can be seen wearing both types.

Displayed Example: This is a rare example of a Portuguese M16 in its original, World War One configuration. Most of these helmets were reworked post-WWI for use by Portuguese civil defense units (not, as commonly believed, for Portuguese volunteers in the Spanish Civil War).[3] The helmet used by the civil defense units were most typically painted green and often have a yellow cross of Aviz painted on front. There is unit marking on the liner: 116 x.

Collector Notes: I remember when the M16s used in by civil defense units hit the market in the early 1970s, likely released as surplus by the Portuguese. I had a nice, green painted one in my collection at that time. These helmets are not common, but they do pop up in collector markets from time to time. I usually see some at the annual Show of Shows in Louisville, Kentucky. Finding one that is not post-WWI modified, however, is a real challenge. In my collecting career, I have only seen a dozen or so brown painted helmets like the one shown here. The grey-blue ones are even more scarce. I have seen maybe a handful of those for sale.

* Imperial War Museum. Full citation pending.

[1] From: Regimentals.co.uk c2011

[2] Lucy, Roger. “Portuguese WWI M16 helmet” 50th post. HelmNet (private website). 12/2/2011. Accessed 4/1/2022

[3] [3] Alanzo Cervio, Alanso. “Portuguese WWI M16 helmet” 18th post. HelmNet (private website). 10/15/2007. Accessed 4/1/2022

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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