British MKIII

Captains Albert Johnson and Gordon, both of the 1st Battalion, The Canadian Scottish Regiment, taking part in a house-clearing training exercise, England, 22 April 1944*

General Information: The British Mark III was designed to address deficiencies of its predecessor, the Mark II, which was basically the same helmet used in the First World War. That helmet had been effective in preventing injuries in trench warfare conditions where shrapnel falling from above was the main hazard. From the earliest stages of the Second World War the British recognized the desirability of a new helmet that would be more appropriate for the combat conditions of the time. In particular, the helmet that replaced the MKII would need to offer better protection to the sides and back of the wearer’s head. One important design criterion was that the new helmet would should be identifiable as British and not be mistaken for those worn by Axis soldiers.[1] Ultimately the Mark III helmet was approved for full production, which began in November of 1943. In February of 1944 issue of the MKIII helmet to Canadian soldiers began. The Canadian Third Division was given the new, improved model helmet because the British 21st Army Group, of which the Canadian Third Division was a part, assigned priority to units destined to land in the first wave in the D-Day invasion.[2] For much of the general public, the first time they saw the new style helmet was in the photographic images of the Third Division landing on Juno Beach on June 6th 1944. For this reason, the MKIII will be forever associated with the Canadians during the Normandy campaign. Although the helmet was designed for British armed forces and was made in England, the MKIII has frequently been referred to as the “Canadian” helmet. In the eye of some, the shape of the MKIII suggests a turtle shell, hence the other frequently used name: “turtle” helmet.

Initially some of the helmets were issued without liners. Soldiers were instructed to remove the liners from their old MKII helmets and install these in the MKIII. Six Field Coy RCE was one of the first elements of the Third Division to receive the turtle helmets. Here is an excerpt from one of the unit communications dated February 6, 1944:

“(a) men will remove the lining from steel helmets at present on issue and retain it in their possession. (b) Old type steel helmets, less linings only, will be turned in. New type helmet will be issued less lining and old lining will be inserted”[3]

For this reason, some of the MKIII helmets can be found with earlier dated liners. I consider these to be special because they were among the first MKIIIs issued and the first to be handed out to soldiers of the Canadian Third Division. They are therefore likely to have been used in the Normandy Campaign. Most MKIII helmets have 1944 dated liners.

Displayed Example: I bought this helmet from a Canadian collector buddy. He sold me the net separately. He purchased the net with scrim at an army surplus store in Ottawa. It is a two-tone type: brown on one side and olive drab on the other. These nets were made in Canada. The net and scrim are World War Two vintage and would have been removed from helmets during the period, stored in Canadian military facilities, and eventually released as surplus. This particular configuration, MKIII helmet with Canadian two-tone net and scrim, was commonly used by Canadian solders from the Juno landing throughout the Normandy campaign and beyond. The liner is dated 1942. The “V.M.C” on the black liner harness stands for the Viceroy Manufacturing Company of Toronto, Canada. Viceroy Manufacturing had the initial contract to produce liners for the Canadian produced versions of the British MKII. This liner, therefore, would have been removed from a Canadian manufactured MKII helmet and installed in a liner-less, British-made MKIII helmet shell as part of the earliest issues of the new helmet type.

Collector Notes: To my mind the rare MKIIIs with early dated liners have a special cachet, but few collectors seem to be aware of this variant and its history. For this reason, there tends to be no price differential between the early and later dated pieces.

At the very end of the war the British introduced their final model helmet: the Mark IV. This was nearly identical to the MKIII, but it has a “lift the dot” device that connected the liner to the shell. This allowed the liner to be easily removed so that the helmet could be used as a wash basin if desired. There is some debate about the extent to which the MKIV was used before hostilities ended, but most collectors do not consider it to be a true World War Two helmet. The MKIV, therefore, is a less desirable object for collectors than the iconic MKIII.

* Hand, Kenneth H. / DND / LAC / PA-162246. “Preparing the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division for the Normandy Campaign, 1942-1944.” Active History. July 5, 2019. Accessed 4/24/2022

[1] Carter. 2010. pp48-52

[2] Lucy. 2000. pp23

[3] Lucy. 2000. pp23

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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