British MKI Paratrooper*

THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE UNITED KINGDOM 1939-45 (H 37720) A paratrooper stands at the door of a Dakota, waiting for the signal to jump, during a large-scale airborne forces exercise, 22 April 1944 Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

General Information: The British officially designated this helmet as the “Helmet Steel Airborne Troops Mark I” or “HSAT MKI” for short. Collectors generally refer to this as the “MKI Paratrooper” helmet. It was mainly produced in 1943 and most surviving examples bear that date on the liner. The helmet was issued from October 1942[1], so I presume the earliest helmets are marked with that date. The MKI was preceded by the HSAT “fibre rim” helmet, which was produced in 1942. The two helmets are nearly identical, but the MKI lacked the fiber rim around the base of the helmet, which was a feature of its predecessor, and instead had a small stainless-steel band around the edge.  Unlike the fibre rim helmets, the MKIs were made in two sizes: normal and large. The liners had 17 size increments.[2]

The earliest version of the British Paratrooper helmet was the “P Type” which was produced in very limited numbers. It had a hard rubber rim the rear section of which extended in the back, apparently to prevent water from running down the wearer’s back. This feature is what gives the helmet its nickname, the “duck bill” helmet. The final version of the British paratrooper helmet of the Second World War was the HSAT Mark II. This was basically the same as the MKI, but it had a web chinstrap harness connected at three points rather than a black leather configuration connected at four points like the earlier helmets. The HSAT MKII helmets are mostly dated 1944 although there are some that have 1943 dates.[3] The helmet shell used for the HSAT helmets was the same as used for armored troops and dispatch riders, although the liner assemblies were very different on all three.

In 1943, the British issued large numbers of MKIs to newly formed Airborne units, particularly the 6th Airborne Division.[4]

The main manufacturer of the British paratrooper helmets throughout the war was Briggs Motor Bodies. These helmets are marked “BMB” on the liners along with the date from 1942-1944 for the wartime versions. For the MKI models only, there was a second manufacturer whose initials “G&S” are embossed on the liner along with the date in the same manner as the BMB helmets. G&S likely stands for Gimson and Slater, although there has been some uncertainty about this.[5]

Displayed Example: This helmet is one of the less common G&S manufactured helmets. These invariably have liner padding made of rubber covered felt whereas the BMB HSAT MKI helmets generally had yellow sorbo padding, although some of these also had the rubber covered felt for padding.[6] The liner size is 6 ½. The World War Two vintage net is strung to the interior of the helmet via a WWII vintage military issue shoelace. The brown, green and black scrim is made of a material called “American cloth.” This is cotton with some kind of weather proofing substance like wax. By all appearances, the net and scrim are original to the helmet although this is a thing that is difficult to verify with certainty. The string holding the liner to the liner band is broken causing the liner to be loose in the front.

Collector Notes: The most common paratrooper helmet encountered by collectors is the web chinstrap MKII. The fibre rim and MKI models are scarcer and therefore more expensive. Be aware that the MKIIs were produced after WWII. Some of these have been modified to make them appear as wartime pieces. This is usually accomplished by rubbing off the last part of the postwar date embossed on the liner. There are also reproduction liners that may be found installed in HSAT shells. Some surplus fibre rim helmets were used post-WWII by Australian paratroopers. One feature of these is that they were modified by the Australians by drilling a hole in the back to accommodate the installation of MKII style web chinstraps which attached using three versus four attachment points. This modification left two extraneous holes in the back where leather chinstraps were originally secured.

Another type that has confused collectors are Canadian manufactured wartime dispatch helmets that were converted postwar for use by paratroopers. In 1951, in order to equip paratroopers of the newly formed Mobile Strike Force (MSF), wartime dispatch rider helmets were converted for use by airborne troops. This was accomplished by removing the liner rear apron and making that the front of the helmet. The helmets were equipped with MKI type leather chinstraps. Four holes were drilled in the helmets to accommodate the chinstraps. The MSF converted dispatch rider helmets have wartime dates. They are interesting, and quite rare Cold War relics, but they are not WWII paratrooper helmets. Approximately 400 helmets were converted in this manner.[7]

British paratrooper helmets of the Second World War had long postwar lives. They were not withdrawn from use until the early 1980s and some were even used in the Falkland Islands War. The postwar HSAT helmets tend to have multiple repaints and often bear unit numbers and other markings.[8]

* Deaccessioned

[1] Bouchery, J. & P. Charbonnier. 2004. pp 32

[2] Fisher, D. & O. Lock. 2013. pp 138

[3] Fisher, D. & O. Lock. 2013. pp 152

[4] Fisher, D. & O. Lock. 2013. pp 138

[5] Fisher, D. & O. Lock. 2013. pp 138

[6] Fisher, D. & O. Lock. 2013. pp 138

[7] Lucy, R. 1997. pp 40

[8] Fisher, D. & O. Lock. 2013. pp 176

Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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