Latvian/German M17

Studio portrait of a Lithuanian soldier*

Special Note: It was a dilemma deciding whether to put this helmet in the WWII Axis or the WWII Allied sections. Latvian history during this period is complex. In truth, it belongs in neither section and there should be separate category for helmets from the Baltic republics. To conserve space on my homepage and for simplicity, I have put the Latvian M17 in the WWII Axis section. In doing so, I hope to not offend anybody.

General Information: From the 1920s up to the beginning of World War Two, the Latvian army used First World War German model helmets. These helmets are extremely rare and very little information from reference books or collector forums is available regarding this helmet type. What follows is information that I have gleaned from two forum discussion threads and my own observations.[1] [2]

The helmets used by the Latvians were German Model 1916/17/18s, likely left behind by Imperial German troops that withdrew following the Armistice, or Austro-Hungarian helmets. It is conceivable that some came from post-WWI production from Austria or Czechoslovakia. Regardless of underlying specific model or source, helmets refurbished for use by Latvian armed forces shared common characteristics:

  1. Green paint that was more solidly green than the German feldgrau.
  2. Liner that was somewhat similar to the French Model 1915 second-pattern, but with better quality leather and with seven liner tongues. The liners have Latvian army inspection stamps.
  3. Frame buckle type chinstraps with a unique brass rivet device that joined two sections of the long end of the strap (see period photo above). The purpose of this may have been to enable quick release.

After the Soviet occupation of the Baltics, some of the German First World War model helmets used by Baltic countries, including possibly Latvia, were modified by painting a red star on the front of the helmets.

Displayed Example: I acquired this helmet in a trade with a collector friend from Canada. According to his records, he got this from Riga. It lacks the peculiar Latvian chinstrap with the brass rivet device, but is otherwise complete. There are several unusual features of this piece. The ventilation lugs are not the conventional type and appear to have been added after the helmet was painted. They are painted a different shade of green than the rest of the helmet. On close examination of the interior of the helmet, you can see the outline of the original washer device that held the lug in place. The washer that is on the helmet now is has a slightly smaller diameter. These features suggest that the ventilation lugs, for some reason, were replaced. The liner band is like the ones found on the Austro-Hungarian Berndorfer Model 1917 (domestic pattern) and 1918 (German style). These had relatively large holes in the middle of the band above smaller holes at the edge. The split pins are brass or copper. The liner is the type used by Latvian army. The leather band is made of two pieces and there are seven tabs sewn into the band. It has the type of inspection stamps seen on other Latvian helmets. The drawstring is thin cloth ribbon with a woven herringbone pattern as found on Austro-Hungarian helmets. There are no visible size or manufacturer code markings. The chinstrap hardware is still attached to the chinstrap lugs. These two hardware pieces are slightly mismatched; they appear to have come from different helmets.

One possible explanation for these anomalies is that the Latvians may have gathered German WWI type helmets of different models, disassembled them, repainted the shells and then reassembled the helmets using Latvian made liners, but with components mixed and matched from various models and manufacturers. For instance, a Berndorfer liner band may have been installed on a German M17 or a German M17 liner band installed on an Austro-Hungarian helmet. Slightly mismatched chinstrap hardware might have been used in the fabrication of new chinstraps, etc. Side lugs may have been reinstalled that were not the ones originally on the helmet. Supporting this view is one known example of this helmet type that is a size 66, but has stepped side lugs of the type used on a size 64 helmet.[1]

Collector Notes: The Latvian pre-war army was small. Latvian soldiers fighting with the Soviets or the Germans were equipped with Soviet SSh 39/40s or German M40/42s. As mentioned above, during a transitional period after the Soviet occupation, some of the German WWI style helmets used in by the Baltic republics had red stars painted on them. Some Latvian battlefield pick-ups from 1941 were reportedly reissued to Estonian self-defence forces. These Estonian reissues were mostly refurbished with locally made liners and chinstraps.[4] These and other factors make the Latvian German model helmets in their original configuration very hard to find and they surface rarely on collector markets.


* Helmet12781 (aka). “Latvian M17.” German Helmet Walhalla. March 26, 2015.  https://www.ghw2.com/topic/47187-latvian-m17/#comment-556944.Accessed January 16, 2023.

[1] Dimas (aka). “Latvian M16.” War Relics Forum. October 12, 2009. https://www.warrelics.eu/forum/steel-helmets/latvian-m-16-helmet-11456/. Accessed January 16, 2023.

[2] Helmet12781 (aka). “Latvian M17.” German Helmet Walhalla. March 26, 2015.  https://www.ghw2.com/topic/47187-latvian-m17/#comment-556944.Accessed January 16, 2023.

[3] This is speculation on my part based on forensic analysis of the helmet in my collection.

[4] Dimas (aka). “Latvian M16.” War Relics Forum. Post #5. October 23, 2009. https://www.warrelics.eu/forum/steel-helmets/latvian-m-16-helmet-11456/. Accessed January 16, 2023.


Published by maplecreekmilitaria

I am a collector of military headgear from 1915-1945

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