One still hotly disputed debate surrounds what was the first sun helmet utilized by the Third Reich. It is true that the Kriegsmarine used a pressed fiber styled helmet that was a holdover from the days of Weimar Republic’s navy but by the outbreak of the Second World War the German military wasn’t exactly planning for combat in tropical regions.
Much of this changed with the fall of France in June 1940 and the opening of a campaign in North Africa later that year, followed by the invasion of the Balkans in the late spring of 1941. In other words the German military planners likely didn’t have a plan when it came to tropical uniforms or equipment. It is therefore possible that the first pattern of sun helmet used in the Mediterranean theater were of Italian origin! Continue reading →
There are dozens of known images – such as the one above – of piles of steel helmets that were collected during and then after the end of the Second World War. The Germans had collected massive piles of steel helmets from Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and of course France. After the end of the war there were practically mountains of German steel helmets! All of these have been well documented in period photographs.
With conservative estimates the piles could literally be worth millions of dollars, and for collectors of steel helmets these photos have almost mythical quality. However, the question this writer has long had was whether there were ever similar piles of sun/pith helmets? Given the thousands of German and Italian soldiers who surrendered in North Africa at the end of 1943 it must be asked what happened to the equipment – notably the sun helmets. Continue reading →
Newly arrived Italian soldiers in North Africa circa 1940
The Italians, like the Germans, were late to the colonial empire rush but established colonies in Africa in the 1880s and later began a lengthy war in Libya in 1911 that continued into the 1930s. The Italian empire grew with the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936 – payback for the attempted conquest 40 years earlier.
Throughout its colonial era the Italians adopted khaki, beginning in 1887 with a new tropical uniform made of linen. The Italians deemed this pale shade of khaki to be “light bronze.” This pattern as updated in 1892 and 1893 and it was primarily variations of this that were used in the Adowa Campaign in Ethiopia in 1896, and in the 1911 Libyan Campaign against the Ottoman Empire. Continue reading →
An Italian straw helmet produced by Radiconcini in Rome likely in the 1920s. This example features the “Light Cavalry” badge for the 2nd Irregular Native Troops in Libya. It is made in three layers : cotton gauze, aluminum insulation and straw.
A closer look at some Italian straw-made helmets from the Inter-war and World War II era. Continue reading →
An Italian “Aden” Helmet (Collection of Enzo Faraone)
While it is hard not to see that the Italian Model 1928 helmet was at least highly “influenced” by the British Wolseley helmet, the Italian military also seemed taken by the Anglo-Indian Cawnpore helmet. This particular topee, which is noted for its quilted pattern, was first a popular as a civilian helmet, but soon found its way to the military as a “private purchase” item.
Originally dubbed the Cawnpore Tent Club hat, it was popularized by the Prince of Wales’ visit to India 1875-76. From the First World War to the 1930s the helmet was chosen by fashion thinking British Officers, but in 1938 the Commander-in-Chief India dictated that the Cawnpore Tent Club helmet – along with the Wolseley – were to be phased out in favor of the Khaki Solar Pith Hat (See: Hat, Pith, Khaki, Solar). Continue reading →
The standard Italian “Tarbush” (Collection of Piero Pompili)
The “tarbusc,” from the Persian Sarpush (headdress) is a hat similar to fez, a truncated cone shape, and was typical of the indigenous Italian troops in Eritrea and later AOI (Italian East Africa).
It was “inherited” by Egyptian troops stationed at Massawa, at the time of the first Italian occupation in 1885. The original version of the headdress was used by the irregular soldier of the Ottoman army, the Bashi Bazuk (“Mad Heads”) and was red with a black bow. Continue reading →