Category Archives: Middle East

Polish Sun Helmets of World War II

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As we have previously noted many nations that had no colonial empires had soldiers don sun/pith helmets at various times. One of the more unique examples of this is Poland – a nation that didn’t even exist as an independent land for almost 150 years.

After achieving independence in 1918 and fending off an invasion by the Soviets in 1920 the nation of Poland was again occupied by invaders again in 1939. With the nation occupied by the Germans – as well as the eastern portion of the nation essentially annexed by the Soviet Union – many Poles fled to Great Britain to continue the fight to liberate their nation. The terms of the Allied Forces Act 1940, which was an Act of Parliament passed in late 1940, gave legal authority for the recognized sovereign governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland – all of which were under German occupation – to raise, equip and maintain independent armed forces on British soil.

These Polish soldiers eventually formed the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division, and headed to the Middle East where they joined Free French soldiers in liberating pro-Vichy French Syria and Lebanon. This Division later served with General Montgomery’s Eight Army in North Africa, and throughout this campaign was outfitted in British tropical uniforms and sun helmets.

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Headdress of the Transjordan Frontier Force

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Formed in April 1926 as a para-military border guard to defend the northern and southern borders of the Transjordan, this unit was also an Imperial Service regiment. It drew its cadre from the Arab Legion, and replaced the disbanded British Gendarmerie, which itself had been founded following World War I to protect Transjordan. The unit was led by British officers, who typically donned sun helmets or visor caps – while the locally raised troops wore the Ottoman-styled kalpak, a type of headdress that was also worn by the Palestine Police Force and Arab Legion. Continue reading

Israeli Army ‘Hitelmacher’ Hat

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Side view of the Hitelmacher. Even more appealing when it retains a straight shape. (Collection of Alex Ben-Arieh/Historama.com)

Though the Israeli Army earned glory on the battlefield in 1948, it came into being during a period where militaria started to lose its national uniqueness. Under the influence of Eastern and Western alliances, and more efficient production processes, armies began to adopt homogeneous, if boring, accessories and equipment such as mass-made nylon patches, conventional uniforms and plain, generic helmets.

During the 1947-49 War of Independence, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and its forerunners sported ‘sock hats’ (“Kova Gerev” – in Hebrew) from local manufacture or leftover British Army stocks. However the army also succeeded in receiving a uniquely styled hat in sufficient quantities that its presence also left its mark on the identity of the army: the ‘Hitelmacher’ hat. The Hitelmacher bears a semblance to a kepi in the style of a Finmark hat, but when affixed with the Army’s emblem, it also exhibits a ceremonial elegance.

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The Origin of the French Model 1931

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One great irony of the era of imperialism and European colonial empires is that the French reached their colonial zenith as a republic. In fact an overseas empire was seen as a way of restoring the prestige of France following the humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. As we’ve noted in past articles the French utilized their own style of “colonial” pattern helmet. Continue reading

West Indian Soldiers in the Great War

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Soldiers of the British West Indies Regiment on the Albert to Amiens Road, September 1916

The West India Committee, one of the leading British-Caribbean charities operating in the UK, has strived to recognize the contribution made by Caribbean soldiers to the Allied effort during the First World War. Continue reading

The Afghanka Hat: The Soviet’s Tropical Headgear

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An early 1980s Soviet Afghanka cap of the type used during the summer months in the Soviet Union and by Soviet forces in Afghanistan (Collection of the Author)

While Imperial Russia and later the Soviet Union controlled vast territory, in each case it was truly an empire without far off colonies – apart from some brief adventures during the Imperial era and the Soviet’s proxy wars of course. However, the Soviets did utilize a number of summer uniforms including light weight khaki colored tunics and other clothing. Yet it wasn’t until the 1980s that a true form of “summer headgear” was developed.

This was the Afghanka hat – a type of boonie hat – that was utilized by the Red Army following the 1979 Invasion of the Soviet Union. The hat was developed with the other Afghanka uniforms and equipment, which was needed as the rugged countryside of the Central Asian nation was known for its extreme hot daytime temperatures in the summer and its equally bitter cold nights in the winter months. The boonie hat was developed to keep the rays of the sun off the wearer’s head and out of his eyes. Continue reading

History and Headdress of the Palestine Police

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A Palestine Police sun helmet and kalpak (Collection of the Author)

Following the First World War the British found themselves with new territory carved out of the Ottoman Empire, which included Mandatory Palestine. To help administer this new “mandate” the British formed the Palestine Police Force. It was established on the First of July, 1920 by High Commissioner Herbert Samuel’s civil administration which took over responsibly in Mandatory Palestine from General Allenby’s Occupied Enemy Territory Administration . Continue reading