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 →
An American Army tropical “Pressed Fiber” helmet and mosquito net from the Vietnam War era of the late 1960s (Author’s Collection)
The military sun helmet was introduced to save lives, not from bullets or even spears but from quite literally from the sun. The European soldiers – first the British but later the French, Belgian, Spanish, Portuguese and Germans – fell victim to sun stroke and heat stroke in their respective newly obtained colonies. The sun helmet offered protection from the sun and along with better tropical clothing likely helped save countless lives beginning in the second half of the 19th century.
The other problem facing soldiers as well as diplomats, colonists and workers was tropical disease. Among the most deadly was yellow fever. Even today in many tropical regions – especially Africa and South America – yellow fever continues to be a major problem. Today nearly a billion people live in an area of the world where the disease is common. Yellow fever originated in Africa but spread to South America through the slave trade in the 17th century, and since that time there have been major outbreaks in the Americas, Africa and even Europe. Continue reading →
While late to the race for colonial empire Germany wasted no time trying to catch up, and it soon fitted its armies in khaki uniforms, even as the German presence in her colonies varied widely.
For use in Europe the German army adopted a field gray (“feldgrau”) that proved to be as unsuitable in Africa as the British scarlet had been in India. The Germans thus looked to its own tan-based uniforms. Continue reading →
A 1905 era Canadian Militia sun helmet with the badge of the 57th Regiment, Peterborough Rangers.
Many colonial pattern sun helmets featured a spike at the dome, a feature reminiscent of the German “Pickelhaube” (Pointy Hat). This traditional of wearing a spike is one that appears to originate in the 1840s, and while a helmet with a spike on top is traditionally associated with Prussia and later Germany, the truth is that many nations including the United States, Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Sweden and Chile all were among those that utilized the decorative spike. Continue reading →