Brodie Helmet
A British Mark I helmet dating from 1917. This was a developed version of the original Brodie helmet and was worn by British Empire and US troops.
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
Used byBritish Empire
United States
Nationalist China
WarsFirst World War
Second Sino-Japanese War
Second World War
Indonesian National Revolution
1948 Arab-Israeli War
Korean War
Indo-Pakistan Wars
Six-Day War
War of Attrition
Turkish invasion of Cyprus
Operation Bluestar
Production history
DesignerJohn Leopold Brodie
No. producedMillions
VariantsSee Variants

The Brodie helmet is a steel combat helmet designed and patented in London in 1915 by Latvian inventor John Leopold Brodie (Latvian: Leopolds Janno Braude). A modified form of it became the Helmet, Steel, Mark I in Britain and the M1917 Helmet in the US. Colloquially, it was called the shrapnel helmet, battle bowler, Tommy helmet, tin hat, and in the United States the doughboy helmet. It was also known as the dishpan hat, tin pan hat, washbasin and Kelly helmet. The German Army called it the Salatschüssel (salad bowl).[1] The term Brodie is often misused. It is correctly applied only to the original 1915 Brodie's Steel Helmet, War Office Pattern.[2]


The Illustrated War News—17 November 1915
The caption reads:
Head-wounds have been more than usually numerous during the war, owing to the trench-fighting, and more than usually severe, owing to the extensive use of shrapnel. But the danger, although it cannot be avoided, can be minimised. Our Army has now followed the French by adopting steel helmets, calculated to stop shell-splinters and shrapnel. Even in cases of extreme risk, not only has death been avoided, but injuries have been confined to bruises or superficial wounds. Cases have occurred in which the wearers have been hit, but saved by these helmets from what without them would have meant certain death. The fur coats, as they did last year, mean mitigation of the rigours of winter. The French helmets are known as "Adrians," after their inventor. (Photo by Illustrations Harrow).

At the outbreak of World War I, none of the combatants provided steel helmets to their troops. Soldiers of most nations went into battle wearing cloth, felt, or leather headgear that offered no protection from modern weapons.

A significant partial exception to this lack was the German Pickelhaube. Like other army helmets of 1914, it was made out of leather; but it also had a significant amount of steel inserts that offered some head protection. This included the top spike, originally used to stop strikes from an enemy hand-held sabre.

The huge number of lethal head wounds that modern artillery weapons inflicted upon the French Army led them to introduce the first modern steel helmets in the summer of 1915.[3][4] The first French helmets were bowl-shaped steel "skullcaps" worn under the cloth caps. These rudimentary helmets were soon replaced by the Model 1915 Adrian helmet, designed by August-Louis Adrian.[5] The idea was later adopted by most other combatant nations.


At about the same time, the British War Office had seen a similar need for steel helmets. The War Office Invention Department was ordered to evaluate the French design. They decided that it was not strong enough and too complex to be swiftly manufactured. British industry was not geared up to an all-out effort of war production in the early days of World War I, which also led to the shell shortage of 1915.

John Leopold Brodie (1873–1945), born Leopold Janno Braude[6] in Riga, was an entrepreneur and inventor who had made a fortune in the gold and diamond mines of South Africa, but was working in London at that time.[7] A design patented by him in August 1915 offered advantages over the French helmet. It was constructed in one piece that could be pressed from a single thick sheet of steel, giving it added strength and making it simple to manufacture. Brodie's patent deals mainly with the innovative lining arrangements; an engineer called Alfred Bates of the firm of Willis & Bates of Halifax, Yorkshire, manufacturer of Vapalux paraffin pressure lamps, claimed that he was asked by the War Office to find a method of manufacturing an anti-shrapnel helmet and that it was he who had devised the basic shape of the steel shell. Aside from some newspaper articles, there is nothing to substantiate Bates's claim.[8]

Brodie's helmet resembled designs from past eras, in particular the medieval infantry kettle hat or chapel-de-fer and the samurai/ashigaru jingasa helmet, unlike the German Stahlhelm, which resembled the medieval sallet.[9] The Brodie had a shallow circular crown with a wide brim around the edge, a leather liner and a leather chinstrap. The helmet's "soup bowl" shape was designed to protect the wearer's head and shoulders from shrapnel shell projectiles bursting from above the trenches. The design allowed the use of relatively thick steel that could be formed in a single pressing while maintaining the helmet's thickness. This made it more resistant to projectiles but it offered less protection to the lower head and neck than other helmets.

The original design (Type A) was made of mild steel with a brim 1.5–2 inches (38–51 mm) wide. The Type A was in production for just a few weeks before the specification was changed and the Type B was introduced in October 1915. The specification was altered at the suggestion of Sir Robert Hadfield to a harder steel with 12% manganese content, which became known as "Hadfield steel", which was virtually impervious to shrapnel hitting from above.[10] Ballistically this increased protection for the wearer by 10 per cent. It also had a narrower brim and a more domed crown.

The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment showing off their new Brodie helmets (1916).

The original paint scheme, suggested by Brodie, was a mottled light green, blue, and orange camouflage but they were also painted in green or blue-grey.[11]

The weight of a lined Mark I helmet was approximately 2.4 pounds (1.1 kg).[12]


The first delivery of the Brodie to British Army troops took place in September 1915, at the rate of 50 per battalion. Initially, there were far from enough helmets to equip every man, so they were designated as "trench stores", to be kept in the front line and used by each unit that occupied the sector. By early 1916, about a quarter of a million had been made, and the first action in which the Brodie was worn by all ranks was the Battle of St Eloi, in April.

Although the helmet's benefits were recognised, there was criticism from several quarters, including General Herbert Plumer, who said that the helmet was too shallow and too light-reflective, its rim was too sharp, and its lining was too slippery. It was decided to introduce a number of improvements, and from May, supplies of the modified helmet, designated the Mark I, began to arrive. It had a separate, folded rim, a two-part liner, and matte khaki paint finished with sand, sawdust, or crushed cork to give a dull, non-reflective appearance.[11]

By the summer of 1916 the first million helmets had been produced, and they were issued to all troops.[13]

Troops from other countries also used the Brodie helmet, including the United States Armed Forces, when they began to deploy in France late in 1917. The United States government initially purchased some 400,000 helmets from Britain. From January 1918 the U.S. Army began to use helmets manufactured in the U.S. and these helmets were designated M1917.[1] The steel helmet was known to the troops as a "tin hat", or, for the officers,[dubiousdiscuss] a "battle bowler" (from bowler hat). British soldiers soon identified with their helmets, much like French and German soldiers.[14]

By the end of the war some 7.5 million Brodie helmets had been produced, including 1.5 million M1917 helmets, for use by American forces.

Interwar and World War II

U.S. Army Infantryman in 1942 wearing a M1917A1 helmet

From 1936, the Mark I helmet was fitted with an improved liner and an elasticated, sprung webbing chin strap. This final variant served until late 1940, when it was superseded by the slightly modified Mk II, which served the British and Commonwealth forces throughout World War II. British paratroopers and airborne forces used the Helmet Steel Airborne Troop.

Several Commonwealth nations, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, produced local versions of the Mk II, which can be distinguished from those made in Britain.

During this period, the helmet was also used by the police, the fire brigade and ARP wardens in Britain. The helmets for the ARP wardens came in two principal variants, black with a white "W" for wardens and white with a black "W" for senior ranks (additional black stripes denoted seniority within the warden service); however numerous different patterns were used.[15] A civilian pattern was also available for private purchase, known as the Zuckerman helmet, which was a little deeper but made from ordinary mild steel.

Norwegian soldiers at the Battle of Hegra Fortress in 1940, a few wearing Mark I helmets

The Norwegian Army adopted the Mark I helmet in 1915, eventually importing a total of 10,000 examples. Some of the imported helmets had a helmet plate with the Norwegian coat of arms affixed to the front. The Mark I remained in Norwegian service throughout the interwar period, alongside Swedish helmets acquired in the 1930s. The helmets were among the equipment issued to Norwegian forces in World War II, seeing service in the 1940 Norwegian Campaign against invading German forces.[16] In the first post-war years, the Mark I helmet remained in service with the Norwegian Army, alongside the American M1 helmet, Swedish helmets, and Stahlhelms left behind by the capitulated German occupation forces.[17]

Jewish Civil Defense group in Jerusalem in 1942. The group served as ARP Fire Wardens, equipped with water hoses and buckets, some wearing FW (Fire Watcher) Brodie helmets. Men are in uniform while women wear plain clothes. Composer Josef Tal stands next to the woman with a black sweater.
M1917 helmet worn by a Doughboy of the 91st Division in France in 1918

In 1944, the British supplemented it with a significantly modified design, known as the Mk III "Turtle" helmet.

The U.S. Army used the basic Brodie-patterned M1917 helmet until 1942 with some modifications, which included a totally new liner and canvas chin strap. It was finally superseded by the M1 helmet in 1942 and passed down to civil defence.

The helmet was the inspiration for the name of the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (or the MOTH), a brotherhood of ex-front-line soldiers founded in 1927 by Charles Evenden.[18]


United Kingdom

A British helmet dating from the Second World War, probably a Mark II. The grey finish suggests that it was issued to one of the civil defence services.
A 1941-dated Zuckerman helmet marked "SFP" for "Street Fire Party".




Canadian troops wearing Mark II helmets; England, 1942.

New Zealand


South Africa

United States


Asbestos concerns

In May 2014, the UK's Health and Safety Executive, in consultation with the Imperial War Museum, advised that World War I-era helmets were not safe to handle, owing to the likelihood of their containing asbestos. It advised that schools should not allow pupils to handle such artefacts, but should instead ensure that the objects were either to be safely disposed of or to have the asbestos removed from the object allowing safe display of the object.[29]

See also


  1. ^ a b Reynosa, Mark A. (1997). "The M-1917 Helmet". U.S. Combat Helmets of the 20th Century. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publ. ISBN 9780764303579.
  2. ^ "Brodie's Steel Helmet, War Office Pattern". The Brodie Helmet and its derivatives. 2015. Archived from the original on 7 January 2016. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  3. ^ Suciu, Peter (2 February 2009). "The first modern steel combat helmet: the French 'Adrian'". Military Trader. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  4. ^ "Infantry Helmets". Military Headgears. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011.
  5. ^ "Heaumes Page". Archived from the original on November 30, 2006.
  6. ^ "Oxford Biography Index entry – John Brodie". Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ "Brodie's "Tin Hat"". The Buffalo History Gazette. 1 November 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  8. ^ Liddle, Dr Peter (2016), Britain and a Widening War, 1915–1916: From Gallipoli to the Somme, Pen & Sword Military, ISBN 978-1-47386-717-8 (p. 182)
  9. ^ Edwards, Nina (2013). Dressed for war : uniform, civilian clothing and trappings, 1914–1918. London: Tauris. p. 26. ISBN 9781780767079.
  10. ^ Dunstan, Simon; Volstad, Ron (1984). Flak Jackets: 20th Century Military Body Armour. London: Osprey Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 0-85045-569-3.
  11. ^ a b Bull, Stephen; Hook, Adam (2002). World War I Trench Warfare (1): 1914–16. Oxford; New York: Osprey Publishing. pp. 10–11. ISBN 1-84176-197-4.
  12. ^ WW1: Combat helmet technology – the Brodie steel helmet
  13. ^ Sheffield, Gary (2007). War on the Western Front: In the Trenches of World War I. Oxford; New York: Osprey Publishing. p. 227. ISBN 978-1-84603-210-3.
  14. ^ Tenner, Edward, and Edward Tenner. Our own devices: The past and future of body technology. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003, p. 251[ISBN missing]
  15. ^ "London Blitz Civil Defence Helmets". 2014. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  16. ^ Strøm, Knut Erik (1996). Hærens uniformer i vårt århundre – et billedhefte. Forsvarsmuseets småskrift no. 15 (in Norwegian). Oslo: Armed Forces Museum. pp. 27–. ISBN 82-91218-11-0.
  17. ^ Strøm, p. 39
  18. ^ "About Us – M.O.T.H". M.O.T.H. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  19. ^ Brayley, Martin J (2008), Tin Hats to Composite Helmets: A Collector's Guide, Crowood Press, ISBN 978-1-84797-024-4 (pp. 58–60)
  20. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved May 7, 2024.
  21. ^ Brayley, pp. 66–67
  22. ^ "Helmet No.1, Mk.II". The OCAD Collection. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  23. ^ Brayley, pp. 19–20
  24. ^ Brayley, pp. 25–26
  25. ^ "Mk.II. New Zealand". The OCAD Collection. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  26. ^ Brayley, pp. 93–94
  27. ^ "Mk.II Helmet. South African". The OCAD Collection. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  28. ^ Brayley, pp. 112–113
  29. ^ Burns, Judith (14 May 2014). "Wartime helmets and gas masks 'dangerous', schools told". BBC News. Retrieved 30 September 2015.