South African Steel Helmet

My thanks go to Andy Dixon for sorting me out with tonight’s object, a South African made steel helmet. During the Second World War the Transvaal Steel Pressing Syndicate in South Africa produced nearly 1.5 million steel helmets and these were used extensively in Africa, Asia and Italy throughout the war, they also went on to see service in Greece post war. These helmets are fairly common as a large stash of shells came out of Greece a few years back, they were without liners however so like this example replacements need to be fitted. At first glance the helmet looks very similar to other steel Mk II helmets:Note the rough finish on the helmet to reduce shine and the sand colour ideal for the deserts of North Africa (I think this one has been repainted though). The easiest way of determining that the helmet is South African is the set of three holes punched across the back:Originally these were designed to allow a neck curtain to be fitted but no evidence has been found of these being ever issued. The shape of the helmet is also more circular in plan than other Commonwealth Mk IIs, being much more similar to WW1 helmets:Originally the liner fitted had a large oval felt pad in the crown, again similar to WW1 designs, this liner however is a replacement so does not have this feature. The chin strap is a typical World War Two British sprung type:This attaches to the shell with a pair of riveted square lugs:The manufacture of helmets was quite involved. Firstly steel was cut into square blanks:A hydraulic press stamps the shell out of the square of steel:A stainless steel rim is then cinched and welded into place:Before the whole thing is painted prior to fitting the liner:The painter’s protection from paint particles consists of a rudimentary mask and bandages over his hair! After this the helmets are heated in a kiln to cure the paint. British factories in 1939 were turning out 50,000 helmets a week.

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2 thoughts on “South African Steel Helmet

  1. Brian

    Excellent post! Thanks for your meticulous research and very interesting historical reference material. The photo’s of manufacturing the helmets are fascinating! I guessed they were made in hydraulic presses, but I never saw actual photos. In the Spielberg movie, Schindler’s List, there’s a scene in the DEF factory, showing the metal presses in action making cooking pots. I thought the manufacture of helmets would follow a similar process, and there are certainly similarities from what I can see in the photographs you posted.
    Thanks again, your work is always interesting, accurate and informative!

    Reply
    1. hatchfive Post author

      Hi Brian. I am glad you are enjoying the blog. The information on helmet making comes from the excellent ‘War Illustrated’ magazine published during WW2. There are all sorts of interesting articles in them which haven’t been seen in seventy years.

      Reply

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