Several years ago a friend of mine named Martin asked a series of simple questions concerning a filz helmet he had bought that had a scroll Wappen on it. My opinion flipped back and forth and I really do not think I did Martin any great service. However, it started me off on a search for “truth” concerning the scroll helmets. I have yet to figure it all out but thought I would put some thoughts down. My paltry efforts are all due to Martin and I thank him.
There is very little information on these helmets and very few pictures. As one of the benefits of earlier versions of this article more pictures have come out of the woodwork and collections .
On the eighth of December 1915 the Prussian War Minister authorized the use of an experimental helmet for use with some troops earmarked for Serbia.ii Instead of having an eagle for Prussia as a helmet Wappen these helmets had a metal number shield in its place. The shields are known as scrolls. Thus was born the legend and confusion of the scroll helmets. The Illustrated War News printed a picture of some machine-gun troops with this helmet in 1915.
In the modern conventional wisdom confusion raised its ugly head and the sources for the specific helmets were lacking. So I thought I would start looking at it from the simple approach of what, where when, who and why.
Using the generic term of scroll helmet is far too simplistic. There are several items that are consistent. For instance these helmets were almost never worn with the spike. It is not clear if they were ever issued a spike. There were no cockards worn. There seems to be three specific types scroll Wappen.
1. This is the type most commonly seen in pictures. It consists of a metal semicircle of simple shaped scroll with cut out numbers. The method of attachment to the filz helmet cannot be determined from the pictures. We will refer to this as type 1. There is a variant to the type 1 which has a design on the edge and a lip around the outside. We will refer to this as type 1A.
2. This type is commonly seen in surviving artifacts and examples. It consists of a metal plate with embossed numbers. The helmet plate is secured through the use of split brad retainers. We will refer to this as type 2.
3. This type is commonly seen in references and unfortunately has been the subject of reproduction. It consists of unit number below the letter “R”. The numbers are either cut out or embossed. We will refer to this as type 3
The helmets are generally made of an Ersatz substitute material. Most of them are made out of filz. However they have been documented with cork covered with cloth. They were worn with an M15 type bayonet spike base that is ventilated. There is a ventilation cover on the rear spine. There are M 91 posts made of gray metal. They are found both with and without a visor trim and the chin straps are made of leather.
That helmets were often worn with a long neck covering. This is known by several names but we will call it “Nackenschutz”. The Nackenschutz was a separate item and attaches to head gear through a separate band and buckle. Lacarde makes reference to the band being elastic. The Nackenschutz did not need to be worn with a helmet.
Johansson has an example of a type 3 in his book “Pickelhauben” on page 60. It is a filz helmet with a ventilated spike base and a scroll with cut out letters. He calls the metal “pewter”, and states that the R22 designation stands for Infantry Regiment 22. There is no visor trim. It has a black leather chinstrap with gray metal buckles. On page 61, he shows a type 2 used on a cork helmet with a white cloth covering. This appears to say 116. It has a brown leather chinstrap with no buckles. iv
Lacarde in volume 1 page 112 shows a type 1A with a number 212, a visor trim and two gray buckles. He mentions steel fittings. v (This helmet is from Fort de la Pompelle and a shown later in the article)
Kraus in his book “The German Army” shows an example on page 70 that is a type 2, with the number 135. The helmet is clearly marked to Bekleidungsamt XVI. Kraus goes on to admit that this helmet is of unknown origin. It has a leather visor trim, a black chinstrap and cockards. On page 71 he has a helmet that does not have the scroll but has a unit number painted directly onto the front of the helmet. This helmet also has a Nackenschutz and is clearly marked to the 205th Pioneer Company. vi The Belgian Army Museum has a similar helmet shown here in a picture taken by Max Chaffotte. So far I have been unable to determine the source of this helmet.
In the Wurrtemberg book — Konigreich Wurtemburg die Militärische Kopfbedeckungen — on page 56 there is a picture of a soldier wearing a type 1 with a Nackenschutz but no visor trim. The picture is attributed to Gebirgs Maschinengewehr Abteilung 250, this is a Wurrtemberg formation created 7 September 1915. vii
References are full of two different locations for these helmets. Serbia and Macedonia.
Both of these are illustrated on this map. Everyone knows where Serbia is however this was the fourth invasion of Serbia in 1915. Macedonia is a different concept. You can see Macedonia on the very southern border of Serbia. What exactly is Macedonia is still debated. Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece all had land claims to parts of Macedonia. Each country’s different interpretation of what Macedonia was continues to this day. A small bit of trivia is that the modern country of Macedonia is actually known as FYROM. That abbreviation stands for the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. That name was finally settled on after vehement disputes over who owned Macedonia between Bulgaria, Greece and the new country.
For our purposes, Macedonia is the front between the Central Power Armies and the Entente armies headquartered in Salonika.
This can be a very sticky question. The original Prussian order from the War Minister was dated to August 1915. The invasion of Serbia that these troops allegedly were involved in started in October of 1915. The very first picture on this page is dated November 1915. The manning of the Macedonian frontier continued until the end of the war. It is unclear when helmets were no longer worn on the Macedonian front. Below is a picture of Gebirgs Maschinengewehr Abteilung 249 in Macedonia dated 11/7/1916 wearing a tropical helmet. The gentleman on the right wrote a series of postcards from April 1917. Pictures from Palestine show tropical helmets without scrolls still being worn in 1918. The Prussian War Minister decreed that there would be no more use of filz helmets on the front after August 15, 1917. Did this include Macedonia?
This is the depot in Alexinac that was established for these units. The writer confirms the location, although misspelled. The depot was opened around May 7th, 1917. It comprised personnel for training, medical care etc.
Not much detail there. However, the guy with the big helmet poses another question. Did these units switch helmets?
Gebirgs Maschinengewehr Abteilung
The original Prussian order from the War Minister established scroll helmets for the Gebirgs Maschinengewehr Abteilung 211 through 250. There are several pictures of these mountain machine gun battalions. They were not assigned to divisions and are somewhat difficult to track. All of the pictures of the Gebirgs Maschinengewehr Abteilung have a type 1 and 2 helmet Wappen. While there are questions of timing there is no question really about these machine gun units having a scroll helmet. There is documentation that says that GMGA 211 thru 250 had numbered shields. There is an example of a helmet with a type 1A plate for 212. There are diagrams in references for a type two 227, and 237 and a picture of a soldier wearing a 218, 228, 232, 238, 246, 247 and a 250 type one. The entire empire contributed to these.
Württemberg: GMGA 250
Saxony: GMGA 249
Bavaria: GMGAs 206-209 (later GMGA 262), and 248
Prussia: GMGAs 201-205, 210-247, 251-255 (in 1918, 15 of these these bacame the new units 260, 261 and 263-265)
Order of battle information on these machine gun units is very hard to come by and must be pieced together. There are no unit histories for these units. GMGA 201 through 209 were formed primarily of cavalry division’s on the Western front.GMGA 210 and 251 also seem to have been assigned to Belgium on the Western front. It appears as though GMGA number 242, 244, 245 and 246 were attached to the sixth infantry division in 1917 and transferred out of Macedonia. There is a picture of GMGA 203 in Macedonia in Dec. 1916.
Another researcher by the name of Robert Hinsley has extensively dug into these GMGA. The following paragraphs and conclusion is a quote from Robert that was placed on pickelhaubes.com.
In the following I will translate what is written about the GMGA formation until 1917, leaving out some lenghty passages (marked …) and marking my own notes with square brackets. The orders are usually referenced via footnotes:
“Very soon after war begin the need for special machinegun units besides the regular MG issues for the troops fighting in mountain terrain became obvious in the Vosges and the eastern front. Only whith these it was possible to move firepower quickly to the required places, to support own actions or defend stretched frontlines against superior enemy forces. Upon an urgend request of the OHL [Oberste Heeresleitung, i.e. highest army command], fourty GMGAs numbered 211 to 250 were quickly assembled by the MG training course Döberitz beginning in August 1915. 18 of these units had to be deployable by Sept. 9th, the following 22 by Sept. 20th 1915 (Pr. Kr. Min. Nr. 2002/8. 15 A. 2 D from August 21st, 1915). The mobilization of these troop was so important that all other requests had to stand back and the outfitting of other MG units that were planned for August and September was delayed. All personnel and carriage animals that had been sent to Döberitz for other reasons were assigned to the first 18 GMGA units (Pr. Kr. Min. Nr. 976/8. 15 A. 2 D from August 12th, 1915). The following 22 GMGA units were equipped with personnel and horses by the Stellv. Gen. Kos. [assistant general commands?] by Sept. 7th 1915, with Württemberg providing one of these units. The personnel had to be of good health and suitable for action in mountain terrain. The special mountain equipment and the uniforms were provided by the Pr. Kr. Min. (Prussian war ministery), guns, harnesses and ammunition by the Gew. Prüf. Kom. [Gewehr Prüf-Kommission, i.e. an arms inspection commision?] resp. the field maintenance depot. The mountain MG personnel received the gray-green uniform of the machinegun units with the units numbers on the shoulder flaps, and experimentally a lighweight helmet of felt with matte fittings, ventilation and a neck flap (Pr. Kr. Min. Nr. 1960/11. 15 B. 3 D). The GMGA units were organized in 2 platoons with 3 machineguns each and had a required strength of 4 officers, 175 other ranks, 85 horses (including 48 carriage animals) and 7 vehicles.
Upon this order the personnel for the Württemberg GMGA 250 was assembled at the 1. Ersatz machinegun company 121 in Münsingen and send to the MG training in Döberitz on Sept. 5th. By Sept. 15th the unit was regarded to be mobile and already 14 days later on Oct. 1st it was deployed to the 11. army in order to move to the Oberkommando Mackensen from southern Hungary and participate in the offensive against Serbia.
This way fourty GMGA units were mobilized in a single month. … Upon orders of the OHL, the GMGA units 235-238, 241 and 243-246 were reorganized to MG companies in March 1916 and attached to infantry regiments as first or second MG companies (Pr. Kr. Min. Nr. 1656/2. 16 A. 2 D). At the same time, the remaining GMGAs were strenghtened by 21 men, 20 horses and 3 double-sided vehicles [wagons with two horses] each, the latter being light Gebirgswagen 15 or vehicles of the region. … While this increase of strength became effective, orders of the ADK 11 (army group Mackensen) attached the GMGA units 210, 240 and 247-250 to the 5th Bulgarian division were they served at a streched frontline. This deployment required to increase the number of machineguns from 6 to 9 by the end of July 1916. This state remained until early 1917. On May 7th 1917 a verification of the strength of all GMGAs was again required and confirmed at 9 guns per unit. At the same time, a depot with the name “Feldrekrutendepot für G.-M.G.-Abtlgen der Heeresgruppe Scholtz” was established in Alexinac for the GMGA units in Serbia (*).
Consisting of command, training personnel, rifleman detachment, carriage animal unit, surgical unit. Total strength: 16 officers, 827 men, 127 horses (including 90 carriage animals) and 7 vehicles. …
After this reorganization the required strength of a GMGA was 9 machineguns, 4 officers, 247 other ranks, 139 horses (including 80 carriage animals) and 21 vehicles, allthough this strength was never reached due to the increasing shortage of personnel and equipment.”
* The reason that often only the GMGA units 211-250 are mentioned may be that these were the first batch that was mobilized. Evidently, the lower numbers 201-210 followed later.
* The uniforms were provided by Prussia, which is probably the reason why GMGAs from different states have identical outfit (including helmets).
* The special helmet model was intentional and not (or at least not exclusively) the result of the shortage.
* The GMGAs have a quite large number of horses and carriage animals (139/80 after beefing up in 1917) considering their size similar to companies. In other parts of the document it is described how difficult it was to equip the mountain units with suitable carriage animals. Carriage ponys were even imported from Sweden. So evidently the mobility (and independence from other transport units) was regarded a main asset of a GMGA.
However, none of these listings can come close to explaining this picture. While there is nothing on the back it seems to show the number 270. There was no 270 according to these listings. Are the listings in error? Is it not 270? Look at the shoulder strap–what is that?
Here are some additional pictures of scroll helmets.
Variations and Holes
Some of these pictures with type 1 helmet scrolls show a hole on the left-hand side of the scroll. It is believed that these are production holes made by the manufacturer to accommodate another type of Wappen on these helmets. There seems to be a convention where if there was an extra space it would be placed in the same area. It is not clear what kind of Wappen was originally designed for these filz helmets.
In addition, there is a variation between the plate for 238, 246 and the one for 247. There seems to be an edge design on the 238 scroll.
Both the hole and the edge design can be seen in this picture from Fort de la Pompelle. The picture of this helmet was provided by Max Chaffotte.
The hole is on both sides in this picture and appears plugged.
This picture has both a helmet and a shako from GMGA 247.
11th Army- Gen der Artillerie von Gallwitz– Regiments
The order of Battle of the 11th Army, which went into Serbia varies a lot depending upon the reference. I don’t mean a little bit — I mean it really varies both corps and division assignments. According to the Histories of the 251 Divisions there are actually two Reserve Infantry Regiment 116 in two different divisions! Having looked and discussed this with other researchers this is my best attempt at an order of battle as of 4 October 1915.
III Corps. – Gen der Infanterie von Lochow
25th Reserve Division.
118th Reserve Regiment.
83rd Reserve Regiment.
IV Reserve Corps – Genlt von Winckler
122nd Fusilier Regiment.
52nd Reserve Regiment.
227th Reserve Regiment.
232nd Reserve Regiment
11th Bavarian Division.
3rd Bavarian Regiment.
22nd Bavarian Regiment.
13th Bavarian Reserve Regiment
X Reserve Corps.- Genlt Kosch
116th Reserve Regiment
XXII Reserve Corps. Operating in Serbia under the Third Austrian Army
43rd Reserve Division.
201st Reserve Regiment.
202nd Reserve Regiment.
203rd Reserve Regiment
204th Reserve Regiment.
15th Reserve Jäger Battalion
44th Reserve Division.
205th Reserve Regiment.
206th Reserve Regiment.
207th Reserve Regiment
208th Reserve Regiment.
119th Gren. Regiment.
122 Fusilier Regiment.
Of these regiments. There is a diagram of a type 3 R116. This would make immense sense for the 116th Reserve Regiment of the 103rd Infantry Division. The example shown in Kraus of the 205th Pioneer Company with a Nackenshutz but no Wappen at all and the numbers painted on the helmet was assigned to the 103rd Infantry Division during the Serbian campaign. In addition there is this picture of the 122nd Fusilier Regiment.
This picture shows a religious celebration on the Greek border. The card is legible on the back where it was sent from East Galatia on the 26th of June 1916. The 122nd Fusilier Regiment did indeed push on to southern Serbia. In June of 1916 the Regiment was sent to Galatia in response to the June Russian offensive. x In that operation, the Regiment was severely decimated. Therefore this picture seems to be taken in Macedonia just before the Regiment left for Galatia. You notice the type 1 helmet Wappen, the Nackenschutz, and the lack of an Uberzug or helmet cover. The mass of enlisted soldiers was accompanied by their officers at this religious service.
The officers and top NCO wore a spiked helmet with an Uberzug but no Nackenshutz in the picture.
This was the first picture of an officer found wearing a scroll helmet. It is not clear what unit he comes from. There is yet another picture of an officer with the scroll helmet and a Nackenschutz where the helmet has a spike.
Here is another example from the collection at Fort de la Pompelle taken by Max Chaffotte. The museum attributes this helmet to the “Würrtemberg mountain train” 4th mule-mounted company of the 101st mountain division. 1916. While this division spent almost all its time in Macedonia it was not a Württemberg division however it is noted according to the 251 Divisions as having had four Württemberg pack trains in 1918. There is no mention of this helmet in the Württemberg book and the cockade on the left side of the helmet appears to be a Reich’s cockade. You will also notice that there is no Nackenschutz on this helmet.
Something is wrong with conventional wisdom
As these helmets continue to be looked at through the lens of Serbia and Macedonia, cracks begin to emerge in the theory. Contrary to previous thought these helmets appear in France.
Given 11th Army order of battle the famous R22 helmet makes no sense. Reserve Infantry Regiment 22 spent its time in the 12th Reserve Division in France until August 1915 then was transferred to the 117th Infantry Division. In August of 1916 the 117th Infantry Division left France — the Somme — and went to Romania; the Carpathian Mountains which are nowhere near Serbia or Macedonia. There is a diagram of a type 3 R116 and an example of a type 2 Wappen that says 116. While Reserve Regiment 116 makes sense — active Regiment 116 does not. Infantry Regiment 116 spent the entire war with the 25th Infantry Division. The entire war was spent in France. 1915 and 1916 were on the Somme and Verdun. Certainly this was far away from a white colored cloth covered cork helmet with a Nackenschutz.
The helmet that Kraus shows with the type 2 — 135 Bekleidungsamt Mark XVI rather then being of unknown origin, sure looks like it would be from 3. Lothringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.135 of the XVI Corps. Infantry Regiment 135 spent the entire war with the 33rd Infantry Division. The division never left France and from September 1914 to August of 1916 it was in the Argonne. xi There is no Nackenschutz on the Kraus helmet.
The initial compelling argument about scroll helmets in France comes from this picture.
These two soldiers are from Infantry Regiment 51. They do not have a Nackenschutz. The back of the card while not mailed is very legible and says
The best greetings is sending you Michael.
I am well healthy and agile yet; send
in attachment a photograph for
memory to the
conquerors of Frise at the Somme.
The Battle of Frise was a significant accomplishment for the Germans in January 1916. These individuals were obviously very proud of their accomplishment as part of this effort. Looking at the picture sometimes it’s difficult to determine if this is a 51 or 31. It is Koeniglich 4. Niederschlesischen Infanterie Regiment Nr. 51 The translation confirms it. No other infantry unit in 11th Infantry Division (and there is no doubt that the 11th Infantry Division were the ones who ‘stormed’ Frise) could be mistaken for it. The other numbers involved were 10, 11 & 38. Even if it had been IR 31, it would still not support the Serbia theory, because that regiment was part of 18th Infantry Division which spent a large part of the war in various parts of France until early July 1916 when it arrived on the Somme in Champagne.
While the picture above shows the potential of scroll helmets being used by units that never went to Macedonia this picture below provides proof positive that units that had been in Macedonia wearing a scroll helmet returned in some cases to the Western front with those helmets. This postcard from the collection of Hans Dieter Zimmer was written in Vogesen 12.1.16. That is in Alsace-Lorraine. According to a translation kindly provided by Immanuel:
Feldpost An Familie Friedrich Walter
Will Euch meine Lieben auch mal wieder eine Kriegserinnerung geben in unserer alten Uniform. Wir bekommen aber jedenfalls bald wieder andere. Die Pfeife von Heinrich freut mich täglich mehr und raucht sich sehr gut. Hoffe auch wenn das große Paket Tabak alle ist wird auch der Krieg zu Ende sein. Ich grüße Euch alle herzlich Euer Wilhelm.
I just want to send you another war memory in our old uniform. Soon we are going to get some others. The pipe from Heinrich pleases me more and more from day to day and it smokes very well. I hope that the war is over when I finished the big pack of tabacco. Best regards to you all from your Wilhelm
An analysis of this was produced by Xiphophilos:
Wilhelm, the author of the postcard, says that he and his friend are depicted in their old uniform, and he expects that they’ll soon get different uniforms. So I wonder if this uniform was originally distributed to the writer’s unit when they were in a place like Macedonia, even though they were at the time the postcard was written in the Vosges Mountains and still wearing the same uniform.
This unit GMGA 227 was part of the great 12th Landwehr division which had some horrible experiences and losses at the Hartmannswillerkopf in late December 1915.
Then there is this, both the scroll and the helmet cover say 23. Infantry Regiment 23 was part of the 12th Infantry Division and never left France until Dec. 1916.
This incredibly nice picture from the collection of Sam Wouters poses more proof and questions. There is a sender’s address on the back that is totally clear. GMGA 218 which was part of the Bavarian 6th Landwehr Division. Based on the number this would be a Prussian unit in a Bavarian Division. It is dated June 16, 1916 from the Vogesen region of the Western Front. Notice that the clear Edelweiss badge on their collar. It looks different from the type worn by the Alpenkorps. Perhaps it is an unofficial variant worn by some mountain units such as this one? Or maybe a real flower?
What Does It All Mean?
Precious little! I was once accused of being an obscurantist by a distinguished colleague. Conventional wisdom which had dismissed these helmets as a Serbian anomaly paid it far little thought. Based on expediencies and production these helmets were used in various locations. For instance I’m sure that the 122nd Fusilier Regiment did not exchange helmets upon their emergency redeployment to face the Russians in East Galatia. It also shows that there were several different variations on the theme and that this might help in identifying some helmets that are more legitimate. I would like to formally thank Robert Hinesley who kindly lent me a picture that got me going to finish this. He deserves more credit than you think.
Back to the Beginning
This all started out as a search for Reserve Infantry Regiment 22. Clearly this was a unit that served in France and unfortunately has been the subject of many reproductions. My understanding is that there were two waves of reproductions. One came from the old Czechoslovakia and was easily spotted as the filz was “squishy” instead of very stiff. The second wave came from Great Britain and could most easily be spotted by a brown leather like trim around the helmet. The example in the Johansson book is a type 3 with cut out letters. Most of the reproductions seem to have embossed letters. Here is an example that has the telltale marks of a reproduction unfortunately.
There is a spike, and the telltale brown leather like trim. In addition there is a maker’s mark and a mark from the Bekleidungsamt IX Corps. This too appears faked as simple research would show that Reserve Infantry Regiment 22 was in VI Corps.
I wish I had better news about this helmet but I do not.
Please if you have any other pictures or examples that I can use I would be glad to include them in the analysis.
All pictures from GMGA 238 and 247 from the Robert Hinsley Collection.