Upgrading Kürassier Helmets
Joseph P. Robinson.
December 1, 2005
Collectors have struggled for quite some time with the upgrading of the steel Kürassier helmets. Only in the last several years has there been an understanding of one year volunteer (OYV), Fähnrich and Fahnenjunker for leather helmets. Metal helmets catch everyone’s imagination, and because officer or steel helmets are so very expensive, few collectors have experience with these. The emergence of the Neumann catalog has improved our understanding of some nagging Kürassier problems.
This photograph from the Trawnik collection shows a Saxon one year volunteer with a number of interesting items on the helmet. First look at the front visor. The one on the picture is known as a step visor. The cockade has no silver ring and it is obviously a 65 mm cockade for someone who does not yet have a portapee. The rosettes are round, not trefoil. The spike base has a round ventilating hole and not the design of the officer’s helmet. The spike is round not fluted. We know that a one year volunteer had to privately buy the helmet so this was not issued. Can/would this helmet be easily converted to officer rank?
Let’s take a look at the visors.
The one on the left is the model 1889. It is known as Kommis-Form. It has a round front visor and the spike is a bit shorter. The one on the right is a model 1867, is known as officer-form, has a step visor, a slightly taller spike, and the back is more straight or vertical. Much discussion in the past has centered on why an 1867 model helmet, would be used after 1889 for lower ranked individuals who had not earned a portapee. Conversely, there was not a lot of photographic evidence about those with a portapee but not a commission. A lot of discussion centered on the wear out date. Surely the older helmet styles would not be discarded, and both styles would serve for quite some time in a unit as the wear out date of a steel helmet must be much longer than the 10 years of the leather helmet. However, the helmet form on the right could be bought up through the Junkers catalog in the 1930s.
Analysis has shown that there were four types of helmets. The last three types were all private purchase helmets. Individuals had to buy them from some sort of retailer. Anyone could do it, including the lowest ranked soldier.
1. Issue helmets, also called Kammer quality. These steel helmets can perhaps best be identified by finding a unit mark stamped in one of various locations around the helmet.
2. Diensthelm. Also roughed steel helmets used by individuals who had to individually purchase a helmet, such as a one year volunteer or a Fahnenjunker. They were rough, identical in many ways to an issue helmet and designed to be used for every day and field duty. These are also called Eigentums helm, extra helm, or extra-Kommis helm
3. A helmet for Fähnrich or Fahnenjunker. This would be a high quality helmet with some, but not the entire galaxy of officer upgrades. The intent was to upgrade this helm to full officer when the individual was promoted to lieutenant.
4. Officer quality helmet. Used by a fully commissioned officers from the rank of lieutenant through Colonel.
Issue helmets were the property of the state. The Reichstag voted the money to buy them., the Reichstag voted the money to replace them.. It was not the intent of the unit or the state for individuals to upgrade an issue helmet. Repairs made to the issue helmet were made by the Bekleidings Instandsetung, a Corps level organization designed to fix equipment. Issue helmets were consistently complained about by the wearer as being heavy, poorly ventilated, and chafing to the skull. Felt pads were placed in the top of many steel helmets to stop them from rubbing the top of the individuals head.
The Diensthelm was something needed by those who could not get an issue helmet and were clearly not officers. A one year volunteer needed a Diensthelm for everyday duties, because the OYV was a low ranking enlisted individual. Some OYV types could be commissioned as a reserve lieutenant after two training periods in the reserve. That is after his year of active duty. Many leather Diensthelms were converted to reserve officer status directly. A few minor changes, add a landwehr cross to the wappen and pop-you had an officer’s helmet. Not all Diensthelms were converted, and clearly it was in the interest of the owner to have as high a quality helmet as he could, if he was going to try to convert it. There were so many changes in the Kürassier helm to make a Diensthelm an officer helmet, that it was generally not allowed.
In this catalog there is a clear statement that saying Diensthelm cannot be modified to an officer helm. . It shows the Diensthelm was made out of steel that was not covered in nickel. Chin scales, wappen and other fixtures that were not mercury fire gilded.. It was possible to buy a Diensthelm in either Kommis- form or officer-form.
The helmet for Fähnrich and Fahnenjunker’s was a higher quality helmet that had a nickel finish or a fine polish for the tombak.. You could upgrade the Quality of gilding or silver. These were only available in officer-form and the liners were significantly different and better than the old leather ones. These were fully convertible and upgradable to full officer status. As shown below, the upgrade was dependent upon the original condition of the helmet. Prices were offered in different ranges for instance from 24-27 marks. You could either pay to have it changed over or you could pay much more and have it renovated and changed over. Cockades, rosettes, spike and base, might all be replaced. While this would be a major upgrade it does not seem to be too difficult to accomplish. In the matter of cockades it does not appear as if there was an Unteroffiziere ohne portapee specific cockade for metal helmets. It appears as though it either had a silver ring denoting portapee or it did not. Cockades for these helmets were all 65 mm.
In addition to a total renovation, you could also get parts, fixed. You could get your eagle re-silvered, your wappen or chin scales fire gilded, or a liner installed. The commercial market supported the requirements to keep the helmets in top shape. As a comparison a new line Kürassier officer helmet would cost in the low 60 Mark range.
So the main points of this are (Yes I know this is based on only one catalog):
1. There were four kinds of Kürassier helmets.
2. Diensthelms in Kommis-form could not be converted to officer-form
3. Diensthelms in officer form were not converted (Probably because of the lack of nickel in the shell.)
4. There were three different kinds of. Private purchase helmets that was quite different.
5. Step visored helmets could be bought at any time.