Dear readers , with this article I want to get a closer look at many different types of black painted helmets that were used in the Third Reich. When we think about black helmets we immediately think of the transitional M16/M18 and Austrian helmets used by the early SS. But also M35’s and medium weight Edelstahl helmets were repainted in black for the SS and as you will see also for the Wehrmacht.
REPAINTING HELMETS WAS COMMON PRACTICE
New collectors often think the Germans were very strict when it came to altering their helmet’s appearance. But in fact the opposite is true. Crookedly applied decals were accepted. Despite general orders a lot of soldiers kept their tricolor on their M35 helmets and putting camo paint on a helmet was common practice done by the individual soldier or at unit level.
But it didn’t stop there. The Feldherrnhalle division and auxilliary units like the NSKK and Bahnschutz polizei overpainted their factory decalled helmets with their own color. A kind of brown for the FHH , a blueish grey for the Bahnschutz and NSKK had a variety of shades from green to greyish blue. Also M35 Reicharbeitsdienst helmets and some M40’s are observed with overpaints.
METHOD OF REPAINTING
It looks like two methods were used. Brush repaint or spray gun repaints. Very often the interior was also painted but always only right up against the liner band usually leaving such paint traces visible on the leather and on the liner band itself. The early transitional SS helmets were already painted this way. According to Kelly Hicks a cardboard template was placed inside the helmet to protect the leather from being sprayed. (reference SS steel page 45). Below an example of an Algemeine SS transitional helmet with interior painted , note the black on the chinstrap bale and the first green color in the dome.
WHY OVERPAINT A BRAND NEW FACTORY SUPPLIED HELMET ?
All the units talked about earlier in the article at some point decided to stand out more and have their own helmet color. Was there ever an official order for it ? So far as I know it has not surfaced. It was also never uniformly done , what I mean by that is that there is a big variety in paint colors. Helmets were being repainted all over Europe and everyone interpreted their ‘official color’ a little differently. Especially the NSKK have more different overpaint colors. For the RAD it seems it was not that often done. Early RAD used Luftwaffe helmets as they were. Some got overpainted when the RAD decals arrived but most M40 and M42 were never overpainted ,they just got a RAD decal stuck on them.
So to answer why ? Unit proudness , the practical need to be recognized amongst other soldiers. These are the only two answers I can come up with.
PAINT IT BLACK
Only commercial helmets seems to have received a factory black paintjob but the Feuerschutz traditionally wore black helmets so that makes sense.
Bahnschutz / Railroad protection
Apart from the SS we also know the Bahnschutz used black transitionals with Heer decals. These black transitionals may have been SS helmets initially as they are painted in the same way. The connection to the Bahnschutz has only been very recently discovered. One helmet was found with a card attached to it that it was attributed to a Res. Lokführer = Reserve train driver.
Others have been found with railway stamps in the dome.
Very little is known about exactly which Wehrmacht units painted their helmets black. We see black helmets in every branch of the Wehrmacht. Luftwaffe , Heer and Kriegsmarine. With each come some possible expanations of their use based on unit markings found in the helmets or where they were found. Militaria dealers refer to all these black Wehrmacht helmets as Flak helmets. Some are Flak , some are not.
When I bought the below helmet the story was that the helmet was worn by a guard of Kriegsmarine installations in Denmark. It’s an SE 64 M35 painted also up to the liner band , you can see more details on my Kriegsmarine helmets webpage.
In Norway some local collectors also found black KM helmets out of the woodwork related to Kriegsmarine installations. Check out below topic on GHW2.com.
Black painted Luftwaffe helmets are called Flak helmets the most often by collectors on forums. Unfortunately most are lacking unit markings. But here’s a fine example from Ron Richter’s collection.
The feldpost number is a Flak one.
(28.4.1940-19.9.1940) 2. Batterie Reserve-Flak-Abteilung 256
(8.9.1942-11.3.1943) 4. Batterie schwere Flak-Abteilung 166
(8.9.1943-22.4.1944) 4.10.1943 4. Batterie gemischte
Flak-Abteilung 166 (v)
(25.11.1944-Kriegsende) 13.12.1944 gestrichen.
You can see more black Luftwaffe helmets in this topic on GHW2.com : Black Luftwaffe – Third Reich Combat Helmets 1935 – 1945 – German Helmet Walhalla (ghw2.com)
Whom were using the Heer black helmets is at this time still difficult to pinpoint but an exciting research project nonetheless. Could be also Flak as Heer Flak batteries also existed. Could they have been used by the Bahnschutz or otherwise railroad related , guards ? A third theory suggests the black helmets belong to Panzer units. A black overpainted gasmask cannister which links to a Panzer abteilung was posted on a topic about a Black M35 on the Wehrmacht awards forum. It could even be all or some of the above.
The below helmet is an M35 reissue with Methner and Burger decal , the black paint was painted over the reissue paint , decal painted around. 1940 dated liner.
Example 2 has some interesting features , none of the rivets have washers. It makes the most experienced collector scratch his head. Judging by the overall patina these were intentionally installed that way. Lack of washers available ? Another very similar example surfaced recently also without washers. See further down.
This helmet looks more brush painted , the decal like the first helmet I showed is also a Methner and Burger. The rivets are 1944 dated.
On the Wehrmachts awards forum a gentleman shared his M35 black overpaint with ET decal. The black brush paint reminded me of mine. Guess what ? None of the rivets have washers. You can read the topic if you click the link below. There you will also see the black overpainted gasmask I mentioned earlier that belonged to a Panzer abteilung.
The 3rd Heer helmet I can share is one that’s not been painted inside and the decals have been overpainted , a very nice wartime example without a doubt. The stamp in the shell reads : 2.flakregiment 11. batterie (photos kindly provided by Quentin on GHW2)
It is always exciting and perhaps a little strange to find a gap in the knowledge we have about certain helmets because so much has already been written. Unknown is often unloved in this hobby of ours but I hope this article will renew the interest in black helmets and result in even more knowledge becoming available. Also to avoid any wartime black helmets being destroyed by people feeling the need to remove the overpaint.
If someone reading this topic has a black helmet with unit markings you can share it with me via e-mail. (see the contacts page)
Thanks to all of you who share their collections on forums , you make them a treasure trove of information. Also thanks to those who reached out to me privately with information. Also to my friend and co moderator of the German Helmet Vault Andrea who tipped me on the black Kriegsmarine helmet and Scott B who tipped me on the black gasmask can.
Keep collecting and keep sharing (not on Facebook)
Check out : http://www.GHW2.com (German helmet Walhalla) and the Wehrmachts awards forum helmet section : German Helmet Forum – Wehrmacht-Awards.com Militaria Forums
And for those looking for a smaller venue can register and post here : German Helmet Vault