Original U.S. WWII Early Model “Clear” Riddell Parachute Training Helmet and Binder of Ft. Benning Jump School Instructor Sgt Charles Branson
Original Item: One-of-a-Kind. This is an incredible set which was just recently obtained by IMA directly from the family of the veteran! Sergeant Charles Branson Jr. joined the U.S. Army in August of 1941 and served primarily during WWII as an instructor at the Paratrooper Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Branson was initially assigned as a rigger and repairman, later being assigned to the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division in May, 1944, and then again being transferred and serving overseas in the Pacific Theater with the 11th Airborne Division, earning three battle stars for the campaigns of New Guinea, Luzon, and the Southern Phillippines.
Of particular interest is the fact that most of the operations noted in Branson’s instructor binder involve jumps made by Demolitions Sections. Some even noting what particular weapons were to be jumped with as well (flamethrowers and rocket launchers are specifically mentioned in some entries). In addition, one of the instructors listed in some of the entries as “Russell H.J.” is Harold John Russell, who is best known as the Hollywood Actor in the post war years. Russell played the role of Homer Parish in the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives. Russell was known as having been disabled by losing both his hands during a training accident during a training exercise when TNT prematurely detonated in his hands. We were told by the family that Russell had not only served with Branson, but was a friend as well.
In 1940 the United States Army was seeking an appropriate helmet to equip paratroopers for airborne operations. The M-1917A1 “Kelly” Helmet was standard issue at the time, which proved to be completely unacceptable for Airborne operations, as the helmet with its wide circular brim would fly off the jumper’s head. The M1 Helmet was not yet standardized, and in a sense was a thing of the future. Even if adopted as early as 1940, the M1 Helmet was not suitable “as is” as a parachutists helmet, it needed improvements to be made suitable.
The Riddell Parachute Helmet was an incredible and unique design for the period. The Riddell helmet was originally designed as a football helmet, which at the time, leather was the primary material used in the construction. The Riddell helmet was lightweight, durable, and was fitted with a unique suspension that prevented the wearer’s head from hitting against the walls of the helmet. In addition, the helmet was fitted with a chin cup, which secured the helmet with a strap over the chin, as opposed to under the jaw as with military helmets. Needless to say, the features of the Plastic Riddel helmets gained the attention of the U.S Army Jump School. As it turned out, West Point Military Academy had purchased some of these new helmets for their 1941 season, and volunteered to loan them to Fort Benning for trial purposes with Jump Training only if the Airborne School agreed to return the helmets before the Fall, 1941 football season. Following their initial trial use by the U.S. Army, the army sought a contract for the helmets, with the first issue versions being made of a translucent amber hued plastic lined with rayon webbed suspension. In fact, this style suspension soon proved so popular that the United States Military licensed the design from Riddell to incorporate it into the design of the future M1 Helmet!
Examples of the early translucent Parachute Helmets manufactured by the firm of John T. Riddell are exceptionally rare in any condition, let alone with provenance and identification to the original owner. This particular helmet is in original condition, with complete webbing suspension intact, and original (although broken) chin cup assembly. The original owner had the number “13” painted in red on both the front and back of the helmet. The plastic itself has shrunk due to likely being stored in a hot attic for decades (all examples of these helmets show signs of shrinkage from over the years). The interior of the helmet shows accumulated dust from years in storage. The exterior, however, still exhibits the original amber colored translucent color. The crown pad is marked:
JOHN T RIDDELL INC
Branson’s cloth covered training binder is filled with 41 pages of entries which are type written. The pages detail rosters of troopers scheduled to make jumps. Some make note of what weapons will be carried for the jumps. Some entries include helmet sizes issued to troopers by name. Some paratroopers have been identified as members of the 13th and 17th Airborne Divisions.
In addition, a copy of Branson’s DD-214 is included with the binder and helmet.
This would make for an absolutely fantastic addition to a serious airborne collection! These seldom are located in any condition, especially with identification! Ready for display!
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