Original U.S. WWII M38 Tanker Helmet by Rawlings - Size 7 3/8
Original Item: Only One Available. This is a genuine WW2 example of the classic M38 tanker helmet used by American tank crews during World War Two. The helmet is marked as follows:
Helmet is offered in excellent condition and comes complete with the rigid ear protection tabs (often missing or broken). The ear flaps are also complete but one rivet on the right ear flap has popped. The liner is in excellent supple condition, the chin strap is absent. A wonderful example for any U.S. WW2 collection!
Development & Design of the WWII Tanker Helmet M-1938-
Two basic tanker helmet designs had been in use through the mid 1930's. One of these had been developed by the Infantry, and the other one by the Cavalry. The basic purpose of both helmets in tank applications was to offer the tanker some protection from frequent bumps against the tank's interior. However, it was becoming increasingly apparent that neither of these helmets offered optimal protection as tanks were becoming faster, more agile, and more compact. In addition, the continued use of two different helmets added unnecessary cost and complexity within the Army supply chain.
In 1938, the Ordnance Board initiated design work that would set a single standard for a new and improved tank helmet. The Board tested the two existing military varieties, along with several commercial models. Based on their tests, the Ordnance Board decided that the Cavalry helmet provided the best design foundation, and successfully encouraged the Rawlings Manufacturing Company to optimize the design. Rawlings was an obvious choice, since they were the premier manufacturer of football helmets at that time.
A three-person design team at Rawlings headed up this project, and on 1 May 1941 they filed a patent for what was simply called a "Tank Helmet." Much later, this style of tank helmet was designated "M-1938" in reference to the year of the initiation of the project. This alpha-numeric designator does not commonly appear in wartime documentation.
As stated in the patent application, the primary design objectives of the Tank Helmet were to provide:
- An efficient, light-weight protective helmet that is comfortable, snug-fitting, and well ventilated.
- A protective helmet that can be removed and installed quickly and without the necessity of manipulating or adjusting a chin strap, or equivalent device.
- A helmet that is equipped with a means of novel construction for holding ear phones in proper position and in a comfortable relationship with the user's ears.
Note that ballistic protection was not part of the original design criteria, apparently because it was felt that this would slow the availability of a helmet that at least offered enhanced bump protection.
As expected, the new Rawlings helmet resembled a football helmet in its design and construction. The outer crown and rear neck guard shells were constructed of a durable fiber resin, similar to the earlier tank helmets. The interior of the helmet featured a suspension system consisting of felt pads, leather pad retainers, and waxed cotton cords. This suspension system held the helmet in the proper position on the wearer's head and absorbed much of the shock when a bump was encountered.
The most distinctive new feature of the M-1938 tanker helmet relative to the previous versions was the leather ear flap assembly. The ear flap extended well below the wearer's ear and contained an ingenious flexible housing for retaining the ear phones in their proper position. The earphones fit into a slot in the leather flap, and a thin leather fastening piece snapped over the ear phone to hold it in place. This leather fastening piece could be adjusted forward or backward via three metal snap fasteners to position the ear phone directly over the user’s ears. A curved leather-covered metal spring arm extended downward from the helmet's fiber shell and exerted tension on the ear phone to hold the ear flap assembly snugly against the user's ear. The spring arm was mounted on a swivel to allow it to be placed in a variety of positions, depending upon the user's needs and accessory equipment.
The ear flaps were also secured in place on the lower edges by an elasticized strap that connected through the rear fiber neck guard to fasteners at the bottom of each ear flap. The ear flaps fit snugly but comfortably, and without the use of chin straps, the helmet could be put on or taken off very easily.
M-1938 tank helmets were introduced to the Armored Corps in 1941, even though the patent was not technically accepted until 12 May 1942. Manufacturing rights were granted to Rawlings Manufacturing Corporation, Sears Saddlery Company, Wilson Athletic Goods Manufacturing Company, and A.G. Spaulding & Brothers. Though essentially built to the same specifications, there were slight variations across the four manufacturers in terms of small details.
Tank helmets were issued as part of a tank's onboard equipment, and were not issued to individual tankers. According to the 1942 War Department Technical Manual TM 9-731A, all M4 and M4A1 Sherman tanks came equipped with five helmets -- sizes 7, 7 1/8, 7 1/4, 7 3/8, and 7 1/2. The M5 Stuart Light Tank came equipped with four tank helmets for its four crew members, although the 1943 Technical Manual TM 9-732 does not specify the exact sizes that were supplied with each light tank.
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