If you’re ever looking through a catalog of WW2 German reenactment gear and see one of those helmets with the spike, check your tab. You might be in the “WWI” section.
But just in case you’re looking for something from WWII that actually originated in WWI, let’s figure this out.
What is the Pickelhaube, and why was it replaced?
First Off, What Is the Pickelhaube?
Let’s walk before we can run. That infamous German helmet with the spike is called a Pickelhaube.
The Pickelhaube is a spiked helmet that to us is closely associated with the Imperial German Army, the Deutsches Heer (1871 to 1919), that fought through the First World War.
However, the Pickelhaube is much older than that; the first design was created by King Frederick Wiliam IV of Prussia.
Originally, the spike may have been intended to support the large plumes that were worn on the helmet when in full military dress, but this is not entirely clear.
What is clear is that it was adopted by the Prussian Army in 1842 and it was widely used for the better part of a century, until it was replaced in 1916 with the first variant of the Stahlhelm, a “WW2 German helmet” that is actually from WWI.
Why Was It Replaced, and What Replaced It?
The thing about the Pickelhaube which you might not know is that under that spike and under all that gold filigree, the helmet’s “pot” isn’t actually a “pot” at all. It’s leather.
There may have been some ceremonial steel Pickelhaube helmets produced at some point, but the basic issue was leather. And leather, as you can imagine, while it may be fairly effective at protecting against saber strikes and melee weapons, is not effective against small arms fire and shell bursts.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Germans were still using the Pickelhaube. But in this fully modern war, the incidence of dangerous head wounds along the Western Front due to rifle fire and shrapnel was devastating.
The leather Pickelhaube just couldn’t make the grade – and though the Germans weren’t the first to issue steel helmets to their troops (that honor belongs to the French), they were quick to jump on board.
The Germans designed a new helmet – the Stahlhelm – made of steel, and based somewhat on its predecessor, before releasing it in 1916 on the Western Front and in 1917 in the East.
It was so successful, it was the predominant design protecting German troops not only through the First World War but also the Second.
Where Can You Get WW2 German Reenactment Gear?
So, as you can see, while the Stahlhelm is closely associated with World War II, it actually originated in the First World War. Nonetheless, most collections of WW2 German reenactment gear will contain Stahlhelm helmets.
If you’re looking for high-quality reenactment gear, including reproduction Stahlhelm helmets, visit SARCO Inc., online at SarcoInc.com or in their shop in Easton, Pennsylvania. They carry a wide range of military collectibles in their shop and would be more than happy to point you toward what you need.