The Desirability and Variations of the WWII German Combat Helmet
J. Floyd III and Erik Wiborg
one starts collecting WWII German helmets sooner or later he or she will have
the desire for a camouflage specimen. Camouflage helmets are fascinating,
attractive, full of character and considered by many dedicated collectors as a
“work of art”. After you’ve handled and viewed a number of camos, you’ll
learn exactly what it means to say a “work of art”. You’ll also find out
that one of the hardest things to determine is the value of a camo. Every camo
is different. You can have two helmets found at the same location, painted with
the same colors, identical in condition and model, but can greatly vary in value
solely by the camo pattern painted by the individual soldier. Some camos are so
desirable that there’s no set price. The sky’s the limit, literally. Like a
“work of art”.
me start with a pattern very desirable, especially with American
collectors, the tri-color or “Normandie” pattern. This is often
painted using the same paint intended for panzers and armored vehicles.
Red-brown, ochre, and zeltbahn green are your basic colors. These colors
blend with the splinter pattern nicely.
very desirable camo is the Afrika Korps style. This was most always a solid
color pattern. Using the same paint intended for vehicles often called Afrika
tan or Afrika mustard. This color was never applied from the factory as
speculated by many collectors. This is a hard to find camo helmet of a
well-known and elite unit. Close in style to the Afrika Korps camo is the
so-called Southern Italian front camo. Often encountered on Luftwaffe helmets.
The colors are usually an Afrika tan with brown or red-brown highlights.
common on the Eastern Front, and areas such as Norway, is the hard to find
whitewash or white painted winter camo pattern. The latter cannot be removed
without painting over. The whitewash could be removed as the seasons changed to
a warmer climate. This camo pattern can often be found with green and or brown
highlights. These are a few of the most sought after camo helmets, even though
many other combinations of colors exist, depending on location and climate.
It must also be noted that sand and sawdust were often added
to the paint to enhance its matte appearance. Zimmerit was also used. A very
thick, pasty cement type of substance often used on panzers for anti-magnetic
purposes. Camouflage paint was either brushed on, applied with a rag or sprayed,
with the latter being popular with the Luftwaffe. With the exception of flak
crews and such, camouflaging of helmets was for the most part applied by front
line troops needing concealment. This is the main reason why any surviving
examples in decent shape are rare, as many didn’t survive. Very few come out
of the woodwork anymore and when they do, they quickly find their way into a
Another type of camouflaging that is rare to find today is the chicken wire and wire/net covered helmets. These are getting so difficult to find that most dealers keep them for their own collection when they run across them in nice shape. These, as with all camos, are often faked as prices can reach well over $1000 for a single piece. With this kind of money being laid out, one must be extremely careful in making a purchase.
For more photographs please see Perry's samples in the Featured Collection
Basic Tips on Fakery of the German
a look at the camo paint itself. A camo helmet was usually worn at the front and
in battle and should look thereafter. It should have consistent wear to the
crown, usually with small rust spots where the paint has been worn down to the
base metal. You should be able to see the original paint underneath where the
camo paint has been worn thin. Very often the camo paint is partially flaked
off. This is because the camo job was mostly done in the field and the surface
very seldom was properly prepared for the paint job. Fake camo-jobs very often
look way too perfect, and the wear does not look “honest”. The colors of the
helmet will be somewhat less colorful after 60 years. So helmets with vivid
colors should raise a red flag. Smell the paint. It takes a long time for paint
smell to go completely away. Bury your nose into the paint, close your eyes and
take in the smell. Any traces of paint smell then steer away. But do note that
very often does the forger soak the helmet in urine or a mild acid and treat it
with chemicals to help get rid of this smell.
a close look at the decal. Decaled camo helmets demand a premium price, so very
often do the forgeries include a decal. These are extremely hard to detect as
fakes because the camo paint very often covers the edge of the decal. In such a
case be alert and know your stuff on how to detect fake decals. But a rule of
thumb should be that the decal itself should look as worn as the helmet. If you
have a helmet with a “perfect” decal and a camo-job, be very suspicious. The
soldier in the field used whatever he had available at that time. This makes it
very hard to determine if the paint is original. But one way to determine if it
is period done is to check the paint for lead. During WWII, paints then
contained lead, something that is prohibited to use in paints today. A lead
testing kit from a hardware store should be able to tell you if the paint
contains lead. But as with most things this test is not a 100% as the testing is
useless against camo paint jobs done in, let’s say 1960. Also it could give
you a false reading by picking up the lead paint from the factory paint
underneath the camo. It should be used in conjunction with other techniques in
determining a fake, never use it as a final means in determining originality.
the helmet has chicken wire then read up on what types of chicken wire was
commonly used in Europe during the 1930’s and 40’s. On fake pieces you will
usually find modern or American type chicken wire. The wear of the paint should
be consistent with the wire pattern. The helmet should look 60 years old. Yes,
there are combat helmets in near mint condition, but as for camo helmets this is
usually not the case. Most important is to take a good look at the helmet as a
whole. If you have a bad feeling about a piece for any reason, walk away.
best way to be guaranteed an original camo helmet is to buy it from a reputable
dealer that you can trust and that is willing to stand behind what he sells you.
The area of camo helmets is a minefield for a novice collector. Before you go
out to spend your hard earned money on this type of militaria, read up on the
subject, talk to other collectors, talk to reputable dealers and most important
be extremely skeptical.
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