The Desirability and Variations of the WWII German Combat Helmet

by Perry J. Floyd III and Erik Wiborg

When 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”.

Let 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.  

Another 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.

Very 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 collection.  

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 Camouflage Helmet

      German camouflage helmets are one of the most forged types of German militaria. The main reason for this is that they are relatively easy to forge, but knowing some basic things to look for can save you time and money. The main problem with detecting a fake camo helmet is that no two camo helmets are alike, and helmets were not camouflaged according to certain written guidelines. But there are some main things that you can look for when you hold a camo piece in your hand.

Take 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.

Take 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.

If 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.

The 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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