Helmets, Camouflage Nets and Shell Dressings
Image Collection 2
Gavin K. Watt
Canadians wore an amazing variety of helmets in the Second War, including, for a short period, old stocks of the Great War MkI Brodie design; however, the most common model worn was the MkII, which employed an improved Brodie steel shell and a lightweight, adjustable canvas chinstrap. The Canadian MkII employed a liner made of fibreboard with rubber spacers and a cruciform-shaped, crown piece and rubberized cloth curtains. Unfortunately, while all MkII liner designs improved protection to the skull from overhead injury, they caused the steel shell to ride higher on the head, resulting in greater lateral exposure.
Although several composite helmets made of cork, leather, rubber, felt and resin binders were developed for Armoured and Reconnaissance regiments, their troopers primarily wore the Royal Armoured Corps MkI steel Helmet in combat. Sherman and Stuart tanks were delivered with the U.S. M6 Crash Helmet, but it was not as popular as the RAC MkI.
Also common in the Italian theatre was the use of the RAC MkI for Canadian infantry of the Support Companies, as it’s tight-to-the-head steel shell allowed easier carriage of machine guns and mortar tubes; however, the helmet’s profile was dangerously similar to that worn by German Falschirmjaegers and could lead to tragic misidentifications. The RAC MkI’s shape of steel shell with purpose-built liners was employed for Dispatch Riders and Paratroopers.
For the 1943 invasion of Kiska Island in the Aleutians, 13th Canadian Infantry Brigade was issued with the U.S. M1 Helmet, which offered better lateral protection. The M1 was examined by British and Commonwealth forces for possible adoption, but, due to some critical shortcomings, the British instead developed the MkIII.
For the invasion of Normandy, the distinctive MkIII ‘Turtle’ Helmet was worn by 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. The infantry of the follow-on 2nd and 4th Divisions continued to wear the MkII, as did 1st and 5th Divisions in Italy; however, by 1945, some infantrymen of all five divisions could be seen wearing the MkIII.
Nets came into common use during the invasion of Italy. Their purpose was to soften the helmet’s profile and reduce reflection. One would think that nets were used to mount foliage, but I have found no Canadian pictorial evidence to confirm this. At first, they were worn without any added materials, but for the D-Day landings, the nets were heavily scrimmed with coloured burlap by both the infantry and airborne to further disguise the helmet’s outline. It seems that burlap was found too obvious and strips of matte, dark brown and green tape were substituted. In the late war, it was again common to see unscrimmed nets, suggesting the practice of adding scrim varied between regiments. There may have been three types of nets:
a) unicolour small-mesh;
b) small mesh dyed dark green and brown, and
c) large mesh dyed medium green.
When it became apparent that the First Field Dressing carried in the right-thigh pocket of the Battledress trousers was inadequate, a large Shell Dressing came into use by combat troops. This bandage was too large for the trousers’ pocket and was carried under, or attached to, the helmet net. In that position, it offe-red the additional advantage of breaking up the helmet’s distinctive profile.
Roger V. Lucy, Tin Lids – Canadian Combat Helmets, UpClose 2 (Ottawa: Service Publications, 1997)
Michael A. Dorosh, Canuck Battledress, Weapons and Equipment – Clothing and Equipping the Canadian Soldier 1939-1945 (Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Inc., 1995)
Brian L. Davis, British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1983)
1. Infanteers of the 48th Highlanders, 1CID talk to their padre at Regalbuto, Sicily, 1943. The soldiers wear plain MkII Helmets and the padre’s helmet has a British-made, No.1 anti-gas curtain around the rim.
2. The Pioneer Platoon of the Royal Canadian Regiment, 1CID water mules used for transporting supplies. All but two men wear plain MkII Helmets and four have anti-gas curtains around the rim, Regalbuto, Sicily, 04-Aug43.
3. Mixed plain and netted MkII Helmets worn by men of the Royal 22nd Regiment, 1CID aboard a landing craft, Villapiana, Italy, 16Sep43. One helmet net has a Shell Dressing stuck under it. No helmets mount the anti-gas curtain.
4. Vickers MMG gunners of the Cape Breton Highlanders, 5CAD in their first action at the Arielli River, Italy, 17Jan44. Both men wear the MkII Helmet with what appear to be unicolour cam nets without Shell Dressings.
5. A PIAT gunner of the 48th Highlanders rests at the Conca River, near Rimini, Sep44. His MkII Helmet mounts what appears to be a unicolour net with a Shell Dressing tucked under.
6. Men of 9CIB, 3CID wear MkIII Helmets with burlap scrimmed nets, Normandy, Jun44.
7. Three Regina Riflemen with MkIII’s, two of which are heavily scrimmed in burlap, one plain. No evidence of Shell Dressings. Normandy, 10Jun-44.
8. Two Maisies (Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, 2CID] with MkII Helmets – one with a large mesh scrim net, the other, the small mesh and both with Shell Dressings, Cuyk, Holland, 23Jan45.
9. 2CID men wearing mixed Marks of helmets assist a casualty, Cuyk, Holland, 23Jan45.
10. Another view of Maisies wearing both size meshes of nets, Nijmegen, Holland, 08Feb45.
11. Heavily loaded Royal Winnipeg Riflemen (3CID) in an Alligator wearing MkII and MkIII Helmets and both meshes of nets and Shell Dressings, Germany, 09Feb45.
12. Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, 3CID aboard a Buffalo wearing both Marks of helmets and both sized meshes of nets. Mehr, Germany, 11Feb45.
13. Royal Hamilton Light Infantrymen, 2CID have their Shell Dressings on the outside of their helmet nets. A sergeant of the Film & Photo unit wears an RAC MkI helmet. Speldorp, Germany, 24Mar45.
14. Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, 4CAD wearing mixed marks of helmets and soft headwear line up for rations, Veen, Germany, 07Mar45.
15. An Argylls’ PIAT team with mixed helmets, the MkIII without a net, Meppen, Germany, 08Apr45. Note – the bomb carrier.
16. A Black Watch, 2CID Bren team with mixed helmets, Holten, Holland, 08Apr45.
17. Men of the Lincoln & Welland Regiment, 4CAD with mixed marks of helmets, nets and Shell Dressings, Wertle, Germany, 11Apr45.
18. A section leader and two men of the Perth Regiment, 5CAD in Arnhem wearing mixed marks of helmets with nets, 15Apr45.
19. Men of the Saskatoon Light Infantry, the Support battalion of 1CID, loading a mule and wearing the Royal Armoured Corps, MkI Helmet. The Italian muleteer has a MkII. Italy, 09Oct43.
20. Men of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, 1CID wearing RAC MkI Helmets, Valguarnera, Italy, 17Jul43. These fellows are probably from the regiment’s Support Company – machine gunners or mortarmen.
21. Mixed MkII and RAC MkI Helmets been worn by machine gunners of the SLI, 1CID, Riccione, ’44.
22. An orders group of the Ontario Regiment (11th Arm’d Regt, 1CAB), Sicily, 03Aug43. The men wear a mixture of Armoured Corps black berets and RAC MkI Helmets.
23. A Calgary Regiment captain (14th Arm’d Regt, 1CAB] dismounts from his Sherman tank wearing an RAC Helmet, San Leonardo, Italy, 10Dec43.
24. Two signalmen (Royal Canadian Corps of Signals) wearing RAC Helmets with nets digging a slit trench, Normandy 08Jun44.
25. An RCE sapper wearing goggles and a DR’s Helmet, Caen, France, 11-Jul44.
26. A sapper of 2nd Field Coy, RCE wearing a Dispatch Rider’s [DR’s] helmet uncovers a booby-trapped bomb, Ferunes, Belgium, 11Sep44.
27. An Essex Scottish Regiment, 2CID DR points to enemy positions, Antwerp, Belgium, 30Sep-44.
28. Trooper of 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, 6th British Airborne Division wearing a MkI Airborne Helmet with leather chin strap and heavily scrimmed net, England, Jun44.
29. A volunteer from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 1CID taking parachute training, Shilo, Manitoba, 05Jan44. He wears a MkII Airborne Helmet with web chin strap. He brandishes a U.S. M1911A1 Pistol.
30. An officer and soldier of 13CIB wear U.S. M-1 Helmets with nets, Canadian Battledress and U.S. Webbing while training for Kiska in British Columbia, Jul43.
31. Men of 13th Cdn Infantry Brigade aboard ship before the landing on Kiska Island, Aleutians, Alaska, Aug43. They wear the U.S. M1 Helmet with Canadian two-tone, small-mesh nets. The expeditionary force’s round dagger patch can be seen on two of their U.S. jackets.