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French M-15 Adrian helmet information
Old 04-18-2005, 04:06 PM   #1
Kenny Suit
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Default French M-15 Adrian helmet information

I would like to start a thread that would allow collectors to post photos and information about the French M-15 Adrian helmet. I'm looking for basic information regarding paint colors, liners, chinstraps, badges, fakes, etc. that would help collectors who are considering a purchase or trying to identify a piece in their collection.

I'm definitely not an expert on Adrians. I've found that there is very little information about these helmets in English, and few American collectors know very much about them. So, I'm relying on our Continental collectors to fill in the blanks for us!

OK, to start off this thread, here's a Medical helmet from my collection.

My understanding is that the early Adrians were painted light blue, mid-war helmets were dark blue, and late war helmets were grey-blue. (I've deliberately avoided using the collector's terms "horizon blue" etc. because I'm not completely sure what they mean.)

This helmet seems to be a mid-war helmet (dark blue paint) with an early war badge (light blue) for Medical troops added. I'm not sure how common this was, but the few helmets with extremely mis-matched colors of the badge and helmet I've seen have all been medical helmets.

I assume that badges were kept in storage and added to helmets when needed. So this helmet was issued at some point during the middle of the war, and an earlier badge was added.

My question is: when did these helmet colors change?

-- Kenny
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Medical Adrian liner
Old 04-18-2005, 04:09 PM   #2
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Default Medical Adrian liner

And here is the liner for my Medical Adrian. It is a mid-war liner, which means that it is made up of multiple pieces of leather.

I think the corrugated metal shims are beautifully made on this example, with larger spaces towards the center that gradually decrease in width and depth to each edge.
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Old 04-18-2005, 04:14 PM   #3
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Here is an article I wrote about two years ago for Military Heritage Magazine.


Militaria: The French Adrian Helmet
By Peter Suciu

Until the First World War helmets worn by the French army served a ceremonial use and were a mere accoutrement of military uniforms of the day. The horrors of trench warfare in Europe changed all that as ghastly head wounds convinced planners that protective headgear was required.

Thick metal helmets were used since ancient times to offer protection to their wearers in combat and are among the earliest forms of armor. Various armies of the Classical Age can easily be identified by their distinctive helmets, which gave way to the great helms of the medieval period. This is when the shift began where helmets became more of a symbol of honor as their protective qualities were overshadowed the advent of firearms on the battlefield.

As the armies of Europe loaded the guns of August in 1914 the helmets in use had become truly decorative pieces and offered limited protection to the wear. Europe was facing the first major conflict after a long period of relative piece with the leaders of the day unprepared for what truly awaited them. While the British army had learned hard lesions from recent colonial conflicts, including the Boer War, France mobilized an army wearing almost anachronistic uniforms that were a hold over from the Second Empire. These bright colored uniforms of the French army would soon give way to more subdued horizon blue and the steel helmet would reemerge as an essential part of field equipment.

Introduction of the Adrian helmet
When World War I began the army of Third Republic closely resembled the fighting force under Napoleon III that met the Prussian army on the French frontier in 1871. While other nations had begun to modernize with drab field uniforms the French soldiers were wearing the Model 1877 dark blue greatcoat along with an updated version of the Model 1867 bright red trousers. Even before formal hostilities broke out plans were in order for an updated uniform. Still the French army would march into the slaughter of the First Marne with a uniform more fitting to a bygone age.

Following this military disaster the French army underwent a rapid regrouping that quickly replaced the aged uniform with something more fitting of the day. The M1914 uniform has come to be recognized for its sky blue color that would see service for the remainder of the war and in the peace that followed. With the first steel helmet this silhouette would become the defining symbol of the French army. It is worth noting that the color of uniform's cloth came about because planners originally were developing a fabric weave of the tri-color flag of France. But the red dyes had previously been imported from Germany and wartime shortages resulted in that color being dropped, thus the result is a mix of just the white and blue threads. These two colors together created the horizon blue color that we associate today with the French army of World War I.

Along with the updated uniform the soldiers received a new version of the French kepi, which would soon give way to a more protective type of headgear. As the men in the frontlines dug in head injuries were becoming more and common due to the nearly constant artillery bombardment. However as the conflict began many helmets were already in use. The French army had retained much of the pomp and circumstance of the First and Second Empires and this included the use of gilded helmets for mounted personnel troops including curassiers and dragoons, as well as infantry personnel like sappers. These chromium-plated helmets featured bright colored feathers and plumes and were clearly holdovers from a more chivalrous time.

These helmets were not suited to the rigors of trench warfare however, nor were some of the other ceremonial style helmets that had been in use in the period up to the war. The first actual attempt to provide some protection came in the form of small metal plates and bowls that were worn under the traditional uniform kepi. There is a common rumor that soldiers even wore soup bowls under their hats to offer some protection, but these are probably confused with an actual steel skull camp that was put into service by General Adrian in 1914. In fact it is more likely that instead of bowls being used to provide protection these uncomfortable metal skullcaps served as bowls for soup.

The fact remained that many fatal head wounds were caused not by bullets or blows to the head but rather by small and low velocity fragments. Any protection at all besides a cloth cap was seen as an improvement with many lives potentially being saved. The priority therefore became to provide a helmet quickly.

In 1915 an official protective helmet was introduced and it has been forever tied to its creator Intendant-General Agust-Louis Adrian, who based the design on helmets used by Parisian firefighters. This inspiration actually resulted in a rather complex helmet that consisted of several individual stamped pieces that were riveted and/or welded together. The actual design comprised an oversized skullcap, a two-piece brim with front and rear visor and a crest over the top that served to cover ventilation holes in the top of the skull piece. The liner varied in design but usually consisted of a leather band with additional fingers to provide padding that were held together by a drawstring to add support for the wear. This rested on a tin corrugated metal sheet that was designed to provide both additional ventilation and suspension while the leather chinstrap was attached to a pair of fixed D-rings on each side of the helmet. The actual thickness of the steel of the M15 was a mere 0.7mm, which was actually even lighter than the contemporary fire helmets, but still provided a great service to the wearer. Five factories began manufacturing these helmets and by the end of 1915 more than 3million helmets were produced and distributed to the French army.

The M15 'Adrian' was introduced with the same blue-gray finish as the uniform and beginning in late 1915 the French also introduced a fabric cover in light blue or khaki. While these were issued in large numbers few remain today and these have been heavily faked throughout the years. These were actually ordered abandoned during the summer of 1916. It was believed that the scraps of the cloth, which was quite filthy due to the conditions of the trench warfare, might possibly carry into the head wounds and cause serious medical complications for the soldiers. Later helmets were issued at the factory with a matte gray-blue finish that was darker than the earlier color. Because of the high number of helmets introduced throughout the war, and the fact that paint was not readily available at the front, helmets often appear today in both shades. French Foreign Legionnaires and other colonial troops also used a variety of brown and khaki painted helmets. These were never painted this way in the factory and helmets with this color should have the more typical color underneath.

Additionally while not common, some troops did take it upon themselves to camouflage their helmets with splashes of brown, green and even black paint. There is some photographic evidence of this practice but few surviving examples. Helmets with camouflage patterns should therefore be considered extremely rare today.

Because the Adrian helmets were popular with various Allied nations during and even in the ensuing peace that followed these helmets will show up in a variety of other colors with the most common, after the French gray-blue variations, being the brown of the Belgian army. The Russians also used a brownish khaki color while the Italians and Romanians used a gray-green color.

Helmet Insignia
From the introduction of the M15 Adrian the helmet was issued with a metal insignia that denoted the arm of service. Originally there were a total of nine emblems for the Adrian helmet but this number would rise to 12 by the end of the war. These were stamped-plates and consisted of a number of devices including a flaming bomb for infantry, crossed cannons for artillery, a First Empire styled helmet and breastplate for engineers, a crescent moon for Zoave regiments and anchor for navy. All of these featured the letters "RF" for the French Second Republic, but it is interesting to note that the original designs lacked these letters, which appear to have been a last minute addition. However it is believe that no actual emblems were produced without the "RF" letters and most encountered should be treated as "fantasy" items.
Emblem variations do exist however and collectors are urged to do the appropriate research but it should be stressed that this emblem type was used until 1937 when a new model was introduced with the same symbols but on a smaller circular base. It is common however to see the circular base emblems show up on Adrians on Internet auctions and at militaria shows but these should not be considered Great War era helmets.

The use of these badges may seem like another anachronistic element of the French uniform but it did serve an important role nonetheless. "Considering the artistic complexity of the standard issue French Adrian helmet, I think it fair to say that putting separate branch insignia on the fronts was indeed a French military fashion statement," emphasizes Dr. Robert Clawson, emeritus professor of European Military Studies from Kent State University and noted military headgear collector. "It certainly didn't contribute to the effectiveness of the helmet. It must be said that the helmet itself was greatly admired for the look of the thing, not for its effectiveness."

In addition to badges French helmets are occasionally encountered with painted insignia on the front of the helmets. While other nations, most notably Italy, used stencils or even rough painted symbols on their helmets it was extremely rare to find this style of symbol on a true French helmet. Again helmets found in this matter should be viewed with suspicion.

However other less conventional items are encountered today, although rarely, including the use of stars representing a general that are affixed to the front of the helmet along with a brass chinstrap. Helmets like one example that is displayed in the book Helmets: Combat Helmets of the World by Paolo Marzetti should be viewed as one of a kind items produced for a high-ranking staff officer who had visions of another era of warfare and should not be deemed common by any stretch of the imagination.

A more common, but still unusual item is the gilt brass plate that would be worn over the front visor of an Adrian helmet. Bearing the inscription "Soldat de la grand guerre 1914-1918," these were presented to veterans in the years following World War I. These items are occasionally seen for sale on Internet auctions but like other rare items fakes have begun to surface.

Variations and use of the Adrian by other nations
It is also important to note that there were many variations and experimental helmets that were used by the French army during the First World War. Because of their rarity, and the fact that these are not true "Adrians" it is beyond the scope of this article to include them all but many dubious fakes have surfaced in recent years. Again collectors are urged to do research before making any purchases for these items, as they should be considered extremely exceptional.

Among the more unusual of these helmets were those that featured a front visor. Throughout the war various attempts were made by the French Bureau of Inventions to offer face protection and most of these were used in conjunction with the Adrian. Major Polack of the French army designed a series of visors, which were attached to the rim of the helmet to provide protection to the wearer?s eyes. Because of the added weight and essentially limited benefits these were soon taken out of service.

The Dunand brothers worked independently throughout 1916-1917 and produced a Franco-American helmet that saw limited service in 1918. It was first manufactured in America and then produced in France. Unlike Polack's helmet this experimental model did not initially utilize the basic Adrian design but instead relied on an original design that no doubt limited the production capabilities. A modified version built around the Adrian was also produced. Both designs used a visor that featured numerous perforations much like a cooking colander. Additional other varieties of face production were used through out the wear and these often consisted of a facemask, where even chain mail was used, along with slotted metal eyepieces. None of these helmets were ever produced in vast numbers and most affected the wear's vision. Additionally it was nearly impossible to wear these helmets with a gasmask and the practical realities of war meant that the basic Adrian would remain the standard helmet of not only the French but also of various other nations.

The French M15 became an extremely popular helmet with other Allied armies in the trenches and was used by the Russian, Serbian, Romanian and Italian armies and was provided in great numbers to Czech and Polish volunteer forces. Each of these armies utilized their own unique badge but it is the Belgians who used the helmets in the greatest numbers after the French. These helmets featured the Flanders lion head crest while the helmet was painted a dark brown to match the Belgian uniform. Additionally African-American troops of the French 157th Division wore the 'Adrian' with the French infantry insignia along with their otherwise traditional 'American' uniform. These helmets should not however be confused with other 'Adrian' helmets that were used by American ambulance drivers that featured an American-flag design as part of the helmet's badge.

It is worth noting that while the typical French emblems have been rarely faked those of the other Allied powers are considered less common and thus have been reproduced in greater numbers. The most common of these high-end fakes are those of Imperial Russia. Russian forces serving in France were issued Adrian helmets, while additional Adrians were supplied to the Czars forces at home. The emblem of the Imperial Russian forces have been heavily faked and any of these encountered should be considered fakes unless you are dealing with an experienced and reputable dealer.

When the Great War finally came to an end in 1918 the influence of the Adrian would carry throughout Europe and the world. Many nations in the post-war period would adopt the style of helmets of the victorious French army, at least until developing their own unique helmet. The new nations of Poland and Yugoslavia would rely on the Adrians, as would Romania and Italy. Even the fledgling Soviet government would continue to use the captured Adrian helmets (and were believed to have produced their own version domestically) with a tin enameled Red Star throughout the 1920s.

The legacy of the M15 Adrian would live on and French would continue to rely on this proven style of helmet. The Adrian would be modernized slightly and updated in 1926, but like with the outdated equipment of 1914, this next generation helmet would be ill suited to the needs of combat in 1940.

Collecting World War I helmets
The French M15 has become, like other helmets, a niche collectible. While not possessing the allure of the German steel helmets or pickelhaube (spiked helmets), these helmets still evoke images of a bygone day and serve as reminders of the horrific conflict. As the 100th anniversary of the Great War approaches the M15 helmets have begun to appreciate in value. "The French helmets did not become to be considered very good until the last 10 years with the take-off of all things WWI," emphases Karl Kithier, a veteran militaria collector who has than 25-years of helmet experience. While German items have always been very popular, Karl doesn't equate popularity with collectability. "I think Adrian helmets are very collectable."

Also unlike the German helmets these typically did not return to America as war trophies by returning 'Dough Boys' but were actually sold off as surplus by the French government when the new model was introduced in 1926. As a result it is common to see Adrian helmets with post-World War I liners and maybe a newer coat of paint or two. These possibly saw service in the trenches, and it is unlikely that production runs of the helmet continued in the post-war years until the 1926 model was introduced, but these helmets are still viewed as 'post-war' by collectors.

However the M15 is still a rather common item. Collectors are advised to look for complete helmets with original liners and chinstraps and free of rust and damage. Helmets in better condition will go up in value while damaged helmets and those missing badges or liners probably won't be worth appreciate much due to the large number that are still available. As with all military collectibles the rarer pieces, such as those with the Zoave badges, helmet covers or with the sand-brown finish should be bought from reputable dealers.

The French M15 helmet was issued in the millions and provided limited protection to its wearers but it was better than nothing and while the German helmet might be the more desirable collectible today in militaria circles it is hard to argue that the Adrian isn't a very fine looking helmet. And it is a piece of history that belongs in every military headgear collection.

Last edited by Peter_Suciu; 04-18-2005 at 04:20 PM.
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North African Adrian
Old 04-18-2005, 04:16 PM   #4
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Default North African Adrian

Here is an Adrian used by North African troops.

It is painted in a light mustard yellow color that closely matches the color of some of the French colonial uniforms I've seen. Most of the "colonial" Adrians I've seen are more brown or khaki in color, and to be honest, I'm not sure how we can know if these brown/khaki helmets aren't simply WW1 helmets re-painted and re-issued for WW2.

At any rate, I think that this light yellow color should be the "true" color for a WW1 colonial helmet.

There isn't a lot of wear on this helmet, and so I consider this one a "problematic" piece in my collection. I purchased it at an auction in the US during the 1990's, and I'm still not sure it isn't a fake. That is, I'm not sure it wasn't re-painted at some point to fraudulently deceive a collector like me.

Any thoughts on this one?
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Old 04-18-2005, 04:21 PM   #5
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My French Infantry:
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Old 04-18-2005, 04:22 PM   #6
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French Engineer
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liner of the N. African Adrian
Old 04-18-2005, 04:22 PM   #7
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Default liner of the N. African Adrian

And here is its liner (a mid-war example using multiple pieces of leather).

Notice that the helmet was re-painted a yellow mustard color after the liner was removed, meaning that the inside of the dome is also painted. The liner was then replaced inside the helmet. Only one of the chinstrap prongs has been broken off.

Some of the paint can be seen rubbed on the liner.

There is no chinstrap.

Along the seams of the brim, you can see some of the rust that makes me wonder if this isn't a fake paint job with accelerated rust. I'm just not sure on this one.
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Old 04-18-2005, 04:23 PM   #8
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Belgian
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Old 04-18-2005, 04:25 PM   #9
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Romanian
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French Engineer's Adrian
Old 04-18-2005, 04:26 PM   #10
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Default French Engineer's Adrian

Like Peter, I have an Engineer's Adrian. I'll post a photo to illustrate the slight difference in color between the badge and helmet shell.

Collectors have told me that the color difference is because the badges were manufactured and painted separately from the helmet shells. They were "married" when issued.

I would describe the color as a mid-war dark blue. (?)
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Engineer's liner
Old 04-18-2005, 04:29 PM   #11
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Default Engineer's liner

Here is the Engineer's Adrian liner. It is an early war type made of one piece of leather. The leather is also embossed with the size (60) of the liner.
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French Adrian used by Belgian troops
Old 04-18-2005, 04:55 PM   #12
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Default French Adrian used by Belgian troops

Here's my Belgian helmet. Mine is a bit different from Peter's, so let me talk about the varieties of Belgian helmets I've seen.

The Belgians used French helmets that were painted khaki brown. I think the early helmets were more of a light brown color, whereas late helmets were painted in a darker khaki brown-green color.

There were also at least two versions of the lion's-head badge. One (I think the earlier) had a sharp edge (razor-edge) to the hair at the bottom of the lion's mane. The later badge had a smooth edge to the bottom of the mane.

I think Peter's is probably an early-war example (light brown paint + badge with serrated edge) and mine is a late-war example (dark brown-green paint + badge with smooth edge).

I'm not sure, however, if mine isn't a WW1 vintage helmet that was re-painted for use in WW2.
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Belgian liner
Old 04-18-2005, 04:58 PM   #13
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Default Belgian liner

Here's the liner for my Belgian helmet.

It has ink-stamped markings that I've seen in other Belgian liners. I'm not sure what the markings mean.

Some of the prongs attaching the liner to the helmet shell have been broken off and arsenal replaced, meaning that this was a surplus French helmet that was repaired and reissued to the Belgians.
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Old 04-18-2005, 05:00 PM   #14
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See also resources, especially in the Links, at http://www.groups.yahoo.com/group/mi...collectorsclub
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Polish Adrian
Old 04-18-2005, 05:14 PM   #15
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Finally, here is the last French M-15 Adrian from my collection. This one was used in Poland during the 1920's and possibly the 1930's. I know that the Polish military officially forbade the use of the eagle on the front of their helmets in 1930, but I'm sure it continued un-officially.

The Poles used surplus French helmets re-painted khaki green.

During the 1920's Polish helmets either had metal eagles attached to the front of the helmet (the eagles were from the Polish caps) using the original French badge holes, or they painted an eagle in white on the front of the helmet.

This helmet has a cap eagle badge mounted to the front with prongs (probably soldered to the back of the badge) that pass through the original French badge holes.

After the 1930 regulation forbidding use of the eagle, many of the Polish helmets had their front badge holes soldered shut.

After the Polish M-31 began to be issued to the infantry, the Adrians continued to be used by Polish cavalry troops and reserve units.
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