21 July 2023
John C Pursley looks at the German civic and paramilitary organisations involved in urban battles or combat support operations
German WWII helmets are arguably one of the most recognizable and collectible pieces of historical militaria one can purchase. Widely used by the Third Reich Wehrmacht and their allies, the distinctive design and effectiveness made them popular with wearers and post-war hobbyists. Like any other product, German helmets were dynamic and regularly modified in conjunction with soldiers’ battle conditions but always retained the overall sinister look most people seem to like.
When thinking about helmets, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a vision of combat, because, after all, that is the end use. However, in Germany many civil or auxiliary organizations such as the Police (Polizei) organisation that included fire protection personnel, the Air Protection Warning Service (Luftschutzwarendienst or LSW), and the National Air Raid Protection League (Reichsluftschutzbund or RLB) wore their own distinctive helmets. Various types include a large selection of lightweight and medium duty protective helmets, and in some cases combat models depending on the task at hand.
In addition to these organisations, there were others formed from political and state supported groups that included the German National Work Service (Reichsarbeitdienst or RAD), the National Socialist Motor Corps (Nazional Sozialistisch Kraftfahr Korps or NSKK), the German Red Cross (Deutsches Rote Kreuz or DRK), and others.
With the Treaty of Versailles setting a 100,000 man limit on the army, the ability of Germany to maintain an effective fighting force was severely impeded. In their effort to circumvent the constraints, the Germans developed a plan to establish police organisations whereby they could openly train large numbers of men to perform both military-style and civic duties. Many of these policemen became Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS leaders.
The German Police units established in the mid-1930s wore both the heavy steel military-style and specially manufactured lightweight civic model helmets, depending upon the assignment or potentially hazardous circumstances. The civic M1934 models, patterned after the M35 steel types, were manufactured from a lighter gauge steel and used while performing regular duties when the heavier combat helmet was not required.
Other differences included the shape of the dips on the lightweight civic model (the areas on the sides of the helmet covering the ears of the wearer) which were squared as opposed to curved and another being the distinctively different style air vent holes. Most civic helmets have two sets of seven small holes in a circle stamped into both sides of the helmet instead of the two small diameter holes found on combat helmets.
Polizai units also utilized a parade helmet identical to the civic model except they were made of aluminium or fiberglass and painted glossy light blue-gray instead of the normal shiny black. All Police helmets, regardless of style, were embellished on opposing sides with decals of the German Polizai eagle and the National Socialist Party insignia.
Steel combat-type police helmets with insignia are popular and maintain their value close to their military counter-parts. Examples in very good condition may be purchased for about £1,500 and can really put order in a helmet collection. However, the less-desirable lightweight models can usually be found for about £200.
The Fire Protection Police (Feuerschutzpolizei) was a branch of the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) with units organised to serve under the direct authority of their local law enforcement system. Their charter was the responsibility for all fire-fighting and rescue-related duties in towns and cities throughout Germany.
Helmets used by fire protection police were identical to the standard civic M1934 police versions except for the large aluminium comb that crossed over the top from front-to-back. This structural addition provided further protection for the wearer in that the impact of objects falling directly on the helmet would be somewhat deflected.
Approved for general use by all fire-fighting units in 1934, the lightweight steel alloy helmets were painted semi-gloss black, inside and out, but, in some cases, the metal comb normally left as polished aluminium was also painted in the same colour. Early versions displayed dual insignia consisting of a swastika on one side and a tilted tricolored shield on the other. This combination was used until July 1938 when all fire units were integrated into the Polizai and adopted their insignia.
By 1940, due to a large surplus of unissued M1934 model helmets without combs, the government decreed firefighters would adopt them as their standard for general wear. The helmets were fitted with a typical civilian style liner made to accommodate a removable black leather protective neck shield.
Original models of this helmet with the comb can be purchased on internet sites such as the Ruptured Duck starting around £400 with the smooth-top version available at about half the price. However, do bear in-mind these are not military collectibles and therefor won’t appreciate in value in the same way that Heer, Luftwaffe or SS combat-style helmets will.
Many WWII militaria collectors have less interest in civil or auxiliary organization helmets which explains why prices are generally lower. However, if your pursuit is Fire Police, there are special bayonets, awards, ceremonial fire axes, uniforms, etc, unique to the profession that are equally as impressive as the military models. Perfect militaria bling for those collecting on a budget.
Staffed mostly with volunteers, the Air Protection Warning Service (Luftschutzwarndienst or LSW) was a civil organisation structured into units within the cities and towns having the highest probability of being bombed. Established at roughly the same time as the Police and Fire organisations, their general duty was to warn inhabitants of imminent air raid attacks.
Their job was much more than looking at the sky waiting for enemy planes to appear, for they needed to know how to interpret reports concerning an impending attack, operate searchlights to aid anti-aircraft units, observe bomber formations, maintain order among civilians during attacks and operate air raid alarm sirens.
Service in the Luftschutz was made mandatory for all Germans including women, by Hermann Göring in April 1943. Unlike other German civil organisations, Luftschutz personnel were expected to supply their own helmets at the price of about 5 Reich Marks each, ostensibly to demonstrate their support for the war effort. However, many thrifty-minded members chose instead to use the captured helmets of Czech, Polish, Dutch, French, and Russian soldiers, painted and decaled to conform with regulations.
The most common helmet purchased by Luftschutz personnel was the lightweight gladiator model, named for its ancient Roman soldier-looking appearance. Also available were the more substantial M35, 40, and 42 combat helmets, manufactured with a protruding metal bead running the circumference of dome denoting they were being worn by a non-military person. All helmets used by Luftschutz members were painted a medium to dark black-blue colour and bore the distinctive winged insignia decal on the front.
German Luftschutz gladiator-style helmets are the most common civic-type worn and are considered inexpensive by collector standards. Examples in excellent condition can be purchased for as little as £170. Many of these helmets were used in German occupied territories resulting in some being adorned with decals or other identification denoting the city town, or country of service.
Before WWII, Germany realised they needed to develop an infrastructure of roads, airfields, military centres, bridges and railroads large enough to support the war effort and subsequently established the National Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst or RAD in 1935 to accomplish the task. Being an organisation of the state, laws were enacted requiring all men between the ages of 17 and 25 serve a minimum of six months performing state-related construction projects.
In 1939, the RAD became a training ground for young German men prior to their induction into the German Armed Forces (Deutsche Wehrmacht). As the war progressed, the mission of the RAD changed and members were sent to serve in Nazi occupied countries and near the front lines to perform mine laying, ammunition transport, prisoner guards, and other non-combat duties.
One advantage the RAD organisation had was access to both Heer and Luftwaffe supply channels, thereby enabling it to use more contemporary equipment such as the M35, 40, and 42 helmets. Because it was issued by military supply centres, RAD members simply wore whatever helmets they were handed. Those acquired from Army sources were painted standard field grey while those requisitioned from the air force were the typical Luftwaffe blue-grey colour, with both exhibiting the single decal designating their branch of service. Some helmets worn by RAD personnel had no insignia.
Only a relatively small number of helmets are believed to have been modified by the addition of the special RAD decal, making them a rare item. However, once again, they are not considered a military collectible and are priced a little under Wehrmacht helmets. But they do have the advantage of being a unique addition to a collection and the prices run about £250-£300, depending on the dealer and condition.
DEUTSCHES ROTE KREUZ
After the establishment of the National Socialist Party the German Red Cross (Deutsches Rote Kreuz or DRK) was incorporated into the governmental system and in January 1938, rank, insignia, and uniform guidelines were established for the entire organisation. Members of the DRK who performed hazardous duties such serving in bombed out locations as sanitation personnel (body disposal), helping in combat areas as first aid and medical workers, and accomplishing search and rescue operations, were authorised to wear protective headgear.
For example, DRK members often wore the beaded M1935, M1940, and M1942 steel combat helmets, both medium and lightweight M1934 civic models, and WWI M1918 style headgear. Most were usually worn with insignia, although as the war progressed many DRK helmets were issued completely void of identification. Of those known to be originals, the colour of the helmet is most often a smooth medium to dark-grey finish.
There are three different styles of insignia known to have been used on DRK helmets, with the first two being decals of the National Socialist DRK insignia over a white shield with one version having a shield with a pointed bottom and the other a rounded base. The third, and much rarer, style is a large stencilled version of the DRK insignia painted directly on one or both sides of a helmet.
Because of their rarity, as compared with other civic groups, DRK helmets run just a little under the military types. As with the Fire Protection group, several unique accoutrements including pins, badges and ceremonial dress daggers are available and can make quite a collection by themselves.
One of the older civic organisations was the National Socialist Motor Corps, or NSKK, originally charted to provide vehicle operating instruction but became a motor transport unit during the war. Members were not issued any form of steel combat helmet prior to the hostilities but did use limited numbers of civic model M1934 helmets, painted brown and adorned with a large stencilled NSKK eagle on the front.
As with the RAD organisation, steel combat-type helmets were eventually furnished by the Heer and Luftwaffe supply organisations and decorated with either the standard double decal, single decal, or no decal configurations. Researchers suggest the NSKK personnel were issued more helmets from Luftwaffe than those coming from the Army.
However, many helmets issued without Luftwaffe or Heer decals had the specific NSKK insignia applied using both double and single decal versions. Some NSKK helmets were also camouflaged (by wearers) and are considered very rare items.
Motorcycle riders wore civilian-type leather crash helmets with the National Socialist Party insignia in the shape of a large stamped metal eagle mounted on the front.
Steel NSKK combat helmets sell for around £800, but motorcycle crash helmets are worth even more. One was recently sold by Ulrich of England for £1,470.
Another organization, the National Air Protection League (Reichsluftschutzbund or RLB) trained the civilian populations in civil defense. Established in 1935, members used WWI style steel helmets, M1934 police types, and outdated firemen’s models. All were painted gray-green with a decal of a black-enameled swastika superimposed over a sunburst on the front.
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