Medic Helmets and Helmet Markings

  The GENEVA CONVENTION HELMET

(submitted by Alan Batens)

This page was last updated on 3/01/03

Although widely spread throughout World War II, the use of helmet markings was not official – indeed there were no Army Regulations governing their use.

Brief History: apparently, the first use of medical markings on steel helmets took place in N. Africa (NATOUSA) around mid 1943. During "Operation Torch" (Invasion of North Africa) and subsequent field activities, it had been noted that quite a lot of medical aid men suffered regular casualties . Interrogation of German PWs revealed that the single Red Cross brassard (worn on the left arm) was not always visible, during combat, and as such it was often difficult for the enemy to correctly identify medics in the field. An investigation was launched and upon instructions from the Surgeon General’s Office reports from the N. African & Mediterranean Campaigns were intensively studied . It took a while to remedy the situation, and meanwhile some medics just placed a second brassard under the helmet’s camouflage net in order to show their trade more distinctively . Others began to wear a brassard on both arms for increased identification . Finally, in the end, medics just started painting markings directly on the helmet itself . Gradually this use was generally introduced in the Italian Theater, and later expanded to the ETOUSA . However, it seems that the Medical Department was afraid of the enemy’s reaction, during the Normandy landings, whereby medics refrained from painting any Red Crosses markings on their helmets – this can be clearly seen in period illustrations. When the Allies moved further inland, they seemed appeased, and apart from scattered cases (except, of course in the Pacific) the enemy respected the Geneva Convention emblem .

… enemy respect for GENEVA CONVENTION identification …

 Normandy - June 1944 fighting

Random enemy artillery and mortar fire accounted for most Medical troops casualties, as well as for frequent damage to Medical Service vehicles and installations . However, killing and wounding of Aidmen, Litter Bearers, and Aid Station personnel by aimed rifle fire, usually from enemy snipers, raised the question whether the enemy general’s policy was to respect the Geneva Convention’s rights of unarmed Red Cross-marked Medical personnel . After 2 months of combat and careful analysis of many such incidents, most Corps, Division, and lower-echelon Surgeons and Medical unit commanders concluded that, except for isolated cases, the Germans followed the rules ! The CO of the 4th Medical Battalion (part of the 4th Inf Div), which had had  men killed and wounded and ambulances damaged by artillery and machinegun fire, stated in his ‘Report of Operations, dated June 6-30, 1944’ that the prevailing opinion was … that little of this damage was deliberate and that for the most part the enemy respected the Rules of Land Warfare …

According to German  prisoners, sniper incidents often resulted from difficulty in seeing and identifying Geneva Convention brassards on men moving along hedgerows; American Medics in some Divisions noted that a high proportion of their small-arms casualties were often shot from the unbrassarded right side ! So Aidmen and Litter Bearers accordingly began wearing brassards on both arms, and also started painting (non-regulation) Red Crosses on their steel helmets . The XIX Corps Surgeon late in July 1944 officially authorized these and other measures to make Geneva Convention markings on men and vehicles more conspicuous … Certain gestures of chivalry, supposedly dead in total warfare, graced the Normandy battlefield . Soldiers of both sides, American AND German, either as a result of temporary (formal or informal) truce, or more often by tacit mutual (local) consent, ceased fire to allow Aidmen to reach casualties – sometimes both German and American Medics would help evacuate and/or treat casualties together – First US Army returned 16 German nurses captured in Cherbourg to their own forces (under a flag of truce) – a German Commander sent back 83d Inf Div Medics captured by his troops . It so appears that both sides were following as best as they could the Conventions of civilized warfare 

 Application: in certain units, the unit surgeon defined the kind of marking that was supposed to adorn the medic’s helmet, while in other units, there was no specific standard to adhere to – this explains the widespread variety in helmet markings (sofar I’ve discovered over 20 different markings, in period-photographs), whereby color, dimensions, combinations and even the red cross symbol differ a lot … sometimes stencils were used, but mostly markings were merely handpainted … the most widely used symbol was a red cross on a white circular field (identical to the Geneva Convention brassard) . Change N5 to AR 850-5 dated 15 February 1945 was only introduced on January 23, 1948 to regulate the use of a red Geneva Cross on a white circular background for medical personnel helmets – it was however shortlived, since already cancelled on January 18, 1949 by change N6 (due to the introduction of helmet covers, which made any markings redundant) .

 

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The above drawing from a post war Army regulation, AR 850-5, authorized 23 January 1948. This regulation was rescinded on 18 January 1949. It appears during World War Ii there was no regulation for the standardization of red cross markings on helmets. It was the preference of an individual medical unit.

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Medic Helmet from the 10th Mountain Division

This WWII era helmet has swivel-bale attachments for the khaki canvas chinstraps. The butt joint for the rim seam is in the front of the helmet. There is photographic evidence that the combat medics of the 10th Mountain Division used this type of painted red-cross configuration on their helmets. In an interview by Michael Myers of a former commander of the 10th Medical Battalion, the commander recalls that the 10th Mountain Division Surgeon ordered that the helmets of medics be painted with the large square white background with centered red-cross markings. He felt that the small circular red-cross markings looked too much like targets. It seems that men from the Medical Battalion used the large square markings, while the medics attached directly to the infantry regiments wore the smaller round markingsThe helmet above was found in a small Italian Villa in 1993. It has the medics name painted in white on the inside of the helmet liner.

A WWII era photograph showing a group of 10th Division medics aiding a wounded German prisoner. Notice the variations in markings on the medic helmets. (Courtesy of Kevin Molinaro)

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Medic Helmet of the Century Division

I believe this helmet to be from WWII. It has the swivel-bale attachment for the khaki chinstraps. The butt joint for the rim seam is in the front. This type of red-cross configuration painted on the helmet shell is captured in quite a few WWII era photographs.

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The photograph on the left is from the book V-mail, Letters of a World War II Combat Medic of Pfc. Keith Winston. Winston was a combat medic during WWII and served with the 2nd Battalion, 398th Infantry, 100th Division. The photograph shows medics of the 398th Infantry evacuating a wounded soldier at the 1st Battalion aid station near Reyersviller, France December 1944. Notice the red-cross con figurations painted on the helmet of the medics in the ambulance.

The Century Division (100th) helped oust the Germans from the Vosges Mountains in France, assaulted the Maginot Line, withstood savage counter attacks, then captured the fortress city of Bitche, drove to the Rhine River, and in some of the most desperate fighting of the war attacked and the fiercely defended city of Heilbronn, Germany

 

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                                            A                                                                    B

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                                        C                                              D

Various Medic Helmet Markings

Helmet A is probably post-war vintage. It has the edge seam in the back with swivel bale attachments for the khaki chin straps. Helmet B is WWII vintage with the edge seam in the front and swivel bale attachments for the khaki chin straps. A 79th Division insignia has been crudely painted on the front of the helmet. Helmet C is a WWII vintage helmet with fixed bale attachments for the khaki chin straps. This helmet has the edge seam in the front. The red cross on the square white backgrounds are the style reportedly worn by the combat medics of the 10th Mountain Division. Helmet D is a WWII vintage helmet with fixed bale attachments for the khaki chin straps. The edge seam is in the front. The helmet styles the 3 red cross on circular white backgrounds with a NCO bar painted across the back.(All helmets pictured from author's collection)

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(Markings for Medic Helmets – period 1943-1944 – the parts illustrated above are from the collection of Alain Batens)

From L to R and horizontally: 1 X Complete Helmet 6th Special Engineer Brigade illustrating special D-Day markings (front) and Geneva Convention Red Cross (both sides), just appearing is white horizontal stripe (NCO) at rear of helmet (1"X4"), 1 X Complete Helmet w/Camouflage Net 10th Mountain Division illustrating Sergeant rank (chevrons, front), Geneva Convention Red Cross on rectangular background (two sides + rear, i.e. three), and personal Army Serial Number (top) of holder, 1 X Complete Helmet w/Camouflage Net Infantry unit illustrating Geneva Convention Red Cross on circular background (front + rear), 1 X Complete Helmet illustrating Geneva Convention Red Cross on rectangular background (two sides + rear), and personal ASN (top) of holder (submitted by Alain Batens)

NOTE: The above helmets are genuine period steel pots & liners that have been refurbished and painted for re-enactment purposes by the author

The following photographs of examples of WWII Medic Helmets were submitted by Collector Eugeni Masgoret. Eugeni lives in Barcelona

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Eugeni purchased this WWII US medic helmet in Paris, France a few years ago. It has the front edge seam with a Westinghouse liner. A variation with 5 red crosses on white square backgounds.

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Eugeni bought the above helmet through Manions Auctions. The helmet has the edge seam in the rear and the insignia of the 78th Division on the sides.

The following WWII Medic Helmets are from the Keith R. Gill collection.

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WWII Naval Medic Helmet

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Two more examples of WWII medic helmets from the Keith R. Gill Collection

The following WWII Medic helmets are from the Michael Myers Collection

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Norman Berlant wore this helmet while serving with the 130th Station Hospital in Europe during World War II. It is a late pattern M1 helmet with hinged chinstrap loops and a Westinghouse high-pressure plastic helmet liner.  The helmet has a single red cross symbol painted on each side.

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This early pattern M1 helmet has welded chinstrap loops and a St. Clair low-pressure plastic helmet liner. The liner is marked with the name "Weahley" but who he was and where he served is unknown.  Three large Red Cross symbols are painted around the helmet.  The liner is unmarked but it shows the remains of a PFC emblem on the front probably applied with tape

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This interesting medic helmet was submitted by Bill Miller



I'm always interested in purchasing US medical helmets of WWII