For someone interested in the Great War’s armament, it is always surprising to read about how, in the conflict that introduced tanks, fighter planes, tanks, machine guns and combat gas on such a large scale, a lot of what the soldier brought into battle took a nosedive into the downright medieval.
Static trench warfare and the need for silent night raids in confined spaces obviously gave melee weapons a new life, but after nearly three centuries without armor you have to wonder who thought giving soldiers the breastplates and shields to match was a good idea.
Louis Adrian, that’s fucking who.
Louis Auguste Adrian in front of a heavy field gun.
Born in Metz in the Lorraine region of France in 1859, Adrian had to flee German occupation with his family in 1871. He received a grant that allowed him to attend the famed Ecole Polytechnique, from which he graduated as a sapper/pioneer officer – called le Génie militaire in French.
Although he had retired from his position as assistant director of the French military’s supply corps in 1913, he insisted in re-enlisting at the outbreak of WW1 in the summer of 1914. He immediately proved himself by saving four thousand tonnes/about 9 million pounds of fabric from Lille as German troops captured the city, at a time when he also had to requisition postmen and firemen uniforms to properly clothe soldiers.
Likewise, with the war not actually being over by Christmas after all, he arranged for sheepskin jackets and trench boots to be distributed to the front.
Adrian’s first foray into bulletproofing soldiers came when studies came back in December 1914 showing that more than three-quarters of all wounds suffered by French soldiers were received on the head, with most of them lethal. This was one of the many niceties of modern warfare caused by shrapnel and splinters from enemy artillery raining down into the trenches – most notably noticed in the Vosges mountains early on because of the rocky terrain.
His first design to answer that issue was a very simple skullcap of sheet steel to be worn under the military kepi, with 700000 units being made during the winter but judged to be too uncomfortable for regular use. It was instead used as a bowl by the troops when Adrian’s second and most famous design came around.
Louis Adrian’s place in the Pantheon of WW1 trivia was secured in early 1915 when he partnered with fellow Louis and engineer for Japy Frères L. Kuhn, the inventor of the Mle1895 brass firefighter helmet, and created the Adrian helmet.
2nd and 3rd model cervelières/skullcaps, Japy Mle1895 firefighter helmet, Louis Adrian’s very own Adrian Mle1915 helmet with the supply corps insignia and his general stars.
Although a competitor design, the Scott Burgonet, was proposed to general Joffre and adopted almost immediately for its flair, Adrian’s Mle1915 helmet was adopted instead in February of that year due its immensely superior ease of manufacture. It was an upgrade of Kuhn’s original design, made of the same steel used for the skullcaps before and simplified slightly. Despite what modern detractors would have you believe the process was streamlined enough that 7 million helmets were made in the first ten months of production, cutting head injuries down to 22% and incurring purchases from 18 nations.
Louis Adrian did not stop there however, and in the second part of this post we’ll take a look at his other lesser-known and frankly less useful designs. Cue end of episode theme song.
This helmet obviously did its job.
Grave site of Louis Auguste Adrian, with his helmet.
The Lieutenant’s tips on cleaning a period helmet!
(many thanks to @n17r4ms for the help)
* This is purely advisory. I shall not be held responsible for any mess-up; I already have a hard time coping with mine, eh?
This is the process I use for any helmet entering my collection. The above pictures depict the most ‘spectacular’ result but alas not all types of rust will allow such a thorough cleaning. Note how this says ‘cleaning’, not ‘restoring’; the objective is to stop the progress of any damage on the helmet, not to make it brand new, which would remove the historical aspect of it. Moreover, once rust has attacked the helmet, the damage cannot be entirely repaired.
- No acid of any sort! Many like to use oxalic acid on their historical helmets. Just as the name indicates it, it’s a very corrosive product. Using it implies extreme mastery and on helmets such as Adrian ones, it will most likely be a disaster. It might remove the original paint, etc.
- First of all you can wipe the helmet with a dry cloth, metal and leather parts. Assess the damage. Some types of rust cannot be removed when they are too deep into the metal.
- Use steel wool to remove surface rust. It must be fine 000 or lower steel wool as not to damage the viable parts. You need to rub it thoroughly onto the rust zone until you see it reducing. If its aspect did not change after a while, give up; the rust is too deep. Proceed to the next zone. – Always cover your airways when using steel wool and preferrably use it outdoors.
- If the rust is hard to remove, you may want to spray it with WD40 or another rust-loosening product before trying steel wool. Let the product work on the rust for about fifteen minutes.
- Once you are done with the rust, mix warm water with washing-up liquid and use it all over the helmet to remove dirt and grime. For leather parts, be mindful and use very little liquid.
- If, like shown in the pictures above, the leather seems to have mold on it (unnatural colour like grey or white), use methylated spirit to kill the infectious agent.
- Water can be harmful to metal and leather. Make sure to dry it thoroughly. Afterwards, protect the metal with an appropriate product, like preservation wax or protective oil (like WD40). If using oil, make sure to wipe the ‘old’ oil away and replace it with new at least once a year.
- If the leather is very dry or was cleaned with water, use colourless leather dubbin in mindful amounts to restore both the leather quality and its original colour.
Here you go! It’s ready to last another century!
Adrian m15 Helmet
Adrian helmet with Polack 3rd type visor
Designed by Aide-Major and ophthalmologist Polack c.1915-18, about 2000 produced for field testing.
0,7mm mild steel, nasal visor with louver eye protection.
One of the many prototypes of enclosed helmets being bounced around Europe during the Great War.
Serbian M-15 Adrian Helmet
Adrian-type Mle1895 firefighter helmet
Manufactured in France c.1895~1915.
~1mm brass, Adrian M15 leather lining.
Look how shiny it is.
French Adrian helmet and Goggles
The story of French equipment in WW1 follows a strict pattern of reusing old military stuff, then salvaging civilian stuff, then coming up with new military stuff. There were no such things as military goggles in 1915 so when gas attacks started to appear civilian driving glasses were immediately pressed into military service to protect French soldiers from being blinded.
Unfortunately these things were a very unreliable temporary decision, and an acceptable level of protection was only provided with the apparition of the M2 full gas mask on the frontline.
Mle1895 Firefighter helmet
Manufactured in France for the town of Pas-de-Jeu c.1895~1930′s.
~1mm brass sheet, Mle1933 2nd type leather and felt lining added at a later date.
An earlier, more ostantatious Adrian helmet. Although these helmets were originally designed c.1885 for military firefighters, I found no direct link between them and the Adrian model of 1915, with Louis Kuhn of Japy Frères being credited with designing the later and offering it to intendant Louis Adrian.
It’s obvious however that the Mle1895 was the inspiration for the Adrian Mle1915.