M.15 Adrian Helmet
Red Army Sniper team, 1934
Imperial Russian Adrian helmet
French soldiers WW1
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.