Pickelhaube Helmet

The German Pickelhaube Helmet

This piece of originally Prussian headgear is probably the most distinctive item worn by the German army in World War I. The helmet itself was designed by King Friedrich-Wilhelm IV of Prussia in 1842. Two years later the artillery adopted the ball topped helmet officially called a kugelhelm. The soldiers’ slang term for it was Pickelhaube, which literally meant “Pimple Hat”.

With the growing dominance of Prussia and the emergence of the North German Confederation the pickelhaube was adopted by other German states, some as early as the 1840s. Many of these states adopted the Prussian Eagle plate onto which a badge bearing their own coat of arms was superimposed but others retained their own helmet plates. With the establishment of the German Empire in 1871 the more German states formerly independent of the confederation also adopted the splendid headdress and by 1887 all German soldiers were wearing spiked helmets.

Metal skulled “lobster tail” helmets with spikes were worn by the cuirrassiers, the Garde du Corps having the outrageous eagle topped variety. Lancer squadrons wore the traditional czapshka with the mortarboard placed on a helmet body almost identical to the pickelhaube only lacking the neckguard. Of course to add to fine array of headgesr the pickelhaube could, by detaching the spike, be fitted with a trichter bearing a parade plume. The plumes were usually of horsemane and varied in colour depending on the state. Generals wore magnificent feathered parade plumes also in the colours of their state.

By the time of the Franco-Prussian war the pickelhaube was already becoming an anachronism. This was certainly the case by the outbreak of the first world war. However the pickelhaube was such a distinctive headdress fiercely symbolic of Prussian power and German unity and it was stubbornly retained by the Imperial Army and was still being worn by some soldiers right up until 1918.

The Worl War I era Pickelhaube originally was built with a thick black leather shell. However, as the war progressed, and leather became more scarce, the shell was also made out of pressed gray felt and even tin. It was worn up through 1916 in two basic models. The first model had all brass hardware. The second model, introduced in 1915, had a removeable spike and gray metal hardware. Both models had a black leather chinstrap, and large Kokarden on each side: the national colors of black, white, and red on one side, and state colors. Also, each model had a front plate representing the state of the wearer. In the field, the Pickelhaube was worn with a cloth cover to camouflage it. At the beginning of the war, this cover had a red regimental number on it. This was quickly replaced by a green regimental number, then no number at all. It was quickly determined that most casualties in the trenches were caused by head injuries. And, as the leather, felt, or tin Pickelhaube offered no head protection to speak of, it was replaced in 1916 by the Stahlhelm.

About This Site

Internet Antique Gazette is brought to you by Prices4Antiques.