Whilst studying wartime photographs of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, or watching movies depicting American soldiers involved in those conflicts, we’ve noticed that one piece of equipment remained consistantly in use—the iconic M1 helmet. But have you ever wondered why some M1s appeared smooth and shiny, while others displayed an undeniably rough or “gritty” texture? Did the latter helmets suffer one too many “hits” during combat, causing pitting or some kind of runaway rusting to occur? Or were their gritty surfaces produced intentionally at the factory—to serve some sort of (as yet unknown) purpose? To learn the answers to these decidedly trivial questions, we dispatched The Joe Report’s crack research staff to investigate the subject en toto, and of course, they soon returned with all the answers. Thanks to the good folks over at Olive-Drab.com (ODC), whose wonderfully informative website practically overflows with helpful WWII intel, we’re now able to report that the M1 military helmet was, in fact:
“…designed to protect the user from flying fragments of exploded ordnance…(and that) Each M-1 helmet shell was stamped from a single sheet of manganese steel. A second component was the M-1941 helmet liner, a removable inner helmet constructed of resin-impregnated cotton canvas.”
But why the rough surfaces? What’s wrong with a nice, slick-n-shiny combat helmet? After all, our GIjOE 1:6 scale helmets are made of a slick and shiny green plastic. Isn’t that okay? Well, it may be for a toy. But in real-life combat situations, that kind of surface can get a soldier killed, toot-sweet. Think about it. Would you want a sniper zeroing-in on your precious noggin’ because your helmet sparkled in the sun, attracting attention like a mirror? Of course not. ODC continued:
“M1 helmets were painted with a matte-finish, olive-drab paint with shredded cork or sawdust grit mixed-in to reduce glare, giving a bumpy finish. Unit insignia and/or individual rank often were painted or glued to both the shell and liner.”
It’s easy to forget just how versatile the ol’ M1 helmet really was. It did so much MORE than just protect a soldier’s head from falling debris. As the Olive-Drab.com website further explained:
“Approximately 22 million of the steel helmet shells were manufactured during World War II… In addition to its mission as head protection, the M-1 steel helmet was used for boiling water to make coffee, for cooking and shaving, as an entrenching tool, to bail water from a landing craft, as a hammer, or even as a “pot to piss in.”
It’s clear the iconic M1 was indeed a time-honored, well-used piece of military equipment. As more and more collectors of 1:6 scale GIjOEs begin customizing their figures, it seemed like a good time to pass on the basics of “corking” these helmets. Fortunately, longtime GIjOE customizer and regular reader of The Joe Report, Phillip Johnson, offered to share his own experience with this topic, explaining how he performs this rather simple customizing procedure thusly:
“Here are a few photos (shown below) of my crude way of ‘corking’ a helmet. This particular helmet originally had a cloth cover glued onto it. After I had removed the cover, I begin with bottled acrylic paint; it’s cheap, washable and easily removed in case any mistakes are made.”
“I only painted half of the helmet to show what a difference this technique makes. Start with one coat of acrylic paint, and while the paint is still wet, sprinkle some sand onto it, knocking loose any excess sand. The sand I used here is rather coarse, but it’s all I had on hand. It would be MUCH better to use fine silica sand or something similar.
When the paint is dry, apply a top coat either by brush or spray. I prefer a paintbrush. The finished product is not nearly as coarse as these photo suggests. I came up with this process simply by necessity, and because I couldn’t think of another way to do it. This second photo shows the helmet after I’ve sprinkled on the sand but BEFORE the second coat of paint.”
“Oh, one more tip: Before putting on your final top coat of paint, you can also sand down the texture to however smooth you want it. Careful though, patches of sand could come off, so it’s best to sand very gently. When it feels right, apply a final top-coat of OD paint and allow to dry completely before handling.” —Phillip Johnson
Bottom Line: This is a great tip. We can’t wait to start detailing our 1:6 helmets with this technique. Besides being so easy, it looks like it’ll be a lot of FUN, too. Our sincerest thanks go out to Phillip Johnson for the photos and all of his help with this article. You’re the best, Phillip!