The evolution of the combat helmet:
From crocodile leather and steel buckets to ultra-light polyethylene helmets

The evolution of the combat helmet:
From crocodile leather and steel buckets to ultra-light polyethylene helmets

From the beginning of recorded history, combat helmets have been worn and crafted as our early ancestors realized the importance of protecting the head during battle. The development of weapons and protective gear was influenced by two main things: the time they were made and what the army needed.

The time in history decided what materials were used, and the army’s strategies affected how heavy and easy to move a soldier’s gear was. A soldier’s importance, no matter when or where, depended on their gear, especially the helmet, which was very important and expensive. The helmet protected the head and changed along with the weapons it was designed to defend against, showing how defense tools evolved over time.

The oldest recorded helmets – combat helmets appeared around 3000 BC. They were manufactured from tough crocodile skin. This material was easy to shape so that the finished product, the helmet, could be fitted to the warrior’s head.

From Bronze Age to Roman Innovation

Gjermundbu - ancient helm

Gjermundbu Viking Age helmet

Source: NTNU

When people learned how to machine bronze, helmets made of leather began to be retrofitted with plates made of bronze. They then evolved to helmets made entirely of bronze, like ancient Greek helmets, additionally covering the neck and cheeks. Very often they were decorated with a comb of bristles.

These so-called Corinthian helmets (used by Greek hoplites) were made of a single piece and provided an effective protection, but the warrior could hear little in such a helmet and could barely see. He was, on the other hand, very well protected.

These helmets were very heavy. This, however, did not bother the warriors at all since the Greek hoplite fought in a tight formation such as a phalanx.

Completely different, which was also due to tactics, was the use of the battle helmet in the army of the Roman Empire. Especially after the reforms of Marius at the end of the second century BC, armaments were mass-produced and there was a standardization of the appearance of helmets.

The fighting tactics of the Roman legions needed the use of lightweight helmets made of iron. They were much smaller than Corinthian ones, lighter and open.

Providing the legionaries with the best possible situational awareness of the battlefield and could communicate freely. They were lightweight, which was a requirement because Roman legions were highly mobile military units.

Diversity and Design in European Armor

The medieval period in Europe was rife with different varieties of helmets, starting with the Norman helmet, which was popular throughout the continent in the 10th-11th centuries, through various types of pot helmets and the great helmets derived from them.

The essential part of a medieval helmet is the bell, either unified or assembled from several parts. Its lower part sometimes had a circumferential rim, and a spiked cap was attached to its edge to protect the neck. The face shield was sometimes a plate placed at the front of the bell or forming part of it.

The most common medieval helmets were conical and ocular helmets. These are popular among Scandinavian people. By design, they resembled the Norman, except that they had an eyepiece – an arched strip of sheet metal attached to the nosepiece and rim of the helmet, which gave added protection to the face when cutting with a sword from above, without much loss of visibility or ventilation quality.

1915 French Army Artillery “Adrian” helmet. Source:

1915 French Army Artillery “Adrian” helmet


A notable example of such a helmet is the famous Gjermundbu helmet. It is now on display at the Museum of Cultural History of the University of Oslo.

During the Napoleonic Wars period, when gunpowder and lead bullets reigned supreme on the battlefields, infantry soldiers wore no protection at all. In contrast, the elite mounted cavalry, the Cuirassiers, were equipped with helmets and armor to stop lead bullets. These riders were the elite of the armies of the wars of the time.

First Generation Helmets and World War I Innovations

Enhanced Combat Helmet. Source:

Enhanced Combat Helmet


The period of the 20th century is the most dynamic time in the development of combat helmets, which can be divided into generations.

The first widely used modern military helmet was the “Adrian” M15 – a French steel helmet, developed in 1915 by a military commission under the leadership of the chief intendant of the French army, Colonel Louis Adrian.

Used from its inception until the early 1970s. The development of this design for the army was caused by a new way of fighting, the massive use of heavy and rapid-firing artillery on the fields of World War I. The shrapnel that hit soldiers’ heads caused wounds that were difficult to heal and were often fatal. Earlier helmets offered no protection from shrapnel on the new battlefield.

This helmet marked the beginning of the 1st Generation of helmets. At the same time, in 1915, a helmet was developed and patented by John Leopold Brodie, designated as M1917 Helmet. Unofficially called the Tommy helmet or Brodie helmet. The design allowed for the thick steel to be formed in a single press while keeping a uniform thickness.

World War II developments and introduction of Kevlar

The period of World War II was also a period where steel with various admixtures was the main material from which helmets were made.

The most popular, produced more than 23 million units, was the US Army M1 helmet, designed by Major Harold G. Sydenham.

It consisted of an outer steel shell with an insert that was a suspension system. The shape of the helmet provided added protection for the forehead, sides of the head and neck. Each helmet was made from a single piece of Hadfield manganese steel.

Generation II was marked by the invention and adoption of Kevlar material bringing about improvement in both protection and weight.

The composite material construction of aramid fiber and resin for the ballistic shell was particularly good at stopping high speed fragments as well as most caliber handgun bullets. The first helmet being this generation is the PASGT (Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops) helmet.

Ops-Core® generation III helmet. Source:

Ops-Core® generation III helmet


Third Generation: Integration of Communication and Vision Technologies

Wearing technology on the head for purposes other than protection ushered in Generation III of the military helmet’s evolution.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the use of communications kits and night vision goggles had become widespread and required a new level of integration of the helmet with equipment components.

The earliest versions of these third-generation helmets featured night vision mounts and ballistic shells trimmed higher to provide space for headset earpieces.

NFM HJELM™: The 4th Generation Platform

HJELM helmet with accessories (gen. IV)

HJELM generation IV helmet

Source: NFM Group

The NFM HJELM™ line of helmets was developed as the first 4th Generation ground infantry platform capable of integrating information technology while enhancing protection against battlefield threats. The basis of this system is an inner liner that comfortably and securely holds the helmet on the head.

It is paired with a lightweight shell made from premium ballistic materials, and every gram of performance is optimized using state-of-the-art processing techniques.

The helmet is a piece of protective equipment that has been continuously developed since the beginning of humankind and up to the present digital age. To meet the demands of today’s evolving theatre of war, it is vital to develop lightweight, modular helmets to always ensure the protection of the modern operator.

HJELM - 4th gen helmet
HJELM - 4th generation helmet


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Developing combat gear for the modern soldier with the best possible level of security.


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Developing combat gear for the modern soldier with the best possible level of security.


Developing combat gear for the modern soldier with the best possible level of security.