Big Red here with a question from "Dale D."...
So, TAKE FIVE!
"Big Red, I recently read an article about the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) on their first drop during Operation Dragoon. The article explains how a lack of proper airborne helmets required the unit to make around 3000 of their own for the jump. I am curious what you know about this and what the altered helmets looked like?”
Great to hear from you Dale, here’s what I know…
When collectors refer to the "517th helmet" they are talking about the result of a field modification performed by “Riggers”, or GIs who altered standard infantry equipment for use by airborne troops, that was unique to the 517th PIR. What makes this helmet modification stand out is how the helmet's chin straps were altered in combination with a distinctive pattern left on the helmet body as a result of having camouflage paint applied to it over a shrimp type netting material.
Right: During the preparation for Operation Dragoon, August of 1944, camouflage paint patterns were applied with spray guns over all the units gear.
The problem facing the 517th's "Riggers" was how to prevent the standard Infantry version of the M-1 helmets they had from coming off the wearer's head during their jump.
Period photographs illustrate various results of airborne modifications performed by units in the field but in the case of the 517th AB modification, the “Riggers” achieved this by first cutting both helmet straps off to equal lengths and sewing adjustment buckles scavenged from field gear to their ends.
A scratch made fabric chin cup was then fed through the buckles allowing the helmet to be adjusted until securely tightened to the wearer’s head.
Photographs also illustrate that most of the 517th’s uniforms and gear had camouflage patterns added to them by spraying them with paint. The unit’s helmets were covered with a locally acquired shrimp type netting material over which this camouflage was applied resulting in a unique pattern distinctive to the 517th PIR.
A note of caution to my fellow collectors…
There is a greater number of airborne configured helmets available for purchase on the World Wide Web on a daily basis than ever actually existed during WWII. Truly authentic 517th PIR helmets are "as rare as hen's teeth", making this modified version of the M-1 helmet one of the airborne configurations chosen to be replicated. If you encounter one of these rare birds, don't make it authentic just because you want it to be authentic, use your head and make a sound decision.