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What factors lead to the disappearance of military helmets from European armies during the 17th through 19th centuries, and then to their return to use in the early 20th century? To what extent were these reasons technical as compared to stylistic or fashion, and were other factors involved as well?

For example, during the Napoleonic period shakos, bearskins and similar headgear were the most common, while 200 to 150 years earlier (the Thirty Years War and Eighty Years War) helmets were commonly worn by pike-men and musketeers.

EDIT: In addition, does anyone have rough dates as to when the helmet re-appeared in European armies?

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what about written or pictorial evidence that such a pattern of helmet usage has occurred? i mean, you may be right and it's a "thing" but ... –  Tea Drinker Aug 8 '13 at 19:19
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I can answer this but it is closed. The main reason for helmlet return was protection from artillery shrapnel. WWI and WWII helmlets cannon protect from bullets, entirely. But they well protect from shrapnel from shelling which greatly minimizes the casualties. –  Anixx Aug 9 '13 at 3:05
    
indeed, even current helmets can't protect against a high power bullet (they can possibly stop a pistol round), but against chips of concrete or wood, or pieces of metal thrown out by explosions, they can be effective. And of course they can help prevent head injury in vehicle accidents. –  jwenting Aug 9 '13 at 4:02
    
I have edited the question to try and adhere better to the site guidelines. Please review, and correct or rewind if I have missed your intent. –  Pieter Geerkens Aug 9 '13 at 22:29
    
Don't understand the headline. "... to 2100?" How can you know what headgear soldiers will wear in the year 2100? –  Eugene Seidel Aug 10 '13 at 11:47
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2 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The Medieval helmet was designed exclusively to defend against hand-held weapons like sword and lance. With the arrival of the musket, all infantry armor was deemed superfluous, as was most cavalry armor. For the cost of material, the extra weight of carrying it around, and the additional exhaustion from wearing metal in the hot summer campaign seasons, no benefit was seen even for senior officers.

The turn-around came with the arrival of the breech-loading rifle, the machine gun, and the compensating defenses of the fox-hole and slit-trench. Whereas a helmet-equipped infantry man of the Napoleonic period is only protected over 5% of his exposed target area by a helmet, an entrenched infantryman of WWI achieves 90% protection from his helmet. This vastly increased effectiveness accounts for the helmets comeback.

Update:
Whether from bullet or shrapnel, a helmet alone provides little cover (protective or not) for a soldier standing in the middle of an open field, while providing significant cover for a man prone, entrenched, or behind hard cover.

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uh, even today's helmets offer no protection whatsoever against a rifle bullet, let alone one from a heavy machine gun. They ARE to a degree effective against shrapnel from artillery however, which is why they are back in vogue –  jwenting Aug 9 '13 at 4:00
    
The ammo has changed as has the helmet. Modern bullets are more miniature armor-piercing rounds, unlike the traditional rounds of the early and mid-20th century. –  Pieter Geerkens Aug 9 '13 at 4:09
    
true, but so have the helmets. A WW2 round from an M1 had little trouble with a Stahlhelm, a round from a German rifle equally little problems penetrating an American or Soviet helmet. –  jwenting Aug 9 '13 at 6:26
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To be fair, modern helmets are more designed around blast and shrapnel protection. E.g. Without his Mk.6 helmet Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, VC would have been killed by a RPG impact 6 inches from his head –  Kobunite Aug 10 '13 at 9:38
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@SchwitJanwityanujit The shrapnel shell as originally developed and used through the 19th century was essentially an enhanced form of cannister shot. Given the guns and tactics in use it was fired at a relatively flat trajectory towards ranks of standing troops so would tend to cause body wounds rather than head injuries. It's a matter of record that troops of the major belligerents in WW1 went to war in 1914 with soft headgear which were soon replaced with steel helmets in response to the disproportionate numbers of deaths to head injuries, primarily from shellfire. –  Nigel Harper Aug 12 '13 at 12:52
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The main reason for helmlet return was protection from artillery shrapnel. WWI and WWII helmlets cannot protect from bullets, entirely. But they well protect from shrapnel from shelling which greatly minimizes the casualties

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