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(Note: links go to realistically portrayed scenes of WW2 combat.)

I am watching Youtube clips of WW2 miniseries, like The Pacific and Band of Brothers.

Based on a non-scientific survey of these miniseries, it looks like US marines and soldiers buckle their chin straps in landing craft or aircraft - and unbuckle them once they hit the landing zone. Like here or here or here or here. The chin strap will either dangle photogenically, or the helmet will appear to have had its strap completely removed.

What happens when you are in a war zone with your chin strap unbuckled? You lose your helmet. Losing your helmet in a war zone is a Bad Thing. (Unless you are a lead actor and will survive for dramaturgical reasons.)

Now, the advantages of having your chin strap buckled appear obvious to me. So I'd assume they would be as obvious to US marines or soldiers - and to actors playing them. (They certainly did to my drill instructor twenty years ago, who did not want to see us with dangling straps.) So I have to assume that someone told the actors to unbuckle the chin straps.

Did WW2 marines and soldiers actually go into action with their chin straps unbuckled? If so, what was the reason? If not, were actors in these miniseries actively told to unbuckle their straps? If so, what was the reason for that?

(Incidentally, History.SE suggests that this question may already have my answer: Did the Celts really go into battle naked? Umm... not quite.)

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    Does a properly buckled chin-strap stop you clearly delivering your lines, perhaps? – KillingTime Jun 6 '16 at 16:21
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    Googling photos, it looks like at least the front liners did have their helmet straps on (based on me not seeing anything dangling). I did come across some after-the-main-assault photos where support troops had some helmet straps off. – SMS von der Tann Jun 6 '16 at 17:05
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    The answer to did they in WWII must be yes. Answering questions about why actors directed to do or not do something in recent theatrical releases seems to me off-topic. The only question here, really, worth answering is perhaps the historical reason(s). – CGCampbell Jun 7 '16 at 16:38
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    @KillingTime: Actually, no. A properly buckled chin-strap will still allow you to talk, even shout, because communication is somewhat important on the battlefield. (Yes, I've worn mine buckled all the time, because I was a stickler for regulation. Not WWII US army, I'll admit, but 1992/93 German army, but that thing wasn't that much different from the US helmet I see in Schwern's answer.) – DevSolar Jun 8 '16 at 8:11
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    @SMSvonderTann Seeing nothing dangling could also mean they have the strap secured behind their helmets. That makes more sense if you're not going to buckle your helmet on, there's nothing dangling to get snagged or make noise or whip you in the face. – Schwern Jun 8 '16 at 17:02
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Yes, they did. Not all, but a very many, especially the more veteran soldiers. I don't have time to get sources together, but will when I do. Reasons were varied.

Some believed that being close to over-pressure events (artillery, etc) could cause a head injury with the large helmet being force up and the tough leather strap breaking the neck. This was supported by more than one army regiment actually giving written orders to their men to not buckle up.

enter image description here From usmilitariaforum.com

enter image description here From usmilitariaforum.com

Others believed that an enemy soldier could sneak up behind, in hand-to-hand combat, and use the leverage of the helmets front lip with the strap and break the neck using the back edge.

Having worn a 'steel pot' in my earliest army time, I will say the number one thing about it, by far is it is heavier than any other hat I ever wore on my head. When running, whether or not the chin strap was properly fastened, that pot would rock forward and back and side to side, taking my head with it, such that I was forced to use a hand to keep it in place regardless of the strap! Now, considering that the original strap was just a strip of some material that was itchy and scratchy, I can easily understand why soldiers wouldn't want it done up. Even the later straps, like I used, made of nylon and cotton webbing, would be quite the sweat magnet and end up very rough.

Finally, one of the biggest reasons, directly related to the weight (did I say it is VERY heavy?) was that a soldier would want to remove it whenever and wherever possible, as soon as possible. Figuring that soldiers, even those in the front lines, spend most of their time not actually fighting, but standing, sitting, waiting, marching, being trucked here and there, would tire of constantly doing and undoing the pain in the ass d-ring connections.

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    Great answer. I love the actual orders provided as evidence. – PeskyToaster Jun 10 '16 at 17:48
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Yes, many did. An image search reveals plenty of examples. Although I've found few with the straps hanging, most have the straps secured tightly behind the helmet.

Four US Army soldiers watching Allied bombardment, Saint Lo, France, Jun 1944

BAR Gunner 1st Marine Division, Wana Ridge, Okinawa 1945

BAR Gunner, 1st Marine Division, Wana Ridge, Okinawa 1945

US Soldiers, Saint-Malo, France 8.Aug.1944

Three reasons are cited (and one which is my own speculation).

In close combat, an enemy can grab the visor.

The idea here is an enemy gets you from behind, grabs the visor, and pulls your head back exposing the throat and belly. Probably more foxhole fantasy than reality.

An explosive concussion can blow your helmet off, snapping your neck.

That might seem ridiculous, but it seems plausible enough that the US Army redesigned the chin strap to release at a certain pressure, the T-1 pressure buckle.

The helmet can block vision or get snagged.

This one is my own speculation. If the helmet gets snagged, I'd rather it fell off than get snagged with it. If the helmet falls over my eyes, I want to get rid of it quick.

A buckled M1 helmet is not terribly comfortable.

I think this is the real reason and all the rest are justifications. It weighs almost 3 pounds. The straps have none of the benefit of modern materials, they'll be leather and canvas. Rough and inflexible. The nape strap can hold the helmet on well enough.

WWII era M1 helmet interior

Source

You'll see modern US soldiers almost universally with their chin strap on. The current US Army Advanced Combat Helmet is a little heavier, but it benefits from modern ergonomics and materials. We also now have lots and lots of data about where and how soldiers get wounded, and modern combat involves a lot more shrapnel.

Soldiering is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme violence... or if you're far enough behind the lines, just more boredom. In those long periods of boredom you're hauling around all this very heavy and uncomfortable equipment. Many soldiers will make modifications which might reduce their combat effectiveness in order to be more comfortable in the hours, days, weeks, and months between combat.

Whether the justifications are valid doesn't matter, if the soldiers believed them that's what matters.

Sources:

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    I fully understand why soldiers not in action would unbuckle, and unfortunately, the image search mostly shows soldiers that are obviously not in action - same for the picture you included. Otherwise, good points. – Stephan Kolassa Jun 7 '16 at 17:57
  • @StephanKolassa You have a point. I added a couple of clearly combat shots. I'm having some trouble finding clear shots of soldiers in combat where I can tell if they have the chin strap on or not, but when I do it's usually without. Not scientific at all, but something. – Schwern Jun 8 '16 at 6:23
  • @StephanKolassa combat could often start with little or no warning, so if the troops don't use the strap out of combat, chances are they at least part of the time don't use it in combat either. – jwenting Jun 14 '18 at 4:32
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    @jwenting: take a look at the very first clip I linked. US Marines are about to land on Peleliu. They have their straps buckled in the landing craft and unbuckled on the beach. They apparently took the time under Japanese fire to unbuckle their straps. – Stephan Kolassa Jun 14 '18 at 10:08
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    @Schwern: I never claimed otherwise. My question was explicitly about whether this was "only" in the movie, and if so, whether someone had directed the actors to unbuckle, and why. Your answer makes a good case that the men really did unbuckle. I was replying to jwenting's comment. – Stephan Kolassa Jun 14 '18 at 17:40
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I really do not believe the story that explains why Americans never wore their straps in battle. It seems to me everyone is reporting the same story. Now, if the Americans thought people are going to get concussion, surely this is better than shrapnel in the head? After all, there is a reason to wear helmets. Did this happen with the British, German or Canadians?

It was not common in those armies for the helmet to unstrapped, surely they would of faced the same problem as the Americans? Also, in house-to-house fighting, the helmet would of been a life saver, from falling debris and shrapnel. So Americans in their trenches getting their neck snapped from explosions if not injuries to the head.

The British went through the same thing in WW1, where there were concerns helmets worn would of caused the above. It turned out it did not, though there was anecdotal evidence more troops were dying of head injuries. Why was this? Because the British were taking more risks in battle, so more died. The same for Americans going into a battle and having loose helmets in a charge or advancing on the run can get big problems.

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    While everything you say might be true, nothing in what you wrote answers the question. – RonJohn Sep 12 at 20:14

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