24

In 1916, during the First World War, the Germans dropped the idea of using the pickelhaube because it wasn't practical in the trenches. I read the wiki, but I am left with one question:

It remained in service for more than 70 years, it doesn't seem to be practical at all and its additional combat value looks negligible. Did it have any real practical use?

enter image description here

[Source: Dr Max Litthauer’s pickelhaube (spiked helmet) with camouflage covering, 1914–1918. Donated by Bart Ullstein © Jewish Museum Berlin]

  • 3
    The helmet provided some protection and while pith helmets provided shade cooling, but the spike seems to have been decorative (unless you count being a holder for plumes as useful). I once heard that a spike signified the wearer had a sword while a bobble signified another weapon (e.g. grenade or artillery) or no weapon at all, so it may have also had a signalling effect – Henry Aug 17 '16 at 10:03
  • There was also the Eagle that I think some cavalry units (at least) wore on top of their helmets. – SMS von der Tann Aug 17 '16 at 11:55
  • 2
    It is possible that the helmet was impractical in the trench but had no value (neither practical nor impractical) outside the trench (perhaps like a cape in zero gravity). If nothing else, the spike meant that the wearer had to be lower in the trench in order to be concealed. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 17 '16 at 14:48
  • 1
    For more information on the German spiked helmets: militarytrader.com/military-trader-news/…. It was more of a fashion statement than a practical development. – Peter Diehr Aug 17 '16 at 17:00
23

Helmet spikes and flanges were originally intended to deflect saber blows. Those on the Pickelhaube are somewhat stylized, but they still served the original purpose. Source: German Wikipedia.

I thought I remembered something similar from the English Civil War, but a bit of googling got me nothing.

  • Probably think twice before using the pommel of the sword too. I dont think there were many Cavalry charges after the Crimean War (1853?) although the German Wehrmacht could never have invaded Soviet Russia with hundreds of thousands of horses...which they did have and used right up to the Fall of 1944. Not as Cavalry of course. – Doctor Zhivago Aug 17 '16 at 20:55
  • 5
    @user14394: Cavalry attacks happened as late as 1939, when -- in the Battle of Krasnobród -- German 8th Infantry Division met with the 25th Greater Poland Uhlan Regiment. As the 8th Inf. Div. had an organic cavalry unit of their own, which joined the battle, this went down as one of the last cavalry-on-cavalry engagements in history. But yes, the advent of the machine gun (and effective artillery...) heralded the cavalry era. – DevSolar Aug 18 '16 at 9:22
  • 1
    In the trenches, bunkers they look awfully impractical. – CsBalazsHungary Aug 31 '16 at 7:49
7

The main utility of spiked helmets is against cavalry, specifically to deflect sabers being swung from "overhead."

Its value basically declined over the course of the 19th century, as the growing ease and efficacy of using rifles made cavalry obsolete (as opposed to mounted infantry). In the early 20th century, it had no utility in the trenches, where cavalry was worse than useless.

4

The Great War has a short segment on "the spikey helmets".

The original Pickelhaube was made out of hardened leather. As WWI progressed and Germany experienced shortages, thin steel, tin, felt, even paper was used. As you can imagine, this wasn't much use as a helmet in a modern war. They were expensive, fragile, uncomfortable, and didn't offer much protection against bullets and shrapnel.

The cover had the regiment's number on it for identification.

It was gradually replaced with the cheaper and far more practical steel Stahlelm in 1916.

Did it have any combat value? Prior to WWI shrapnel and head wounds were less of a problem, and hardened leather could turn away a saber blow. WWI brought lavish use of machine guns, snipers, and artillery and suddenly a fancy leather hat was next to useless.

The metal spike was purely for show. It was probably copied from Russian helmets and originally had a horsehair plume.

Tsarist Russian Pickelhauben, with detachable plumes, mid 19th century

Tsarist Russian Pickelhauben, with detachable plumes, mid 19th century Source

  • 2
    More likely, the Russian version was copied from the German. – Felix Goldberg Feb 27 '17 at 14:01
1

Similar spiked helmets were used in many armies as part of full dress uniforms and less often as part of field uniforms. As Schewm's post says, the Pickelhaube was probably copied from similar Russian Spiked helmets.

Some of these images show US army spiked helmets.

https://www.google.com/search?q=uS+army+spiked+helmets&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjPhPrU4svOAhWFOiYKHVPJAREQsAQIHQ&biw=2560&bih=1826&dpr=0.51

Here is a sculpture of a US army Indian scout in full dress uniform from about 1890. Obviously Indian scouts would not wear full dress uniforms with spiked helmets while scouting or in battle.

http://www.planetfigure.com/threads/us-indian-scout-1890.60330/2

So the Pickelhaube style spiked helmets were mainly used for show in the US army and were not part of field dress for combat, even if the soldiers in the German and some other European armies with stricter uniform regulations might have worn them in combat.

The main practical use for Pickelhaube style spiked helmets was to attract voluntary enlistments as part of fancy full dress uniforms, which was more important in the British and American armies because they relied on voluntary enlistment instead of the draft up until WWI (except for 1863-1865 in the US Civil War).

1

Without doubt, originally to deflect sword blows to the skull. A very old practice. Finally, it became decorative with spikes being detachable for use of the helmet in combat, by which time the helmet was probably just a means of identification.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 1
    But, I do have doubt.... – CGCampbell Mar 26 '18 at 13:13
  • 2
    Hey Peter! Welcome to Stack Exchange! Feel free to check out our help center for some more information about how to answer questions. Here at Stack Exchange, we like to provide sources for our answers so others can check them and provide critique, etc. You can edit your answer to make it clearer by using the "edit" button in the bottom left corner of your answer. Welcome and thanks for joining Stack Exchange! – 米凯乐 Mar 26 '18 at 13:23
0

As pretty much every other response has said, they were used to deflect saber blows. Though they were useful in years prior, the onset of trench warfare rendered them useless in almost all regards. They were costly, ineffective, uncomfortable, and outclassed by the newer Stalhelm for practicality. There is rumor that the spike was used as a last resort weapon (for ramming), but this would have been very impractical and outright harmful to the wearer. While ramming, you would only see the ground, the impact would severely damage your neck, and it wasn't nearly sharp or long enough to have a effect besides -possibly- stunning the target. Even if this did happen, you would likely be in more of a daze from all the force of the blow on your neck.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.