Most military equipment has moved on since the days of the trenches.

But a new study has revealed that World War I helmets provided as much protection from shockwaves as their modern counterparts.

The research was conducted by biomedical engineers from Duke University in North Carolina, in order to improve the strength of future models.

Remarkably, they established that a 1915 French ‘Adrian’ helmet was better at providing protection from overhead blasts than modern designs.

A French helmet from WWI  undergoing testing. The ridge  down the centre may have helped  to deflect shockwaves. Image: Joost Op ’t Eynde, Duke University.
A French helmet from WWI undergoing testing. The ridge down the centre may have helped to deflect shockwaves. Image: Joost Op’t Eynde, Duke University.

Helmets protected the wearer from bullets and shrapnel, but also shielded against powerful shockwaves produced by exploding shells.

In their tests, researchers placed several century-old helmets from Europe and the United States, as well as current models, underneath a tube that uses pressurised helium to create shockwaves of varying strengths.

While all helmets reduced the risk of brain damage, a WWI ‘Adrian’ helmet proved to be safer than modern combat equipment.

Commenting on the findings, Joost Op’t Eynde, a biomedical engineering PhD student at Duke University and the first author of the study, said:

‘The main difference is that the French helmet had a crest on top of its crown. While it was designed to deflect shrapnel, this feature might also be deflecting shockwaves.’

The research into the damage caused by shockwaves is a relatively recent development. There is not currently a helmet in use that is designed specifically for blast protection.

This article was published in the April 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.




Leave a Reply