Military Sun Helmets of the World
By Peter Suciu and Stuart Barnes
Published by Naval and Military Press ( www.naval-military-press.com)
The sun helmet, better known as the “Pith helmet”, grew out of necessity when the British were serving in India and it was effectively born in the conflicts of the nineteenth century. The British military realised that headwear giving protection from the extreme sun of the Indian climate was essential. Thus the sun helmet was developed.
The British designs served as the basis for many other nations to follow and the sun helmet is still used by some nations. It was worn in action during the numerous small nineteenth and twenty century conflicts, the two World Wars and more recent battles. It was the defining headgear of the Communist side during the Vietnam War.
The authors in this outstanding volume discuss the creation and history of the sun helmet. A number of designs were considered by the British and these styles proved to be the principal prototypes used by many other nations. They devote specific chapters to European “colonial” sun helmets and they discuss in great detail the helmets worn by the French, Germans and Italians. These (with the British) were the principal European Colonial powers and as such their forces both national and local experienced the climates where sun helmets were a necessity. The sun helmets of the Belgian, Portuguese and Spanish military were not so varied and numerous as these nations served a lesser part in the Colonial era.
American sun helmets are discussed and this chapter presents a surprising claim to fame! The Americans claim that they had the first general officer to wear a sun helmet outside of India namely by Confederate Army Brigadier General Irvin McDowell at the Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). This may have been possible as McDowell had travelled throughout India in the decade preceding the American Civil War and it is entirely feasible that he acquired some form of Anglo-Indian sun helmet.
Asian sun helmets are considered in the superb chapters on Japanese (mainly World War 2) and Vietnamese (Vietnam War) headwear. Both of these nations made their sun helmets their icon rather like the British in the South African War against the Zulus (c. 1879). The helmets also worn by South American nations are discussed and many of these were based on European designs.
The numerous illustrations help to clarify the text and provide ample opportunities to be able to compare and contrast the multitude of designs. Naturally the collector would not be able to amass a collection of all the styles of sun helmets issued by the numerous nations so the excellent photography illustrates the major variations. The authors also give advice on the care and preservation of the helmets. Overall the authors have produced an exceptional work and it is likely to become the “Bible” for sun helmet collectors throughout the English speaking world.