Interesting Ballistic Helmet Stories

Interesting Ballistic Helmet Stories

September 04, 2018

The best tactical helmet stories, from World War II to the Swiss Guard

You’re all experts on law enforcement grant-writing now, and are probably waiting as we speak for that grant check to arrive- hopefully to purchase some brand-new ATE ballistic helmets. We think you deserve a break after all this practical learning, and so we are going to bring you a couple of interesting tactical-helmet-related stories we’ve found around the web. At Hard Head Veterans, we live and breathe tactical helmets, but even we are surprised by the range of stories we find that prominently feature them. The ways they have developed and been used over time is surprising and enlightening. We hope you’ll find these stories as great as we do.

A friend with beer is a friend so dear

The Battle of the Bulge is one of the most famous battles of World War II- this fierce fight in the Ardennes forest of Belgium was the deadliest single battle for American forces in the war, and was Germany’s last-gasp attempt to achieve victory at the western front. The fighting at Bastogne was memorably dramatized in HBO’s Band of Brothers series (hm, maybe we should we have listed that in our post on famous helmets in cinema). We justly remember the courage and skill shown by the soldiers who held strong against the German offensive. However, one man’s contribution has not achieved enough recognition- in the United States, at least.

Vince Speranza visiting Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska in 2013. Photo credit: Jeffrey Smith, U.S. Army.

Vince Speranza was serving in Bastogne in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, which like many units in the battle took heavy casualties in the fighting. At one point he visited a wounded buddy, Joe Willis, who had been evacuated to a local church for medical treatment. When asked if there was anything he needed, Willis said he would like a drink. So, Speranza searched around the bombed-out buildings of Bastogne until he found an abandoned tavern, and rummaging around inside he realized that one of the beer taps was still working. So, like any resourceful GI, he filled his M1 helmet with beer and brought it back to the church. When other soldiers saw what he had brought back they asked for beer for themselves, so he made several trips to refill his helmet at the tavern. Speranza would have continued had a doctor not told him to stop for fear that the beer would further injure some of the men. Personally, we think access to beer would be a big improvement for most hospitals, but that’s why we aren’t doctors!

The story doesn’t end there. Like millions of his brothers-in-arms, Speranza went back to a normal life in the United States, but never forgot his time in Belgium. When he went back to Bastogne for the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, he told his story to a couple of Dutch and Belgian soldiers, who were astonished. It turns out that the story of the GI who brought beer to the wounded had become a legend in Europe, to the extent that a brewery in Bastogne made their own Airborne beer as a tribute. Airborne beer features a GI with a helmet sloshing full of beer, and of course is served in a small ceramic replica helmet.

A bottle of Airborne beer and the ceramic helmet to drink it from. Photo Credit: De Pinte Imports.

We’ve heard stories in the past of soldiers putting their M1 helmet to a variety of uses besides protecting their heads. Soldiers used it as a substitute tool when the tool they actually needed wasn’t available, and it was surprisingly versatile. One could use it as a hammer, to drive stakes in the ground, or as a shovel, to dig trenches. It also served as a washing basin, a cooking pot, and grossly enough, a last-resort latrine ifor soldiers pinned down in foxholes or trenches. Before learning about Vince Speranza’s innovative helmet adaptations, we had never imagined it being used as a beer glass. If you’re looking for a helmet to drink beer out of, we recommend Hard Head Veterans’ MICH helmet. The extra ear coverage allows the helmet to hold more liquid compared with the cutaway ATE helmet. Legal disclaimer: This is actually a bad idea. Please do not use your helmet as a drinking vessel. Check out the video below of Vince Speranza telling his story in his own words.

Video credit: Spartan Vigil


A new helmet, for less trying times

Modern militaries are constantly looking for ways to improve their protective gear. The United States’ armed services have gone through several different helmets since the M1917, with each new helmet containing improvements in design and materials to meet the needs of contemporary warfare. By contrast, we’ve found a modern military that bucks this trend, and is responding to the much diminished needs of its soldiers by implementing a serious technological downgrade.

The Swiss Guard's new helmet on display. Photo Credit: WENN.COM/IPB.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard is the pope’s personal army, and swear an oath to protect the pope’s life with their own if necessary. It’s much like the American Secret Service, except that recruitment is limited to Catholic Swiss men under the age of thirty who have completed basic training for the Swiss Army. Accordingly, it’s a small army- the smallest army in the world at 135 soldiers. It is also one of the oldest standing militaries in existence, having existed in some form or another since medieval times. As the importance of the pope to European politics has diminished over the centuries, so has the role of the Swiss Guard, so that today its role is largely ceremonial.

Visitors to Vatican City will recall the sight of the Guardsmen standing outside with antiquated striped uniforms, halberds, and large metal helmets. As of this summer, this will no longer be the case. The Swiss Guard has commissioned a new helmet to deal with the challenges facing the modern Guardsman. Notable design features include a switch in materials- the new helmet is made of PVC pipe, to lighten both the weight of the helmet and its cost. It is also UV-resistant, to protect the Guardsmen from the sun while on duty. It must be nice to be in an army whose main concern is sunlight and equipment being too heavy...


A Swiss Guard wearing the older metal helmet greets Pope Francis. Photo Credit: AFP

We’re not sure if the Swiss Guard has submitted their new PVC helmet for NIJ testing, but we would love to see a side-by-side comparison of the PVC Guard helmet with the Kevlar ATE. We all know which helmet would win that fight.

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