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    Collector Topics:  Rare and Unusual - Medical Personnel Helmets

The Red Cross Brassard

German Army Sanitšter Helmets

In 1929 the Geneva Convention was signed by 47 governments which included Germany. The new agreement included provisions for the treatment of prisoners as well as the introduction of a common insignia to identify those involved in providing humanitarian care for the sick, wounded, and incapacitated,  The agreement included specific regulations regarding the use of the Red Cross brassard for military and medical personnel involved in the care of wounded both armed and civilian.  German Army (Heer) Medical Attendants (Sanitšter) were authorized to wear the red and white insignia of the Red Cross on uniforms to include combat helmets.  Insignia of this type had also been used on helmets worn during World War I.  Among the nations that did not adhere to the Geneva Convention of 1929 were Japan and the USSR.  In 1942 Japan gave a qualified promise to abide by the Geneva rules.  In 1941 the USSR announced that it would observe the terms of the Hague Convention of 1907, which did not provide (as does the Geneva Convention) for neutral inspection of prison camps, for the exchange of prisoners' names, and for correspondence with prisoners.

According to the Geneva Convention of 1929 ( Article 21, International Red Cross Convention, Geneva), the Red Cross emblem was to be worn in a fashion so that it was clearly identifiable to enemy troops.  It was the convention's intention that the Red Cross brassard was to help prevent the enemy from attacking or harming anyone (to include military personnel) involved in providing care for the sick and wounded.  In most cases, this was accomplished through the wearing of an armband bearing the Red Cross brassard.  However, steel helmets (for combatants) also bore the insignia.

During World War II, the German Army fielded more medical personnel than any of the other branches of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht).  As such, the Army authorized medical personnel serving in combat situations to paint their helmets white and to include the use of the Red Cross brassard.  No specific configuration was authorized by regulation, and as a result a variety of styles evolved for those men who cared to paint their helmets.  Medical personnel serving with the German Army were issued the standard combat helmet in the M1935, M1940, and M1942 models.  Lightweight civilian helmets, like those used by the civilian Red Cross, were also used but only in rear areas well behind the front lines.

When combat helmets were painted, they were generally sprayed or hand brushed in white paint.  This was done directly over the standard combat finish of the helmet.  In some cases the paint was ivory or tan colored based on what was available.  The Red Cross brassard was generally hand painted (sometimes spray painted although infrequent) in several positions on the steel helmet.  Few original examples exist with decal insignia in the branch service of wearer, although it is possible that some were worn.  In almost all cases, helmets configured in this manner were M1940 and M1942 models  bearing no decal insignia.  Examples worn by the Armed-SS (Waffen-SS) are few in number and most are in fact elaborate reproductions.

The potential for all combat helmets used by Army Medical Attendants to be configured in this fashion was possible, although it appears from period photographs (as well as surviving examples of original helmets) that this was rarely done.  In many cases, medical personnel simply wore standard combat helmets in order to better blend with their fighting comrades.  This was due, in part, to the fact that many Medical Attendants became the victims of enemy gunfire despite the Geneva Conventions.  The white and red configured helmet became an easy target to snipers as well as infantry who cared little for the suffering of their enemy.

The diagrams at right depict the most common configurations1 as seen in wartime photographs as well as from the inspection of original helmet examples.  Most original photographs showing men wearing these helmets are from the 1944-45 time period following the Allied invasion of Normandy.  In addition, some photographs have also been observed depicting helmets of this type worn in the Italian Theater of Combat in 1943-44.  Suffice to say, that reproductions of these helmets abound.  In fact, so many counterfeits exist that most encountered are in fact postwar modified original combat helmets made to look as those worn by Sanitšter.

See a Photo of an Original Medical Combat Helmet


Notes:

1 The vast majority of helmets configured in this manner are in fact well crafted counterfeits both new and old.  Being relatively scarce overall, those helmets configured with the Red Cross emblem should be thoroughly examined to determine if they are original.

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