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Imperial German Pickelhaube Guide
Ersatz (Substitute)
Pickelhauben 1914 - 1915
In Aug 1914 the declaration of war resulted in the mobilization of the armies of the German-speaking contingents fighting together as the Imperial German Army. With mobilization for a modern war, the German Armies found themselves unable to quickly equip millions of soldiers. A shortage of cow hide from Argentina combined with the excessive draw upon German industry to outfit the massive army being mobilized, resulted in a severe shortage of leather for manufacturing Pickelhauben. To meet with this immediate shortage, the Germans began in 1914 manufacturing helmets from Ersatz (substitute) materials.

As the felt hat manufacturing industry was well established in Germany for hundreds of years, the hat industry stepped in to fill the void by producing Pickelhaube out of pressed and blocked felt manufactured from rabbit fur or shredded wool. One advantage to the Filzhelme (felt helmets) was that they were normally pressed from one-piece of felt which significantly reduced production time. Other industries met the challenge by producing helmets from Eisenblech (tin plate), Stahlblech (steel), Vulcanfibre (pressed fiber), cork, pressed paper, and other materials. Helmets can be found with brass or silver fittings and eventually M1915 grey steel fittings as the M1915 Pickelhaube was introduced. Surviving examples of Ersatz Pickelhauben can be found with or without front visor trims, rear spines, or Kokarden.
These Ersatz-Helme (substitute helmets) were intended to fill the need for helmets until the leather shortage and manufacturing was able to meet demand. When the supply of leather helmets met the demand, the Ersatz helmets were withdrawn from front line use, however, rear area troops wore them well into the war. Below are several examples of Ersatz-Helme (substitute helmets). Please see the Feldgrau Helmets Gallery in Kaiser's Bunker for more examples and detailed photos of the Ersatz examples shown below.
Ersatz Preußen Infantry Eisenblech (tin plate) Pickelhaube
The Eisenblech Ersatz-Helme resemble the M1895 Pickelhaube and are often referred to as tin "kit helmets" as they were supplied to units in parts to be assembled. These helmets were contracted 14 October 1914 by the firm Weissenburger in Stuttgart-Cannstadt. The Eisenblech (tin plate) Pickelhaubes consist of a black lacquered helmet shell with seperate front and rear visors that are slid onto a raised rib and held on with bent tabs. The metal for the shell is quite thin and would offer little more protection than the leather Pickelhaube it was destined to augment. At first glance, it appears that regular M1895 fittings are mated to a tin shell, but Eisenblech Pickelhaube have several very unique features. The brads for holding on the spike base are artificial and are actually pressed into the spike base, while the spike itself is pressed onto the helmet skull. The rear spine stops short of the spike base and is void of the M1895 sliding vent.
As well, these helmets have an interesting "barrel" method for attaching the Wappen (front plate) onto the helmet rather than the standard loops on the rear of the Wappen. This unique pattern of pressed spike and tube-mounted eagle fittings are also found occasionally on Filz (felt) helmets.
Ersatz Bayern Model 1915 Infantry Eisenblech (tin plate) Pickelhaube.
This pattern of Eisenblech Ersatz-Helme was contracted in 1914 by Bing A.G. and closely resembles the pre-war Pickelhaube. Unlike the Preußen version, the Bing helmet is pressed from one piece of metal. The Wappen (front plate), spike, base, side M91 posts, front visor, and studs on the front visor are identical to those used on the leather Pickelhaube. The liner is similar to a standard leather Pickelhaube, but attached to the shell with split brads with an additional felt strip for comfort between the liner and the helmet shell. There is no rear spine on this pattern of helmet. This example uses 1915 steel fittings and refutes the theory that the Bayern Eisenblech (tin plate) Pickelhaube were only produced with gilt fittings.
Ersatz Preußen Infantry Stahlblech (steel) Pickelhaube.
The Stahlblech Ersatz-Helme differs from the Eisenblech (tin plate) Pickelhaube as the helmet is pressed from one sheet of steel. Front and rear visors are part of the pressing and are not separate pieces. These helmets often show evidence of being turned on a lathe by the circular patterns found on the shell as with this example. As these helmets were structurally quite strong, there was no need for the reinforcing front visor trim or rear spine. In lieu of the front visor trim, the entire bottom edge has been rolled-over to form a beaded edge, a feature later used on the M1916 Steel Helmet which replaced the Pickelhaube. The helmet has been painted an olive-green and the brass fittings have been chemically darkened. The liner is similar to a standard leather Pickelhaube, but attached to the shell with split brads.
The single-piece pressing of the shell to include the front and rear visors is clearly visible in this photo of a soldier wearing a Stahlblech Ersatz-Helme.
Photo used with the kind permission of
Tim Lewis
Ersatz Model 1895 Preußen cloth-covered Filzhelme (felt helmets)
These helmets are often incorrectly identified as cork helmets but this manufacturer covered a Filzhelm in khaki cloth on the exterior and visor undersides, but the interior of the skull is exposed felt.

It appears that this pattern of Ersatz Pickelhaube was made by only one manufacturer, as surviving examples in museums or private collections are identical in every aspect, with an Ersatz Leather trim (cloth that has been coated on one side) sewn completely around the circumference of the visors.
In this photo, a NCO in the Bayern (Bavarian) Infanterie-Leib-Regt. (München) wears a black-painted Ersatz Stahlblech (steel) Pickelhaube. The fittings on this Pickelhaube would have been silver.
Ersatz Bayern (Bavaria) Filzhelm (felt helmet)
Ersatz felt Pickelhaube were initially manufactured in 1914 with identical fittings in silver or brass as the M1895 Pickelhaube, with front visor trim, rear spine, etc. As the Filzhelm Pickelhaube was constructed from pressed and blocked rabbit felt, it afforded no practical head protection. The liner is manufactured similar to a standard leather Pickelhaube but sewn into the shell. Filzhelme are usually found pressed from one piece, but occasionally with separately sewn on felt visors.

The liners in Ersatz Filzhelms are set up slightly different than regular leather Pickelhauben;. on an Ersatz Filzhelm, the liner is stitched inside the shell and then only folded once to get it inside the helmet. On a leather Pickelhaube, the liner is stitched inside-out on the outside of the shell then folded down and inward to the inside the helmet.
Simplified Ersatz Model 1895 Preußen Filzhelme (felt helmets)
As the war progressed, Fitlzhelme began to be manufactured without the front visor trim or the rear spine. These omissions make the helmet quite fragile and few helmets in this configuration have survived in good condition. Later examples were pressed from much thicker felt and are actually quite stiff and robust; but they remained exceptionally poor protection against shrapnel which resulted in countless head wounds.
Ersatz "Rolled Edge" Filzhelme (felt helmets)
This example was manufactured as a Model 1895 with brass fittings, but without front visor trim or rear spine. To reinforce the body and add strength, the manufacturer rolled and sewed the entire circumference of the bottom edge which helps the Pickelhaube retain it's shape.
Ersatz Model 1915 Preußen Filzhelme (felt helmets)
As the M1915 Pickelhaube was introduced, Filzhelme began to be fitted with the M1915 grey steel fittings to replace the silver and brass fittings worn to that time. In an effort to utilize all available supplies, some manufacturers mixed pre-1915 brass fittings with 1915 steel fittings by painting all the fittings a matching grey. This example was manufactured as a standard M1915 with identical fittings as the M1915 leather Pickelhaube, with front visor trim, rear spine, etc. Most examples encountered have front visor trim and rear spines as the removal of them as in the example above made the helmet too fragile.
Other Ersatz Ersatz-Helme
Beginning in 1914, all arms received Ersatz-Helme (substitute helmets) until helmet supplies could meet demand. Husaren Pelzmütze (Busby) are found with felt or cork bodies instead of seal fur, Kürassier and Schweres Reiter Metalhelme appear pressed from sheet steel with artificial rivets, and Jäger and Schützen Tschako (Shako) were made from rabbit felt or oilcloth.
Ersatz Model 1899 Preußen Filz Tschako (Shako) marked to Telegraphen-Bataillon Nr.2. The Tschako has the identical parts as the leather Model 1899, with German silver Wappen, M91 pattern posts & chinstrap, blackened air vents on the sides and a standard Preußen cloth Feldzeichen. As with all original Filz Tschako, there is no trim on the front or rear visors.
Period photographs reveal that most contingents that worn Tschako prior to 1914 also adopted Ersatz Filz Tschako, as shown by this photo of a Bayern (Bavarian) Jäger.
Photo used with the kind permission of
Tim Lewis
Beginning in 1914, all arms received Ersatz-Helme (substitute helmets) until helmet supplies could meet demand. Ulanen Tschapka are found made from Eisenblech (tin plate) or from rabbit felt as shown by this Preußen Ersatz Filz-Tschapka.

Only on these two patterns of Ersatz Tschapka was the squared finger liner not utilized. Ersatz Tschapka utilized rounded finger leather liners very similar to a standard Pickelhaube. Surviving original felt examples have metal visor trim.
Ersatz Pelzmützen
Ersatz Pelzmützen (Busbies) were produced from Filz (rabbit felt) or cloth covered stiffened paper until leather supplies could meet demand. Surviving original examples are found with either pre-1915 brass or silver fittings, or with grey steel M1915 fittings. This wonderful photo shows a Husar from a Leib Husaren Regt wearing a Filz Ersatz Pelzmütze with an issued cloth Überzug (cover).
Photo used with the kind permission of
Robin Lumsden
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