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Old 05 September 2007, 03:43 AM
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Military WWI British Combat Helmet brain teaser

Comment: I was given a "brain teaser" recently by a co-worker. It involves
a WWI British Combat Helmet....I assume the Brodie Helmet.

Briefly, it goes:

At the beginning of WWI, the uniform of the British soldiers included a
cloth cap, but no helmet. As the war progressed the British War office
became alarmed at the number of head injuries. It was decided to replace
the cloth headgear with metal helmets.

However, the War Office was amazed to discover that the incident of head
injuries increased. It can be assumed that the intensity of fighting
remained the same, so why should the number of recorded head injuries per
battalion increase when the men wore helmets instead of cloth caps?

This was posed to me as a "True Story", although I can find no reference
to an increase in head injuries after the introduction of helmets in WWI
for British soldiers.

I was hoping you could shed some light on whether or not this is a "true
story" or not.
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  #2  
Old 05 September 2007, 03:52 AM
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Because the helmets were more visible than cloth caps and therefore offered better targets to the enemy? Because they led soldiers to think they were better protected and therefore led them into taking greater risks? Because the helmets themselves caused injuries when their edges were struck by bullets or shrapnel that might otherwise have missed the head?

- snopes
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Old 05 September 2007, 04:03 AM
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Slightly unrelated but I've heard (okay from my late uncle who was in the RASC, and not the most reliable of sources)* and am not quite sure of the veracity of this, that soldiers in WWII, and possibly WWI were instructed not to use the chinstraps on their helmets in a battle situation - the rationale being that if there was a nearby explosion but not near enough to kill or maim the soldier directly, the pressure wave would blow an unstrapped helmet off of a soldiers head with little damage , but under the same conditions wearing the chinstrap the chinstrap would rip the soldiers head off, or cause severe neck injuries.

I am not in any way denigrating the man, he was a great bloke, but from reports he never saw front line action in WWII, and his primary objective during WWII seemed to be stealing as much stuff from the army as possible and taking it home for the family. Mostly food, which I supppose was excuseable under the circumstances.

Last edited by Eddylizard; 05 September 2007 at 04:15 AM. Reason: Edit he was in the RASC not the REME
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Old 05 September 2007, 02:11 PM
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The answer is simple.

When soldiers wore cloth helmets any round fired at their head had a very good chance of penetrating the cloth helmet with enough force to kill said unlucky soldier. When they switched to armored helmets, said rounds were slowed or deflected resulting in injuries, but not deaths.

In other words, the same amount of people were being shot in the head, but more of them were only wounded, thus increasing the number of head injuries.

No idea if its true, but that's the answer you're supposed to come up with.
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  #5  
Old 05 September 2007, 02:37 PM
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Which is false then. The number of head injuries did not increase, it's simply that the number of fatal head injuries decreased. A head injury is a head injury no matter if fatal or superficial.
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Old 05 September 2007, 02:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobDBlackwolf View Post
Which is false then. The number of head injuries did not increase, it's simply that the number of fatal head injuries decreased. A head injury is a head injury no matter if fatal or superficial.
It is recorded head injuries which are at question. Given the sheer scale of the carnage in WWI it may be that no-one actually bothered to record the exact cause of battlefield deaths - be it a headshot, chest shot or standing in the wrong place when a shell landed. It would just be recorded as a death.

In the case of soldiers who were injured and taken to a hospital, the records about the nature of their injuries might have been more detailed.

Last edited by Eddylizard; 05 September 2007 at 02:59 PM.
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  #7  
Old 05 September 2007, 02:50 PM
Malruhn Malruhn is offline
 
 
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It depends on how you spin it.
Quote:
100 soldiers shot in head: 90 die, 10 wounded.

Add new helmet.

100 soldiers shot in head: 10 die, 90 wounded.

OMFGWTFBBQ!?!?! Head wounds have gone up 800% The helmets must be unsafe!!
This is akin to the new body armor in Iraq/Afghanistan. The numbers of wounded - and permenantly disabled - personnel skyrocketed due to the better protection for the head and torso. Yeah, DEATHS dropped, but the percentage of wounded soldiers went up. Same skewed representation as the OP.
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Old 05 September 2007, 04:01 PM
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I've heard exactly the same story, but with the Germans as the subjects of the story.
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  #9  
Old 05 September 2007, 04:21 PM
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Anything that I've ever read indicates that head injuries were greatly reduced after the introduction of the steel helmet. I believe the whole premise of this discussion is flawed.
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  #10  
Old 05 September 2007, 05:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hotrod View Post
Anything that I've ever read indicates that head injuries were greatly reduced after the introduction of the steel helmet. I believe the whole premise of this discussion is flawed.
An armored helmet will be better at protecting your noggin than a cloth one, I don't think anyone disagrees. The solution to the brain teaser aspect of the question makes sense though if you consider the fact that no one is going to bother recording the death of a soldier as "John Doe, dead, head wound." It would have simply been recorded as "John Doe, KIA."

OTOH, a patient in a military hospital WOULD specifically be listed as having received a head wound. Ergo, the reports of head wounds would go up because the head shot soldier wearing a cloth helmet would die, whereas the one in the Armored helmet would merely be wounded.

Its more of a lateral thinking puzzle than an actual discussion on the merits of wrapping your thinking parts in armor before letting people shoot at you.
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  #11  
Old 05 September 2007, 06:05 PM
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Hmmmm....

I remember reading somewhere that orthopedic and vascular surgeons were seeing horrific leg wounds in Emergency Rooms in the last decade or so due to people who would otherwise have been killed surviving car accidents because of airbags, but sustaining leg injuries that no one had lived through before.

Now I'm wondering if that's just a repackaging of this UL.
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Old 05 September 2007, 06:09 PM
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Perhaps the original riddle was more along the lines of

"However, the War Office was amazed to discover that the number of soldiers hospitalised with head injuries massively increased"

And as it's been passed around the wording has changed in a way which causes the riddle to make less sense?
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  #13  
Old 05 September 2007, 06:39 PM
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There is a comparable one a friend of mine likes to repeat: the introduction of high-velocity ammunition in the Russo-Japanese war, along with better battlefield medicine, led to our better understanding of human brain function: this was because the bullet sometimes passed right through the skull, so cleanly as to leave the victim alive. Doctors noticed that victims who had lost (for example) the occipital lobe of the brain had become blind, even though their eyes and optic nerves were untouched. Soon, enough evidence was amassed to demonstrate that this was where the brain processed visual images.

Silas
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Old 06 September 2007, 12:42 AM
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Bullet wounds certainly are one way that neuroanatomists research brain function. I have been told they used to be a lot more useful that a lot of other brain trauma for this because the lesion was easily localised. Now, with the advent of better scanning technology, other research methods seem to be yielding good results, without waiting for someone to survive a gunshot wound to the head.

me
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  #15  
Old 06 September 2007, 01:04 AM
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There is also the issue of retrieval of killed and injured from the battlefield. As I understand it in WW1 the nature of the trench warfare meant that retrieval was largely restricted to injured rather than killed*. This would mean that those killed by head wounds would be MIA.

Dropbear

*Currently looking for cites for this.
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  #16  
Old 06 September 2007, 01:09 AM
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to me injured means you got hurt, but you are still alive. If you are dead then you are not hurt -- you are beyond pain.

So yeah, I think that is the answer -- there were more people hurt after the metal helmet
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  #17  
Old 06 September 2007, 08:36 AM
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Not that it matters a great deal in terms of the original question, but everyone's talking about gunshot wounds – these are not (primarily) what the helmets were protecting people from.

The reason that WWI soldiers were not initially issued helmets is that it was well-known that modern firearms had made personal armour obsolete (within the technology of the time, of course – no kevlar etc). A steel helmet that could reliably stop a bullet would be too heavy to wear – and a soldier was more likely to be shot in the torso anyway, so what was the point?

But soldiers in WWI were soon spending the majority of their time below ground level in trenches, dugouts and tunnels. Large numbers were dying, not from rounds shot at them, but from objects falling from above: shrapnel, debris, collapsing tunnels – the sort of hazards that were more associated with mines and construction sites than battlefields. These were the injuries that the helmets were designed to protect them from.

Regarding Eddylizard’s question: I have no idea whether not wearing the chin-strap was ever official policy, but what you describe was certainly a wide-spread belief among soldiers during WWII – I've seen it repeated in several memoirs and first-hand accounts.
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  #18  
Old 06 September 2007, 01:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malruhn View Post
It depends on how you spin it.


This is akin to the new body armor in Iraq/Afghanistan. The numbers of wounded - and permenantly disabled - personnel skyrocketed due to the better protection for the head and torso. Yeah, DEATHS dropped, but the percentage of wounded soldiers went up. Same skewed representation as the OP.
Actually, I would think this would be true even if "wounded" means "fatally AND nonfatally wounded." Why? For a soldier in a cloth helmet, his first brush with major brain trauma is probably his last. Who knows when his replacement will arrive? But a soldier in a helmet could sustain multiple such injuries - if he escaped with a concussion, he'd probably get thrown back on the line before his helmet stopped ringing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Troberg View Post
I've heard exactly the same story, but with the Germans as the subjects of the story.
The story I've heard about the German helmets is the reason they switched from the spiked, "Kaiser"-style helmets to the design carried over to WWII was British snipers who made a game of shooting the spikes off the tops of the old style helmets.
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  #19  
Old 06 September 2007, 02:58 PM
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Having done a bit of research on WWI soldiers, cause of death was usually not listed on any records unless the soldier died at a hospital. Soldiers who died in the trenches were just listed as Killed in Action (KIA), not KIA due to head wound.

If a soldier made it to a hospital and subsequently died, for the most part he was listed as Died of Wounds (DOW) with a basic cause, eg loss of blood, listed.

I'm not saying that this is the total case, but the records I examined for the Canadian army seemed to show this.

For total disclosure, as a teen and later when in the army, I worked at the Artillery Museum in Manitoba. It was there I got to examine the records.
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  #20  
Old 06 September 2007, 08:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Meka View Post
The story I've heard about the German helmets is the reason they switched from the spiked, "Kaiser"-style helmets to the design carried over to WWII was British snipers who made a game of shooting the spikes off the tops of the old style helmets.
While I've heard that before, the biggest reason for doing away with the old school spiked helmets was that they were not actually metal, they were almost always leather or some form of compressed fabric, though supposedly they did try thin metal helmets due to the shortage of leather. While they looked like helmets, they were really little better than the caps being worn by other armies.
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