The first steel helmet to be used in the Bulgarian army was the German M-16.
In the First World War Kingdom Bulgaria was an ally of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire
The delivery of helmets from Germany started probably in 1917 /see the pictures below - in the summer of 1917 the helmets were already in the army/. The total of helmets delivered from Germany in WWI was 170 000 /according to the book of Ludwig Baer/. BTW, in WWI in the Bulgarian army were mobilized 1 million men.
M-16 or M-18??? - I vote for M-16. According to me, the helmets delivered to Bulgaria were M-16, not M-18. I have a few, also I have seen several more - all M-16 without exceptions, not even a single M-18. Even if M-18 have been delivered, this must have been in a very small number.
The M-16 were in both versions - with M-16 liner /leather liner ring/ and with the so-called M-17 /metal liner ring/. The helmets were not only German, but also Austrian - the Austrian version of M-16, named usually as M-17, with the chinstrap post rived situated higher than on the German M-16. But the highest number were German.
Markings - so far I have seen only 4 manufacturer markings on M-16 helmets in Bulgaria. First of all, ET /Eisenhuttenwerk Thale, Harz/ and Si /Eisenhuttenwerk Schlesien, Paruschowitz/ Oberschlesien/ - these two are on most of the helmets, seems these were the main manufacturers of the "Bulgarian delivery". Also have seen only one of each of these - BF /F.C. Bellinger, Fulda/ and TJ /C. Thiel & Söhne, - Lübeck/. And also helmets without markings - the Austrian.
The following pictures represent Bulgarian WWI soldiers with German M-16 helmets, the Southern Balkan front, 1917 /click tumbnail to see full size image/
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The Bulgarian WWI helmets /probably not all/ had this seal inside the crown. The text reads: SOFIA, BULGARIAN ARMY, 1917
I have not seen on pictures any decals or emblems on the Bulgarian WWI helmets, though the 3-colour may have been introduced in the very end of the war... still reseaching...
After WWI / In WWII
After the WWI there were heavy restrictions for the Bulgarian army by the Nieuille peace treaty from 1919 - it was reduced to only 33 000 men /including the border guard!/. All the weapons were restricted accordingly to this number /and even lower/. I think that the number of the helmets may had been reduced accordingly, too, and this maybe led to the need of a new helmet in the mid-30's, when little by little the army restrictions were overcome and the number of soldiers increased.
After WWI the M-16 remained the only helmet on service, until in 1936-37 was introduced the new M-36.
Postwar the color remained the same, only on the right side was applied a decal - a shield in the National colors - white-green-red, with a black border. Till 1936 the shield was hand-painted, the new M-36 came with real decal - same shield with black border, but a little bigger.
Even after the new M-36 was introduced, the WWI helmets remained on strength and were used in WWII. However they were in a much smaller number, compared to the newer M36 helmet.
In the 30's /possible started in the 20's/ a big number of the M-16 helmets got their liners and chinstraps replaced with new ones. The liners were mainly M-36 type. I have pictures of officers from the Military of H.M. School in Sofia, whose helmets already have new chinstraps in 1935 /will scan someday/. The chinstraps were now two-piece construction, attached to D-rings /on some German M-16 the original M95 round chinstrap posts were removed and D-rings riveted instead/. However some helmets preserved their original liners and chinstraps.
|A very interesting picture - there are big white skulls & bones painted on the front of the helmets! This sign was put on helmets used in the ShZO /School for Reserve Officers/ in Sofia, appears on pictures from about 1930-31. /click on the picture to see full size/|
|The picture on the background - 1935, king Boris III inspecting Bulgarian officers. All they have M-16 helmets /the chinstrap rivet in the lower part of the shell seen well on many helmets/. To the right of the king - prince Kiril, behind them - general Lukov and others /click on picture to see full size/|
|Bulgarian soldiers with M-16 helmets. End of 1944 or 1945, the front in the Western Balkans. /Click on the picture to see full size/|
Postwar the good old M-16 remained on service. Probably a number of the helmets were "retired", but many remained in the military stores and were used or just kept as reserve. During the years the liners and chinstraps were many times replaced and the shells repainted. In fact, in 2003 the last examples of these helmets are still on strength in the Bulgarian army! Here are some pictures of a M-16 in original 30's condition /the first 2 pictures/ and of postwar repainted-relinered helmets: /click to see bigger image/
By the way, all the 3-color decals on the Bulgarian helmets /no matter hand-painted or real decal applied/ had the color bands not horizontal, but tilted to the left. All... without this that I saw not long ago:
Original 30's hand-painted decal on a M-16 helmet.