King Boris III, from the cover of the TIME magazine, 1941. Click to see larger image
In the mid 30's, overcoming the post-WWI restrictions, the Bulgarian army faced the need for a new helmet. This was the M-36. The delivery of these helmets started probably in 1936, for sure on the Bravery Day /May 6/ military parade in 1937, the Bulgarian soldiers wore the M-36 helmets /pictures to come.../
The M-36 helmets came in 3 versions - named A, B and C type /plus some extras like aluminum lightweight type A and short-visored type C, probably reworked from Czech M-32???? - see below for more information/. Maybe because of the 3 different manufacturers that produced the helmets, maybe the Bulgarian military requirements changed... Maybe a bit of all. The difference almost for sure is by manufacturer, but also it is chronological - on the earlier pictures always are well seen the big liner rivets, characteristic for the A and B types. And on pictures after 1940-41 can be seen the C-type of the M-36.
Now about the manufacturers, seems these helmets were produced by 3 factories:
- Sandrik - Dolne Hamre, Slovakia
- Bruder Gottlieb und Brauchbar - Brun, Moravia /Bratri G&B - Brno, Czechia/ - in older times they produced M-17 helmets for the Austro-Hungarian army
- Eisenhuttenwerk Thale - Thale, Harz, Germany - Also a WWI-time helmet maker. And a major helmet producer in WWII, too. /According to P. Marzetti/
Unfortunately the Bulgarian M36 helmet shells do not have markings at all. No size, no manufacturer. Only the liners have pressed or ink stamp for the size. Mentioning liners, I have a strong clue that they may have been made here, in Bulgaria. On original A and C-type liners I have seen a small circle /pressed in the leather, not ink stamp/ with the cyrillic letters DSF - that's the State Military Factory at the town of Kazanlak. So seems Bulgaria delivered helmet shells /probably already with chinstraps/ and liners were added in the local military factories /the metal parts for the liners may be from abroad too, because for example the A-type liner rivets are typical Czech/. Saying already with chinstraps, because the A/B-type chinstrap is Czech, the so-called "Berndorfer" type, the two buckles on it are 100% identical to the ones on the Czech M-30 helmet.
The M36 type A has rolled edge. The liner is attached directly to the shell with 4 big-headed rivets. Inside the rivets have washers. The liner has metal ring, painted green. The chinstrap is attached to D-rings, riveted at the sides of the helmet. The shinstrap is one-piece construction, "Berndorfer" type, with two buckles for the lenght, one on each side. One buckle is sliding, the other one is "biting". The middle part of the chinstrap is wider and split, to fit better to the chin ofthe soldier. The air vents /seen from inside/ are attached in a way similar to the M-16. Same for all M36 types. The A-type - and the B-type - helmets were painted in dark, flat /non-grainy/ gray-green paint, with the 3-color decal on the right side. Again for the liner - I think that the liners of the A and B-type M36 helmets were made locally, in Bulgaria. The clue - on many original liners can be found a small manufacturer mark pressed/stamped in the leather - a small circle and the cyrillic letters for DVF in it. DVF - the abbreviation of the Darjavna Voenna Fabrika /State Military Factory/ in the town of Kazanlak. It used to produce gas masks, leather items and many other equipment before and during the WWII. Here are the DVF markings on A and on C-type liners: /click on thumbnail to see larger image/
The M36 type A had also a lightweight parade version, made of aluminum! Here it is - looks exactly like an A-type, with rolled edge, big liner rivets, sale liner, same split chinstrap... But is made of aluminum! Also the liner ring is made not of iron, bul aluminum. And the liner and chinstrap are made of better leather, a little thinner and softer, compared to the ordinary A-type. The colour was the same like on the ordinary A-type /mine is repainted outside/
The B-type is all the same like the A-type - only with two differences. First of all, the B-type does not have rolled edge. Also, there are two sub-types of the B-type - the first has 4 liner rivets /exactly like the A-type/, the second sub-type has 3 liner rivets - two on the front and only one on the rare, situated in the center of the back side, like on the German M-16. /one rivet missing on the helmet pictured.... no matter/
The C-type is much different than the first two. It has straight /not rolled edge/, different liner, different lining system, different chinstrap. Unlike the A and B-type, the liner of the C-type is not attached directly to the shell. What I mean - there are 4 tin strips, "fingers", that are attached in one end to the metal liner ring and with the other end to the helmet shell. This way the C-type liner rivets are situated much lower, just over the helmet edge, and also these rivets are much, much smaller, compared to the A/B-type rivets. The C-type chinstrap is two-piece construction. The number of the buckling holes varies with the length of the strap. The buckle is flat, painted green. The chinstrap is attached to the D-rings in a way similar to the German WWII M35 chinstraps - two slits in the strap, a two-headed aluminum rivet going through them like a button. So the chinstrap is removable. Any other type - riveted, sewn, etc. to the D-ring - is later replacement. The C-type helmets originally comes with two type liners - 1. made of one piece of leather, and 2. made of multiple pieces /a leather "board" to which are sewn the "tongues", each of which is a separate piece/. DFV markings are seen on both typec C-liners.
The M36 C-type helmets seems were produced in largest numbers. Also, maybe in several series, because can be seen in several colour shades. All are variations of the gray-green color, but yet quite different. First of all, there are C-type helmets painted in the dark, "flat" gray green, typical for the A and B types. More usual is the grainy, mixed with some kind of dust gray-green paint - varying from dark gray-green, through quite light gray-green, reaching a color which I would call nearly grass-green.
And here is an interesting inkstamp that recently discovered on the liner of a M-36C. A big Bulgarian National Emblem /the royal one, WWII and pre-WWII/, around it written "Kingdom Bulgaria, Heavy AA Battery "White Sea"". In fact it is either 1st Heavy.... or 4th Heavy... - but can not read the number well. /click to see larger image/
Also, there is one more type of M36C, I will name it M36cX until find a better name :) It has not rolled edge, M36C liner and chinstrap, looks similar to the M36C... but is also much different! First of all, the shape is much more round, the rims are much shorter, so is the visor. The visor is shorter as said, also it is not as wide as on the M36C. The two bases, the dips of the visor are more to the front and much more sharp compared to the M36C, the angle is smaller. As said, the liner is M36C type. BUT there are 7 more holes for liner, which have been filled - wielded, and then the helmet painted and finished with a C-type liner. Interesting, but the 7th hole is exactly n the front of the helmet and the only liner that fits to this configuration is the Czech M-32 liner! Nothing more is yet known for this very rare subtype, but from what I see I would speculate that Czech M32 shells were reworked to M36 /the visor gives a clue - it is not symetrical, as if the metal has been cut by hand.../. Who knows... I hope to find out who :) As for all other pictures, click on thumbnail to see full image.
All the M36 helmets originally had the 3-color decal with black border on the side. Decal - not painted, but real decal. Postwar, after repainting, decals were painted by hand, also red stars or sometimes rampart lions painted on the front.
Here are several pictures of postwar painted decals. The shape and color varied a lot, because the repainting was made mainly in "field conditions" /in the military bases to which the helmets belonged/. Most postwar painted 3-color 'decals' had horizontal /not tilted/ color bands - simply because these were easier to make. The first decal of the pictures below is most carefully made - the paints are sprayed, black border appled. As you will see, this was not always made so...
All these painted decals are postwar, the original WWII emblems are real decals.
A few words about the pads. This is a Bulgarian invention - leather pads with some cloth on the upper part inserted /sometimes glued/ in the crown of the helmets. I have seen such pads in M-16, M36, M51/72 helmets and even in German WWII helmets, reissued for use in the Bulgarian army. Here is a picture of several pads - the matherial is different kinfds of leather. Even had one made of artificial leather, but could not find it now /the white one is also natural leather/.
And at last - liners. A gallery of replaced liners and chinstraps. Some M36 were refited with liners in similar to the original pattern. Others received M51/72 liners. Just see how many different types of leather are used and in what a strange way the different leathers are used. As if the re-linering was made in wartimes situation...
After 1936 the M36 became the main helmet for the Bulgarian army. And became a real combat helmet in the heavy battles in the end of WWII, when Bulgaria was occupied by the Red Army and the Bulgarian army was sent against the German. And the M36 has not lost its importance even today! The M51/72 came to replace it, but could not, both remained in use together. During the postwar years many helmets were scrapped, but still the M36 can be found in large numbers in the army - repainted and relinered more than once, but still on duty!
The M36 helmet on awards: on the WWII Bulgarian combat infantry badge /left/ and on one of the gdares of the much newer Bulgarian Order For Faithful Service Under the Flags /the right picture; this award is the same form but different metal for the different grades; established in 1994/.