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Distinguishing Pre and Post 1975 PAVN Sun Helmets

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The PRC made at least five variations of pith and sun helmets for Hanoi. Production began in the 1950s, for the Viet Minh, and continued to the mid 1970s for the NVA.  Here are the major variations.

FIRST TYPE PITH HELMET – 1950s

The first type pith helmet was made from pith/cork with a khaki tan cotton cover bonded to the interior and exterior. The body shape was a flat wide brim colonial style.  Many examples of these can be seen in photographs taken as the French surrendered.

SECOND TYPE PITH HELEMT  – Late 1950s to mid 1960s

The body of the second type pith helmet the PRC made for Hanoi, changed dramatically from the flat colonial style, to the body style used even today. This variant had a much narrower and more angled brim and a much higher dome. The second type pith helmet was also made of cork/pith. The exterior and interior was covered in various shades of khaki or khaki brown cotton fabric.  The colors of the fabric do not always match. Some interiors were made with civilian fabrics wit floral patterns. The second type sweatband was made from interwoven bamboo which was covered in various colors of thin plastic sheeting.  The bamboo sweatband was attached to the body of the helmet via oval shaped cork spacers covered in fabric. This variant had aluminum vent grommets on the sides, plus an aluminum dome vent covered in fabric on the exterior. Some do not have a grommet in the front for the screw post badge.  Instead, a pin back badge could be attached to the front. The leather chinstrap was retrained with brass or copper alloy brads and had a stamped aluminum adjustment buckle.  These are often found in various states of crushing due to the fact they were made from cork.

FIRST TYPE CARDBOARD SUN HELMET – Early to Mid 1960s

The first type sun helmet was made from molded cardboard impregnated with resin, not pith.  It retained the same body style and same bamboo and plastic sheeting covered sweatband as the predecessor pith helmet.  It had mostly leather chinstraps but some plastic chinstraps were used. The interior of these may or may not have been cloth covered.  These had various shades of khaki or green hued cotton covers. This variant had aluminum grommets, including one in front; plus an aluminum dome vent covered in fabric on the exterior. The chinstrap was retrained with brass or copper alloy brads and had a stamped aluminum adjustment buckle.

SECOND TYPE CARDBOARD SUN HELMET – Early to Mid 1960s

The second type sun helmet made in the PRC for Hanoi was just like the third type, but the PRC discontinued the bamboo sweatband in favor of a green naugahyde sweatband, backed in white cotton. These had a purple color adjustment string in the crown and back. The naugahyde sweatband was attached to the body of the helmet via pink primed – green painted, M-shaped gasket, one on each side. The color of these was some shade of khaki or green.  This variant had aluminum grommets, including one in front; plus an aluminum dome vent covered in fabric on the exterior. The chinstrap was retrained with brass or copper alloy brads and had a stamped aluminum adjustment buckle.

THIRD TYPE SUN HELMET

The PRC then made a third type sun helmet for Hanoi. This was the final version and was the most commonly seen between 1965 and 1973 by US service members. It was made from molded cardboard impregnated with resin like the first and second type sun helmet.  However, the cardboard interior was painted green. These all  had a kelly green 100% cotton twill cover bonded with glue. This glue often shows purple which oozes out of the center band during manufacture.  These used the green naugahyde sweatband, backed in white cotton as well as the cardboard, pink primed and green painted, M-shaped gasket attached to the body of the helmet.  This variant had aluminum grommets, including one in front; plus an aluminum dome vent covered in fabric on the exterior.  There are two body shapes: one a bit higher than the other.  The chinstrap was retrained with brass or copper alloy brads and had a stamped aluminum adjustment buckle.

HANOI MADE HELMETS

Hanoi made some pith helmet during the war.  These are like the second type pith helmet and are often covered in green fabric. They may or may not have a paper label glued inside.  Chinstraps can be leather or plastic.

MOLDED PLASTIC SUN HELMETS

There are some good wartime plastic molded sun helmets. I have owned two.  Photographic evidence of these during the war exists.  They are listed here.

Because many variations existed they should not be overlooked in your collection.

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Shown here are some post 1975 SRV third type sun helmets. The PRC and SRV is not known to have produced any of the earlier helmets after 1975.

They illustrate the differences between wartime and postwar. Note a few things:

  1. Shiny green paint or lime green paint inside;
  2. Non ribbed plastic chinstraps/very thin leather chinstraps;
  3. Olive Brown or avocado color headbands.
  4. Non brass chinstrap brads
  5. Headbands not made from white cotton backed green naugahyde.
  6. Dome vents made from steel – note the rust.
  7. Grommets made from steel – note the rust.

Many post 1975 covers are made from a cotton and polyester blend. Wartime helmets are 100% cotton and fade over time.  Polyester stays shiny. Many postwar helmets have the cover coming off at the edges.

Another item is the M shaped support which attaches the head band to the interior body of the helmet; there is one on each side. In post 1975 SRV sun helmets, these supports are often made from plastic. Some post 1975 sun helmets have cardboard gaskets but they are not pink primed.

Many wartime sun helmets have the olive color sweatband – head harness with a white cotton backing.  Often these curl from age.  Post war helmets have no such curling.

Some postwar sweatbands have what appears to be a cross-hatched cheesecloth texture on the white side.   Wartime sweatbands typically turn off white over the years from aging.  Some postwar helmets have sweatbands made from plastic or green backed naugahyde.

Post 1975 helmets have adjustment stings made of a purple color.  Post 1975 do not.

ALL OF THE PHOTOS HERE SHOW DETAILS OF POST 1975 SRV SUN HELMETS. Although these may have been drug through the jungle, they were not drug through the jungle before 1975.

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