A legendary sight born from military tradition: the Pickelhaube (“spike helmet”) was the headgear of choice for 19th century Imperial German and Prussian military forces. But it would eventually gain worldwide prominence by its presence in the trenches of The Great War, aka World War I, as the Central Powers war machine chewed its way through French, Belgian, Serbian and Russian defenses.
The Picklehaube’s design came straight from the Napoleonic era: a time when troops moved in formation, overseen by generals who needed to quickly identify locations of their own troops from within the confusing fog of battle. Based on the plumed helmets used by the mounted, handgun-equipped “cuirassiers”, the legendary Pickelhaube’s most striking features are the decorative spike (a reduced version of the original plume) and the bright ornamental front plate. This officer’s model also includes the extended “lobster tail” neck guard, as seen on high-ranking military figures such as Otto von Bismarck himself.
But the Great War brought new, different challenges. Down in dark, muddy, trenches the Pickelhaube was highly visible, only now by Allied machine gunners and mortar crews. To make matters worse, the Helmet provided little real protection against ricochets and fragmentation caused by constant shelling and massed weapons fire. By the end of WW1, the Picklehaube had been replaced by the grim efficiency of the familiar German Stahlhelm, a much more modern helmet well-suited for future global, mechanized conflict.