Short answer – yes, Russian tank helmets are actually pretty good! Want a longer answer? Read this post where we discuss this topic in a more detailed way.
The first model appeared in the early 1930s, when the freshly industrialized Soviet Union started to mass produce tanks. In this decade Soviets have build literally tens of thousands of tanks. Most of them weren’t any good and were pretty obsolete, even during then, but the need for head protection for the crews emerged. T-26, BT-2 and BT-5 were the most numerous Soviet tanks of that era. Most of them didn’t have any radios, and World War II very soon proved, that they were mostly useless on the modern battlefield.
Tanks are very dangerous creatures. Not only for the enemy forces, but also to the accompanying infantry and most importantly for us – to their crews. Especially when you are new to these things, you’ll find, that a lot of stuff, probably deliberately wants to harm you. I’m not talking about the fact, that a tank might accidentally run you over, or you can fall off of it and break every bone in your body.
Tanks – especially those of that era – are usually very cramped and full of hard, metal bits with sharp edges. It is very easy to bruise yourself, while entering or leaving, not to mention operating the main gun. And all of this happens, when you’re stationary. A ride inside a tank, especially when buttoned up, is a completely different experience. Not only for most of the time you cannot see anything outside, because you have to hold on to something, you are also subjected to forces of unknown vector, strength and time.
That makes having a head protection even more vital. For example during fighting in northern France in 1944 British tankers suffered much more losses due to head wounds, than their American counterparts, while using almost exactly the same Shermans. With the only important difference being the Americans were using their tank helmets, when their British colleagues stayed loyal to their berets. For exactly the same reasons the Soviets introduced the TSh-4, which nowadays is commonly known as the Russian tank helmet.
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Customizable Russian Tank Helmets for T-34,T-54, T-55, BMP-1, MT-LB, BRDM-2Product on sale64,99 € – 79,99 €
Why aren’t Russian tank helmets made of steel?
First it is cheaper to manufacture them out of cloth and foam than steel. Second of all when sitting inside a big can made of hardened steel you don’t really need a ballistic helmet. What you need is a soft-padded, lightweight protection, which will keep your head secure from all the metal bits around you and will allow you to wear it for hours every day for days, or weeks if necessary. What’s the use of a steel protection, if it lays in a turret basket all the time? Or if it injures you neck, and you are out of action before even seeing the actual enemy? Typical TSh-4 Russian tank helmet weights about only 950 grams. Compare it to 2-2,5 kg steel helmets of the era, and you have your answer. Steel helmets are simply too heavy and are not as good at protecting from typical head injuries, which can happen inside a tank.
Second model of the Soviet tank helmet or “Tankoshlom” also featured an intercom for the crew and an interface to connect to a P-113 and later, the more well-know model called P-123 (R-123 in Latin transcription) radio, which allowed communicating reliably with other tanks within about 10-kilometre radius. That of course varies greatly, depending on the type of terrain, weather, and condition of the radio itself. Its introduction greatly increased the combat value of Warsaw Pact armoured units.
Here you can see the R-113 radio:
Although the intercom was prone to breakdowns – Polish general Waldemar Skrzypczak (he ended his career as the Chief of General Staff, earlier he commanded an armoured division) recounted in his memoirs, that when he was a young officer, commanding a T-55 tank, he often had to tie strings to the driver’s epaulettes to point him into the right direction. Sometimes he had to simply use his feet to give commands, by kicking the driver in his back (sic!). 😀
These helmets were also the base of many other useful devices, like the PVN-57 night vision googles, which Soviet tank drivers used for night driving. These devices weighted about 2,5 kg, which is a considerable weight, if you had to wear it for hours at a time. Imagine the stress on the driver’s neck, if it was mounted on top of a 2 kg steel helmet… Not to mention, that a T-55 is not the easiest vehicle to drive without that additional burden. Here’s an example of one of these:
If you’d like, you can buy one here:
Tanks are very noisy vehicles, so spending a considerable amount of time in one of these machines (Polish Army’s armoured units in the 70s and 80s used to spend 4 to 6 months on field training each year) will damage your hearing. Especially while live-firing exercises, which were very common back then. What’s the use of a tanker, who is deaf as a stone? These helmets do not remove the problem, but they help considerably.
So, what are the main advantages of a Russian Tank Helmets?
- they are relatively lightweight and easy to use
- the Russian tank helmets don’t have to be ballistic resistant, as anything that penetrates the tank’s armour will most likely have enough energy to get though a helmet or break the tanker’s neck
- they provide communication between the crewman and with other tanks
- these helmets can be used for various other functions like night vision
- they provide hearing protection
- wearing a Soviet tank helmet immediately identifies one as a tankmen (or a tanker) and distinguishes him or her from any other troops
- they fit every armoured vehicle of Soviet origin
- Russian Tank helmets are in service in literally every army, which uses post-Soviet vehicles – from former Warsaw Pact countries, through India, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan to many other countries or even militias around the world
- they were very important in our favourite TV-series – “Four Tankmen and a Dog” 😉
This is pretty much it. As you can see these Russian tank helmets are very useful to the tank crews around the world. To this day they provide protection on many, sometimes unusual at first glance levels. We hope, that this post was informative and entertaining for you. If it was, please consider sharing it with your friends and fellow tank enthusiasts.