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British Composite helmet history - do we know it?

Article about: We SHOULD. I recently read that a boxed and dated Mk6 (sic) (I suspect they meant Mk6ALPHA) had been observed dated 2014 and another dated 2013. I've travelled around UK shows and last year

  1. #1

    Default British Composite helmet history - do we know it?

    We SHOULD.

    I recently read that a boxed and dated Mk6 (sic) (I suspect they meant Mk6ALPHA) had been observed dated 2014 and another dated 2013. I've travelled around UK shows and last year (mid '16) saw my first Virtus in the flesh at “Tankfest” and soldier told me he'd had it a while (let's assume late '15?) one must ask if the Mk7 could easily disappear from history (which is fitting as my understanding has always been that it was meant to be an interim step). But you still don't see boxes of 7s at Fairs for sale - indeed you see very few out in the open for sale (tho quite a few on Ebay)...will they be refurbed and sold to another country?

    It's made me think.....the 7 is, for most of us here, the only Brit lid we've seen come and go (consciously) and yes, I know the Mk6 has been around but it was trialed in the South Atlantic so had clearly been on its way well before then (and whilst I was collecting in the late 70’s I wasn’t too interested in those new-fangled plastic helmets rumoured to be on their way to replace the upgraded “Turtle”). There was no Internet and 6’s certainly didn’t appear at Fairs for many years (no Ebay either…or the amazingly helpul and beautifully presented “CompoSite” website – plug plug). All this has made me think….do we, as custodians of this helmet period, actually know when the 6A, 7 and now Virtus started to be used? This has happened on our watch….if someone knows it should be us….and every year that passes could make it harder (although released files /Kew will help someone who probably hasn’t been born yet!). I don’t think we know do we? ..and yet it happened here folks…..

    There's some useful snippets from serving and ex-servers here ....guys who've actually worn these things (thanks guys by the way - your "been there" input really helps) but they tend to know when THEY got THIERS and perhaps not when they were actually introduced...and yes, I appreciate that a date on box or helmet isn't the date it first went onto someones head....

    And we know there's always an overlap.....Turtles (note how I avoided the much disputed number "5") to 6s, 6s to 6As, 6As to 7s and now 7s to Virtus (Virtuses? Virti?)..and depending on the units it looks like there could be doubling up too - were some folk still wearing 6As whilst others were getting Virtus???? I'm ASSUMING that there's not a serving Brit soldier wearing a 6A there? I'm also assuming that EVERYONE has or has had a 7?????...and don't get me started on the PECOC!

    ……what ARE the key dates?

  2. #2


    We still have guys wearing a mix of Mk6a Mk7 and Virtus helmets, The recruits are coming though all with Virtus helmets issued at Phase 1 training , the old hands still have Mk7 helmets as part of their issue for Afgan but if they didn't serve there they still have Mk6a helmets .There is also still a small amount of Mk6 helmets used as part of the Mine clearance training as the visors don't fit the Mk6a or Mk7 helmets . This is at RSME , it is most likely a different story at other units

  3. #3


    Good point and a very valid question. Sadly however, I feel it is one that will be very difficult if not impossible to definitively answer.
    Probably the best date to accept as "introduction" will be the dateof authorisation by the relevant "dress comittee" which in the case of combat equipment, will be one with a "pan-service" brief which will be found in public records with a bit of research I expect. Such things are announced in various logistic support circulars, publications etc but to be honest the only people who actually read and assimilate such information are unit QM staff. As a matter of course such things will pass accross the desk of every unit commander via the "first sight" file (probably an email these days) but the commander of even a medium sized unit has far more to think about and his attention to this would likely be limited to a question posed at a CO's conference and directed at the Quartermaster; eg " Q, when can we expect to receive these?".
    Actual issue will be affected by many factors including but not limited to; priority based on unit role, size, deployment schedule etc and at the other end of the list, supplies from trade and contract fullfilment etc.
    Overall, something like a complete replacement of a combat helmet to every single soldier/sailor/airman requiring it can often take years rather than months and never ever days!
    So, I think the best one can hope for is the official authorisation date and a time frame based on annecdotal evidence. If I recall correctly the issue of the Mk6 took about 8 years excluding trial periods.

    The usual logistic process applies with initial acquisition going straight into the stores system to build the maintenance stocks before a single lid hits Tommy's head. Then the issues follow set priorities.

    As for the Mk7 I would expect it to remain in stores for sometime and for the stocks on hand to be downgraded to "training" status and issued to recruits. Because helmets are now personal issue and generally not recycled when personnel leave the service (they are disposed to surplus) this allieviates the expense of issuing newer items to somone who may not even complete training. Once a recruit has completed training he may be issued the current item with which to proceed to his new unit or this may be done on arrival at the unit subject to local arrangements. These days it is unlikely that personal equipment would be sold en bloc to another nation. It is far more efficient and less costly to release stock to the civilian surplus market and let large dealers disseminate from that point.

    So, back to Kew I guess.



    PS The points by Kradman above illustrate just how variable the system can be. If someone already has an earlier item and there has been no reason to change it, he will keep it until it either becomes unserviceable at which time he will exchange it for a new one or until there is a valid reason for him to exchange because of other practical consideration such as the old one being no longer deemed fit for purpose.
    Last edited by Watchdog; 10-08-2017 at 11:27 AM. Reason: PS
    "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares more about than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature with no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

  4. #4


    'great replies...thank you both.

    So, it looks like there'll be a number of dates for each model...and realistically, most of the dates won't be established???

    There'll certainly be a date when someone somewhere said "yes" to the design (and/or funding - that's usually the biggest step)...that'll crop up in Kew in 20 years time
    There'll be a manufacturing date ie when the first non-evaluation models dropped off the production line
    There'll be the "first-sent-to-unit/stores" date(s)...some unit somewhere had to be the first.....and they're usually front line and / or "special"
    Then there's the "first-one-on-a-squaddies-bonce" date....'never find that one!
    Then I was hoping there'd be a "we've-had-enough-of-this-one" date.....'not sure that exists any more......

    ...and then the two most important dates......."saw-my-first-one-for-sale-but-couldn't-afford-it" date......and then the "got-one!" date.

    .....and finally the "I've-just-seen-hundreds-of-them-in-a-huge-box-at-Beltring-for-£10-each" date!!!

    Seriously though, I might just have a go at some kind of arty graphic to "put out there", where's that Vision-On VHS tape........

  5. #5


    I think the first helmets worn would be trial items most likely issued to Front line troops , i know a friend of mine was one of the first to be issued the Virtus helmet for trial in think at the end of 2015 he is with PWRR , i think most trials are done by units like the Paras and Royal marines and Inf Units

  6. #6


    This is fascinating and I will follow the progress of this enquiry with great interest. It is a never ending amazement to me that these basic things like production and issue dates are so obscure. I regret I have little to offer other than the fact that I bought my first 6A in the summer of 2008, from a soldier based at Cawdor Barracks, Brawdy. He delivered it by hand and I wish I'd had the wit to ask him how long he'd had it. (NB at that time it was still common knowledge (ie most people including me believed it...) that the 6A was for special issue only ('exposed positions'), not a general service/general issue helmet. Was that ever true?

    I'll also copy this little bit from CompoSite, which has some relevance. -


    From that it would seem 1982 is highly likely, but someone may know better. And indeed someone might; RICHARD AIXILL, in email correspondence, points to this Written Answer in HANSARD -

    COMBAT HELMETS HC Deb 21 January 1986 vol 90

    Mr. Warren asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are his plans for the purchase of resin bonded fibre combat helmets; and if he will make a statement.

    Mr. Lee First issues of the new Mk 6 combat helmet, which is constructed in resin-bonded fibre, were made in 1985 and will continue over the next seven years until all relevant areas of the services are equipped with it.


    Doesn't do much other than reinforce what we may already know, but reinforcements are always welcome.

    PS - the earliest 6A I have is label-dated 2006/7, but the shell moulding (visible because the original liner has been swapped for that of a Para Lightweight) is dated 2006.

  7. #7


    In the absence of official notifications, perhaps a comparison between owners of the earliest and latest dated examples in their collections or seen for sale might help, at least in terms of what is out there, though this would probably not cover the earliest trials versions and those that sat on a stores shelf for years before issue or release to the public.


    Whatever its just an opinion.

  8. #8


    I couldn't swear to it but I believe that the Mk6A was a kind of "stop gap" item. It was an improvement on the Mk6 being more comfortable and with better balistic protection (which may be why it is credited as a special purpose item) albeit a little heavier. It was initially issued in 2005 only four years before the Mk7. The facts that it was given "interim" nomenclature, it was not deemed necessary to manufacture it in green (or other "miltary" colour) and that the Mk7 would have already been in the offing would all seem to support the stop gap status. With Virtus and talk of a Mk8 it seems that the confusion we are trying to dispel here is only going to get worse. They really should consider the collecting community when addressing procurement issues

    What we should also consider is that in many cases the MoD buy items almost off the shelf after commercial businesses have done all the R&D work at their expense so it is not unusual to find other users of items so similar to the UK issue piece that only a label giving contract and part numbers can separate them. Just a thought!

    Just to qualify what I said earlier about disposal to other nations; about 3000 Mk6 were supplied to Ukraine during the recent unpleasantness there when nations gave aid (as a way of pulling Putins' chain perhaps) to the Ukraine armed forces. This wouldn't qualify as disposal in the context of this discussion neither was it a sale. This would have been provision of (possibly surplus) current equipment that was still in the UK military inventory at the time.


    "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares more about than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature with no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

  9. #9


    So, it's starting to look like the following applies re Issue / Usage (not design sign-off, not contracts placed, not manufacture, not dated on labels etc etc...all that can come next :-) )

    Mk6 1985
    Mk6A 2005
    Mk7 2009
    Virtus 2015 does that look?

    - - ------- - -

  10. #10


    "With Virtus and talk of a Mk8....." (Watchdog)

    IS there talk of a Mk8?

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