Spotlight On … the M50.

Spotlight On … the M50.

Written by Victoria Green.

We are trying to raise £5,000 on JustGiving to open our museum to the public. To read more about our fundraising campaign, please visit our page here.

Whenever I visit another country, I always make time to explore a museum or two. I have been to museums all over the world, buildings of all styles and exhibitions of all shapes and sizes. My most recent trip to Budapest, Hungary was no exception. I found myself in a very interesting, immersive museum, Sziklakórház or, as it is known in English, the ‘hospital under the rock’. Sziklakórház was built in the 1940s into a natural cave system measuring 10km, hidden deep below the city of Budapest.

The hospital was utilised during a difficult time in Budapest’s history. During WWII, the caves beneath the city had been repurposed as refuges and, in 1944, they opened as a hospital for general emergency treatment to serve both civilians and the military. As Hungary was allied with Nazi Germany during WWII, the Soviets laid siege to the city in 1944. The Red Army encircled Budapest and eventually took control after fierce, street-to-street fighting. During this siege of Budapest, all 94 beds were constantly full, with patients laying in the halls and on the floor.

After Soviet liberation, Hungary fell under red influence and became a communist satellite state called the ‘People’s Republic of Hungary’. The Soviets destroyed buildings like Buda Castle, which were icons of the former regime. In 1956, Budapest became the stage for a unsuccessful revolution against the Soviets, which was crushed with tanks and firepower. The hospital was used during the revolution before being converted into a nuclear bunker during the Cold War, fortified to withstand the Cuban Missile Crisis. Hungary remained under Soviet control until the fall of the Iron Curtain in the 1990s, and is now a democracy. With such a tough military history, it is no wonder that such a large abundance of military hardware was produced.

When I visited Sziklakhórház, I was jumping for joy in the gift shop at the sight of genuine military surplus items for sale. Naturally, I bought a helmet, stuffed it in my hold luggage and hoped for the best. I didn’t dare try to transport a WWII gas mask, but perhaps I should have given it a go!

I have since identified the helmet as a Hungarian M50 military combat helmet, typically used by the Hungarian People’s Army or Magyar Néphadsereg. It features a leather chinstrap and a cloth three-pad liner. The M50 helmet was worn from 1951 – 1990, during the Soviet era and is based on the Soviet Ssh40. The particular example in the museum is thought to have been in production from 1940 – 1960.

The Ssh40 was the last helmet used by the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War. The M50 is distinguishable from the Ssh40, however, due to the different rivet placement to secure a newly introduced liner. After WWII, countries of the Warsaw Pact and some Asian nations in the Soviet sphere of influence eventually adopted Ssh40 helmets. The Czechs, Poles and Hungarians used the basic Ssh40 shells, but adopted various different liner systems. Therefore, although the M50 was similar to the Russian Ssh40, it is not the same.

The white markings on the inside of the helmet represent the shell size in Roman numerals. This helmet displays ‘II’ so is a size 2, out of 5 potential sizes. The adjacent darker, unintelligible markings could be a distorted manufacturer or acceptance stamp.

Most M50 helmets were made between 1952 and 1953, during the time when Stalin ordered Eastern Bloc countries to spend more on the military in anticipation of potential further war. The condition of this helmet suggests that it was probably military surplus. The scratches on the helmet itself most likely came from storage conditions, so it is unlikely this M50 ever saw the war efforts.

It is likely that this helmet represents a mid-1960s example; the later types of helmets had these size markings, and the paint is different with a rougher texture. The chin straps of the later helmets are made from thinner leather, and joined with rivets rather than stitching. The colour of the cloth liner unfortunately does not give any indication of the potential manufacture date. Although the blue coloured cloth does not appear as frequently as the green cloth, it was simply a matter of what materials were available for production at the time.

So concludes my adventure as an amateur acquirer! Much like our founder, John Waterer, we are always looking out for interesting and unique items to help us to tell the world story of leather. This Hungarian helmet has allowed me to look beyond the war fought by the allies, with which I am very familiar, and approach WWII from a different perspective. I am very grateful to Sziklakhórház, who very kindly helped me out with some of the precursory object research.

Next time I go on holiday, I shall certainly be sure to keep my eyes peeled for more unique leather treasures!

These objects are just a few examples of the countless treasures in the National Leather Collection! To learn more about the collection, visit our homepage. All support is greatly appreciated, so please visit our support page to find out how you can get involved.

We are trying to raise £5,000 on JustGiving to open our museum to the public. To read more about our fundraising campaign, please visit our page here.