The following article was published in ‘HISTORICAL DIVER’ Volume 15, Issue 2 Number 51. Occasionally I work as a contributing writer for this magazine.


I found this helmet several years ago and was told that it was purchased on board a Russian ship visiting the French harbor town Le Havre. At First sight, I was convinced that it was a prototype of an uncommon Russian helmet called SVV86. The Russian SVV86 helmet is in fact a complete diving system, built in the last days of the soviet Russian era. Later the SVV86 appeared ‘commercially’ as an improved version called the SVV97. This equipment is surface-supplied ventilated system, the SVV86 has a rebreather as a bailout system, the SVV97 a et of compressed air tanks.

Comparing this helmet with pictures of the SVV86 showed great resemblance in style, and since some parts wee missing - the neck ring and the second stage of the exhaust valve - I decided to contact friends in Russia to see if I could buy the missing parts or have them reproduced. Through friends with the russian HDS, my request was sent to the designer of the SVV86 system himself, and much to my surrpise, he replied that this helmet was not built by him but that it does contain some parts from it ( the faceplate assembly ) His impression was that ...’ this helmet is an experimental model from an unknown company’...

The helmet has a dome made of nickel plated copper instead of the resin that was commonly used for helmets of this kind. The copper dome was built from three parts which seem to have been formed in a mould. There is a welding seam running straight over the helmet ending in the neck, showing that the main dome consists of two identical halves. The tunnel which holds the faceplate assembly was welded on, and the two parts on the sides where the rebreather hoses are fitted on have been both riveted and soldered. To connect it to the suit it had a three bolt neck-ring in the same style as the early Comex Pro helmets. Inside, the helmet is entirely covered with a layer of light-grey rubber. Communications were fitted, but the speakers and microphone are now missing.

That this is rather a prototype of a helmet then of a standard product can be derived from the position of its top window, which was originally placed further to the back and then re-placed more to the front for a better visibility. Also, the lead compensation weights mounted on the neck-ring indicate that the helmet has been ‘tested’ with different weights: if not they would have been made out of one piece of lead.

The helmet still is a bit of a mystery. Maybe there are HDS members who know more about it, or who will discover its history in the future.

In 1931 the German director of the Diving Division of Draegerwerk, Hermann Stelzner published his well known book, ‘Tauchertechnik’. This book was an encyclopedia on everything which was of interest in the field of diving during that era. Robert H. Davis ( managing director of Siebe Gorman in England ) published his book ‘Deep Diving and Submarine Operations’ in 1935, which also contained much information on the latest developments of diving apparatus and techniques but mainly ( only ) apparatus manufactured by Siebe Gorman. The Russians published entire series of books on diving, often more than one edition each year. However the printed paper was often of poor quality the books do provide much useful information. It was also noted that some articles in the Russian books are directly copied from articles by the US navy or from the book of Robert H. Davis etc. but it is the information which really matters. All of the Russian books were published by the diving institute EPRON in Balaklava (near Sevastopol).

1946. The Russian Diving Helmets made from Plexiglas (acrylic)

1972 The Helium Oxygen Mix apparatus SVG200 is introduced.

The successor to the 'GKS3m' deep-diving apparatus was the 'SVG200' with 'IDA72' rebreather. The new apparatus could be used on the same surface system as the 'GKS3m' but the system was not popular among Russian divers. This may be the reason why they continued to produce the 'GKS3m' apparatus well into the 1980's. An interesting detail is that the actual helmet of this apparatus is in fact the shell of an aviation helmet 'model Gsh-4MS'. This pilots helmet was a ‘stratospheric’ or ‘High Altitude’ helmet which was essentially a copy of an American design. The Russians obtained the American helmet after they shot down a 'U2' spy plane in 1960. Its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, used his parachute after his plane was brought down by Russian air defenses. This is an exciting story which can be read about on Wikipedia ( go to the link: ) The Russians used Gary Power’s helmet and suit as an example to equip their own air force with high altitude equipment, but for some reason they used the outer aluminum shell of the pilot's helmet as the outer shell for the 'SVG200' deep-diving equipment. Photographs David L.Dekker

The depth gauge which belongs to the SVG200 apparatus: its maximum depth is 325 meters ... Photograph David L.Dekker

197? the prototype of a diving helmet with rebreather connections

This helmet is quite a mystery: I initially thought this helmet was the prototype for the 'SVV86' helmet. ( pls see the chapter JSC KAMPO ) However, having questioned my friend Dr. Pavel Borovikov ( who personally knows the director of the JSC KAMPO company ) I am now not so sure, as the KAMPO director explained that he did not know of this helmet's existence.

Post WW2 developments and new diving techniques

In two different editions of the 1946 Russian navy / EPRON manuals ( shown above ), articles appeared illustrating a new type of helmet which was entirely made from Plexiglas ( acrylic ) The breastplates were of the standard copper design. However the idea did not just remain on paper and some of these helmets were actually made. The helmet has an all Plexiglas bonnet with the faceplate simply included ( molded ) as part of the Plexiglas dome. Another variant of the helmet also appears with a standard screw-in face plate ( as used in the Sja-3 and Sja-12 helmets ) These Plexiglas helmets were designed in both 3-bolt and 12-bolt helmet versions. How many were finally manufactured is not known.

The Russians also had their own diving historian, Professor Ruben Orbeli. During the 1930's he published several articles in the EPRON books and his translation of the diving apparatus descriptions by Leonardo Da Vinci made him famous. Professor Orbeli died in 1943 but in 1948 a book was published containing all his works. Currently the Russian branch of the  Historical Diving Society is called ‘Ruben Orbeli’.

Left: Prof. Ruben Orbeli. Right the book with Prof. Orbeli’s work published in 1948, 3 years after he died. Book David L.Dekker collection

During WW2 and following the war, various books were published by ASU VMF, later renamed the ASS VMC ( both names stand for the ‘salvage direction’ of the Soviet Navy which incorporated the EPRON institute in 1942 ) These books are called ‘Svorniks’ ( proceedings ) and the editions from the post-war period contain several articles on diving helmets produced using new engineering techniques. Machinery had been developed to stamp/press copper helmets from flat copper sheet. Recirculation helmets were also designed, new types of valves introduced and some helmets were even made entirely from Plexiglas (acrylic).

Russian Helmet Developments, a well documented history of Diving

Above left is one of the EPRON books published between 1934 and 1940; on the right is the Russian translation of the Robert H. Davis ‘Deep Diving and Submarine Operations’ book of 1935. This was published for EPRON at the ‘Sea Transport Publisher’ in Moscow in 1940. Books, David L.Dekker collection.

Professor Ruben Orbeli

In EPRON Book No.2 (30), a long article was published which describes the manufacturing of diving helmet bonnets by machine 'pressing' them out of flat copper sheets to the required shape.

The photo above shows the war period books as well as the early post-war editions of the ASU VMF / ASS VMS books. Books and photograph, David L.Dekker

The second article has been kindly translated by Russian Diving Historian Pavel A.Borovikov:

Diving helmet

Rigid, strong, protecting the head of the diver from impact, the diving helmet remains a constant part of a diver’s gear. Attempts to replace a rigid helmet with a soft rubber helmet, fitting the head of the diver or with a semihard helmet made from rubber and wood, did not give essential positive results, though they have found partial application in practice of diving works.The advantages of a rigid diving helmet are indisputable. However, improvement of the construction and the helmet’s material is required.

The above photo shows a genuine 12-bolt helmet with a Plexiglas ( acrylic ) bonnet. This helmet can be seen in the exhibition of the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada, Florida USA. This diving museum is the world's largest and is well worth a visit when on vacation in Florida.

Photograph, David L.Dekker. Helmet WWW.DIVINGMUSEUM.ORG  ( have a look at that website and do the virtual tour! )

1947. Russian Diving Helmets are pressed using machines

The above illustration shows the process for 'pressing' out a helmet bonnet from a flat copper sheet.

1948. The first Russian recirculation helmet: prototype SKD

Above illustrations: prototype 'SKD' helmet with the injector built under the faceplate. (The full story on the 'SKD' helmet is described in the chapter about the history of the factory where it was built: ‘Russian Factory Number 3, 1943-1963’). Photograph David L.Dekker.

1946. The first version of the combined 'Air & Communications Connector'

The above illustration shows the first version of the combined 'air & communications connector' for a Russian diving helmet. A second version of the first type which used the same principle was built onto the 'SKD' prototype helmet ( see photo below ) The full story of the SKD helmet is described in the chapter about the history of the factory where they were made ( 'Russian Factory Number 3, 1943-1963' )

A second version of the combined 'air and communications connector' exists which is different from the one illustrated in the book but it is once again based on the same principle as the first type. It was built onto the 'SKD' prototype helmet ( see the above photograph ) The full story about the SKD helmet is described in the chapter about the history of the factory where it was built: ‘Russian Factory Number 3, 1943-1963’ Photograph David L.Dekker.

Shown above is the most recent version of the combined 'air and communications connector' which is different from the one found on the SKD prototype helmet. It now has a cover to protect the communications cable. The full story about the 'UVS50' and 'UVS50m' helmets is described in the chapter about the history of the factory where they were made: ‘Russian Factory Number 3, 1943-1963’ and ‘Russian Factory Number 28, 1963-2000). Photograph David L.Dekker.

In 1943 illustrated articles on diving with Helium-Oxygen mixed gas diving apparatus appeared in the Russian navy / EPRON books. In 1945 an illustrated article on oxygen decompression in a diving helmet was also published. In 1948 the prototype 'SKD' helmet was built ( shown here below )

Instead of a heavy and unhygienic material, such as red copper, one should use transparent plastic (organic glass) for manufacturing a helmet.The diving helmet manufactured from organic glass will give the following advantages.a) Will increase the field of view of the diver. Instead of the limited field of view through three portholes in a copper helmet, the diver who uses a transparent helmet will have an unrestricted field of view.b) The helmet from organic glass has more favorable heat conductivity. Therefore the internal surface of a helmet will collect less condensation. It also improves the diver’s visibility: fogged portholes in a copper helmet complicate vision. Plastic is more elastic than metal and makes the contact with the head of the diver is less rough.c) Transparent plastic does not produce chemical compounds that are harmful to the diver, like poisonous copper oxide in a usual helmet. Therefore the regular technically difficult and expensive tinning of an internal surface of the helmet is not required.d) The helmet made from organic glass is not subject to electrolysis during the welding and cutting of metal under water; a casual touch of an electrode will not cause a cutting arc between the torch and helmet, while the copper helmet is vulnerable to such dangers. Being a good isolator, the transparent helmet protects the head of the diver from electric current during underwater electric welding.e) The design of the helmet becomes simpler. For 12-bolt helmets, it is not necessary to have portholes at all. For 3-bolt helmets, it is possible to have no portholes at all or to leave one. There are also other possibilities for improvements that can be made to an organic glass helmet, namely the installation of an air valve, the addition of a telephone, changes to the size and shape of the helmet, etc.e) The helmet made from organic glass is lighter, hence it is more convenient and easier for the diver to put it on. f) Simpler plastic helmet manufacturing techniques will reduce the cost of mass producing the helmets. Money can also be saved on cost of operation, maintenance and storage.Certainly, under all conditions, the diving helmet made of organic glass should not be any less robust than a helmet made of red copper.The tests of the first pre-production models of a diving helmet made from organic glass (fig. 1 and 2) yielded satisfactory results.

The variations above show Fig.1: a bonnet with the faceplate incorporated in the plexiglass, and Fig. 2 the version with a standard faceplate.

The above article shows a view from the back of a transparent Plexiglas helmet which incorporates the standard fittings from an Sja-3 diving helmet.


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