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WWII Tanker Headsets on eBay:
How to Spot Frauds & Avoid Disappointments
|"Bid Now! Don't Let This One Get Away!"
A few eBay sellers have used the text from the M1938 Tank Helmet webpage to promote the sale of headsets that are less than authentic WWII tanker pieces. True, my web text has also been used by several well-intended eBayers to describe some very legitimate pieces. But beware that there is a lot of crap being offered for sale on eBay, and it seems to get worse every day. In particular, there have been some very bad fake headsets coming out of Europe lately.
But even perfectly legitimate HS-18s or HS-38s can be a real disappointment for the unknowing buyer who is looking for a headset to outfit his M1938 tank helmet. Even though a headset is in perfect condition and the buyer is honest and reputable, the piece just might not be appropriate for a tank helmet application, even though everything seems fine from the auction description. There are little-known details that can render a perfectly good headset technically useless for 100% accurate tank helmet displays, even though the seller has a great piece of equipment and the best of intentions.
So in the interest of leveling the playing field between buyers and sellers of WWII tanker headsets, here is some free generic advice to help you arrive at your own conclusions before bidding. Consider this a public service announcement.
1. Pay particular attention to the lack of strain relief cords, and the absence of strain relief lugs. If the headset lacks strain relief lugs, STAY AWAY because it is inappropriate for tank helmet applications. Receivers without strain relief lugs were used in headband or non-helmeted applications. These are sure signs that the headset is not a legitimate WWII tanker piece.
2. The use of non-braided, rubberized cable is a dead giveaway that the headset is a rigged-up fake. Also look for windings of thread at the ends of such rubberized cable. These windings are used in really bad fakes. A winding is a heavy thread or light string that is is wrapped around the cable several times and then tied off to the receiver. WWII tanker pieces only attached the cable by means of a single waxed cotton strain relief cord, and of course by the two set screws holding the wire ferrules to the receiver. Windings were never used to secure the cable to the receiver. If you buy a "tanker" headset with winding attachments, that's just dumb. The splice at the cord's "Y" junction should be natural, and not wound up with tape or rubberized heat-shrink tubing. Also, beware of black cotton or synthetic "mesh" cable coverings. These may have worked well and looked great on vintage toasters, but not on WWII headsets. HS-18 and HS-38 headset cable coverings were brown (tan), and made of waxed cotton. Period. Many good headsets are being sold with their original Ordnance box. However, homemade fakes like this so far have not appeared with the original box.
3. Headsets need to be equipped with the proper plugs if you are interested in owning and displaying an authentic WWII item. To be authentic, plugs must ONLY be the black-shelled PL-54 for the earlier HS-18 or the red-shelled PL-354 for the later HS-38 version. If the plug shell says PL-55, it is an add-on that would never have worked in the field, because the metal shaft is much too long to fit properly into a CD-307 extension cord. If the plug's shell is labeled with an NAF or N.A.F. prefix, these are Navy equivalents of the Army and Army Air Corps plugs. They will work from a technical "fit" standpoint, but historically they are just wrong for an ARMY tanker application. However, since the Marine Corps relied on the Navy supply chain for its equipment, it is quite possible that NAF plugs were used in headsets that were issued for use by Marine tanker units (this needs to be confirmed, but it seems like a good possibility). So if you want to depict a Marine tanker headset, or if you don't care about 100% accuracy on your Army headset, go ahead and bid on an NAF piece if the rest of the headset looks legit. The correct Navy plug would be N.A.F. 215285-2. This is a black-shelled equivalent to the correct PL-54 Army plug. If the Navy plug is labeled NAF 1136-1, this is the equivalent to the Army PL-55 plug, which is incorrect for tank headset usage as discussed earlier. Sometimes an incorrect plug is added just for show, or to replace a broken original plug. If technical and historical authenticity of the plugs isn't a concern and you feel good about the headset overall, then go ahead and bid. The wrong plugs still look cool dangling from an otherwise good HS-18 or HS-38, and hardly anyone out there knows which plugs are correct.
4. ALWAYS be sure to check the seller's ID history. Take the time to explore his activity under all of his IDs. Some militaria eBayers are using two IDs concurrently to mask their buy and sell activity. Run a quick check on both IDs to see not only what he has been selling, but also what he has been buying. It is amazing how easy it is to spot sellers who are buying component pieces and then assembling "authentic" WWII items from them. Remember to include "completed" items when you research his buy/sell activity. If the seller has a pattern of buying lots of headset component parts and selling only complete but fishy-looking headsets, be VERY careful.
5. Beware when a seller hides the identities of his bidders by making their names "private." At first blush, this would seem to be a considerate gesture aimed at protecting the buyers' privacy (ahhh, FINALLY someone is helping us overcome the shame of buying tanker headsets!). Or perhaps the seller is simply protecting himself from having his bidders targeted by other sellers with similar items. But there are two more compelling reasons why a dishonest seller would want to keep his bidders private. First, it allows him to hide the identity of his alternative eBay registered name (see #4 above), or the identities of his accomplices. "Insider bidding" is a strategy that is used to run up the bid price of an item. Second, and probably more common, the private identities make it impossible for other people to communicate with the bidders either before or after the auction has closed. If a dishonest seller is pushing fakes, the last thing he wants is for his buyers or prospective buyers to be tipped off by someone who knows the difference between authentic, reproduction, post-war issue, incorrect item for tanker use, or fake. If the seller is making his bidder identities private, THINK TWICE ABOUT BIDDING.
6. View a one-cent opening price point as a warning sign! And if a one-cent opener is coupled with a high "Buy It Now" price, be extra concerned. A one-cent opener can be a very legitimate way to make the auction more attractive, and since items tend to find their own market value, very seldom will a legitimate item sell for one cent. But dishonest sellers sometimes also take advantage of the one-cent opener for two other reasons. First, a lot of eBay buyers simply don't look at the shipping costs, or if the shipping price isn't made known in the auction (hmmmmm....), hardly anyone takes the time to confirm the shipping price before bidding. Some questionable eBay sellers charge a fortune for shipping, even though it is against eBay's rules to gouge on shipping. So if some "lucky" buyer gets the item for one cent, or maybe a couple of bucks, the seller makes up for his "loss" by inflating his shipping costs. The second reason why dishonest sellers use the one-cent opener is less obvious. EBay charges their fee on the basis of the selling price, exclusive of shipping. So if a seller auctions an item for one cent, or some very nominal fee, he avoids the selling fee and makes his money on the shipping charge. Also, keep in mind that eBay's Buyer Protection has a $20 deductible for the first $200 on the selling price, so if you buy a bogus item for around $20 or less and you are dissatisfied, or if you never receive the bogus item, you're basically hosed. And a one-cent auction coupled with an extremely high "Buy It Now" option is just another tip-off. The seller is waiting for that one greedy fool who doesn't have a clue about the item's authenticity. Again, the one-cent opening price point isn't necessarily a bad thing, and in fact it can be both fun and effective. But if you are unsure about an item for other reasons and you also see a one-cent opener, and especially a one-center with a high Buy It Now, it should be viewed as a signal that things may not be right.
7. Here's an important note regarding the length of the headset cable, in order to prevent disappointment when you try to mount the headset on your M1938 tank helmet. Some eBay sellers fail to include an important piece of information when they "borrow" my web text to promote the sale of their items as "tanker" headsets. Sometimes the omission is purposeful, probably more often it is innocent. So here's what they leave out.... A MINIMUM length of 13 inches (33 cm) is required if you want to route the headset on the outside of the M1938 tank helmet ear flaps. This is the more common method that tankers used in WWII, though it was not terribly uncommon for WWII tankers to route the cable under the flaps. I have researched most of the headsets that I've seen on eBay, and so far EVERY SINGLE UNIT I've checked out is the aviation version, which runs 12 inches or 30 cm. Trust me, this is insufficient for the "outside the ear flaps" routing method. So if the outside method is important to you for display purposes, please be sure to e-mail the seller prior to bidding to determine the length. Ask him to stretch the headset taut and measure the distance from strain relief lug to strain relief lug. Do not tell him what length you want, let him tell you what he has. 13 inches or 33 cm is the authentic length for tank helmet usage, and it is RARE! (Sorry, I've probably just jacked up the price by $50 by saying that!). If it is 13 inches, it will work nicely with your M1938 tanker helmet. But make the seller commit in advance to the fact that it is 13 inches, with a guaranteed return if you are unhappy. A failure to agree to this request could be a warning. Keep in mind that a 12 inch unit can be perfectly authentic, it's just that it wasn't manufactured specifically for tank helmet usage so it won't wrap around the outside of an M1938 helmet. Actually, most of the 12 inch pieces I've seen on eBay have in fact been beautiful and authentic WWII headsets that can be properly used with a tank helmet as long as you don't mind routing the cable under the flaps. Many WWII tankers did in fact route the cable in this fashion, and I'd suspect in most cases it was because they ended up with the sorter version, just like most eBayers do.
There are a lot of sellers selling some wonderful authentic items on eBay, and I have to admit that I've sourced the majority of my collection from eBay. I have picked up some amazing items and I really haven't gotten burned yet. My discussion here is aimed at helping prospective buyers gain a little more confidence about the authenticity of WWII tanker headsets before bidding.
If you really want a good tanker headset, just be patient because good ones appear quite frequently on eBay. If you use these guidelines, you will end up with a great headset in due time.
Good luck, and happy hunting!
This information is gratefully used from the now defunct www.752ndtank.com web site as created and maintained by Robert J. Holt.
We felt this information was too valuable to loose!!
Thanks again Robert for all of the research!!!!
Researched by Robert J. Holt