Aircrew armours

Although 80 per cent of wounds in Vietnam were caused by shell fragments, mines or boobytraps, the need arose to protect certain personnel such as helicopter crewmen from small arms fire. At the outset of Army aviation operations in Vietnam, crew members flew their support missions in H-21 Shawnee helicopters. The rotary-wing aircraft carried no armour and were relatively vulnerable to enemy fire. While crash-injury fatalities in aircraft hit by ground fire were three times those caused to crew members by bullet wounds, the Army Material Command initiated the Aircraft Armor Program in 1962 .to reduce the vulnerability of Army aircraft and aircrewmen.

In 1918 the physicist, Maj. Neville Monroe Hopkins had concluded experimentally that even a Jgin. facing of hard enamel increased the armour protection of steel; but it was not until 1962 that this knowledge was exploited with the development of Hard Face Composite armour by Richard L. Cook of the Goodyear Aerospace Corporation, Akron, Ohio. The basic discovery demonstrated the effectiveness of armour combining a ceramic face with a backing of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) against armour-piercing small arms rounds. When a bullet strikes the hard, brittle face of the ceramic, a conoid is formed in it which is projected by the bullet into the softer backing material. Since the area of the conoid base is much larger than the cross-sectional area of the bullet, energy is absorbed by the backing over a much wider area. During this instantaneous process the bullet is pulverised into fine particles by the ceramic armour, thus absorbing even more energy. The properties required of the ceramic are extreme hardness, to

To accommodate the smaller stature of ARVN soldiers a special version of the M69 flak jacket was made in reduced sizes and weights. It was classified as Body Armor, Fragmentation Protective for Vietnamese Forces. The medium size weighed 8.ilbs and cost $24.00. (Infant it Magazine)

To accommodate the smaller stature of ARVN soldiers a special version of the M69 flak jacket was made in reduced sizes and weights. It was classified as Body Armor, Fragmentation Protective for Vietnamese Forces. The medium size weighed 8.ilbs and cost $24.00. (Infant it Magazine)

Armor The Vietnam WarArmy Aircrew Vest

At the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in 1969, British troops wore no protective armour except helmets. They were soon issued with standard US flak jackets. These soldiers are equipped for riot duty in 1969 with M-1952 vests, Mark 4 steel helmets, No. 4 Mark 2 respirators and wooden batons. (Soldier Magazine)

At the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in 1969, British troops wore no protective armour except helmets. They were soon issued with standard US flak jackets. These soldiers are equipped for riot duty in 1969 with M-1952 vests, Mark 4 steel helmets, No. 4 Mark 2 respirators and wooden batons. (Soldier Magazine)

enable it to grind up the bullet; and low density, so that the ceramic layer is thick and the conoid has a large base area.

Ceramics such as aluminium oxide (A1203), silicon carbide (SiC) and boron carbide (B,C) are commonly used. Boron carbide, in particular, which is the third hardest material known to man after diamond and borazon, is an outstanding armour material. Ceramics, however, are difficult and therefore expensive to manufacture; they are brittle, and will often crack or shatter if dropped; and although capable of absorbing multiple strikes without penetration, they have to be replaced after being hit.

In 1962, as part of the Aircraft Armor Program, 'personnel protective armor kits' were supplied for the various Army aircraft operating in the Republic of Vietnam. Critical aircraft components and personnel positions were protected by a

'Doron/Perforating-Steel/Tipping Plate armor kit', and aircrewmen were provided with a protective vest incorporating individual 6in. square, ceramic/GRP plates inserted into cloth pockets. The plates wore through the pockets, however, and there was no ballistic protection at the seams. In consequence these vests were rarely worn, and the usual body armour for aircrewmen at this time was the standard M-1952 fragmentation vest. While they were effective against shattered plexiglass and spall from the structure of aircraft hit by ground fire, many aircrewmen also believed that the vests provided protection from small arms fire. It was not uncommon for the chin bubble of helicopters to be filled with vests, obscuring the pilot's downward vision, and for crewchiefs and gunners to stand on a layer of fragmentation vests sewn together and placed on the cargo compartment floor as a 'flak carpet'. Helicopter aircrewmen favoured the M-1952 vest rather than the M69 because the collar of the latter interfered with the flight helmet.

By 1965 the UH-i Huey' was the principal helicopter used 011 combat operations in Vietnam. At this time, the aircraft was fitted with a 'Hard Face Composite (HFC) armor kit' incorporating interchangeable armoured/unarmoured seats for the pilot and co-pilot which gave ballistic protection from 7.62mm/.30cal. AP rounds 011 the seat bottom, sides and back. The armoured seat was composed of a continuous-wall boron carbide-armoured bucket laminated with fibreglass. As part of the HFC kit two chest protectors were provided for the pilot and co-pilot. These replaced the earlier separate plate protective vests, and were made by bonding 13 ceramic tiles to a fibreglass-reinforced shell which extended from the collarbone to the groin. The shield was shaped at the bottom to clear the thighs, enabling its i8£lb weight to rest on the pilot's seat by an extension at the groin. In practice the chest protectors invariably cut into the pilot's thighs, causing such extreme personal discomfort and restriction of movement that they were rarely used.

During early 1965 a team of Army Material Command personnel visited Vietnam to address the problems of aircraft and aircrew armour protection. In order to make immediate use of the approximately 500 'HFC armor chest protectors' then on hand in Vietnam, the team devised an interim solution to the problem of frontal torso protection by cutting three inches off the bottom of the chest protectors and encasing them in cloth back carriers. The work was undertaken by the ARVN 92nd Aerial Equipment Repair and Depot Company, and the modified chest protector was known as the T65-1 frontal torso armor'. This item proved to be acceptable to aircrewmcn, as did an experimental three-section, rigid front ceramic torso armour developed by the team during its time in Vietnam.

On the team's return to the United States, a standardised item classified as Body Armor, Small Arms Protective, Aircrewman was developed for helicopter gunners and crewchiefs who needed back and front protection. For pilots and co-pilots who sat in armoured seats and required only frontal protection, the Body Armor, Small Arms Protective, Aircrewman, Front Plate with Carrier for Pilot and Co-Pilot was provided. Three types of ceramic were used: Class 1 Al2Os, Class 11 SiC and Class III modified B4C. Class I was used only by the Army while Classes 11 and III were used by the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. They ranged in weight and cost from Al2()3 regular size at 28^1bs and $195.00 to modified B4C at 2o|lbs and $1,018.00.

All these body armours incorporated monolithic ceramic plates rather than individual tiles, thus eliminating the ballistic weakness of joints between them and spreading the shock wave from the projectile over a greater area. The single ceramic plate was less expensive to produce than a mosaic of multiple tiles which had to be bevelled at the edges (to maintain the desired ballistic level) and carefully cemented to the supporting fibreglass shell. During 1966 and 1967 over 20,000 items of aircrew armour were supplied to South-East Asia.

The aircrewman's body armour proved highly effective against 7.62mm/.3ocal. AP rounds; but on occasion, blindness and other collateral damage resulted from the splash and spall issuing off the front of the ceramic armour when struck by bullets, as in the case of VVOi Maurice H. Richey, an assault helicopter pilot of the 134th Aviation Company. On 17 November 1969 the lower right side of his armour plate was hit by a .gocal. bullet from about 500 feet range. The pilot sustained only a bruise on the torso, but the ricochet tore away a large piece of his right bicep.

From 1968 this problem was overcome by the

Ricochet Frag Wound

Purpose-designed riot equipment for the troops in Northern Ireland was quickly developed, such as these Anti-Riot Leg Protectors; previously, copies of Playboy or other magazines were stuffed down trouser legs to protect against hand-thrown missiles. Note the 3 4-collar of the M69 vest (right) as compared to the M-1952 (left), from which the shoulder straps have been removed to prevent rioters from grasping them. Note also the S6 respirators strapped to these Royal Greenjackets' left arms. {Soldier Magazine)

Purpose-designed riot equipment for the troops in Northern Ireland was quickly developed, such as these Anti-Riot Leg Protectors; previously, copies of Playboy or other magazines were stuffed down trouser legs to protect against hand-thrown missiles. Note the 3 4-collar of the M69 vest (right) as compared to the M-1952 (left), from which the shoulder straps have been removed to prevent rioters from grasping them. Note also the S6 respirators strapped to these Royal Greenjackets' left arms. {Soldier Magazine)

introduction of the Body Armor, Fragmentation— Small Arms protective, Aircrewman, which thereafter became the standard issue item. It incorporated the same three types of ceramic inserts, but they were covered with ballistic nylon and their carrying pockets were lined with nylon felt which entrapped any spall or fragments caused by an impacting projectile. This certainly worked for SP4 Charles W. Smith of the 242nd Assault Support Helicopter Company. On 25 April 1968, Smith, while acting as a gunner in a CH-47 Chinook, was hit in the centre of his front armour plate by an AK-47 round. The round lodged halfway through the armour and the impact propelled Smith across the helicopter. He remained unconscious for several minutes, but sustained no other injuries.

I11 addition to torso protection, the Army

Ulster Defence Regiment Greenfinch

A 'Greenfinch' of the Ulster Defence Regt. swaps her beret for a Black Watch bonnet prior to VCP duty in Northern Ireland. These flak jackets, both M-1952 and M69, are fitted with British-made protective covers featuring straight pockets and both snap-fastener and Velcro closures. These are second-pattern covers with a rubber non-slip rifle-rest on the right shoulder face; the first-pattern has no patches, and the third, patches on each shoulder. (MoD)

A 'Greenfinch' of the Ulster Defence Regt. swaps her beret for a Black Watch bonnet prior to VCP duty in Northern Ireland. These flak jackets, both M-1952 and M69, are fitted with British-made protective covers featuring straight pockets and both snap-fastener and Velcro closures. These are second-pattern covers with a rubber non-slip rifle-rest on the right shoulder face; the first-pattern has no patches, and the third, patches on each shoulder. (MoD)

developed full-leg armour for gunners and crew-chiefs; pilots and co-pilots used their legs and feet too much in flight operations to tolerate the extra burden. Between 1962 and 1970 leg wounds represented 27.5 per cent of the total hits but resulted in only 18 airborne fatalities. The armour consisted of frontal thigh and lower leg units which were joined by an articulating hinge at the knee. It was constructed from dual-hardness steel as well as ceramics and weighed approximately 381bs per pair. Designed to provide protection against 7.62mm/.3ocal. AP projectiles, the first 500 pairs of dual-hardness composite steel full-leg armour were delivered to Vietnam in February 1966—see Plate El.

Like the mounted knight of the Middle Ages, whose horse gave him mobility despite his great weight of armour, the Vietnam combat aircrew-man rode to battle in his helicopter. Just as the knight was the aristocrat of war and equipped with expensive armour, the aircrewman flew encased in thousands of dollars' worth of protection a luxury justified by the expense of training him and the huge replacement cost of his aircraft. Between 1962 and 1968 there were 4,065 casualties (including 478 fatalities) among Army aircrcwmcn, and from 1968 through to 1970 there were 8,250 casualties, including 1,499 fatalities. From wound data analysis, it is estimated that aircrew armour prevented 23 per cent of wounds and 49 per cent of fatal wounds during the first period, and 27 per cent and 53 per cent during the second. While wounds outnumbered injuries by two to one, fatal injuries the majority in crashes with fire—outnumbered fatal wounds by five to two. Hence, although aircrew armour was highly effective and prevented an estimated 3,403 fatal and non-fatal wounds up to 1970, it is evident that extensive armouring of personnel has limitations in the reduction of overall fatal casualties. Furthermore, the real penalty for armouring the helicopter and/or its crew is less time in the air per sortie or reduced ordnance/payload. * * *

The success of aircrew armour gave rise to a similar demand for protecting the ground soldier against small arms fire. It was not possible to provide equivalent protection without impeding his effectiveness, and considerable materials research was necessary to provide even near parity. It will be noted that the original ceramic for aircrew armour was aluminium oxide (A1203); but with the introduction of boron carbide, equivalent protection could be provided with a weight reduction of 20 per cent. This was sufficient to make a comparable body armour for infantry feasible. It was classified as Variable Armor, Small Arms Fragmentation Protective, for Ground Troops, or simply ' Variable Body Armor'. Some 40,000 were manufactured in 1968, and it was employed in Vietnam from the following year.

Variable Body Armor consisted of an outer shell of ballistic nylon cloth with a ballistic filler of

British M69 Body Armor

The commander of the British Force in Lebanon and his armoured car crew stand guard on the roof of the apartment block which served as the BRITFORLEB base in Beirut. These flak jackets have the fifth-pattern cover with PVC patches on each shoulder; the previous model had a single patch on the right shoulder only. Note the Velcro 'loop and pile' closure of these jackets. The berets are (left) 16th 5th The Queen's Royal Lancers; (centre, right) Prince of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment. (Nat. Army Mus.)

nccdle-punchcd nylon felt. At the front and back were large pockets to accommodate anatomically shaped ceramic/GRP composite armour plates. The plates had an integral carrier system of webbing and straps allowing them to be worn independently of the vest. Thus the vest could be worn without plates (giving protection against fragments only), with front plate only, or with both front and back plates. Additionally, the plates could be worn without the vest, providing either front only or front and back protection against .30cal. ball projectiles. The 'Five-Way Variable Armor System'—see Plate D3—ofTered the user a wide choice of options in the level of protection to match operational requirements and the anticipated threat, at a system weight ranging from 5lbs 40Z to 22lbs 30Z and a unit cost of $385.00.

In Vietnam, the Navy and Coastguard fought a vicious type of warfare patrolling the extensive coastline and inland waterways in a variety of attack craft. Constantly exposed to mines and ambushes, their casualties were high and unremitting. M-1955 and M69 fragmentation vests were used, but they did not float, and when worn with life jackets they restricted movement due to their excessive bulk. A floating body armour was finally

The commander of the British Force in Lebanon and his armoured car crew stand guard on the roof of the apartment block which served as the BRITFORLEB base in Beirut. These flak jackets have the fifth-pattern cover with PVC patches on each shoulder; the previous model had a single patch on the right shoulder only. Note the Velcro 'loop and pile' closure of these jackets. The berets are (left) 16th 5th The Queen's Royal Lancers; (centre, right) Prince of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment. (Nat. Army Mus.)

developed called Vest Buoyant, Ballistic, Fragmentation—Small Arms, Protective, but the 'Brown Water Navy's' part in the war had ended before it was standardised. At ¿81bs it was heavy and bulky; but the present author, a non-swimmer, can attest that it floats!

Many 'riverine' personnel made use of a body armour that was in limited use by the Army and by Navy Special Forces SEAL teams, known as Body Armor, Fragmentation Protective, Titanium!Nylon Composite. Developed in 1964, this armour consisted of 2^in. square by 0.032m. thick titanium plates and four plies of ballistic nylon. Increased mobility was provided by dividing the vest into eleven sections, each consisting of three plies of ballistic nylon covered by a series of titanium plates, and by incorporating an articulated pivot shoulder similar in design to a gridiron football player's shoulder pad. Weighing 81bs 1 ioz, it cost $174.00, and gave comparable protection against fragments to the M i helmet, together with increased protection against flechettes—see Plate E2.

Many other items of protective equipment were developed during the Vietnam War, ranging from blast-protective boots to fire-resistant Nomex flying uniforms, and from polycarbonate face shields to ballistic flight helmets. For every threat, American ingenuity devised a counter measure—a graphic example being pungi stakes. This simple device comprised mantraps sown with sharpened bamboos or nails, often smeared with excrement to cause infection, which could penetrate the soles of the standard combat and jungle boots. The counter was equally simple, and took the form of a removable spike-resistant insole made from several layers of Saran screen fabric cemented to a plastic-covered stainless steel sheet. It was introduced into Vietnam from August 1965, and from May 1966 the tropical combat boot was manufactured with the steel insert moulded directly into the sole.

An EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Ammunition Technician (AT) examines an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) which he has disabled by means of a 'Wheelbarrow' Remote Handling Device. One of the most sophisticated (and heaviest) forms of body armour, the EOD Mark 2 suit provides a measure of blast and fragment protection against bomb explosions; or, in the words of one AT, 'at least it enables you to be buried in one piece!' (Simon Dunstan)

Military Body Armour

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  • Marie
    When were face shields first for soldiers northern ireland?
    8 years ago
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    How were no4 mk 1 LE extractors modified to suit for 7.62?
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