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The Korean War demonstrated conclusively that a dramatic reduction in the incidence and severity of wounding was achieved by the use of body armour. Both the US Marine Corps and Army maintained post-war development of new fabrics and materials for a wide variety of tactical uses. Based on threat analysis and combat experience, both services introduced improved models incorporating a three-quarter collar of ballistic nylon for neck protection—the Marine Vest, Armored, M-/955; and, from 1962, the Body Armor, Fragmentation Protective, Vest with 4 Collar, M6g, for the Army. Together with the earlier M-1951 and M-I952 vests, these were the standard models of body armour used during the Vietnam Wrar as protection against fragments.

The M-1955 was a sleeveless garment with a zipper front. The armour was made of nylon with 23 separate 5^in. square, ¿in. thick Doron inserts in overlapping pockets below the shoulder area, which was formed by 13 layers of nylon as ballistic filler. The vest had a three-quarter collar made of six plies of ballistic nylon. The medium size weighed iolbs 30Z, and cost $47.00.

The M69 vest contained a ballistic nylon filler sealed in a waterproof vinyl plastic casing. The filler consisted of 12 plies of ballistic nylon cloth in the front and upper back, ten plies in the back with an additional two plies, six inches wide, up the spine, and six plies in the collar. A set of plastic stiffeners was inserted under the fifth layer of ballistic nylon. The vest was encased in a layer of Oxford cloth, and incorporated into the outer shell were two pockets and grenade hanger loops. The vest had either a zipper or 'loop and pile' Velcro closure at the front, and elastic laces on each side. The medium size weighed Bibs 502, and cost $35.00.

The proportion of deaths from small arms fire in

An Assault Support Patrol Boat settles by the stern after being hit by enemy fire in the Mekong Delta, June 1968. Wearing standard M-1952 and M69 flak jackets, the crew return fire while attempts are made to keep the craft afloat. (USN)

An Assault Support Patrol Boat settles by the stern after being hit by enemy fire in the Mekong Delta, June 1968. Wearing standard M-1952 and M69 flak jackets, the crew return fire while attempts are made to keep the craft afloat. (USN)

Pbr Riverine Patrol Incident
Pbr Crew Body Armor
US Navy PBR (Patrol Boat River) crewmen examine the papers of Vietnamese aboard a sampan in the Mekong Delta. The two nearer men are wearing Body Armor, Fragmentation Protective, Titanium Nylon Composite. (USN)

South-East Asia, at 51 per cent, showed a marked increase over the Second World War (32 per cent) and Korea (33 per cent). This was due both to the nature of the war, and to the lethality of modern weapons of the rapid-fire M16/AK-47 type whose high-velocity, lightweight rounds caused severe tissue damage and increased risk of multiple wounding. However, hits from small arms fire decreased from 42.7 per cent in June 1966 to 16 per cent in June 1970, while the percentage from fragments (including mines and booby traps) rose from 49.6 per cent in 1966 to 80 per cent in 1970. The extensive use of mines and boobytraps in Vietnam resulted in appalling wounds, which because of the proximity of the blast caused massive local damage and hideous contamination from dirt, debris and secondary missiles impacted in the wounds.

Elak jackets did prove effective against three-quarters of the fragments which struck the thorax; but in the humid climate of Vietnam soldiers on the move often found the body armour too heavy and too hot. Troops in static positions and mechanised personnel usually wore both helmets and flak jackets; but infantry patrols, some unit commanders, and many individuals sacrificed protection, regardless of orders, in favour of greater mobility and reduced casualties from heat prostration. However, Marine Corps doctrine demanded that body armour be worn on all combat operations, even in the jungle with temperatures over ioo°F. This fact is reflected in casualty data analysis which shows that 73 per cent of Marines wounded were wearing body armour at the time as against only 19 per cent for the Army.

One incident in December 1966 proved the wisdom of the Marine doctrine. While they were 011 a patrol in Quang Nam Province about 35 'klicks' south-west of Da Nang, a 155mm artillery round rigged as a tree mine exploded above a squad of Co. O, 1 /1 Marines of 1st Marine Division. Seven men received terrible wounds, but thanks to the wearing of flak jackets and helmets there were no fatalities. One Marine had over 200 separate wounds to the buttocks, legs and arms but none to the head or torso. His M-1955 armoured vest was completely shredded, but it had performed its function—to provide protection against fragmentation projectiles.

As indicated above, body armour was worn less frequently by Army personnel, but on many occasions, the M69 proved to be just as effective, as in the case of Capt. A. Sambucchi when serving with 2nd Bn., 35th Artillery on 18 May 1969: 'An 82mm mortar burst about ten feet away. 1 sustained multiple fragment wounds in the arms, legs, face and head but none in the area covered by the vest. Eater I was hit by a large fragment in the left side of - the rib cage—fortunately the vest formed a seal for the sucking chest wound. The bunker caught fire and I suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns, but again, none on my torso.'

While neither the M-1955 nor M 69 were designed to withstand small arms fire there were instances when the greater protection afforded by the Marine armoured vest proved itself: none more so than during the savage fighting for Hill 861A during the battle for Khe Sanh, when the forward positions of Co. E, 2/26 Marines were overrun by North Vietnamese sappers and assault troops. The Marines rapidly mounted a counter-attack which, in the words of the 26th Marines Chronicle:

.. .'deteriorated into a mêlée that resembled a bloody, waterfront bar-room brawl: a style of fighting not completely alien to most Marines. Because the darkness and ground fog drastically reduced visibility, hand-to-hand combat was a necessity. Using their knives, bayonets, rifle butts and fists, the men of 1st Platoon

Vietnam Marines Men Arms

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  • Peter Gordon
    How thick ballistic nylon m69?
    8 years ago

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