Hie Second llorld I I fir

During the inter-war period experimentation in body armour was minimal. In the United States research into helmet design continued at a leisurely pace until the resurgence of military expenditure in 1940. On 30 April 1941 the Mi helmet—a two-piece design with an outer Hadfield steel shell and a separate inner liner containing the suspension system was standardised, and it was approved on 9 June 1941. Between August 1941 and August 1945, 22,363,015 Mi helmets were produced the single most common item of armour ever made.

In Europe the nations' soldiers went into action with helmets very similar to those of the Great War.

No other form of armour was worn; but in October 1940 the British Army Council instructed the Medical Research Council (MRC) to investigate the feasibility of an 'armour-plated suit' within a weight limit of 4.1bs for combat troops, and a heavier one of up to iolbs for use by predominantly static troops such as anti-aircraft or naval gun crews. After resurrecting the dusty files of Great War casualty statistics, and examining the types of wounds sustained by Dunkirk survivors to discover which areas of the body most required protection, the Body Protection Committee of the MRC produced a set of body armour in February 1941.

The MRC Body Armour consisted of three separate imm-thick manganese steel plates with a total weight of 2flbs. The chest plate, measuring gins, x 8ins., was to protect the heart, great blood vessels and lung roots; the 14 by 4m. back plate was worn below the shoulder blades to protect the base of the lungs, the liver and, by means of a 5m. upward projection, a portion of the spine; while the third plate, measuring 8 by 6ins., was worn over the abdomen. The plates were attached to each other by webbing straps and were slightly curved to conform to the contours of the body. The complete set with canvas covers and webbing weighed 3^1bs.

Five thousand sets were manufactured for evaluation trials with units of the Home Forces and troops in the Middle East. First impressions of the body armour were highly favourable; in tests it withstood a -38cal. pistol bullet at five yards, a .303

Men of the British 56th Inf. Div. don the MRC Body Armour during a training exercise in the nth Corps area of Eastern Command, 21 March 1942. The photograph shows the correct method of wear under the battledress. (Imp. War Mus.)

Men of the British 56th Inf. Div. don the MRC Body Armour during a training exercise in the nth Corps area of Eastern Command, 21 March 1942. The photograph shows the correct method of wear under the battledress. (Imp. War Mus.)

Mrc Body Armour

bullet at 700 yards, and a 'Tommy Gun' single shot at 100 yards. In April 1942 approval was given for the introduction of the 'MRC Body Armour' into the British Army. After further field exercises it was found that the armour, although well padded, tended to cut into the soft-skin areas of the body causing chafing, with the result that violent and rapid movements were significantly impaired. Moreover, it caused a man to perspire so profusely that his powers of endurance were affected.

From late 1942 enthusiasm for the equipment began to wane, and when it was realised that the production of body armour would compete for the scant resources required for the manufacture of steel helmets, priority was given to the latter. It was not until September 1943 that the War Office placed an order with the Ministry of Supply for 500,000 suits—subsequently reduced to 300,000. Within a few months the order was completed by large steel firms in the north of England, with production ceasing at 200,000 sets. Of these, 79,000 were issued to the Forces: 15,000 to the Army and 64,000 to the Royal Air Force. The remaining 121,000 were kept in War Office stores. Some 12,000 sets were sent to 21 Army Group, where the major portion was allocated to the Airborne Divisions, with smaller quantities to the Canadian Army, SAS troops and the Polish Parachute Brigade; some 300 sets were also sent to Italy for use by Royal Engineers engaged in special duties. The MRC Body Armour was rarely used in action; the only confirmed occasion was by the Airborne Forces during Operation 'Market Garden' (see Plate B2).

Two other forms of British body armour were designed during the Second World War: the 'Armorette' and the 'Wisbrod Armoured Vest'. The Armorette was composed of metal plates embedded in a vulcanised rubber foundation which gave a high degree of flexibility. The Wisbrod vest utilised cloth-covered steel plates which overlapped to provide protection to the front of the thorax and the abdomen. Neither proceeded beyond the development stage. Both these models and the MRC Body Armour were evaluated in the United States by the Army Ordnance Department. It was concluded that any advantages of such armour would be very slight when set against the overall loss of combat efficiency and the increase in the soldier's load. In November 1942 it was decided that individual body armour for ground troops seemed to be a military luxury that could be ill afforded during a global conflict, and overall interest declined. Nevertheless, in April 1943 the Army Ordnance Department submitted an endorsement to the Army Air Forces stating that it had rejected the concept of body armour because of the perceived loss of mobility to ground troops, but that an application might well be found for Air Force combat personnel.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment